R2-D2's Role in Star Wars: The Force Awakens Explained

Friday, 08 January 2016 - 12:26PM
Star Wars
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Friday, 08 January 2016 - 12:26PM
R2-D2's Role in Star Wars: The Force Awakens Explained

Suspending belief is crucial to a moviegoer's enjoyment of many franchises, and Star Wars is no exception. Any franchise that floats the idea of a mystical power flowing through the galaxy, influencing all organic matter must be taken with a pinch of salt, and we're totally ok with that. In fact, we much preferred the mystery of The Force than the half-assed explanation of Midichlorians from The Phantom Menace. Nonetheless, there are certain mysteries within the Star Wars universe that we simply need to see solved.

Many more of these mysteries emerged during Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and while we'll probably have to wait until 2017 for most of them to even begin to unravel, we are starting to get answers to some of our burning questions. One such example is R2-D2's involvement (or lack thereof) in the movie.....

Spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens follow



For much of the The Force Awakens, Artoo is in a form of self-induced coma that even his fellow lovable droid, BB-8, can't wake him from. The reasons for R2-D2's 'low power mode' are merely hinted at in the movie, but the big mystery is what caused the droid's sudden awakening at the end of the movie. 

Following the successful destruction of Starkiller base, R2-D2 sparks into life, informing the Resistance gathering that he has the star map they so desperately need in order to find Luke Skywalker. Everything worked out swimmingly, and the movie closed with that awkward silence between Luke and Rey on Ahch-To, but many fans, ourselves included, left feeling that it was all just a little too convenient. Three main questions arose from R2-D2's involvement in the movie.

1. Why is Artoo asleep? 
2. What triggered Artoo's awakening?
3. How in the heck did he just so happen to have map that Leia and the Resistance had been searching for?

In the aftermath of movie's release, comments from the writing team as well as books like The Force Awakens novelization and 'The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary' have, to a certain degree, answered both of these questions. But be warned, you're probably not going to like what you hear.



The question surrounding why R2-D2 is in a 'Low Power' mode in the first place is addressed in the droid's section of the 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary' by Pablo Hidalgo. In Artoo's intro, we learn that the lovable droid is approaching the golden years of a life that has seen him witness countless wars and battles.

Opening quote
...R2-D2 is finally beginning to show his age as a newer and more advanced models become the norm for starship support duty. For several years now, R2-D2 has not been operating at peak capacity. His celebrated role in the Rebellion has afforded him semi-retirement rather than the standard recycling the resource-strapped Resistance would normally employ.
Closing quote

This intro might merely allude to the reasons behind Artoo's slumber, but another section of the book reveals a little more. After learning that his memory hasn't been wiped since he was owned by Anakin Skywalker, we are told that Artoo is using his semi-retirement to catch up on some much needed admin.

Opening quote
As R2-D2 recuperates in his self-imposed low power mode, his diagnostic systems are attempting to organize the vast trove of information in his databanks from over seven decades of uninterrupted operation. The defragmenting of millions of exanodes within his memory is causing R2-D2  to 'dream' many of his greatest adventures.
Closing quote

So, we have an answer as to why R2-D2 is asleep, but what woke him up and how did he get this crucial information. Unfortunately, this is where things begin to get irritatingly vague.

Alan Dean Foster's novelization of the movie gives us our first hint as to how Artoo might have gotten his grubby data probe on the star map. In his description of the scene at Resistance HQ, we hear Poe asking where the rest of the Star Map could be before C-3PO eventually relays Artoo's frantic beeps to an expectant crowd.

Opening quote
"Kylo Ren said that the segment held by Beebee-Ate is the last piece of the map that shows the way to Skywalker's location. So, where's the rest of it?"

"The First Order has it." Rey looked over at him. "They extracted it from the Imperial archives." Poe stared at her. "The Empire?"

Admiral Statura nodded in agreement. "It makes sense. The Empire would have been looking for the first Jedi temples. In destroying all the Jedi sanctuaries they would have acquired a great deal of peripheral information."

