After having recently watched Her and Ex Machina - two brilliant but also very different movies on artificial intelligence (AI), the subject has wondered around my mind for the past few days. And since Star Wars is almost always somewhere at the back of my mind, it was only a matter of time until the two subjects met and I started thinking about artificial intelligence in Star Wars - Droids.
I feel that droids and the way they are established in the Star Wars universe has quite a bit of untapped potential.
The fine line in exploring the Star Wars Universe
A tricky thing with Star Wars is that there is a fine line between sci-fi (science fiction) and pure fantasy elements.
A universe to explore
On the one hand, in Star Wars we have this rich fictional universe, which rules and inner workings so to say are incredibly well established. Come to think of it, it's almost scary (in a good way) how detailed this massive fictional universe has become throughout years and different sources.
Honestly, it is fun to explore it. It also adds to the movie watching experience by immersing one further into that fictional universe. And whenever something is not fully explained, it is fun to speculate about it. Basically, having fun being a fan I suppose.
The fantasy element
However, it has to taken into account that Star Wars is still probably more of a fanatasy than sci-fi. More importantly, a fantasy which origins lay in philosophy and mythology of different cultures and schools of thought. Therefore, it uses many abstract ways to explore timeless themes, ideas and stories in a new, different and imaginative context. The universe and it's rules built around it just provide a means to an end in order to play with these themes. Therein lays one of the main essences of Star Wars.
To give an example. That is probably the reason why people had such a cold response towards explaining "the Force" through midichlorians (microscopic organisms that enable different beings to sense the Force) in the prequels. The Force was originally presented as this mystical and abstract way to explore willpower in every individual. Giving it this pseudoscientific explanation took away that element (although I would like to point out that personally I did not mind it as much, since one of my motos is that "if magic existed, it would still be a form of science" ;) ).
Oh, and not to forget: Star Wars is also supposed to be a fun and entertaining (!) epic space adventure/opera that captures your imagination. So, when one is annoyed by something unexplained in Star Wars, sometimes, you should just go with it and not overthink it.
The main point here, regarding droids, is that although exploring the artificial intelligence in Star Wars universe would be a fascinating take on the artificial intelligence as a subject in general (with all of it's existential themes and so on), it might not necessarily go along with overall essence of Star Wars. However, there are aspects about droids that do.
Using droids to explore the Force
Many droids, as they are established in the Star Wars universe, are, with the lack of a better word, sentient beings - intelligent, self aware, able to have emotions and actually form a distinct personality, sense of humor etc. In other words, "from a certain point of view", they are alive.
As said before, perhaps we should just go with it. Yet, I feel that droids offer many possibilites to explore the Star Wars universe in new ways that would be silly to completely ignore. One of them being "the Force".
What is the Force?
Well, to most fans good ol' Obi-Wan sums it up best in Episode IV: "It is an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together."
A "slightly" less popular explanation is provided by Qui Gon in Episode 1 - The midichlorians: They are microscopic organisms found in all the living cells which allow Jedi and other Force-sensitive beings to connect to the Force. "Without the midi-chlorians, life could not exist, and we would have no knowledge of the Force. They continually speak to us, telling us the will of the Force. When you learn to quiet your mind, you'll hear them speaking to you."
Whatever explanation one prefers, one thing is clear. To establish at least some kind of a connection to the Force, one must be a living being... living, not necessarily organic. That leads us to the untapped potential that the existance of the droids provide.
The questions to explore
As we established before, from a certain point of view (sorry for using that phrase so much, but as a law student I can't help it), droids are alive. That creates many interesting questions, that are (to a large extent) previously unexplored.
- Can a droid establish a connection to the Force on at least some level? (According to Wookiepedia, droids cannot sense the Force in a classic sense, but theoretically could, if equipped with a special engine driven by human blood)
- By that extention, can a droid turn to the dark side or the light side of the Force?
- Is the Force something that only connects to the organic or are self-awareness and intelligence also factors?
- And lastly, remember when Anakin and "Palpie" (also known as Sheev Palpatine or Darth Sidious) were talking about finding the secret to create life (Star Wars: Episode III). But isn't it already found (in a way) in form of droids? That, in turn, adds a new layer to the unpopular plot development that a pre-teen Anakin created C-3PO (an intelligent droid with it's own personality). Perhaps, he (Anakin) could do it at such a young age because of his strong connection to the Force?
These are questions that I am not even trying to answer in this short article. But what is important here, is that through these questions (and the ones similar) we could explore the concept of the Force in a new and exciting way without necessarily taking away it's mysticism that many people like about it.
Potential for a spin-off
As said before, although the Star Wars universe provides an interesting ground for exploring the artificial intelligence, it doesn't mean that it should... at least in the main stories. But spin-offs and TV are another thing.
A spin-off focused on a droid that explores existentialism in the Star Wars universe ( "I think, therefore I am" and that sort of stuff), would have a lot of material to work with.
Of course, droids are not the main focus of this fictional universe. But, as it has expanded and become more detailed throughout the years, it has also become more and more clear that many droids are self-aware beings that have no personal rights what so ever. I feel that this notion is getting harder and harder to completely ignore.
It has been, to a large extent, ignored in the main movies (and understandably so, since it is not the main focus by a long shot). But a spin-off from a droid's perspective might just put one's mind at ease on this largely unexplored subject, while also revealing Star Wars from a different angle. Why not? That is kind of the purpose of a spin-off anyway and it certainly has potential in it.
Besides, we have already seen that droid(s) can lead a story as proved with a four episode arc in Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Season 4), that was surprisingly enjoyable one to watch given my initial skepticism towards making droids the leads.
To sum up
Let's make it simple. C-3PO and R2-D2 are characters with their own distinct personalities, who have been featured in all of the Star Wars movies so far. Therefore, they are among the most featured and memorable characters in the Star Wars universe. The emphasis is on the word "characters". They basically carry the first 15 minutes or so of Episode IV with their banter and chemistry.
When Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) spoke about the approach he had to the character, he said that a lot of his inspiration came from C-3PO-s facial expression that was one of constant uneasiness about the world around him (something along these lines anyway). So, he created the character's personality based on that.
If a droid is treated as a character, then perhaps it's time to explore these characters a bit more. They are not and should not be the main focus in Star Wars, but there could be many rewards in it for the Star Wars universe to explore them to a larger extent.