It’s taken over 40 years for Lucasfilm to cast a woman as a droid in a galaxy far, far away, and with the arrival of L-337 in Solo: A Star Wars Story she was certainly worth the wait. Far from being a bumbling ball of neuroses like C-3PO, a beeping pet of a robot like BB-8, or played by a man like EV-9D9 in The Return of the Jedi, L-3 is afforded an autonomy and personality that are usually reserved for biological characters.
It certainly seems like Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s audition for the role inspired original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, along with writers Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan, to go in that direction. The actress has spoken about reading for the role and being totally unaware that the character was a droid until it was pointed out to her. Waller-Bridge originally played it straight, as though she were playing a flesh-and-bone character, and it is those human traits that help L-3 stand out from the robotic crowd.
Warning: Spoilers for Solo: A Star Wars Story follow.
Her assertiveness, passionate nature, and independent spirit are championed from the get-go, not to mention that she is a — literally — self-made woman. L-3 is the product of her own innovation; starting out as a piloting droid, she enhanced her mind and abilities and gave herself an unrivaled navigation system by installing modules, coding, and data from a mix of R3-series astromech droids, espionage droids, and protocol droid processors.
From hard drive to sex drive, L-3 is also a feminine droid who is sexually liberated. No Star Wars character has ever discussed their sexuality or sex in quite such an explicit way as when she talks with Qi'ra about her relationship with Lando Calrissian. L-3’s confidence is seen in both her determination that Lando fancies her and in her assuredness that they could potentially consummate that love. That is an empowering moment, as is her fierce defense of droid rights.
L-3 is first introduced in Vandor, where she is seen screaming at droids battling in a fighting pit to denounce their anthropoid overlords. Later, when the team is trying to steal the coaxium on Kessel, she sparks a droid revolt by removing the digital shackles that have kept them enslaved for so long. As fellow FANGRRLS writer Jenna Busch points out, it’s through L-3’s narrative that Star Wars finally addresses the slave status of its droids, allowing her to fight against their oppression—but in doing so they make her suffer the cruelest consequence. They take away both her voice and her autonomy.
Having orchestrated the droid rebellion, the Kasdens make it so L-3 essentially takes a gunshot to the chest while defending her metal compadres. What's left of her is brought onto the ship, but soon the body she'd built for herself starts to fail. At this point, you might be thinking, "It's OK, Lando will fix her up once they get off Kessel," but instead they transfer her mind into the Millennium Falcon so that they can use her navigational system to make their escape.
No longer can she walk freely, defend her fellow droids, or even converse in her own voice with Lando. L-3 is now entirely restricted to the Falcon like a '50s housewife forced to remain in the domestic sphere. Before, she would serve at the pleasure of both herself and Lando, but now she's subservient to whoever's in charge of the ship, and her status doesn't seem to change in the decades that follow.
Many people have suggested that a line in Empire Strikes Back can now be construed as a reference to L-3 when C-3PO makes a comment to Han Solo about his ship's operating system: "Sir, I don't know where your ship learned to communicate, but it has the most peculiar dialect." If that is L-3 he's referring to, then it means no effort has been made to return her to her droid form—and that really blows.
Whether it's Thandie Newton's Val sacrificing her life to save her male crew (after barely any time on screen, might I add) or Qi'ra being under the control of Lady Proxima, then Dryden Vos, then Darth flipping Maul, women just cannot catch a break in Solo. But by setting L-3 up as this autonomous, empowering being and then taking away her body and voice, Star Wars has managed to fail one of its most progressive characters in years.
What a shame.