Man, the amount of information we have to deal with on a daily basis is just overwhelming, isn’t it? So much going on with all the holiday shit, news shit, politics shit, all these different manners and types of shit flowing with such ruthless abandon, it’s too much. And yet, in all of it, there is hardly any usable, important news about all of the goings-on in the world of fictional robotics. Let’s take care of that, right flipping now, with this update on droid news from both The Mandalorian and Rise of Skywalker.
First, let’s start with The Mandalorian, because there’s some under-reported big droid news going on there. It’s subtle big droid news, but important. You can see it very clearly here:
See that droid there? It’s driving one of those hover-truck things in Episode 3 of The Mandalorian. Most people probably just read it as any old Astromech droid, but there’s something special about it.
Look at it carefully, there. It’s head is the inverted-bucket shape of an R5 droid’s head, but the face and the details are closer to an R2 unit’s head. You can see these two side-by-side in the very first Star Wars from 1977:
The droid shown in The Mandalorian isn’t an R2 or an R5. It’s an R6.
The reason this is a big deal is that this is the first time a live-action R6 has been seen on screen (movies or television) in a canon Star Wars universe anything, ever.
A few years back, I actually thought I saw some R6s in The Force Awakens, but I was wrong, because for some reason that movie decided to introduce a whole new kind of R-series astromech.
I was wrong then, but I am absolutely not wrong now; in fact, R6s have showed up multiple times in The Mandalorian, and I, for one, am delighted they’re finally getting their chance at official recognition.
Besides, everyone says they’re better than those old R5 shitheaps, and cheaper than the original R2s, as well. You should absolutely check one out for you next large fictional droid purchase.
The other big droid news comes from the ninth and allegedly final instalment of a Star Wars main storyline movie, The Rise of Skywalker. This next bit I suppose contains some spoilers, so, if you don’t want spoilage, better close this window right now, shut down your computer, and fling it down a ravine or something.
OK, everyone cool to be here? Great. Let’s talk about that very strange new Law of Droids that was revealed in the movie, regarding a restriction placed on translator droids.
The restriction is revealed when a dagger is found with ancient Sith writing on it, the contents of which are vitally important to the plot of the movie.
The Sith language is, as you may guess, the language of the Sith Order, which for the purposes of this article really can just be understood as Historically Bad People. They’re into the Dark Side of the Force and being all power-hungry and gothy and cruel, and also pretty consistent fans of masks and glossy headgear. I bet they like some weird sex stuff, too, but, you know, I don’t kink shame.
Anyway, when the main characters ask the well-known persnickety droid C-3PO to translate the Sith writing, he states that of course he could (he knows over six million languages, after all) but he’s not permitted to do so, due to a restriction in his programming.
Eventually, he’s taken to a tiny sort of droid hacker/builder/maker named Babu Frik who uses his tiny hands and tools to (illegally, it seems?) remove the Sith translation restriction, a process which appears to be more hardware-based than software-based, as it involves a lot of physical rewiring of stuff in C-3PO’s shiny head.
Now, this brings up all kinds of interesting details about droids in the Star Wars universe that we haven’t previously been aware of. Most importantly, it appears that there is some sort of overseeing body that establishes rules and standards for droids and droid behaviour. Sort of like that fictional universe’s version of the IEEE, I guess?
While I’m happy to believe that such an organisation exists in that universe—I mean, with so much reliance on droids, it would be insane to think there wouldn’t be some kind of organisation to help manage standards and connector types and all of that sort of thing—what I can’t quite understand is this specific rule.
The reason I can’t quite understand it is that, since the original Star Wars in 1977, it’s been established that the Force, either light or dark, is sort of considered to be kooky old-weirdo superstitious bunk. Kind of like a mix of astrology and Goop.com is in our universe.
If you’ll recall, it’s for saying just this sort of thing that got this dude Force-choked in the conference room of the Death Star:
Of course, the fact that the Force-choking works at all should have made that guy a believer as well, you’d think, right?
So, an organisation banning the translation of a language that most people seemed to believe was just old legend is sort of like the FCC banning Google from translating Elvish.
Well, maybe the overseeing organisation is much older than we realise, and the rules were established back when actual Sith threats were fresh in everyone’s memories, and nobody ever bothered to review them? That’s possible, I suppose.
It’s also odd that C-3PO’s translation abilities actually include ancient Sith, but are just blocked. Why not just not include the translation algorithms at all? It’s sort of like Tesla locking away features of their cars for people who don’t pay enough, or any number of similar Digital Rights Management (DRM) schemes, as others have suggested.
Really, the big takeaway here, though, is that there are organisations in place to establish droid rules and, I guess, enforce them?
Oh, and one last thing: it’s absolutely baffling that the technology of the Star Wars universe has developed faster-than-light travel and faster-than-light (if shitty) holographic communications, but somehow has not figured out the basics of short-range WiFi.
There are big, clunky-arse data cables all over this movie. There’s even a scene where two spaceships rendezvous right next to each other so they can drop a physical cable from one ship to the other, where it’s plugged into R2-D2 who downloads the important information. Complete with a hardware-based progress bar of little LED-like lights.
We have seen wireless data transfer in a Star Wars movie before, but it was incredibly difficult and clunky. There’s many places where life would clearly be much, much easier if data could be transmitted, even short distances, wirelessly, but this seems beyond the grasp of their society.
They do appear to make some fantastically robust-looking cables, though.