As the best pilot in the galaxy’s round and trusty sidekick, BB-8 has a starring role in Marvel’s Poe Dameron comic. BB-8’s always at the ready and prepared to help his buddy. The ball-shaped droid introduced The Force Awakens is also very vocal: he’s humorous, sassy, and full of emotion. It’s apparent in his bleeps and bloops in the Poe comic. Surprisingly, there’s really real meaning in those bleeps and bloops: BB-8’s communications in the series are actually written as dialogue in the script and then translated to droid noises.
So, what’s BB-8 really saying? StarWars.com talked to writer Charles Soule, letterer Joe Caramagna, and assistant editor Heather Antos to get the scoop on BB-8’s words and the translation process.
Why give BB-8 dialogue at all? The simple answer: to help the artist. Soule says, “The general idea is to let the artist know what’s actually being said, because that can inform the way they approach drawing the scene.” In this case, it’s assisting penciller Phil Noto. Knowing the intent behind BB-8’s sounds could inform things like BB-8’s stance or the position of his head.
Communicating foreign languages is a topic that comes up frequently in comics — even just in Star Wars stories — and can be handled with translations or context clues. Droid speak is somewhat of a language, right? “How you approach a foreign language on a comics page really depends on what you’re trying to do story-wise — how clued in you want the reader to be. For BB-8, though, up until now the only people who’ve known what BB-8’s sounds actually are the Marvel and Lucasfilm editors who read my scripts, and the incredible Phil Noto, who gets to (has to?) draw the stuff I dream up,” Soule says.
Once Soule writes BB-8’s dialogue, it goes to Antos for translation to bleeps and bloops. She says there’s no official guide to droid speak in the Star Wars universe, but she uses what she knows about the films and characters from the movies to generate BB-8’s sounds. “Between watching The Force Awakens and paying attention to the types of noises we hear, as well as what has already been established in the comics, I created my own go-to chart of BB-8 speak — certain phrases for when he’s distressed, excited, etc. — I try to make the length of beeps and boops match the length of whatever Charles wrote in the script,” Antos says. In case you’re wondering, no, she doesn’t try out the translations by making droid sounds at her desk…yet.
Soule says he writes BB-8 as a capable droid who’s incredibly loyal to Poe and is also occasionally sarcastic. Antos backs up that claim; she says, “If you read the original, in-English dialogue that Charles writes for BB-8, you can see that the little droid can be quite sassy! I almost feel bad for the readers that they don’t get to read it. Almost!” Antos added BB-8’s dialogue almost always has her chuckling, but her favorite line to translate was in issue #3. “The line that made me really giggle was, ‘I hate your mustache!’ I’m sure we all know who BB-8 was referring to.”
After Antos takes BB-8’s words to sounds, Soule takes another look before the script goes to the next step. “I like to see as many passes on the issues as I can. It’s the little things that really make comics work, and I think just about anyone who makes them would agree. A ton happens in the last day or so before they go to press to give them that last five percent of awesomeness, and Poe Dameron is no different. That said, Heather Antos is an amazing bloop-bleep translator — definitely the best I’ve ever worked with,” he says.
Once the droid talk is approved and the art is finished, Caramagna letters the issue. He says BB-8 is a special astromech. “In the Star Wars books that I letter, I give the astromech droids the same font to try to convey the sounds that they make. But since BB-8 is so unique in his appearance and how he moves around (and because he’s a breakout star in The Force Awakens) I think he deserves his own font that no other astromechs use,” he explains. Caramagna continues, “I often manipulate the letters based on what he says in each panel, too. For example, sometimes in moments of high stress or excitement, I might push the letters slightly closer together, just enough to make the sound effect appear uncomfortable. If he says something that should be slower and bassy, I’ll widen the letters a little bit. And of course his bleeps and bloops are always orange as a visual cue that, yes, that is BB-8 talking.”
What’s been your favorite BB-8 moment in the Poe Dameron comic so far? Have you been translating his dialogue on your own? Tell us in the comments!
Amy Ratcliffe is a writer obsessed with Star Wars, Disney, and coffee. Follow her on Twitter at @amy_geek.