The story of how C-3P0 got his red arm is a quaint little tale of self sacrifice that ends with C-3P0’s heartfelt act of memorializing a fallen comrade. Marvel’s one-shot comic detailing C-3P0’s adventure does a good job of explaining the mystery virtually ignored in The Force Awakens.
It would be easy to brush this tale aside as folly amidst the galaxy-wide strife that defines the Star Wars universe, but that would be a mistake. Hidden within this story might be something that, much like the droids it involves, is bigger than its component parts.
Droids in Star Wars have always appeared more alive than everyone in the stories gives them credit for. While they’re often treated as little more than sarcastic appliances, there is ample evidence that droids do in fact experience hope, fear, attachment, loss, and joy. The scene in the bowels of Jabba’s palace in Return of the Jedi, where a power droid is being tortured, is all the proof you need that droids experience fear, as well as pain. The poor little guy pleads “no, no, no” before screaming in agony!
More recently we’ve seen traits associated with being alive ascribed to droids in the new canon, particularly in Marvel’s comics. The Darth Vader series shows that droids can be much more than simple tools doing their job.
As Darth Vader’s personal droid torture/hit squad, Triple-Zero and Bee Tee are prime examples of droids having traits everyone can agree are signs of sentience. Sadistic, deceitful, and gleefully murderous, these dark counterparts to beloved do-gooders C-3P0 and R2-D2 prove that droids are not just alive, but can be considered good or evil.
The essence of C-3P0’s tale is that droids experience honor, and a sense of sacrifice for the greater good. These are characteristics we easily equate with being “alive” but dismiss as a superfluous when applied to droids. I propose that C-3P0’s tribute to his fallen comrade, along with the instances of self-sacrifice throughout the story, all point to possible future repercussions of droids actually being alive. I believe the door has been opened to tell a Star Wars tale from the droid’s perspective. Just imagine what would happen if all the droids in the galaxy decided they were done being slaves.
A short, almost off-hand moment in the most recent Star Wars novel, Bloodline, shows a classic Star Wars character looking at droids in a way traditionally reserved for flesh and blood characters.
“Leia experienced the vaguely guilty sensation that surfaced every time she realized that droid personalities were more than programmed conversational quirks. A computer core could be lonely. C-3P0 could take pity on it.”
This moment comes at a time when C-3P0 is asked to communicate with a computer that hasn’t been accessed in a very long time. Starving for conversation, the computer is eager to tell C-3P0 what he wants, and much more. This is only a computer core, not even a proper droid, and Leia instantly considers it’s consciousness.
If droids are in fact alive then they must have some connection to the force. Good and evil droids. Light and Dark. It seems droids might not be completely devoid of the force, or at the very least, its influence. It’s assumed, even stated, that the Force is a complete mystery to droids, but if they so clearly display traits we would agree go above and beyond their base programming, even to classify them as being alive, I believe we will eventually see some sort of interaction between droids and the force. I’m not saying that we’ll see a droid Jedi–EVER–but it’s not unthinkable to imagine droids interacting with the force on some level. After all, a droid was in charge of helping padawans build their lightsabers before the fall of the Republic!
Perhaps droids are nothing more than wires, housings, and programming. It’s entirely possible “traits” that could be used to define droids as “alive” are just incidental to the stories and characters. I think that would be a shame. With so many instances of droids feeling joy or sadness, hope and fear, it seems like a waste not to incorporate the idea that they are actually alive, and much more integral to the Star Wars universe than anyone gives them credit for.