As fictional comfort food goes, Star Wars is probably not the best place to look for tender examples of loving families. In the old movies, Luke Skywalker had to become a man by killing his dad. In the 21st century, Star Wars has doubled down on this bleak outlook for parents starting with Han Solo’s death in The Force Awakens at the hands of his own son. Bottom line: Star Wars is not a great place for kids or functional families. Unless… we’ve been looking for parental figures in the wrong places. Maybe Star Wars does have two great parents hiding in plain sight: R2-D2 and C-3PO.
Now, I’m not saying R2-D2 and C-3PO are actual parents in the sense that they have secret robot babies hidden away somewhere. Instead, their behaviors both toward each other and toward other characters are more correlative with how real parents act than any of the actual parents in Star Wars. People have been saying for years that C-3PO and R2-D2 act like a married couple, which is fairly obvious once you become a parent. I did not realize that C-3PO acted like a parent until I became one myself. I’d like to say that I quote Han Solo all the time as a badass dad, but the reality is, more often than not, I’m C-3PO. In moments of irrational frustration, I’ll say “This is all your fault,” to my wife, even though it’s clearly my fault that I bought the wrong kind of milk. My wife, being the R2-D2 in our relationship (the more component, stable one) will correct me quickly and succinctly.
Anyway, pointing out that C-3PO and R2-D2 are in love and a couple is nothing new, instead, thinking about how their behavior appears parental to the other characters is more nuanced. In the original trilogy, R2-D2 and C-3PO act as surrogate parents to literally all the other characters. They do not do a whole lot of actual parenting, but they both do something parents are very guilty of: worrying. C3PO worries about Han and Chewbacca. R2-D2 worries about Luke. Hell, for a moment The Last Jedi, R2-D2 shows Luke Skywalker a hologram of Princess Leia, in an attempt to remind Luke of something great he did once as a young man. Like a mother or a father, R2-D2 is motioning to an old photograph at this moment, saying “Remember when you were just a young thing on Tatooine? I was so proud of you then. ”
Similarly, in the prequel trilogy, C-3PO stands by Padme Amidala, as a kind of helpless live-in mother character, akin to the nurse in Romeo and Juliet. He’s there for her but knows his ability to help Padme, or Anakin and to do anything about their problems is beyond his control. All C-3PO can do is offer is moral support and, continuously point out, as many parents do, that the world has gone to shit. All the Star Wars characters are the children of R2-D2 and C-3PO, and the two droids do their best to prod and guide those characters toward success the best they can.
But, the reason why the two droids are more realistic paternal figures in Star Wars is that R2 and 3PO do not have any real control over the children. As all the characters make mistake after mistake, the droids just have to endure it, and, like all parents, continue to advise Luke, Han, or Poe Dameron from doing something reckless or dangerous. When C-3PO is telling Han not to go into the asteroid field, he’s every dad, reminding their kid not to walk on rocks in bare feet. When R2 bugs Luke about the safety of the planet Dagobah, he’s every mom, reminding their son to be careful, and not forget about their mother either.
If you buy into the idea that Star Wars is a series of stories for adolescent children, then it stands to reason that the characters those children relate to the most are the younger people: Rey, Luke, Leia, Finn, et al. So, from the perspective of children, the two Star Wars characters who will remind them the most of their parents are R2-D2 and C-3PO. We’d like to think that as parents we are all wise like Obi-Wan or good at fixing the car like Han Solo. But, for the young children who love Star Wars, parents are just people who worry too much and are constantly there, waving their arms and complaining.
Which is why we – the parents – aren’t part of the big Star Wars adventure. We’re just the droids. In other words: We’re doomed!