In that galaxy far, far away, where going to another planetary system is similar to us going down the street to the store, there are many other technological breakthroughs. One of the most interesting to me is the subject of this lesson: droids.
“Well, if droids could think, there’d be none of us here.”
- Obi Wan Kenobi
This quote is probably one of my favorites in the prequels. I saw it as a reference to all the other futuristic IPs—like Terminator or the Matrix—where “thinking” machines take control and we as a civilization are destroyed by something that we created. Droids are non-living, thus they have no access to the Force, so I personally do not see them overthrowing their organic creators. Let us start with some definitions and classifications of droids themselves.
I want to mention before I get started that I got the massive amount of content for this article from The New Essential Guide to Droids by Daniel Wallace. It is a fantastic book detailing everything I am going to be talking about in more detail than I can go into here. As an aside, I would like to say that any of the Essential Guide books are great resources for Star Wars lore.
Despite what some blonde-haired farm boys on Tatooine might say, robots and droids are not by definition the same. Any machine controlled by a computer could be classified as a robot. The first example that comes to mind when I think of robots are the mechanical arms with little clamps for hands that work in factories; they perform different actions as programmed into the computer that controls it. The difference here is that a droid is much more sophisticated in design and application than this “simple” machine. Droids are self-aware.
Self-awareness is the capacity for introspection and the ability to reconcile oneself as an individual separate from the environment and other individuals. This is a complicated concept to wrap our heads around, but I will try to explain it. A robot arm, using the previous example, is probably not programmed to even care about whether it exists as an individual or whether it is just part of the environment. It is programmed to do a task, which can be adjusted to do slightly different motions, but it still only does that task. A droid, on the other hand, is self-aware and can determine the best course of action given the knowledge it has in its programming. Let me use an example. Let’s say your furnace breaks down. If you only had a robot to do the job of fixing it, you would have to program the computer that controls the robot with instructions on how to do that particular job, in the way that robots are applied today. A droid, because of its artificial intelligence, can be told to fix the furnace and it will do so to the best of its knowledge. The major difference here is that you would not need to reprogram the droid later if your air conditioner broke down. A robot would need to be reprogrammed for each job you wanted it to do, while a droid would retain the knowledge of skills it had learned previously and would have a basic set of skills available. These skills are based on its class, which we will get to in a moment.
A computer in Star Wars can be self-aware as well, but droids also have mechanical bodies with some form of locomotion. That form of locomotion might be legs, wheels, treads or repulsorlifts, but the point is that a computer is stationary while a droid can move from one place to another. The last “criteria” for droids is that they all have a way of communicating either with organics or each other, even if it is just with the simple beeps, trills, and honks of the droid language called droidspeak.
In many ways droids are servants to organic beings across the galaxy. Some critics go so far as to say that they are slaves to organic beings. Many droids are programmed to refer to their owners as “Master.” Despite being a technologically advanced civilization, there is serious anti-droid sentiment in the Star Wars galaxy. Just imagine if tomorrow someone invented a droid. These droids could put thousands, if not millions, of people out of work. Due to their versatility, these droids could be taught the skills of factory workers, farmers, transportation specialists, or even IT personnel. Understandably the people who lost their jobs would have some serious angst towards droids. The Organization for Organic Purity was a coalition that rose to promote anti-droid sentiment. Of course, pro-droid movements also started like the Coalition of Automaton Rights Activists and the extremist Mechanical Liberation Front. Even bartenders on Tatooine do not like droids in their cantinas.
As a droid gets “older,” it accumulates more and more knowledge from all the jobs that it has done in the past. This gives the droid a greater understanding and a wider variety of skills it can apply. It is for this reason that many droid owners go against the manufacturer’s manuals and do not memory wipe their droids. Memory wiping a droid is like doing a destructive full system restore on your Windows computer. It erases all of the droid’s accumulated knowledge that it has gained, and resets its memory to the factory settings. There are arguments on both sides about whether to memory wipe or not. A droid is a highly logical machine; it rationalizes based on logical rules and cannot make illogical judgments or take any action that is against its programming, such as lying or stealing. That galaxy far, far away has one thing in common with this galaxy in that both are illogical places to be. So if you have a totally logical brain in an illogical environment with the most illogical organic beings imaginable, I think there might be a few conflicts. (Forgive me Jeffery, sorry Master Balsar, but I do want to bring Star Trek into this conversation.) In the Original Series, with Kirk, Spock and Bones, they do a stellar job of portraying this dynamic of logic versus illogic. I remember an episode where an entire army of androids were created to serve their masters and make their lives easy, and they want to do the same for Kirk and his crew. Unfortunately to the androids this meant keeping them all prisoners on the androids’ planet so they could be attended too. Each android’s model number looked the same; so all the model fives looked the same, the model seventeens all looked the same and so on. Spock, in his only illogical moment that I can ever remember, had this dialog with two of the same model, so they both looked and acted just the same, that I am going to recreate from memory.
“I love you,” he said, glancing at one, “but I hate you,” glancing at the other.
