The Star Wars Deep Dive: Why R2-D2 is Essential to the Skywalker Story

The clever astromech may just be the most important character in the saga so far.

The Star Wars Deep Dive is a feature that explores themes, motifs, and characters from across the saga.

You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who would argue with you if you told them that R2-D2 is important to the Star Wars universe. But what if I were to tell you that he’s one of the most important and critical characters of the saga, right up there with Anakin, Luke, and Rey? 

I mean, can you name a saga film where Artoo isn’t absolutely critical to the story? Maybe instead of referring to the films as the Skywalker saga, we could start thinking of them as the Artoo chronicles. If you take away Artoo, our heroes lose, plain and simple. 

In Artoo’s first appearance, he’s introduced as a droid like any other, but we quickly learn how special Artoo really is and why they’d want to keep him around over the years. There would be no Star Wars saga if he wouldn’t have been able to bypass the main power drive on the Queen’s ship, escaping the blockade on Naboo. Showing tremendous courage, Artoo watched his comrades get blown away, one by one, screaming into the void as they were destroyed by Trade Federation fire. Without him, they would have likely blown that ship out of the sky, altering the story for Queen Amidala, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Qui-Gon Jinn. If the blast were fatal, Anakin Skywalker would likely have remained a slave in obscurity on Tatooine and newly elected Chancellor Palpatine would have been able to exploit the Queen’s death in his bid for power far earlier. And since Padmé would be dead, there would be no Luke or Leia to fight against the machinations of the Empire.

In Attack of the Clones, if it weren’t for Artoo’s quick thinking, Padmé would have boiled alive in molten metal in the droid foundries on Geonosis. That would have made for a very short Skywalker saga. And Revenge of the Sith is no exception, either. Without Artoo to operate elevators and offer distractions, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker may have never found their way to kill Count Dooku and very well may have died at the hands of General Grievous. There’s no telling how the Empire would have formed at that point. Would Palpatine have revealed himself as Darth Sidious then and there to protect his desired apprentice? Would that have saved Padmé’s life, but robbed the galaxy of Luke and Leia as future heroes?

Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.

In A New Hope, Artoo’s importance is obvious.  By arriving on Tatooine carrying the Death Star plans, he helps to catalyze Luke on his journey away from the Lars homestead.

In the Empire Strikes Back, it’s easy to forget that it was Artoo that saves the day once more. After the Cloud City’s Central Computer tells him that the hyperdrive on the Millennium Falcon has been disabled, he reenables it at exactly the right moment for the Skywalker twins to escape the clutches of Darth Vader at Bespin. If they hadn’t escaped, do you think it would have been easier for Vader to turn his son to the dark side? Maybe Han Solo would have been left hanging on Jabba’s wall, a decoration in carbonite forever. Would Yoda have been forced out of exile to deal with the situation himself?

In Return of the Jedi, Artoo had a central part in freeing Han Solo. After a stint serving drinks on Jabba’s sail barge, he gets the supremely cool job of shooting Luke his lightsaber. Otherwise our heroes all may have suffered the same fate as Boba Fett.

In the sequel trilogy, Artoo has less time on screen, but is arguably still as important. In The Force Awakens, he holds the key to the map that will lead to the first Jedi Temple and in The Last Jedi, he’s the one who shows Luke a much-needed message at exactly the right moment. Would Luke have decided to offer Rey any training or sacrifice himself on Crait had Artoo not somehow intuited exactly what Luke needed to see and hear to spur him into action?Without Artoo’s carefully timed “cheap move,” the Resistance may have been snuffed out completely on Crait and the galaxy would be left firmly under the control of the First Order.

Looking at how vital Artoo has been at every turn during the journey of the Skywalkers over three generations, it’s easy to wonder if maybe he is an agent of the Force in some way. Qui-Gon Jinn tells us that nothing happens by accident and it seems like no coincidence that Artoo was in the right place at the right time, over and over again.

Maybe Chirrut Îmwe is right. All is as the Force wills it and this little astromech unit is part of that will.

Bryan Young is an author, a filmmakerjournalist, and the editor in chief of! He’s also the co-host of the Star Wars podcast, Full of Sith. You can also follow him on Twitter.