The Enduring Appeal of R2-D2 and C-3PO

Did you know that R2-D2 and C-3PO are the only characters to appear in all nine of the main live-action Star Wars saga movies?

It's actually ten in total if you count their appearance in Rogue Oneand let's not forget C-3PO's turn in The Clone Wars animated movie either.

They've been on their own television show, starred in their own memorable moments, and had their tin cans featured on cereal boxes, trading cards, and everything in between. So what is the reason for their enduring appeal?

There are many reasons for it, but let's begin at the beginning as all stories should.

The Hidden Fortress is an inspiration for the droids

When George Lucas was a film student, he was introduced to the films of Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. This study proved to have a strong influence on George and Kurosawa's ideas and styles found their way into his early work.

The movie The Hidden Fortress had a key impression on the development of Star Wars when Lucas borrowed the concept that the story was told from the point of view of two bumbling peasants.

Lucas converted that idea into the first Star Wars movie, which was told from the point of view of a pair of robots who ultimately became the famous gold and white and blue pairing of R2-D2 and C-3PO.

Just like that, those two robots became a staple of the Star Wars diet. They weren't just a pair of bumbling jokes there for comedy relief with their fantastic banter and memorable quotes, they had pivotal roles in helping Luke Skywalker overcome his various challenges.

These aren't the droids you're looking for

these arent the droids looking for
Gif Courtesy of Lucasfilm

It's about 20 minutes into the movie when Obi-Wan Kenobi utters his immortal quote to the Stormtroopers who are looking for the duo in Mos Eisley – the quote being “These aren't the droids you're looking for”.

It gave the first real glimpse that there was something extra special about Obi-Wan. Was he truly a wizard and not such a crazy old man?

That line has stayed in pop culture lore for over 40 years now – and it's part of why R2-D2 and C-3PO have managed to stay so firmly in the Star Wars consciousness – and being part of the Star Wars family means you stay in the family (until J.J. Abrams decides balls of orange and white are better, perhaps).

R2-D2 was always ready with an insult and C-3PO would give it right back

R2-D2 and C-3PO argue and fuss over each other almost like an old couple, especially in the original trilogy. Often they find themselves in a strange situation and R2-D2 would communicate some pithy comment or insult, and C-3PO would give it right back at him. One case in point is this classic from the opening scene of A New Hope when they were about to evacuate the Tantive IV with the stolen plans:

“Don't you call me a mindless philosopher you overweight glob of grease!”

It really is the stuff true friendships are made of.

lucas with prototype rd unit
Image Courtesy of Lucasfilm

Facts and trivia about R2-D2 and C-3PO

  • Despite creating him as Anakin Skywalker, Darth Vader only shares a brief moment on screen with C-3PO. It comes in The Empire Strikes Back, when Han Solo is frozen into carbonite. Vader gives no indication of recognizing his creation but to be fair, protocol droids in his configuration are everywhere.
  • A lot of people miss it, thinking that C-3PO is totally golden, but from his right knee down he is silver. In The Force Awakens, he had a red arm for most of the movie. You may not have recognized him?!
  • R2-D2 and C-3PO were snuck into a scene in Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark as well as J.J. Abrams' two Star Trek movies.
  • The characters were so popular they had their own animated television series for a short time. They even appeared in episodes of The Muppets and Sesame Street where R2-D2 oddly appeared to fall in love with a fire hydrant.
  • R2-D2 served several masters, starting with Padmé and then Anakin, Bail Organa, Leia Organa, Luke Skywalker, and for a time, Jabba the Hutt.
  • When Obi-Wan found General Grievous on the planet Utapau, his first words were, “Hello, there.” This is exactly what said when he first met R2-D2 in A New Hope.
  • In early script drafts, R2-D2's name was simply “A-2.”
  • R2-D2’s height is 96cm tall.
anthony daniels picture c3po driod
Image Courtesy of Lucasfilm

Forbidden Planet also inspired C-3PO's creation

Before R2-D2 and C-3PO came along, Robby the Robot was the most famous robotic character in cinematic history. Released in 1956, the movie in which Robby appeared – Forbidden Planet – was one of the first big-budget science fiction movies.

it was something of a commercial flop, but it quickly gained cult status with repeat showings and is now considered a classic science fiction offering.

While quaint by today's standards, it features strong science fiction themes crossed with star crossed would-be lovers. Some research on this movie reveals that it was loosely based on William Shakespeare's The Tempest.

Robby the Robot is the key takeaway. When he first met the spacemen from Earth, he said “I am at your disposal with 187 other languages along with their various dialects and sub-tongues.” George Lucas borrowed this concept for C-3PO.

At one point in the film, Robby couldn't be found because he was giving himself an “oil job.” A loose Star Wars connection is that C-3PO would later have an oil bath at Luke's farm.

We're off to see Jabba the Hutt, the wonderful Hutt of Tattoine

One of our favorite moments with these two droids is in Return of the Jedi when they are framed on their way toward Jabba's palace (see below).

r2d2 c3po wizard oz
Image Courtesy of Lucasfilm

Notice anything? No? What about if we add this?

a new hope wizard of oz reference
Images Courtesy of Lucasfilm and Loews Cineplex Entertainment

Yep, we're pretty sure Lucas and director Richard Marquand used our droids in a homage to The Wizard of Oz.

What is the design inspiration of C-3PO?

Ralph McQuarrie designed C-3PO by taking liberty with the Maschinenmensch in the 1927 German expressionist sci-fi movie Metropolis.

c3po concept art starwars
Image Courtesy of Parufamet

Below is an early concept draft.


Here's an early concept draft:
concept draft of C3po and r2d2
Image Courtesy of Lucasfilm

The influence of R2-D2 and C-3PO on movies and culture

The 1980s were great for Star Wars and with Lucasfilm pushing hard on merchandise sales, our droid friends we everywhere.
Even Steven Spielberg got in on the act and included them on a hieroglyphic in the original Indiana Jones movie Raiders of the Lost Ark (see below).
r2d2 c3po indianna jones
Image Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
Spielberg also managed to sneak an R2 unit into Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which he was making at the same time as Lucas was producing A New Hope (see below).
r2d2 easter egg in close encounters
Image Courtesy of Columbia Pictures
Indeed, Lucas and Speilberg famously swapped points on those movies, so Spielberg has made a tidy sum of money from a film he didn't make.
J.J. Abrams was such a big fan of R2-D2, he also snuck him into his reboot of Star Trek. Now that's cheeky.
This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.