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On the morality lesson of C-3PO

Guest post by David Coleman

Keeping with the Star Wars theme, we offer this topical interlude between Everything I Know About Storytelling I Learned From Star Wars and the forthcoming sequel. (Although, going against the theme, we hope you’ll agree that David’s post is more Animatrix than Star Wars Holiday Special.)

C-3PO.  That cranky, quick with the I-told-you-so’s, pessimistic lump of metal.  Handy with the lingo.  Sometimes mistaken for a god.  Doesn’t mind dishing out the corporal punishment to close friends. 

There he is, shuffling his way through the franchise, a steady side kick amidst the swash and plenty of buckle.  Good for a cheap gag, yes, but really, if you were honest, he doesn’t actually do much of anything.  Forgettable really – but always somewhere underfoot.  Usually ducking for cover.  Or getting dismembered.

Six films down, and that’s it.  Yet it isn’t, because the Star Wars universe lumbers on in all sorts of incarnations.  Recently I’ve bumped into a couple of those spin-offs, and I’ve come to realise something about 3PO. 

He’s pretty lame.

First, I bumped into him in Star-Wars-Lego-Play-Station (say that three times quick).  I played it with my kids, ok got addicted to it with my kids, and one thing became clear: C-3PO sucked.  In the game you can’t get past any peril unless every character can get there under their own steam.  Luke can grapple, Han blasts fantastic, Yoda can leap like nobody’s business, R2 can bloody well fly.  3PO?  Can’t jump.  At all.  Stairs?  Beyond him.  Hold his own in a fight?  Forget it.

Then there’s Star Wars Angry Birds.  Cool stuff here – Obi-Wan crushes with the Force, Chewie is master smasher, Leia slings a mean-arse tractor beam, even the Millennium Falcon gets a guernsey.  And 3PO?  Yowls like a sick llama, then self destructs.  Badly.

Infinite lameness.  Which made me wonder.   

All he can really add, his Unique Selling Point, is talking to moisture vaporators and highly obscure aliens.  Handy certainly, but it can be a long time between drinks.  So why did the in-group keep him around?  Mostly, he’s lagging behind, falling apart, moaning, being ripped apart, complaining, endangering the mission with slowness, kvetching about his joints, and smacking actual legend and essential team member R2 on his dome.

Why didn’t they ditch him?  Somewhere, anywhere?  Leave him dismantled and sold off for scrap?

And then it hit me.  Humanity.  Sure he was helpful from time to time, but generally he was a pain.  An anchor.  A millstone.  Yet he was kept along because he was part of the group.  And that’s what you do – you look after each other, because if you sacrifice the weak when times are tough, there’s a deeper price to pay further down the road.  Things might eventually get better, but you’ve come out of it harder and colder, and that moral compromise is a bastard to shake.  You’ll know that you threw over the weak to make the boat float, and that type of choice splinters souls.  Sullies the victory, blackens the parade.

So 3PO was differently abled, needed some extra support.  If you are fighting for principles, for freedom, for life, you set the bar high.  If those rigid golden legs can’t vault that bar, then by gods you are going to heave together to get him over.  Otherwise you leave something of your selves on the other side. 

And that is the real lesson of the whining, simpering, shuffling C-3PO: the true test of a band of heroes is making sure that everyone shares in the spoils.  That the heroic choice is the moral choice.  That even in the darkest hour the weakest must be protected. 

So here’s to you, C-3PO, for holding up that golden mirror to ourselves. 

You’re still lame though.  Especially in Angry Birds.

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