(Originally written for Jedi News)
George Lucas is a huge fan of Akira Kurosawa, and one of his favorite Kurosawa films is The Hidden Fortress. There are several homages to this film in the Saga, but perhaps the most well-known is in the characters of C-3PO and R2-D2, whom Lucas specifically stated were meant to be the perspective from which the story of A New Hope is told. Just like the peasants Tahei and Matashichi.
This continues throughout the Saga. In each film, the main heroes are accompanied by one or both of the droids nearly all the time, with few notable exceptions. One could argue that the droids (well, maybe R2 more than 3PO) are the true heroes of the Saga. So naturally, they had to make substantial appearances when Lucas would go back and tell the story of I-III.
Shocking as it sounds, many people were not happy about this for reasons I am continuously unable to fathom. I never really heard anything against R2’s presence in The Phantom Menace, but 3PO’s role has been described as a shoehorn, which is a great disservice to a brilliant introduction.
Qui-Gon, Padmé, R2, and Jar Jar have embarked on Tatooine incognito (very much resembling the leads in, once again, Hidden Fortress), and after some brief misadventures seek shelter from a sandstorm in the hovel of a kindly slave boy, who shows off one of his latest creations: an unfinished protocol droid.
For many, this was a heartwarming and nostalgic moment. For others, it was a continuity snarl (nothing a future memory wipe didn’t fix). But this revelation of 3PO’s origin carries so much more weight, as does R2’s introduction as part of the crew of Amidala’s J-Type 327 Nubian.
First of all, as many writers including myself have pointed out repeatedly, the main theme of The Phantom Menace is duality, and this is one of the great subtle examples. When we first met the droids in A New Hope, we would never have guessed that rough and dirty mechanic R2-D2 was created as a royal servant, and that prissy and haughty C-3PO was built in the desert with a box of scraps. Most of us probably assumed it would be the other way around.
But even more than that, it brings up this interesting observation: If Anakin Skywalker built C-3PO, and Padmé Amidala is the owner and primary caretaker for R2-D2, then these two droids can be technically considered their children.
That’s right. Technically speaking, R2-D2 and C-3PO are the first of the Skywalker children, and older “brothers” to Luke and Leia.
I don’t know about any of you, but I think that’s awesome. It makes their presence so much more powerful and, in the case of 3PO’s memory wipe, tragic.
By Revenge of the Sith, you can truly see that they’ve become a family. The novelization states that Anakin gave 3PO to Padmé as a wedding gift, and in return she gave him R2, but even in the film proper you can see Anakin and Padmé treating the droids with love and respect in their switched roles. It also strengthens R2 and 3PO’s affinity for each other. Now, when they’re separated, it seems even more wrong than it did before. They’re technically step-brothers, and one of them has induced amnesia, so they have to look out for each other.
I’ve heard the argument that this makes the world of Star Wars a little too small, but that indicates a fundamental misunderstanding in the way Star Wars is. The Galaxy Far, Far away will always be sprawling and huge, but the story of Star Wars always was and always will be about the individuals. The Skywalkers, their friends, their families…
…And their children, either flesh and blood or circuits and gears.
For further reading on the duality of The Phantom Menace, as well as the connection between the Star Wars Saga and Asian Cinema, visit Lard Biscuit Enterprises, from which the first image is borrowed.