In the mid-1980s, after one successful made-for-television Ewoks movie — and one notorious “holiday special” — the Star Wars universe plunged into its first regular television programming: Ewoks and Droids. These animated series ran from 1985 to 1986. Many English-speaking fans know that these cartoons also spun off many storybooks and comics of their own, chiefly published by Random House and Marvel Comics. What many fans do not know is that they also spun off original licensed storybooks and comics in other countries, never published in the English-speaking world.
Welcome to part 2 of StarWars.com’s look at Spain’s Droids and Ewoks novelizations. (If you missed it, be sure to check out part 1.)
The “Android” Mystery
One of the most perplexing and enduring questions raised by the Droids animated series has been: What is an android?
This question actually goes back to the very beginning of Star Wars orthography. In the original A New Hope novelization, as well as the first Star Wars spinoff novel, 1978’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, the author of both works (as ghostwriter in the case of the former), Alan Dean Foster, always refers to Threepio and Artoo as ’droids, spelling the term with a suggestive apostrophe. This seemed to plainly indicate that the word represented a contraction, and this reasonable hunch was — apparently — eventually corroborated in the 1983 novel Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu by L. Neil Smith. There, Lando informs us that, “Most people … have forgotten that ‘droid’ is short for ‘android,’ meaning manlike.” Thus, the content of these two words seemed interchangeable.
However, in 1985, when the term “android” was resurrected for the Droids animated series, in the episode “The Lost Prince,” that presumed interchangeability appeared to evolve. During this episode, Artoo and Threepio are offered up for auction as “an R2 unit and this other droid,” with the auctioneer throwing in “one hardworking android” along with them. This third being — though, in fact, the titular “lost prince” Kez-Iban in disguise — is repeatedly referred to as an “android” and never once as a “droid,” as if the former term had some technical meaning distinct from the familiar latter one (contrary to what Lando asserted in Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu). From a writer’s perspective, the implied distinction in using the term “android” here may have simply served the narrative purpose of quickly distinguishing the soon-to-be-revealed Kez-Iban from Threepio and Artoo for expediency and avoiding confusion as to which of the three robot-like characters was being referred to when. But that doesn’t mean that, in this writing process, the term “android” did not suddenly acquire a more complicated meaning within the make-believe parameters of the Star Wars universe.
Enter, once again, Plaza Joven’s Droids storybook. For this novelization adds a crucial component to decoding the android mystery. The very first page of the narrative states that there are “innumerable droids and androids (and, above all, clones) that faithfully serve Sise,” again explicitly distinguishing between the two words — and this time contrasting them both with “clones” to boot.
But there’s an even bigger key in this book to unraveling the android mystery. For it reveals, in fact, that the villains Tig Fromm and his bodyguard Vlix themselves are androids from the planet Annoo.
For longtime fans of the Droids animated series, this disclosure is no small bombshell. Tig and Vlix were two of the biggest and most memorable antagonists of the series. Furthermore, in outing them as androids, by extension this novelization seems to imply two things. The first is that, though the term “android” might have once been synonymous with “droid,” as Lando states, the identification of these alien villains as androids themselves suggests — by the look of Tig and Vlix — that the term is now more akin to that common science fiction staple known as a cyborg: a part living being, part machine. Or even specifically an alien cyborg. Indeed, this conclusion coincides with Tig’s technological infatuation, including the robotic-looking headpiece he wears (similar to Lando’s smooth-headed cyborg assistant Lobot from The Empire Strikes Back), not to mention the revelation made by later sources that Tig speaks the droid computational language called binary with fluency — an exceedingly rare ability among purely flesh-and-blood beings.
Secondly, and more dramatically, their identification as androids also suggests the possibility that all the members of Tig and Vlix’s species, or else a good number of their Fromm gang, may be androids. For as indicated earlier, the book speaks of Sise Fromm’s countless android minions, and the Droids novelization attests that Vlix himself “boasted of being the most elegant android.”
The decades-long conflation of “droid” and “android” thus appears dispelled, and at the same time the mystery of what an android actually is may finally be resolved. The only mystery that remains is: How many of these beings are out there?