So intent were they on the current conversation and its possible ramifications that no one noticed that a light had come on atop a small R2 unit shoved back among the rest of the equipment in the room. Nor did they see that its hemispherical head had turned to look in their direction.

"We're still at war with First Order," Leia pointed out. "A war that won't end until either it or the Resistance is destroyed. The next time, without Luke, we won't stand a chance."

The silence that ensued was broken by a flurry of beeping and whistling the likes of which the somber gathering had not heard in some time. In the case of this particular beeping and whistling, not in years.

No one was more surprised than C-3PO when R2-D2 came rolling forward to join the assembly.

"Artoo! What-what is it? I haven't seen you this functional since-" He was interrupted by a fresh farrago of beeping that all but drowned him out. "Slow down! You're giving me data overload!" Whether the mechanical hand that rose to the side of the golden head to indicate a headache truly reflected what the protocol droid was feeling or was simply a gesture for the benefit of watching humans, only C-3PO knew.

An excited Leia moved closer. Of all the organics in the room, no one had a more personal relationship to the little droid than she did.

"What's he saying?" she asked.

The protocol droid explained. "If the information you are seeking was in the Imperial archives, he believes he may have catalogued that data. He's scanning through it now."

Rey stared at the diminutive droid. "Artoo has the rest of the map?"

"He's certainly implying the possibility!" C-3PO told her. "I've never heard him beep with this much energy before."

Emitting a long, sustained whistle, R2-D2 projected a full three-dimensional image of a huge navigational star chart. No one in the room could fail to notice that it was missing a substantial fragment. In response to the hovering image, BB-8 began beeping excitedly.

Closing quote

You may now start to get a picture of where the writers are going with this. The First Order secured the Star Map from the remnants of the Empire's data banks, a feat that Artoo claims he can match. But how can a Rebel Astromech have access to long lost information from the days of the Empire? Don't forget, Artoo has not had his memory wiped in over seven decades....


....still not there yet? In a chat with Entertainment Weekly, JJ Abrams and Michael Arndt gave us the missing piece to the puzzle. Arndt revealed that Artoo's possession of the map actually occurred during the movie that started this entire saga. Remember when Artoo plugged into the Death Star during Star Wars: A New Hope?

Opening quote
"We had the idea about R2 plugging into the information base of the Death Star, and that's how he was able to get the full map and find where the Jedi temples are."
Closing quote

Ok, so that's all fairly logical, if not a little clumsy. The Visual Dictionary for the movie does its best to dig the writers out of a whole by suggesting that poor Artoo has never had a chance to catch up on all the data he has in his possession, but it still seems odd that even when his best friend (Luke Skywalker) is missing, the plucky little Astromech didn't catch onto this idea sooner.

That leaves one final question. What triggered R2-D2's fortuitous awakening? Abrams revealed that, while it may appear as though the Astromech woke up at just the right time, it was actually a process kicked off by BB-8 earlier in the movie.

Opening quote
BB-8 comes up and says something to [R2-D2], which is basically, 'I've got this piece of a map, do you happen to have the rest?' The idea was, R2 who has been all over the galaxy, is still in his coma, but he hears this. And it triggers something that would ultimately wake him up.
Closing quote

So it would seem that it was BB-8 who kickstarted R2-D2's awakening during their initial meeting at D'Qar, meaning that when the Resistance were furrowing their brows over the location of Luke Skywalker, Artoo was just about awake enough to kick into action.

It's a flimsy explanation, and while we don't want everything served up on a platter, it wouldn't have hurt to spend a minute or two giving the audience some idea about the reasons behind Artoo's sudden boot-up.

Still, it's nice to know that if the writers are still referencing R2-D2's hook-up with the Death Star, that crazy theory about BB-8's origins might still be possible.

Science Fiction
Sci-Fi Movies
Star Wars
Star Wars: The Force Awakens