“How can you hate me?” said the hated one. “We are both the same.”
“I know that’s why I hate you,” he said glancing back at the loved one, “and why I love you.”
This effectively shut down the androids because logically what Spock is saying makes no sense. When a droid in Star Wars is presented with a similar situation I do not recall any of them shutting down or blowing up. I do remember them developing personality quirks as a side effect of rationalizing what is going on around them. I remember reading the biography for T7-01 on the SWTOR website which described how he was a stubborn, quirky little droid that considered his owners to be his partners instead of his master. These personality quirks are a result of not having his memory wiped in two centuries. This does give him a wide array of skills but some of those personality quirks might become aggravating to his owner; stubbornness can be annoying at the best of times. These are the arguments given for memory wiping. Many droid owners do not memory wipe their droids because they actually enjoy the personalities that their droids develop over time, not to mention all the skills they gain. Personally I think it would depend on the class of droid more than anything else, and that is what we are going to talk about next.
Droids can be classified into five different categories, or classes as they are called. Class One droids are on average the most expensive. These are scientist droids. Armed with a wealth of knowledge, they conduct experiments, record data and observations, number crunch billions of calculations at lightning speed, and can serve in medical and surgical capacities. The Geentech 2-1B Surgical Droid is the Class One droid we see in Empire Strikes Back that gives Luke his mechanical hand. I am sure somewhere in the Star Wars galaxy there is a Class One droid that is looking at Excel spreadsheets trying to min/max its master’s MMO toon’s DPS.
Class Two droids are my personal favorite. They are involved in engineering and technical services. If I lived in the Star Wars galaxy, I would own a Class Two droid. Imagine having a droid that repaired things in your house when they broke down, but could also work on your vehicle as well. These droids differ from Class Ones because they are in applied science, using the knowledge they have to solve real world problems. Industrial Automaton has cornered the market on Class Twos with their R-Series Astromech Droids. These droids do not interact with organics much, so they tend to need memory wipes less often.
Class Three droids are designed to interact with organics as their primary function. These droids include protocol droids, servant droids, tutor droids, and child care droids. Since they interact with organics they are the most likely to need regular memory wipes, as they are put into these illogical situations on a daily basis. Despite this, these types of droids are very useful in their jobs. Translators in a galaxy with billions of forms of communications would be invaluable to an explorer or diplomat, even if the droid sounded like a fussy British butler.
Class Four droids are the ones that everyone will want to take out with them as a companion in SWTOR. These droids are the militaristic models. The infamous Mandalorian Basilisk war droids would be in this group. All of the battle droids that we see the Jedi slicing up with their lightsabers in the prequels were Class Fours. Also included in this group would be security droids that someone might have to protect their home from any number of threats. Due to the nature of their knowledge and skills, Class Fours are highly regulated in many systems by the organic meatbags that govern them.
Class Fives are the last class and in many ways are the simplest droids, borderlining on being robots. The first droids ever were Class Fives and due to the nature of the work they do they have not been upgraded terribly much since the pre-Republic era. These droids perform a myriad of menial labor jobs. Some of these droids are so basic that they can do most simple tasks with a minimum of instruction. Others are built with a specific task in mind. And lastly, there are some droids that simply do work that would be hazardous or dangerous for an organic to perform, like mining lava on Mustafar.
It is important to note that these classes are from the manufacturer. Once a droid is purchased and brought home, there are many ways that the owner can customize his or her droid. If someone bought an astromech droid, there is nothing saying that he could not buy a medical diagnostic and survey tool and software suite and plug it in; the little dome topped droid could then assist in diagnosing patients at a medical clinic. This would make a Class Two droid perform Class One tasks. Much like our PCs today, different parts can be found and plugged into these droids.
A discussion on an old TOROCast episode was who would get HK-47 as a companion in SWTOR. As HK is my favorite droid character in all of Star Wars, I would like to put my two credits into the pot. I think we will all get HK regardless of class. Let me explain. I think HK will be a raid (sorry Operation) boss. When we defeat him his phat lewt will not be his gun or mods for our droids; it will be HK himself. Now story-wise after we defeat him maybe he will drop a part of himself, like his head, chassis, legs, arms, etc. We would have to run that raid several times to get all the pieces of HK, and eventually we could put him together to become a “legendary” companion. If you remember that is how we got him as a companion in KOTOR2. If you saw someone running around with HK-47 as a companion then you knew that they had gone through several ops to get him.
At any rate, droids are an integral part of Star Wars and an interesting topic of discussion. Within the limits of their programming, droids do reason. Does this mean they are alive? Do they deserve rights like organic beings? At first I would have said no to both questions, but then I think about the personalities that these droids develop. They definitely seem to be alive, but is that an illusion? This is the first topic I have to say I am on the fence about. I am eager to hear your thoughts on this subject, because even though we do not live in the Star Wars galaxy this is an issue that we as organics are going to have to address in the future, when we have our own droids.
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Until next time, may the force be with you all