How “Robby the Robot” from Forbidden Planet Inspired the Development of C-3PO in Star Wars

This website has covered many of the influences that movies and novels have had on George Lucas, but Kitbashed found a great one in the form of the classic movie Forbidden Planet. It was a particular joy to discover how the famous “Robby the Robot” had an influence on the robot that became C-3PO.

While we have previously discussed how Ralph McQuarrie's design for C-3PO was inspired by the Maschinenmensch from Fritz Lang's famous movie Metropolis, and that his comedy duo act with his foil R2-D2 came from The Hidden Fortress, it's Robby the Robot that sets the tone and inspiration of the “golden rod.”

Early C3PO design sketch
Early C-3PO design sketch

How many times in the Star Wars movies does C-3PO mention that he is a protocol droid that is capable of speaking millions of languages? It's a lot, put it that way.

Robby the Robot did it first as he was being introduced to the human space travelers:

“If you do not speak English, I am at your disposal with 187 other languages, dialects, and sub-tongues.”

Robby the Robot's influence on Star Wars

Kitbashed cleverly notes that this example means that Robby the Robot is effectively a proto-protocol droid. C-3PO's introduction to Padmé  Amidala in The Phantom Menace shows how he is modeled on this concept: “Hello, I am C-3PO, human-cyborg relations.”Word on the street is that George Lucas has stated that the lumbering robot was not a direct inspiration for C-3PO – but this is not wholly true.

In Look at the Sky! – a documentary about science fiction films of the 1950s – a discussion is had with directors Steven Spielberg and George Lucas about Forbidden Planet.

ir?t=theoptiprimex starwars 20&l=li2&o=1&a=B007RVTXQ2Spielberg suggests that Lucas must have been inspired by Robby as he developed C-3PO's character. Lucas naturally suggested he was more influenced by Metropolis.

That may be so for the look of C-3PO, but Lucas totally stole the protocol droid idea whether he admits it or not!

There's a further reference to or “inspired moment” from Robby in A New Hope. At one point in Forbidden Planet, the character Alta tries several times to summon Robby with her remote control. Robby excuses his absence by saying he had been busy taking an “oil bath.”

What does C-3PO do when he gets to Luke's moisture farm? He has an oil bath and exclaims “Thank the maker! This oil bath is going to feel so good.”

And as we know now from the reveal in The Phantom Menace, Darth Vader is C-3PO's maker, the line is doubly clever.

Extra fun facts: Robby the Robot appeared in two episodes of Lost in Space. That show also featured a robot that looks somewhat similar, That robot is the one that utters the famous quote “Danger Will Robinson, Danger!” and it had no designated name but was formally titled “Robot Model B-9.” He has also appeared in the likes of The Addams Family, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Thin Man, The Twilight Zone, Star Kid, Gremlins, The Banana Splits Adventure Hour, Columbo: Mind Over Mayhem, Hollywood Boulevard, Ultraseven, Looney Tunes: Back in Action, The Big Bang Theory, and many more movies and television shows. For this reason, he's been given the distinction of being “the hardest-working robot in Hollywood.”

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

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Paul Rose Jr is the Editor in Chief of Wealth of Geeks & manages the Associated Press program for The Insiders network. He has worked as TV News Producer, Forensic Analyst, and Train Conductor, among many other things. He’s the former TV Editor for InfuzeMag and owns more books, DVDs, and comics than most people have seen in their lifetimes. When he’s not writing or editing on Wealth of Geeks, he exercises his creative muscle writing screenplays and acting in film and television in Los Angeles, CA.