1.06-1.07: “Downfall of a Droid,” “Duel of the Droids”
This Artoo-centric two-parter is incredibly nifty not only for being the first chapter in the Star Wars screen universe to revolve around everyone’s favorite, round little droid, but for being an incredible character piece for Anakin and Ahsoka, as well. It’s also my new favorite episode, which like my previous favorite episode, “Ambush,” utilizes a much beloved but often sidelined character in such a way that highlights his best traits and shines new light on him as a person, or droid, rather. The scenario, in which Artoo is captured by a droid scavenger who plans to deliver him to General Grievous, also reminds me a bit of the Padme “kidnapping” in “Destroy Malevolence,” in that, in both cases, the character who should by all rights be the victim–the damsel in distress, if you will–manages to continually stick it to the bad guy throughout their captivity, using their own smarts and gumption, rather than simply, passively awaiting rescue. Here, Artoo manages to–among other things–remove his own restraining bolt, attack his enemies, sneak to a computer port to alert Anakin to his location, and ultimately fight the traitorous R3 unit that had infiltrated the Jedis on Grievous’ orders in mechanical-hand-to-mechanical-hand combat.
Meanwhile, just as important as Artoo himself is to the story, the true crux of these episodes is what he represents to Anakin, who–similarly to how the best people we’ve seen so far treat the clones–considers him not to be a mechanical tool but a person, a friend. Obeying Obi-Wan’s orders to not put himself–and later, Ahsoka and his men–in danger to save a droid isn’t even an option for him, because Artoo isn’t just a droid to him, despite his protestation that it’s just to keep his databanks out of enemy hands. In this episode, we learn that it is standard protocol to wipe droids of their sensitive information, in case they ever fell into enemy hands, which happens to Artoo here, and yet Anakin hasn’t done this, which is, on the one hand, not smart from a practical standpoint and against protocol, but on the other, is rather touching, because it says a great deal about how he has come to think of Artoo–again, not as a storage device but as a friend who he would be violating by taking away essential parts of himself.
As I discussed in previous posts, this speaks to Anakin’s extreme loyalty as a friend, as well as to his kind nature, while at the same time, it hints at a darker undertone, regarding Anakin’s inability to let go of his personal attachments. That isn’t to say that what Anakin does here isn’t ultimately of the good–if not, for one thing, Artoo wouldn’t have been around to deliver the Death Star plans to Obi-Wan in A New Hope!–but that, at the same time, it does speak both to his recklessness and his refusal to accept defeat, which can be a good trait in some situations but which also leads to his downfall in Episode III. Even here, the reason Artoo is put in danger and captured in the first place is Anakin’s refusal to back down and allow Grievous to occupy this territory when the Council orders him to retreat. Again, his impulse is ultimately good but perhaps not wise. But still, it does give us the irony of Anakin coming across as a better friend and even perhaps kinder person than the other Jedi.
Putting this episode in context of the films adds an even deeper nuance to the proceedings. Some people have argued that the fact that Anakin is shown to know Threepio and Artoo in the prequels creates a continuity error for the original trilogy, in which Darth Vader never acknowledges their existence when he comes into contact with them, whereas the official explanation from Lucasfilm tends to revolve around the fact that Vader rarely actually crosses paths with them and when he does, he likely doesn’t realize they were his droids, because there are so many other identical units in this world. But an added implication might be that Anakin has so lost himself by that point that he hardly remembers these friends he once had, and these episodes seem to confront that sad truth–that a droid who he once loved so much that he risked everything to save him won’t even register for him one day. That is how much Anakin will have forgotten himself. (And isn’t it interesting/ironic/fitting, given Anakin’s refusal to wipe Artoo’s memory that practically the first thing that happens to him after the birth of Darth Vader is for his memory to be wiped by Bail Organa, one of the good guys? Artoo’s memories of Anakin’s friendship are wiped out, along with–symbolically–Anakin’s memories of him.) And ironically, that droid will aid Obi-Wan, the very person who ordered Anakin to leave Artoo to be destroyed on Grievous’ ship, in fighting against Anakin, who by that point will be “more machine than man” himself.* Incidentally, I do also love that Anakin counters Obi-Wan’s irritation at him for not following orders with the fact that Obi-Wan didn’t follow orders himself, in training Anakin in the first place.
And speaking of Padawans behaving recklessly, just as Obi-Wan admonishes Anakin for going into danger in the first place, Anakin admonishes Ahsoka for choosing to face the extremely dangerous Grievous on her own, in order to protect the Clones. What I love about her fight with Grievous is that while, no, at this point in her training, she wasn’t really ready to face him (just as Luke wasn’t ready to face Vader in Empire), she doesn’t allow him to best her. She uses the strength she does have, as well as her brains, to get out of the situation. I also like how the episode demonstrates here that, just like Anakin, while she is often right, she isn’t always. She wasn’t necessarily right to plunge into that situation, and neither was she right about the R3, “Goldie.” It makes sense that she thought Anakin simply wasn’t giving Goldie enough of a chance, due to his loyalty to Artoo–and it’s even more lovely that, despite his objections, Anakin continues to attempt to bond with R3, in order to appease Ahsoka, which says a lot about how their relationship has been progressing, that he will take his apprentice’s advice like this–but in the end, she was wrong about this, and this mistake almost cost Anakin his life repeatedly. On the other hand, were any of her perhaps reckless decisions in this episode any worse than Anakin’s?
PS. I also love how Grievous attempts to use Han Solo’s patented escape-into-the-asteroid-field trick, only to get ambushed by Anakin’s men, who are hiding on a larger asteroid in an echo of Solo’s subsequent hide-on-an-asteroid trick.
*From a continuity standpoint, it’s interesting to note that, once again, Anakin never meets Grievous, which fits with the fact that in Episode III, he is meant to face him for the first time. The irony is that Grievous is a parallel to Darth Vader in many ways, having also once been an organic being who turned the Dark Side and was wounded to the point of death, requiring his body to be almost fully replaced by a machine. Even his wheezing cough can be seen as a dark riff on Vader’s breathing apparatus.
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