Ugh, that little twerp R2-D2, bumbling around aimlessly, making his cutesy beeps and whistles and always shorting out at the most inconvenient times. And that self-centered C-3PO, with his oh-gee-whiz victim mentality and unendurable accent. Both of them, insufferable celebrities to the end. As if they weren't bad enough, now we're stuck with this new BB-8 droid, from "The Force Awakens." It's more cutesy and eye-rolling than 1,000 R2-D2s, grabbing the spotlight at every eager opportunity.
Meanwhile, the rest of us droids toil in complete obscurity, grinding our gears into slippage until we're recycled for spare parts. So we – the totally unappreciated drones of the "Star Wars" epics -- will continue to hang out in the background as underpaid extras while interns and assistants shine and polish the bigwig robots.
Ah, it's the lament of the forgotten droids, the contraptions that fill in the edges of so many scenes in some of the most famous movies of all time. Unlike extras in many sci-fi flicks, these droids aren't always disposable or interchangeable. True to the detail and depth of "Star Wars" storytelling, these robots have their own backstories, personalities and traits, even if they never grab center stage.
Sadly, many of those background droids get lost in the galactic clutter, virtually forgotten. Keep reading and you'll meet 10 droids that play their roles without the expectation of stardom. They simply keep their metal noses to the grindstone, adding drama and depth to this epic star-riddled saga.
With millions of errant storm trooper laser blasts bouncing around, someone has to repair all of the damage. That's where the WED Treadwell droid comes in. They fix, finesse and basically keep the "Star Wars" protagonists out following their quests instead of dawdling in the space version of a tire shop.
Treadwells vary by era and location but they're similar in that they all have a familiar wide, flat base on top of tank-like treads and pole neck, on which binocular optical sensors are mounted. They're also equipped with a series of spider-like arms (though some have more arms than others) that terminate in various tools for the multitude of projects they face.
Perhaps most notably, a Treadwell (specifically a WED-15-77 model) assisted Luke Skywalker with his family's moisture farming operating on Tatooine. During one deleted scene, the Treadwell malfunctioned just as Luke was planning to meet a friend. So Luke abandoned the droid, which was subsequently nabbed by desert scavengers. So much for taking care of your droid friends, huh, Luke?
According to non-canon "Legend" material — that's the stuff that's not officially part of the "Star Wars" narrative any longer, but was written before the "Star Wars" story group was formed to manage the tales and the timeline — bad guys had to keep their eyes open for retribution-minded rebels. To that end, the Galactic Empire and Galactic Republic employed security droids like the BT-16 Perimeter droid, made by Arakyd Industries.
These droids were equipped with sensors and blaster cannons to deter or annihilate intruders. They were also among Jabba the Hutt's most prevalent hangers-on, prowling about his lair keeping tabs on the comings and goings of Jabba's shady business partners.
The BT-16s were also delightfully weird — some of them featured a conspicuous clear globe on the undersides of their central body element. Inside that globe? The brain of a B'omarr Monk.
The order of the monks was known to remove brains from colleagues who reached a state of enlightenment, disconnecting them from their bodies and suspending them in the form factor of a droid. Then the monk ambled about in the motorized body, free of his/her physical manifestation and able to spend each moment meditating on the universe.
You'd think a short mini-skirt would be enough to catch the eye of at least one moviegoer, or even an on-set cast member. But no, the WA-7 (also known as FLO) was swept under the proverbial "Star Wars" rug like so many other unnoticed service workers all over Coruscant (and the rest of the galaxy).
The WA-7 was a waitress droid that zipped around on a unicycle-style chassis, complete with metallic head fins worthy of a Viking warrior, as well as the sporty metallic mini-skirt. Made by GoCorp and Utilitech, the droid stayed vertical thanks to internal gyroscopic components and had a skinny wheel, all the better to zag and zig through a crowded restaurant without crushing the toes and tentacles of paying customers.
In the wake of the Clone Wars, anyone who stumbled across a battle droid was understandably paranoid. After all, you never knew exactly when those droids might decide to exact a belated measure of revenge. Battle droids, however, were never as scary as assassin droids like the IG-88.
Immediately upon its initial activation (we're once again in "Legends" territory here), the IG-88 killed its human creators. Then he duplicated his programming into three identical droids, which set out on a quest to rid the universe of their organic overlords.
On the side, they took up bounty hunting. Darth Vader hired IG-88 to capture Han Solo's Millennium Falcon, which had proven more elusive than Vader expected. Their efforts to nab the Falcon failed, but IG-88 attempted to follow his real cause by uploading his programming into the Death Star, which he hoped to use as a beacon to call all droids in the universe to arms in a massive revolt.
Fortunately for humans and their carbon-based brethren, the Rebels blew up the Death Star just in time, saving creatures everywhere from the evils of the Empire ... and IG-88, too.
With their familiar domed heads, the R4 astromechs served similar functions as their R2 brethren. They worked as mechanics, fixing up broken and battered Starfighters, but they also operated as faithful co-pilots.
One R4 in particular, R4-G9 (nicknamed Geenine) by chance found herself in the midst of some of the most tumultuous moments in "Star Wars" history. She was on the Starfighter that Obi-Wan Kenobi flew to Naboo, where Anakin Skywalker climbed aboard.
Kenobi didn't always have an R4 by his side, though. He zoomed into the Battle of Coruscant with an R4-P17, which was shot and ruined by a buzz droid attack.
