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:


A Clockwork Orange: Freedom of choice or choosing freedom?

A Clockwork Orange

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Screenwriter: Stanley Kubrick

Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee and  Warren Clarke

A Clockwork Orange: Freedom of choice or choosing freedom.

What is it to have freedom of choice and what can these choices lead to? Stanley Kubrick’s (1971) A Clockwork Orange can be seen to cast a critical lens on the notion of human determinism. Litch (2009, p.121) states that through the theses of human determinism our choices are not of free will but are fully determined by preceding events. Does this mean then that the anti-hero Alex had no choice throughout the movie? Were the events leading to his incarceration and choice of rehabilitation already pre-determined by some unknown causal effect?

Alex and his Droogs make their way through life on what one can only describe as violent thuggery and criminality. It is their choice to beat a homeless old man and it is their choice to rape the catlady but it is also Alex’s choice to undergo aversion therapy after his incarceration. So which of these choices reflect true freedom of choice and is freedom of choice desirable given the outcomes in the film.

It would seem that the amoral choices of Alex are not determinist as he has the ability to choose not to carry out his deeds. Stoehr (2006, p. 163) questions whether the freedom to choose is a desirable thing when you consider the actions of Alex and it would seem on viewing that perhaps the State is correct to re-program Alex’s uncontrollable desires through the ‘Ludovico Treatment’.  However, as Shaw (2008, pp.48-49) argues, Alex after the treatment is not a ‘good’ Alex but one whose ability to choose is removed by the State and this power to render him without the freedom of choice to be far more threatening.

It is, in a morose way, gratifying that Alex in the end is able to return to his ways of ultra-violence and to throw of the shackles of the State’s control of his free will. Shaw (2006, p.48) argues that it is his ability to return to his choice of vile and evil acts that speaks of the power of human free choice and it is this ability that returns him his autonomy. However the fact that he does return to his ways in some way goes to give credence to the theses of human determinism.

Alex’s reversion to his former self and the apparent ability to choose to go back to his former life does not necessarily mean determinism is at play but given the definition from the opening of this review it could be argued that Alex’s new decisions are based on his preceding actions before his treatment. However to be absolutely certain of human determinism Alex would need to be real and would need to be studied. As Litch (2009, pp.122-125) suggests there are ways to determine whether this theses holds credence but it would require testing that is not possible on fictional characters. Looking at this film in this way holds more questions than answers as to what constitutes freedom of choice and whether it actually exists, but is it possible that this was the intention of the director all along. Are we really free to choose or is every choice already determined?

Litch, M. (2009). Philosophy through film (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Shaw, D. (2008). Film and philosophy: Taking movies seriously. London: Wallflower.