The God of Droids
“Thank the maker!” Threepio’s catchphrase is one of most quotable in the Star Wars saga. But what does it actually mean?
This turns out to be a surprisingly relevant question for the Plaza Joven Droids storybook, for in it, a Spanish-speaking Threepio conspicuously exclaims not only Dios santo! — “dear god!” — but also Dios sabe qué hubiera sido de nosotros! — “God only knows what might have become of us!” (For what it’s worth, Spanish subtitles of A New Hope translate “Thank the maker!” as ¡Agradezco el creador! — or, “I thank the maker!” — while the Spanish-dubbed version has Threepio instead exclaim ¡Alabado el Fabricante! — or, “Praised be the Maker!” — a tongue-in-cheek approximation of Psalm 113 in the Hebrew Bible. While the former translation captures the ambiguity of the phrasing, the latter exhibits a stronger robo-religious overtone.)
Depending on one’s point of view, these explicit references to a divinity by Threepio in the Droids novelization might be considered mere cultural artifacts: elements of conversational Spanish that have naturally worked their way into a Star Wars book written in that language. But that doesn’t mean such turns of phrase don’t make tangible contributions to the Star Wars mythology. After all, in The Phantom Menace, Captain Panaka succinctly explains that if the protectors of the fleeing Queen Amidala cannot repair the shield generator on her royal ship, “we’ll be sitting ducks”—an Americanism coined around the time of World War II. (Actually, while ducks make an appearance on Panaka’s home planet in The Phantom Menace, it was Red Leader who actually first used a variation of this saying in the A New Hope novelization when he observed during the Battle of Yavin, “We’re sitting ducks down here.”)
So that’s fowl. But what about a deity of droids?
Before The Phantom Menace revealed that a young Anakin Skywalker literally made the golden protocol droid C-3PO, many contributors to the Star Wars universe took a shot at explaining the nature of “the maker.” In the 1996 short story “Only Droids Serve the Maker” (Star Wars Adventure Journal #10), author Kathy Tyers introduced the monotheistic religion of the alien Sunesi, within which worship of “the Maker” by any sentient beings — human, alien, droid and cyborg alike — is a central principle.
This idea coincides with a much earlier explanation as to what or who “the maker” is. In what amounted to the original Wookieepedia, the 1984 first edition of A Guide to the Star Wars Universe by Raymond L. Velsaco, “MAKER, THE” receives its very own concise entry, wherein it is mysteriously proclaimed that this is “a reference to the One who creates.” The capitalization of “One” and the description’s broad generative character emphatically imply that “the Maker” refers to what might traditionally be called a supernatural or transcendent entity. But for a droid like Threepio — who was himself mistaken for a god by the Ewoks — what does that mean?
As it turns out, one of comics’ most respected writers explored just such a concept.
In the 1982 short comic “Rust Never Sleeps” (The Empire Strikes Back Monthly #156), writer Alan Moore and artist Alan Davis created the junkyard planet Ronyards and its priesthood of devoted droids. As the holy droid Brother Fivelines tells Threepio:
“Ronyards is the Living Body of God…. You see, for centuries mankind has dumped the worn and battered husks of its robot servants here. They lie almost five miles deep in places… corroded and fused together they lie, until they have transformed this humble world into the metal paradise you see before you now…. And as our bodies fuse together so do our souls bond, one unto another, until they form the one Great Spirit which is Ronyards.”
Here, the deity of droids is explicitly identified as a planet that has acquired a supernal nature by some mysterious form of transmutation, where junked droid bodies and their presumed consciousnesses have fused into a collective super-being. In fact, by the end of the story, an apparently living Ronyards repels an Imperial invasion of its body/planet.
So, when Threepio proclaims in the Droids novelization, “God only know what might have become of us!”—perhaps, this is no mere cultural artifact or accident of translation. Perhaps, like Brother Fivelines, he is providing the reader with a rare glimpse into the very depth of his electronic soul.
