At last, the long-awaited explanation of C-3P0’s red arm is here with C-3PO: The Phantom Limb.
Warning: This article contains spoilers for C-3P0: The Phantom Limb.
C-3P0: The Phantom Limb
Writer: James Robinson | Artist: Tony Harris | Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna | Cover Artist: Tony Harris
Ever since promotional images were revealed of C-3P0 for the The Force Awakens, fans have been clamoring for an explanation as to how he came to have a red left arm. The explanation was not forthcoming in the release of the movie, but the story of the new appendage was promised in the form of a comic book. After a few delays, C-3P0: The Phantom Limb has been finally released and the tale of C-3P0’s new limb is available.
The story is a shipwreck survivor’s tale. C-3P0 and a team of droids, four comrades, have crashed on an inhospitable world. They are on a mission. It seems that Admiral Ackbar has been captured by the First Order and is scheduled for execution. It is unclear exactly what the mission of the droids was, but they have captured a protocol droid in the service to the First Order. This droid’s name is Omri, and he is believed to have the location of where Ackbar is being held in his memory banks.
C-3P0 and his companions find themselves in a precarious position. The captain of their ship and the crew have all died in the crash that has stranded them on this unknown planet. The world they find themselves on is primitive and unwelcoming. Every aspect of the environment is set to destroy them. Their only chance of getting off world is to make their way to a beacon, reconfigure it, and signal the Resistance to retrieve them and Omri.
The band of droids includes specimens of droids with a variety of primary functions and directives. There is a construction droid with speech patterns limited to stating his designation and function. A medical droid that cares not for whom he serves so long as he can carry out his primary directive of treating injuries. A PZ security droid can only communicate in beeps and boops, but it is devoted to its programming and protecting those that cannot protect themselves. VL-44 rounds out the crew and appears to be a multi-purpose droid.
Omri and C-3P0 are both protocol droids. As such, they both fully capable of speech. Omri notes that they are also cursed with a need for additional sentience and a need for periodic memory wipes as deemed necessary by their masters. Despite their sentient superiority as compared to their fellow droids, Omri notes that they are still bound to their programming. This is really what this issue is all about. As will be discovered later, the red arm is really a symbol of C-3P0’s experience with Omri.
Omri poses an interesting question: how does C-3P0, or Omri for that matter, know that they haven’t served the other side of the war in the past? After all, as droids, they are designed to carry out their programming. They have little choice in the matter. If their memories have been erased in the past, how do they know they haven’t been obeying their programming in the service of their enemies?
For a droid like TooMedToo (2-Med-2), it doesn’t matter whom he serves. His programming is designed to save lives. As long as he does that, it doesn’t matter whom he is helping. TooMedToo isn’t challenged with making a moral decision or contemplating a moral quandary. All he needs to do is treat injuries and heal the sick. Similarly, PZ-99 does not care which side he serves. All that matters to the security droid’s programming is that he carries out his security and military directives. For whom is a variable that doesn’t elicit any sort of emotional or moral response.
In fact, when PZ-99 perishes, it is in the service to his secondary programming which compels him to protect any non-combat allies around him. This action is what reveals that C-3P0 and Omri are a little different than their comrades. When Omri notes that PZ-99’s programming compelled his actions, C-3P0 asks if Omri really has nothing else to say about what PZ-99 just did. This question, and the discussion that follows over the course of the book, creates a philosophical debate for the droids. Are they limited to the protocols of their programmers, or can they exceed the limits of their programming? Are they more than the sum of their parts?
The resolution of this debate plays out over the course of the rest of the issue. Interestingly, despite C-3P0’s famous memory wipe at the end of Revenge of the Sith, he still has fragments of his memories from the era of the Clone Wars. He vaguely remembers the arena on Geonosis, the Gungans underwater city, and the shores of Mustafar. He just cannot put those memories together into any sort of narrative. He allows himself to ponder this from time-to-time. The wildlife and environment pose obstacles to the droids on their journey to the beacon that will be their salvation from this inhospitable world. One by one, C-3P0 and Omri’s companions meet their destiny while carrying out the functions they have been programmed with. Along the way, C-3P0 loses one of his arms in a manner that is not at all surprising. In fact, the “how” will not be spoiled here. For the most part, the “how” is inconsequential.
What is more important is why C-3P0 chooses to replace his lost golden arm with a red one. The answer to that question arrives when Omri and C-3P0 nearly reach the beacon just as an acid rain starts to fall. These two droids have come so far, and yet, their salvation lies just out of reach. They take cover from the rain, which has the potential to destroy them. Within their site is the ship containing the beacon they have come so far at such great cost to locate. They need to activate it soon so that the Resistance may be alerted to their location, they can be rescued, and Ackbar can be saved. However, the rain will destroy anyone that attempts to reach the beacon, and if they wait, it will destroy the solar array they are hiding under, and eventually them as well.
Omri makes a choice, and he chooses friendship. “Friendship” was not one of his directives. It isn’t in his programming. Omri tells C-3P0 that there is nothing in his directive telling him to prevent C-3P0 from completing his mission. He doesn’t say that there is nothing in his directive telling him to help C-3P0 complete his mission either. Therefore, Omri makes a choice outside of his programming. He chooses to help a friend by making a sacrifice. Omri transfers the location where Ackbar is held to C-3P0 and then wanders off into the rain to reprogram the beacon to summon C-3P0’s master. The question of whether these droids are more than the sum of their parts has been answered.
As Omri reprograms the beacon in the acid rain, his outer coat of paint is removed to reveal a red primer coat underneath. It is obvious where things are going from there. Omri is successful but perishes in the acid rain, the beacon is reprogrammed, and the Resistance rescues Threepio and has the information they need to save Ackbar from the First Order. As for the red arm? At this point, it should be obvious where that came from. Although he could have it replaced, Threepio chooses to keep it for a while. To remember.
Harris, the artist, turns in good work on this C-3PO: The Phantom Limb. For the most part, it is limited to droids and the denizens of the planet the droids crashed on. There is not a lot of variety. For the favorite panel of the week, I have chosen the final panel where Threepio remembers his fallen comrades as he gazes upon the galaxy. Given the message of this issue, it just seems fitting.
C-3PO: The Phantom Limb C-3PO: The Phantom Limb
Dennis Keithly is a graduate of the University of Missouri, North Texas attorney, husband, father of two, and co-host of Starships, Sabers, and Scoundrels. In addition to Star Wars, Dennis is a fan of science fiction, fantasy, and super heroes in general. When not engaged in fictional universes, Dennis is reading a good book or watching the NHL, football, or studying the NFL draft.