The Empire Strikes Back: Humanising Technology or droids are persons too

The Empire Strikes Back Trailer

Director: Irvin Kershner

Screenwroter: Lawrence Kasden and Leigh Brackett

Starring: Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels and Billy Dee Williams

The Empire Strikes Back: Humanising Technology or droids are persons to.

I f we as humans are thinking and reasoning beings and therefore possess the qualities that can consider us to be persons then is it our minds or bodies that deliver us this form? I believe that through examining this notion it is possible to prove that droids, like C-3PO and R2-D2, are justifiably persons as well.

For a droid to be considered to have the fundamental essence of a sentient being, therefore person, it is necessary to have some guidelines to what makes a person. Arp (2005, p.121) suggests five criteria for the defining characteristics of a person, reasoning or rationality; beliefs, intentions, desires and emotions; language; social relationships and being a responsible moral agent. All of these criteria are in evidence throughout The Empire Strikes Back  and indeed throughout the two droids adventures in the other films and the expanded universe.

Let us consider language and its use by the droids. While it could be argued that their programming is the driving factor in their language use it must be noted that both droids communicate in a way that is very human or sentient. The droids constant bickering is in and of itself something of a fraternal like relationship and points to their regard and fondness for each other. It is also through language that we can see and hear the droids emotions.

R2-D2’s mournful whistle as they close the base doors while Luke is still missing in the colds of Hoth show that this droid has feelings of sorrow and worry for Luke. Here we also see the droids reasoning capacity when Artoo calculates the chances of survival in the dropping temperatures and C-3PO’s rational response that there is little hope of survival. C-3PO’s remonstrations at Chewbacca while the Wookie is repairing him, “ow…Chewie”, displays that the droid can feel the pain of his condition at the hands of the well meaning Wookie and can use expressive language to communicate his feelings to his repairer.  It is this demonstration of emotion and feeling that can lead us to believing that the droids and their friends can engage in social relationships.

For this criterion I will use the example of Luke’s response to Artoo falling into the swamps of Dagobah. He is genuinely upset, worried and willing to fight to save Artoo from the monster lurking in the swamps and shows great relief when his friend is returned in a still functional state. It is obvious in this section of the movie that there is real feeling and a sense of a strong relationship that is more than Artoo being a useful tool.

That leaves the criterion of being a responsible moral agent and once again it is Artoo who best espouses this personal strength. While escaping Cloud City, Artoo discovers that the hyperdrive has been disabled and after the efforts of the flesh and bloods proves fruitless Artoo decides to leave his half repaired friend, C-3PO, to rescue his friends by interfacing with the Falcon to make the jump to hyperspace. He has fulfilled a moral obligation to his friends and acted in a responsible manner even if C-3PO is unhappy about being down a foot.

While Keller (2007, p.6) may argue that what constitutes life is simply a ‘human decision’ can we not use the definition of what it is to be a live person to rationally justify the sentience of the droids, C-3PO and R2-D2. They have all the attributes and therefore it is this human’s decision that it is not necessary to have an organic body to qualify as a person.

Arp, R. (2005). “If droids could think…” : Droids as slaves and persons. In K. Decker & J. Eberl (Eds.), Star wars and philosophy: more powerful than you can possibly imagine (pp. 120-131). Peru, IL: Carus Publishing Company.

Keller, E.F. (2007). Once again, ‘What is life?’. Retrieved from:     http://vuibert.com/IMG/doc/9782711748655-Keller.doc

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1 Comment

  1. do or do not….just don’t try and question my knowledge of the Star Wars universe


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