Star Wars’ Awkward Droid Problem

Solo introduces us to a brand new droid named L3-37. She’s Lando’s copilot, and very likely his better. L3 is a rare female droid in the Star Wars universe, and it’s implied that she and Lando have perhaps a certain kind of chemistry, and maybe even a romantic past (when Qi’ra wonders how that would work, L3 saucily replies “Oh it works,” like she already knows).

But L3 is a new kind of droid in more ways than one; she’s an uncomfortable reminder of what place droids occupy in the Star Wars universe. They are slaves. Despite the fact that they have advanced intelligence, autonomous thought, complex emotional reactions, and notions of self-preservation, they are still bought, sold, and owned by humans.

L3 is passionate about droid rights. When Lando brings her to a bar that “doesn’t serve her kind”, she seeks out a pair of droids being made to fight to the death for https-blueprint-api-production.s3.amazonaws.comuploadscardimage784659ad75d8e1-0f84-4f36-8dd3-455fd47c811cthe entertainment of humans, and counsels them to make a run for it. But despite L3’s and Lando’s status as co-pilots if nothing else, she is subservient in the relationship. He directs and she follows, with or without her consent, and when she gives back as good as she gets, he threatens to wipe her memory, which makes their relationship uncomfortably unequal.

So it’s no wonder that L3 is concerned about equal rights. But if L3 is bucking against oppression, who are her oppressors? Yeah, that’s where things get dicey. Her oppressors are our heroes. The Skywalkers are slave owners. How well does that sit with you? Droid subjugations has mostly been background noise until now – sure these charming sentient beings are treated like property, but they never seemed to mind much. Right?

But L3 is shiny, sassy proof that droids are self-aware enough to yearn for freedom, and smart enough to demand it. Repeatedly. L3 leads a rebellion of sorts in a mining colony – she emancipates the droids who are literally kept in shackles, which leaves very little doubt about a droid’s ‘personhood’ in the galaxy.

Solo doesn’t address the slavery of its droids, and it treats L3’s protest as a funny subplot. The very fact that L3 is female gives her advocacy parallels to feminism, and in the middle of the #metoo movement, that can’t be an accident. But by treating it so lightly, what exactly are the film makers trying to tell us? Nothing we don’t already know – even in the time of Rey, the likes of poor BB-8 are still following their masters around.

L3 was a big part of what I enjoyed about Solo: A Star Wars Story, and I think she deserves to have her advocacy live on in Star Wars canon. I don’t necessarily think there was need or room to address all of these issues in a fun, spunky movie like Solo, but this is an interesting can of worms to have opened, and I do hope someone follows up.

 

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22 thoughts on “Star Wars’ Awkward Droid Problem

  1. Isey

    *maybe a minor spoiler alert if you haven’t seen the movie and care to not have any minor plot point shared, stop reading…

    I wonder if there is any change to the narrative now that she is a part of the Millenium Falcon. Although I suspect she is now literally controlled directly by whoever is driving.

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    1. Jay Post author

      Yes, I didn’t mention it, but I think that was a particularly cruel fate for her – she was so passionate about freedom, and now she’s relegated to being a navigational system without a voice.

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  2. Carolee Croft

    That’s kind of disturbing. I guess I looked on them more like servants, but maybe slaves is closer to the mark. The original star wars was partly inspired by The Hidden Fortress, a Japanese film in which two bumbling peasants assist a princess in escaping her enemies. So, the droids could be seen as peasants or serfs, little better than slaves.

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    1. Jay Post author

      That would be awesome. I think they’ve done a good job making them interesting characters and I would definitely be up for that. We’ve really only hinted at their stories so far.

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  3. Christopher

    This is something that’s been addressed so regularly and deeply in Star Trek and has even formed the basis of other films and shows about robots, androids, or artificial intelligence that I never really thought much about it not coming up in the Star Wars universe. Sure, in Attack Of The Clones Obi-Wan says, “Well, if droids could think, there’d be none of us here, would there?” which is one of many things wrong with the prequels because right before that a sentient droid poured him a drink.
    I also hope we see some follow-up to this. It’s a big issue and how we address it, or don’t, says a lot about us.

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  4. steveforthedeaf

    I thought t was pitched perfectly to throw some shade into the light side dark side world of the Star Wars movies not about Jedi. The same way some of the resistance fighters in Rogue One also murdered and lied for their own ends

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    1. Jay Post author

      Yes, you’re right, we’re muddying the waters a bit, and I think that’s appropriate in a Solo movie – he’s a good guy AND a scoundrel.

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  5. D. Wallace Peach

    What a fascinating commentary. I agree that for a fun spunky action-packed movie the slavery of sentient droids is probably good to keep as a subplot, but it is worthy of note. Westworld is dealing with this too, and I think the treatment of androids is going to be an issue in our “real” future… eventually, maybe even in my lifetime.

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  6. Liz A.

    I did notice that subplot. Which made it so sad that she was input into the Millenium Falcon. I’m glad they’re addressing it, but wondering if this is going someplace in future films. I hope so.

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  7. Christy B

    For me another issue with L3 was why they had to give her a crush on Donald Glover’s character as it just made me think, why does every woman here have to be part of a love story?

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  8. Jeff the Chef

    That’s really interesting, and something I’ve never thought about before – which is odd, because I’m a Trekkie, and know a thing or two about the rights of sentient machines. Your review makes me more eager to see this movie.

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