Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker marks the end of the Skywalker Saga, a nine-movie series that's spanned 42 years and three generations of characters to capture the imaginations and hearts of millions of fans around the world. While it's impossible to sum up everything we love about these films, we here at SYFY WIRE are going to try.
Leading up to The Rise of Skywalker, we're breaking down and celebrating our favorite scenes from the series. Today, we focus on the critical scene in Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope in which Luke almost misses meeting R2-D2.
It's a small scene, not as grand as the massive battles involving X-Wings and AT-ATs and TIE Fighters, nor as shocking as Darth Vader chopping off Luke's hand. What it lacks in grandness and high drama, however, it makes up for with subtle humor and the realization that this moment is the lynchpin of the first trilogy, the reason Luke found himself on a journey that entailed destroying the Death Star, kissing his sister, and finding out who his father is.
The scene takes place at the beginning of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, on the sandy dunes of Tatooine, where a pack of Jawas is hocking purloined droids to moisture farmer Owen Lars (Phil Brown) and his young nephew, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). We start with Uncle Owen, who looks over the beat-up merchandise and chooses a red R5-D4 unit over a worse-for-the-wear Artoo. He also has a humorous back-and-forth with C-3PO and ends up buying him as well because the protocol droid can understand the binary language of moisture vaporators and speak Bocce — two abilities any Tatooine moisture farmer would value.
Uncle Owen tasks a teen-angsty Luke to clean their new purchases up, which the boy grudgingly agrees to (but not before whining about wanting to pick up some power converters at Tosche Station with his pals). Luke is a good albeit moody nephew, however, and so he beckons to the R5 astromech and says, "Come on, Red, let's go!" It's a simple phrase, really. No one thinks they have any import. But they are Luke's final words to R5-D4 and, in fact, the last words he says in the chapter of his life in which he's no more than a bored teen on Tatooine.
As Red chugs after Luke, C-3PO turns back resignedly to his old friend Artoo, thinking their journeys are finally going to take different paths. But then Red changes the course of history; he smokes ups, stops moving, and conks out. Luke takes a look at the droid and declares the astromech has a faulty motivator! Are the Jawas trying to pull a fast one on the moisture farmers? Uncle Owen accuses them of such, and C-3PO sees an opportunity and champions for his old friend, calling Artoo, "a real bargain." Uncle Owen and Luke are persuaded enough to take R2-D2 instead.
Luke meeting R2-D2 is a pivotal moment in the Star Wars universe. It is also the moment — a full 20 minutes into Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope — where we shift our focus away from the droid and toward this Force-friendly kid with floppy hair and an affinity for racing and shooting womp rats.
Those first 20 minutes, however, are all about Artoo; it's the droid's origin story, if you view the films from their real-life release dates instead of the timeline of the Star Wars universe. Until he is bought by Uncle Owen, R2-D2 is the protagonist; he's tasked with a mysterious secret mission, goes off into the desert alone when C-3PO no longer wants to follow him, and overcomes what seems like insurmountable defeat when he's electrocuted and captured by the Jawas. The brave little astromech fights through it all, even trying in vain to follow Luke and C-3PO when Red is chosen instead of him.
And all seems lost — is lost — until Red serendipitously breaks down.
What makes this scene level up from good to great is the fact that it also touches on a recurring theme of the Skywalker Saga: Do fortuitous events occur through the random fickleness of fate, or are they driven to occur by the Force?
If Red's motivator had lasted just a few more seconds, Artoo would have gone back in the Jawas' Sandcrawler and Luke's future — not to mention the galaxy's — would have met a very different fate. Looking only at the canon of the films, the question is an open-ended one. Looking at Star Wars media beyond the films, however, we can find an answer.
In the pre-2012 Star Wars universe (now deemed the "Legends" since Disney acquired Lucasfilm), Red's backstory was explored in other storylines, including in the 1999 comic book anthology Star Wars Tales 1, in which he was a Force-friendly droid named Skippy who, after having a Force-fueled vision of Luke's destiny, made it appear that his motivator malfunctioned so Uncle Owen would choose Artoo.
With Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm, that story is no longer canon. What is canon, however, is the heartbreakingly lovely short story "The Red One" by Rae Carson. In this tale, found in the anthology From A Certain Point of View, R2-D2 convinces R5-D4 to purposefully break down by telling his fellow astromech that he is working for the Rebellion. After hearing what's at stake, Red chooses to give up his chance to live out his days on a moisture farm in order to help the greater good.
In light of that backstory, it's fair to say that Red is the true hero of this scene. R2-D2 certainly makes sure that his compatriot's sacrifice was not in vain.