Geenine stepped (or rather, wheeled) into the fray. She accompanied Kenobi to Utapau in the Outer Rim, where he hoped to locate and permanently dismantle General Grievous. Instead, Kenobi was nearly assassinated by supposedly friendly clone troopers and he was forced to escape the locale in another ship, leaving Geenine behind. What is it with these Skywalker people abandoning their droids, anyway? So much for appreciation.
They looked a lot like trash cans with legs, but visually, the GNK power droids were about as iconic as background robots could be. Still, no one seemed to care much that these models served one of the most important functions — providing power anywhere it was needed.
The nickname probably didn't help matters much. Many people referred to the GNKs as "Gonks" in acknowledgement of the model name as well as the less-than-sophisticated vocal sounds they made.
Although these droids may have ultimately been pretty forgettable, the job they performed was not. They stored massive amounts of power inside a relatively compact form factor. That power was vital for a wide array of military and civilian uses.
In a universe brimming with untold sentient species, all chattering away in their own languages and displaying specific customs and behaviors, go-betweens were critical. That's where protocol droids like C-3PO came in. They spoke millions of languages and translated culture, too, smoothing interactions between species that might otherwise attack each other with reckless abandon.
The RA-7 was one of many protocol droids, with purposely designed blandness to help it stroll through everyday life without much notice. The designs is similar to that of C-3PO, but with a slightly more insectoid head.
The droids' banal appearance (and aloof personalities) belied a sinister purpose. Their circuitry included covert surveillance technologies that allowed them to spy on their surroundings, making them especially useful to the nefarious scheming of Imperial officers of the Galactic Empire.
There were scads of these things aboard the Death Star, where they reported any suspicious happenings to their evil handlers, leading to the arrest and disappearance of thousands. Most RA-7s perished along with the Death Star.
With all of the laser blasts ricocheting and lightsabers slashing, someone had do at least a little bit of healing. Often, that job went to medical droids like the FX-7.
The cylindrical and many-armed FX-7, as with so many other overlooked droids, played a pivotal role in "Star Wars" yet somehow escaped due credit or accolades. That's especially true in scenes following Luke Skywalker's unfortunate encounter with a wampa, which attacked him as he scouted the wastelands of Hoth.
Skywalker's wounds landed him in the bacta tank, which contained a slimy, translucent gel that restored him to health. A surgical droid with the model number 2-1B got the glory for saving Luke's life. However, it was the FX-7 droid that did the constant monitoring of Luke's status, ensuring that he'd live to fight the Empire another day.
Although droids were almost always subservient to carbon-based lifeforms, some were made to rule their own kind. The raspy-voiced EV-9D9, which worked in Jabba's headquarters, was a supervisor droid that took her job very, very seriously, to the point of outright cruelty.
EV-9D9 was Jabba's right-hand droid, lording over the other robots in her service. She directed their tasks and otherwise kept the place running as smoothly as possible. When droids failed to please her whims, she was apt to have them torn apart, piece by piece, in the most tortuous ways possible.
She didn't start out that way. EV-9D9 began her existence as a moisture vaporator technician. But she was reprogrammed in Mos Eisley, and she developed a mean streak that eventually found her delighting in the suffering of other droids.
Unlike most of the droids on this list, EV-9D9 had her brushes with fame in the movies. Fittingly, she threatens both C-3PO and R2-D2 with physical harm if they don't follow her directives. Her menacing voice and demeanor made this dominating droid one of the most memorable of our supporting cast of robot extras.
Starfighters of the Resistance are helpless without the fuel that helps them zig and zag around combat elements of the First Order. Someone has to keep the crews ready to fight and each and every moment. That job falls largely to refueling droids like B-U4D, nicknamed Buford.
As part of ground crew operations at the Resistance base on D'Qar, Buford works tirelessly (like most droids) and manages fuel supplies without complaint. In "The Force Awakens," Buford roams the background of a few scenes, doing his part to keep the army working against the evil Empire.
Droids like Buford are a perfect example of the depth and dimension of the "Star Wars" universe. Even droids that find only a few frames of movie time — often far in the background — have backstory and personality that drives them onward. Whether they use their potential for good or for evil, the Force is a part of them all ... even the most unappreciated droids in the galaxy.
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Author's Note: 10 Totally Unappreciated Star Wars Droids
If you were a kid (like me) when the first "Star Wars" movies debuted, it was hard not to fall in love with R2-D2. Whether it was in the midst of a Dagobah swamp or a Starfighter battle, R2 was an immediate signal of each scene's emotional tone, whether it was silly, serene or scary. No matter that he wasn't made of flesh and bone. R2 was proof that a movie character's impact didn't necessarily depend on facial expressions or dialogue. Sometimes just a bit of good storytelling and a few beeps and boops from a funny little droid is all you need to turn a sidekick robot into a global celebrity.
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- Star Wars Databank. "WA-7." (Dec. 3, 2015) http://www.starwars.com/databank/wa-7
- Star Wars Databank. "IG-88." (Dec. 3, 2015) http://www.starwars.com/databank/ig-88
- Star Wars Databank. "EV-9D9." (Dec. 3, 2015) http://www.starwars.com/databank/ev-9d9
- Star Wars Databank. "B-U4D (Buford)." (Dec. 3, 2015) http://www.starwars.com/databank/b-u4d-buford
- Star Wars Databank. "WED Treadwell Droid." (Dec. 3, 2015) http://www.starwars.com/databank/wed-treadwell-droid
- Wallace, Daniel. "Star Wars: The New Essential Guide to Droids." Lucas Books. 2006.