Sidereal Beings Are We
So we see that sometimes meanings are actually gained in translation rather than lost. And some word choices serendipitously echo the long history of Star Wars in unexpectedly remarkable ways.
In that vein, one of the most unusual curiosities has been saved for last — the Droids novelization’s reference to seres siderales or “sidereal beings” in the following passage:
“Amongst androids, robots and other shabby sidereal beings, Threepio and Artoo suffered the enormous humiliation of being purchased for the laughably absurd sum of fifty grains of keschel.”
Now, “sidereal” (roughly pronounced “sigh-DEE-real”) things actually have a peculiar history in Star Wars literature…but before coming to that end of the rabbit hole, let’s cover the primary definitions of this word in our galaxy. “Sidereal” is an adjective most commonly used in astronomy meaning “of or pertaining to the stars.” That’s the easy part. A “sidereal period” is also used more specifically to refer to the time necessary for a celestial body within a solar system to complete a full orbit around another object relative to the fixed stars (what we commonly think of as constellations).
If the second, more technical definition above sounded a little confusing, don’t worry. For Star Wars, all you need to know is this: When the Earth completes a full orbit around our Sun (or the galactic capital Coruscant does so around its sun) with respect to the fixed stars, this sidereal period is called a sidereal year, and a sidereal year (for Earth or Coruscant) is about equal to what we normally think of as a plain old year.
In the galaxy far, far away, we received our first introduction to something “sidereal” in the 1978 Star Wars newspaper strips written and drawn by Russ Manning. Specifically, in the storyline “The Constancia Affair,” Threepio interacts with a supercomputer while on the planet Fusai that lists the births of Chewbacca and Luke Skywalker within a timeframe denoted as the “Sidereal Era,” using an unknown calendar system. In this context, “Sidereal Era” simply seems to mean something generally spacey (sort of like saying “Astronomical Time Period”) in the spirit of our first definition.
While there has been no direct reference in Star Wars literature to the Sidereal Era since, there has been at least one sly allusion. In 2002, the original incarnation of the Star Wars website HoloNetNews.com (written by Pablo Hidalgo and Paul Ens and illustrated by Joe Corroney) featured an advertisement for CHRONO, an in-universe Star Wars periodical that was a parody of the familiar real-world publication TIME magazine. This faux advertisement featured the words “Sentient of the Sidereal” beside a newly elected Chancellor Palpatine, suggesting this is CHRONO’s equivalent of TIME’s long-running Person of the Year selection.
Finally, then, we come to the Plaza Joven Droids storybook and its reference to “sidereal beings.” While the Spanish version of sidereal is much more commonly used (to the point of casually appearing in a children’s book) than its English equivalent, its use in this story is a welcome coincidence given the history of this strange word in Star Wars lore. Is “sidereal beings” merely another way of saying “beings of the galaxy,” or is this a technical term, possibly referring to the lifeforms of that enigmatic Sidereal Era that gave birth to the most famous Wookiee and Jedi Knight in the history of the galaxy?
It’s unclear. But in the words of Albert Durant Watson of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (words later borrowed and revised by the well-known astronomer Carl Sagan): “Our bodies are made of star-stuff.” That is, our physical bodies — our “crude matter,” as Yoda called it — depend fundamentally upon elements (iron, calcium, carbon, oxygen and others) born only in the crushing hearts of suns, released when these stars go nova.
And so, maybe we are “luminous beings” of a kind as not only defined by the little Jedi Master, but inside and out, down even to our crude matter. In the most literal sense, we pertain to the stars — even those shabby androids.
Indeed, sidereal beings are we all.
Remaining Secrets and Mysteries
While the authors are unknown, it should be noted that the differences in narrative style between these two adaptations are pronounced. The Droids novelization carries at a very quick pace, with a heavier reliance on dialogue adapting an action-packed episode filled with explosions, mobster machinations and speeder chases. By contrast, the Ewoks novelization, focusing on a moral episode, is more contemplative, considering the consequences of running away from home, the seduction of acclaim and the hard work that comes with following one’s passions. Both books, however, particularly emphasize the points of view of children, whether they be juvenile Ewoks or the scion of a galactic gangster, with pearls of wisdom that are pitch perfect for young readers.
