C-3PO doesn’t get a lot of love. Out of all the main characters in the original trilogy, the poor droid is probably the least liked. Vader’s a badass villain, Luke is the hero, Han is the dashing rogue, and women everywhere want to be Princess Leia. R2-D2 is just cute, but C-3PO–man, some people just hate him. I mean, look, here’s a whole article from the freaking Smithsonian explaining why R2-D2 is the better droid.
Sadly, the prequels didn’t do C-3PO any favors. Episode I gave him the world’s worst retcon, revealing him to be the intellectual property of Darth Vader, and Episode II subjected him to terrible puns and the indignity of being given a Battle Droid’s body. He had it a little better in The Force Awakens, but that whole “because of the red arm” moment was a little cringe-inducing.
But, cut the guy a break. I’m going to submit to you three reasons why C-3PO is deserving of your respect – yes, respect – as a Star Wars character. He doesn’t have to be your favorite; you just need to appreciate his role in the story.
Number one, he’s the only constant in every Star Wars film to date, along with most of the other media. Specifically as played by Anthony Daniels–yes, he’s been in everything: all the movies, both Clone Wars cartoons, Rebels, the Lego animated shows (including The Lego Movie), and even appearances on Sesame Street and The Muppet Show. Suffice it to say that it’s not Star Wars unless C-3PO shows up somewhere. I’d daresay he’s one of the most iconic figures in the saga–the golden droid is as instantly recognizable as Vader, Stormtroopers, and Yoda.
And because of that, number two: C-3PO is, quite literally, part of the Star Wars family. You hate the prequels, and I get that. I really do. As awful as it was, though, C-3PO is literally intertwined in the Skywalker family history. He was built by Vader, witness to Anakin and Padme’s wedding, present at Luke and Leia’s births, servant to the royal house of Alderaan, and an impetus to Luke finally leaving the farm and becoming a hero. He may have bumbled through the saga like a cosmic Forrest Gump, but C-3PO has always been a critical part of the story in his own, small way.
And that leads to point number three: C-3PO, symbolically, is all of us: the viewers. Say what, you ask? Well, think about it. Most of the characters in the saga are larger-than-life heroes. Luke is the boy who grows up to be a knight. Leia is the kick-ass princess/rebel leader. Han is the dashing scoundrel. Lando is the other dashing scoundrel. Most of the characters are iconic, idealized notions of who we’d secretly like to be.
C-3PO? He’s an ordinary guy (droid) caught up in something much larger than he’s ready for. From the opening of A New Hope, he’s a whining, nervous, non-stop complaining character who’s trying to stay low and keep out of trouble. Honestly: Star Wars looks cool, but most of us aren’t ready for a crisis situation. If the shit hit the fan in real life, most of us would–reflexively–act the same way.
Consider that all of the opening lines of dialogue in A New Hope belong to Threepio, and it’s nothing but fear and whining:
Did you hear that?
They shut down the main reactor.
We’ll be destroyed for sure.
This is madness.
There’ll be no escape for the princess this time.
R2-D2, where are you? At last! Where have you been? They’re heading in this direction. What are we going to do? We’ll be sent to the spice mines of Kessel, smashed into who knows what!
That’s a lot of pessimism from Goldenrod. Shit’s hit the fan, and he sees nothing but doom ahead of him for, oh, the next two hours of movie. It’s annoying, but be fair: it’s also very realistic. If lasers and explosions and a seven foot tall armored cyborg were all chasing after you for three years, you’d be complaining a lot too. C-3PO really just wants to get the heck out of there and get to someplace safe.
It’s not that this makes C-3PO all bad. He has his moments. Threepio is usually a coward, but he manages to pull himself together when things are really at stake – except when Chewbacca has to literally put him back together. He did contribute to the rescue of the heroes on the Death Star, offered to donate parts to repair Artoo, and even put himself in jeopardy to trap the Stormtroopers in an Ewok attack. He’s not a great hero, but C-3PO does rise to the occasion when he has to.
The genius of C-3PO is that he’s exceedingly ordinary–like Dante in Clerks, he’s the person who complains all day that he’s not even supposed to be here today. The glass is always half empty and the world is always out to get him. But, maybe like a lot of us, C-3PO just needs a nudge in the right direction to do the right thing and be a hero when the time comes. C-3PO may not be great like Luke, Leia, and Han, but beneath his grumpy golden exterior is a heart of gold that wants to do the right thing.
So, happy May the Fourth to all the closet C-3PO fans out there, and thank you to Mr. Anthony Daniels for continuing to portray him for 40 years. And to the rest of you who don’t like him, maybe it’s time to give the golden droid a fresh look.