Jay's Galactic Espressions
Robotics have enthralled the human psyche since the ancient Egyptians developed a steam-operated animatronic statue (1), so it’s really no wonder that the Star Wars saga has always been at the forefront of delighting our hearts and souls with its wide array of droids. From our first introduction to the comical and endearing duo of R2-D2 and C-3PO in 1977, to the absolutely loveable BB-8 in the 2015 release of The Force Awakens, we have undeniably been smitten by these amazing gizmos.
Why are we so enchanted by droids? What is it about them that draws our hearts and souls into their animatronic grasps? Obviously, there are also scary robots and destructive robots, but this piece will focus solely on the positive attachments we feel.
In the most recent podcast episode of Lattes With Leia (Droids, Please) Amy Ratcliffe and Dr. Andrea Letamendi go into the topic somewhat, so I won’t repeat much here, but I do have my own thoughts and reflections. I found some very interesting supplemental information as well! For example, did you know there is a whole research discipline devoted to robopsychology (2)?
My favorite robots/droids have been ones that somehow draw me in emotionally. Whether it be their unique personality, humor, wit or empathy, the way I directly relate to them is a unique experience, much in the way of how I might relate to other humans.
Let’s play word association: What are my favorite all-time non-Star Wars robots that immediately come to mind (in no particular order)?
Rosie, The Jetsons. Did you know that Rosie had a boyfriend? His name was Mack, and he was owned by Henry, the apartment superintendent.
Robot, Lost in Space (“danger, Will Robinson“)!
Twiki, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. “Beedee, beedee, beedee!”
7-Zark-7, Battle of the Planets. Usually just called “Zark,” he was kind of a combination of Artoo and Threepio, and always kept the G-Force crew informed on the Pheonix.
Marvin the Paranoid Android, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. “Life?! Don’t talk to me about life!” Voiced by the late, great Alan Rickman, Chopper’s new friend AP-5 reminds me of him.
Sonny, I-Robot. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I love him… “My father tried to teach me human emotions. They are…difficult.”
J.A.R.V.I.S, Iron Man. The most perfect friend, colleague, confidante and butler…perfect for the world's most perfect genius, billionaire, playboy, and philanthropist. Ever.
R2-D2 and C-3PO will always be near and dear to my heart (I even cosplayed as a female steampunk version of Threepio last year at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim), but their allure has long been the subject of many an essay. Today, the two droids that have my adoration are Chopper from Star Wars Rebels, and BB-8 from The Force Awakens.
Aaron Harris and I recently discussed Chopper’s appeal on an episode of Rebels Reactions (show posting soon), in which we recapped the episode: “The Forgotten Droid.” One of the things I said, in an attempt to sum up my feelings about Chopper, was that I couldn’t really decide whether I felt like Chopper is like a little kid, a whiny teenager, or a curmudgeonly old man. What I’ve ultimately decided, is that he is ALL of those things, wrapped up together, which I why I think his appeal is so far-reaching, and so endearing. Aaron and I also discussed how incredibly skilled the writers and animators of Rebels are, because we can “see” the emotions on Chopper’s face, even though in reality, his “face” actually has no non-verbal capabilities. That’s the mark of a captivating robotic character: inspiring the audience to project human emotion and passion into a mechanical being. The fact that Chopper’s overall design reminds me of a cool little steampunk prodigy – for me anyway – gives him an extra edge!
The way Chopper “talks” is also easy to love: instead of a series of incomprehensible bleeps and bloops, you can almost understand what he’s saying, just from the few little familiar syllables of words here-and-there. Being able to understand his language is a prime reason why Chopper is so loveable.
Tricia Barr recently wrote for FANgirl Blog, in which she also dissected this episode of Rebels, and she also cited a piece from Smithsonian Magazine. In the reference, the piece discussed the spectrum of human attitudes about robotics, called the “uncanny valley,” which ranges from alluring, to creepy, to downright appalling.
BB-8 is another prime example of a robotic entity ingraining itself into our souls. I have not met anyone who doesn’t like BB-8 in some capacity. Everything about him invites you in. For example, his shape: being round and having almost entirely soft edges gives one the feeling of happiness and comfort. No sharp edges, nothing to be intimidating. The shape of a circle has also been long-associated with femininity and softness; I would argue that this alone is the reason that BB-8 should’ve had a feminine programming, but I don’t want to go off on a tangent, here!
His orange coloring has an emotional effect as well. I have done a lot of research with color therapy throughout my experience as a teacher of fashion and interior design. I have come to understand that the color orange is not only in the “warm” color category, causing us to have “warm feelings,” but psychologically, orange is associated with joy, creativity, enthusiasm and confidence. Was this a conscious color choice by the designers of BB-8?
The special features on The Force Awakens Blu-Ray release has also given me some insight into why BB-8 is so irresistible. There was a lot of decision-making that went into the placement of BB-8’s visual orbs/sensors. Many attempts were made before the ultimate design of BB-8 went forward. To me, it makes a lot of sense. I’ve always been fascinated with all things psychologically related (as you may have noticed from reading my past blogs). It all has to do with the way our brains process how we see faces, and how those images are translated by our brains to our emotional state. We are programmed to be at ease emotionally and psychologically with faces that are symmetrical. In studies, even young infants have been shown to pay more attention to “pretty” arrangements of shapes – either faces or abstract shapes – than “ugly” ones.
What about those sounds BB-8 makes? For me, anyway, his little purrs and gyro-swishes are adorable. His beeps and chirps seem to be in a high range, but not so much so, that they are like nails on a chalk board. His sounds seem to have a balance of melodic harmony and simplicity, without any hint of discord whatsoever. Unless, of course, he’s distraught about something!
I have the Sphero BB-8, and I absolutely love him. I got him in November, 2015, as a VERY early Christmas present from my hubby. He knew how much I had fallen in love with the little droid, even before the release of the movie, and he gladly fed my fangirl appetite! My favorite feature, by far, has been the “Watch With Me” mode, in which BB-8 will react to everything happening in The Force Awakens while you watch it together. I had the most spectacular viewing experience with him last weekend, when my husband was out-of-state, and I needed a movie buddy! I think I smiled the entire time, talked to BB-8 in response to his reactions, laughed, and fell even more deeply in love with this little mechanical majesty!
So, who ranks among your favorite droids of Star Wars, or robots in general? I would love to know!
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(1) Goldberg, Ken, and Tiffany Schlain. “Why Do People Love Robots? Find out in This Botscar-winning Robot Film Festival Short.” Robohub. 11 Aug. 2014. Web. 14 Apr. 2016.
(2) “Robopsychology.” Wikipedia. Wikipedia Foundation, 9 Feb. 2016. Web. 15 Apr. 2016.
Barr, Tricia. “A Few Thoughts on Last Week’s Star Wars Rebels: “The Forgotten Droid”” FANgirl Blog. 22 Mar. 2016. Web. 16 Apr. 2016.
Smithsonianmag.com (Rosie and Mack)
starwars.com (Chopper and AP-5)
thechnobuffalo.com (BB-8 and R2-D2)