There are many more treasures that these two adaptations can give up to sharp-eyed Star Wars fans. (Indeed, those with less patience can peruse an itemization of new lore from these stories below.) But whether you’re a young Star Wars fan hankering to dig into these fascinating tales or an “old fossil” that wants to relive a bit of nostalgia, you can download the English translations (as well as the original Spanish versions). Then get ready to enjoy a couple of great adventures.
Special thanks to Carlos Duran for scanning these books, Mario A. Escamilla for research assistance, and Jean-François Boivin for first bringing Plaza Joven’s Ewoks novelization to my attention.
Additional Secrets of the Droids and Ewoks Novelizations
- According to this storybook, the space surrounding the planet Ingo is “a kind of garbage dump” where “tons of galactic trash gathers.”
- Keschels, often implied to be the currency on the planet Tyne’s Horky, are here described as “grains” rather than “ore” (as established in later spinoff materials). Whether this description is metaphorical—comparable to calling money “clams,” “dough” or “smackers”—is unknown.
- It is revealed that C-3PO is not only a stupendous waiter but “a certified chef in intergalactic cuisine”!
- In a fit of judgment comparable to when he calls Jawas “disgusting creatures” in A New Hope, C-3PO refers to a mercenary with the unique insult “Genuine space trash!” Similarly, the racer Jord Dusat introduces us to the exclamation: “By all that’s astral…!”
- The racer slang “precious curls” is introduced, a dangerous maneuver in which two speeders crisscross repeatedly.
- It seems that the stakes are dramatically higher for good guys in this novelization than in the animated series. When asked to calculate Thall’s odds of making it out from Fromm’s hidden base, C-3PO gives them as a mere 750,000 to 1 (rather than a more optimistic 700,000 to 1).
- Likewise, it seems that the Fromm gang has a much darker depiction in written form practically worthy of the cutthroat family drama in Game of Thrones. Tig Fromm has apparently made several attempts to take his father Sise’s life, and he gets much more severely reprimanded for his failures, receiving orders to blow up his hidden base on Ingo and to relinquish his pet project, the superweapon Trigon One, to Sise’s personal supervision.
- One of the ingredients needed to cure Wicket’s dying father is distinctly different from that in the TV series. Instead of a frosch egg, Logray’s potion calls for the egg of a “ranal.” This is a heretofore-unknown species of Endor, one that, according to this novelization, “lived in caves full of water.”
- The Festival of Wonders is introduced: a celebration during which the shaman Logray entertains Ewok children with feats of magic.
- Anticipating The Phantom Menace, when Latara offers to take her little brothers for a walk in the woods, they joyfully yell out young Anakin’s exuberant catchphrase: “Yipeeeeee!” (Not to be outdone, perhaps, the boisterous Jinda leader Bondo calls the Travelling Jindas’ show “The most spectacular spectacle of all spectacles!” … presaging the “Spectacular Spectacular” showcased in the film Moulin Rouge.)
- As with the Plaza Joven Droids storybook, the menace in the Ewoks novelization seems more palpable than the television program from which it was adapted. Of Latara’s capture by the Duloks, the text states that the fiends “were even liable to kill her.”
- In a philosophical exchange worthy of the Ewok elders’ reputation, Chief Chirpa and the medicine man Logray moralize on the Travelling Jindas’ itinerant way of life—thoroughly condemning it.
- In corresponding fashion, Latara demonstrates the overly sensitive soul of a tortured artist. She ruminates extensively over the meaning of being a “true artist,” while a later scene finds her “crying, crying and crying inconsolably.”
- The species of the ferocious stage animals tamed by the burly entertainer Chihtur are revealed as ferrets (creatures known to be native to Endor from the Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure telefilm).
- “Giant creeper vines” are revealed as the name of the magic vegetative spawn that emerge from the seeds that Logray gives the Ewok children.