They say you never forget your first robot – and if they don’t, they should – and I certainly remember mine. I was a wide-eyed youth staring up at the television, enthralled by my first viewing of Star Wars. I laughed at the little squeaking Jawas, I averted my eyes from the smoking corpses of Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru and I imitated the thrum of the lightsabers, but I paid a special amount of attention to that strange duo on the screen – the golden man with the funny voice and the little white-and-blue trash can that couldn’t talk.
Despite their mechanical bodies, C-3PO and R2-D2 were just as human as the rest of the characters. They didn’t just have programming, they had personality: C-3PO was a loyal coward who surrendered at the mere threat of being dismembered by a Wookiee, but nonetheless became distressed at the idea that he had failed his friends. R2-D2 had no dialogue other than whistles and beeps, but he was brave, headstrong and determined to see his mission through to the end.
Most importantly, though, the two of them were friends. They got irritated with each other and bickered as friends often do, but they cared about each other – and it wasn’t just because they’d been programmed to, either. It’s hard to imagine one without the other; they’ll always be “R2-D2 and C-3PO” in my mind, one whole unit from two separate halves.
Maybe it was my younger self’s fascination with the two droids that instilled in me a love for all things robotic, or maybe it was something else. All I know is that right now I have 13 models of mecha from the various Gundam anime series on my desk here at The Escapist HQ with more under construction. Unlike Artoo and Threepio, these mecha are piloted, not programmed, but they still have a sense of humanity: After all, they, like Threepio, are built in our own image.
Why do people like robots so much? Is it a bond between creator and creation? Is it a fascination with the idea of synthetic life searching to find its own sense of humanity? Is it because they look really flippin’ cool when you put buzzsaws and hammers on them and make them fight in a cage?
Maybe it’s all of the above. In this week’s issue, we transform and roll out to take a look at these mechanical creations: why they fascinate us, what makes them interesting and why we wish the fictional ones were real.