The Sociology of R2D2


All right, so it’s the end of the quarter, and thus a difficult time for me to post regularly. I’ve had some serious commentary on the blog lately, and have a few more serious pieces in draft form, almost ready to go. It’s just been a matter of time and energy to get the final punctuation mark on the final post. That hasn’t come easy.

Then I read this blog by Paul Krugman on the economic implications of droids and I figured, maybe it was time for a more lighthearted moment at the MSB. After all, if a Nobel Prize winning economist can exercise his inner nerd on a New York Times server, I, someone who wrote an eighth grade paper on Alfred Nobel (I think I got a B- on it) should be able to do the same.

It turns out that Krugman, as often happens among economists who understand that their models actually represent real people, meandered into sociological territory with his post. About the Star Wars universe he observed, “Think about the droids: they’re obviously sentient, are depicted as having emotions, form friendships. They are, in effect, people. Yet they’re treated as indentured servants at best, even by the good guys: Poe is referred to as BB-8’s “master”.

Let’s call it as we see it, here, the droids are slaves, and nobody bats an eye. Everything that we know about the droids indicates that they are, in fact, a sentient life form despite their metal casings. They think, they respond emotionally to situations, they form bonds and friendships. Droids also fight for causes, sacrifice for those causes, experience fear when they are in danger because, as far as we can tell, they also feel pain. What’s more, from a Marxian perspective, they knowingly and willingly perform labor, which is as Krugman points out, exploited. In some revealing scenes of droids doing menials tasks, we might even infer some good ol’ Marxian alienation. Droids are herded onto vessels analogous to slave ships on Tatooine in Episode IV. We see droids being branded in Empire Strikes Back. Luke Skywalker makes gifts of his droids to Jabba the Hut in Episode VI. And the droids respond accordingly and, quite humanly.

Yet it should come as no surprise that droids are enslaved in the Star Wars galaxy far, far away. After all, this galactic community is a slave society. Not only are droids universally enslaved by all sides of the titular star wars despite their clear sentient and emotional capacity, but we also have a Janissary army composed of clones. These clones are exact biological replicants of Jango Fett, one of whom he raises as his son. Strange how his son, Boba Fett is free to choose his life course (which he wastes as a bounty hunter), but his son’s genetically identical brothers become a slave army. In Episode II, the Republic has no compunctions about using this slave army to defeat their enemies.

In most of my sociology classes I start a discussion about clones and whether or not they have rights. They are, genetically, human beings, yet my class is rarely unanimous about their rights. There are historical analogues to this. Our forefathers often justified the use of Africans as slaves because they were different from white Europeans. Originally, the justification was that they were not Christian. Once that became an inconvenient convention, slave apologists justified their positions because Africans were….mmm…not quite human. True, they have all of the qualities and characteristics of humans, but they just didn’t measure up, at least not to the level of good, white stock.

But the most telling example of slavery in the Star Wars universe is the unquestioned slavery existing in at least some corners of the galactic community. When the Jedi, Qui-Gon Jin and his student Obi-Wan Kenobi encountered the young Anakin Skywalker was a slave. The Jedi, billed as the overseers of justice in the Galaxy, sought to find legitimate means to purchase Anakin’s freedom. In other words, the Jedi, representatives of the law, accepted the legitimacy of slavery as an institution. There was no galactic Underground Railroad. Nobody in the Star Wars galaxy has ever questioned the enslavement of sentient and emotional droids, clones or humans.

This is an indicator that slavery was a long entrenched institution within the galaxy. Such a medieval tradition for such a technologically sophisticated culture. Yet, as we learned in the controversial prequels, the Galaxy was governed as a democratic republic…even to the point of democratically elected queens (as in Amidala) and despite the existence of princesses (as in Leia). Like the early United States, the Star Wars Galaxy was, originally, founded in a slave society. This exploitation was unquestioned by even the most religious upholder’s of the law and justice.

R2D2, the secret mastermind of the rebel alliance?

That being said, unlike American slavery, there did seem to be room for slaves to gain significant status. This brings me to one of my favorite Star Wars theories which I often make only somewhat tongue in cheek. It is my belief that R2D2, probably the most clever of the droids we’ve encountered in the Star Wars universe, is the secret mastermind behind the resistance.

Think about.

R2D2 was always there at the most important historical turning points. He was a central figure in the rise of Anakin Skywalker, the one who would bring balance to the force, as well as Anakin’s son, Luke. He has carried secret plans, having a central place among the galactic political elite. Also, it was always R2D2 who came to the rescue. The Rebel Alliance would have lost all of its major battles if not for R2D2.

Think about it. How many times during the Star Wars movies did R2D2 save the Jedi? Compare this time how many times the Jedi had to save R2D2.

R2D2 was always the mot important character in each of the Star Wars tales. Even in Episode VII, the resistance was suffering drastic losses…until R2D2 became functional again.

The Rebels and the Resistance may not know it, but the secret mastermind behind their success is a little bleeping droid slave.


  1. Great post, really enjoyed reading this. Just one thought: are you familiar with the popular-ish theory that all of Star Wars is in fact R2D2’s story? And that the whole saga is in fact being told, in flashback, by Artoo Deetoo? I love that theory. It only works – probably – for the original six films, but it’s a good one.


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