George Lucas’ droids show more humanity than Isaac Asimov’s robots. Kendall Schroeder explores the relationship between the droids of Star Wars and the robots of a science fiction giant in this installment of the Retrozap Artist Series.
Growing up with Star Trek and Star Wars, I was drawn to consume any science fiction or fantasy story I could get my hands on. From Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain series, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit books, C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia volumes, to Isaac Asimov’s Robot Series, I consumed them all. However, it was the latter that intrigued me to the point that, as a young boy, I subscribed to Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine (www.asimovs.com.) I read short story after short story of sci-fi content. As a result, I have a love for robots, droids, futuristic spaceships, and the like. Probably, it’s due in large part to my infatuation with the original Star Wars that had just come out in 1977.
The Three Laws of Robotics
Most noteworthy, Asimov’s books feature robots prominently. Asimov’s robots possess a level of consciousness similar to the humans of his future worlds. Additionally, one of the most noticeable features in the robot series is Asimov’s “Three Laws of Robotics.” The laws were first introduced in a 1942 short story entitled “Runaround,” although, he refers to them throughout the series. The Three Laws of Robotics are:
- May not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm;
- Must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law;
- Must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws. (I, Robot. Asimov, Isaac (1950)
The Asimov Robot Series
Initially, I came to know these rules while reading The Caves of Steel (1953) and subsequently, The Naked Sun (1955), both of which I recently revisited. Actually, the robot novels by Asimov are science fiction murder mysteries featuring a human police detective named Elijah (Lije) Baley and his “humaniform” (human-like) robot partner, R. Daneel Olivaw. (The “R” stands for Robot.)
The Caves of Steel centers around Baley who teams up with the robot, Olivaw, for the first time in an effort to solve a murder on another world. Interestingly, the victim is a character from whom the robot is modeled and knows quite well, R. Daneel Olivaw’s maker. Additionally, Asimov highlights the tension between the human and robots throughout the story.
Within the robot series, Asimov pulls the reader into a mysterious, futuristic world, utilizing many plot twists often with surprising endings. This is a trait characteristic of many of Asimov’s works.
Most importantly, Asimov intentionally paints a world in which there is a struggle with the relationships between humans and robots, most of all, the humaniform robots. These robots, of which there are few, resemble humans in every way possible. Consequently, each book explores this conflict on a deeper level.
Humaniform Robots v. Droids
In contrast, the robots of Star Wars are quite different than Asimov’s robots. First of all, George Lucas doesn’t refer to them as robots. He affectionately calls them “droids.” (A derivative of the word, android.)
In addition, the droids of Star Wars serve many purposes. There are battle droids, security droids, assassin droids, astromech droids, and protocol droids. Yes, it can be said that Asimov’s robots have several roles but their primary purpose is to serve humans. Even for R. Daneel Olivaw, one of the only humaniform robots in the robot series, his sole purpose is to provide aid and protection to Elijah Baley.
Finally, and probably most importantly to my point, the humans in Asimov’s novels show very little affection toward the robots that inhabit their world. Additionally, the robots show no emotional attachment to the humans. Their function is to serve and protect. They are literally void of emotion. Only R. Daneel Olivaw and his relationship with Elijah Baley stands as a stark contrast.
For me, the droids win!
In contrast, the humans in Lucas’ Star Wars universe treat the droids with respect and they’re protected and cared for. The human characters in the galaxy treat the droids with kindness and affection. While the droids do provide a service in Star Wars, they often are key players in the plot. In turn, the Star Wars droids, like the protocol droid, C3PO, genuinely care for the well-being of the humans around them. The droids that George Lucas created often display some of the saga’s most human characteristics.
Revisiting Asimov’s books, I began to wonder what would happen if everyone’s favorite protocol droid was thrust into this world in place of R. Daneel Olivaw. C3PO was not created in his master’s image. The Chosen One, little Anakin Skywalker, built him out of scrap. Furthermore, he is not humaniform in any sense of the word as is R. Daneel. And, even though he can seem selfish and cowardly at times, he has a good heart. Therefore, I chose C3PO to be the subject of my piece.
I first began by exploring some of Asimov’s book covers. A few stand out to me: Ralph McQuarrie’s cover of Robot Dreams, a collection of Asimov short stories, and the cover of The Robots of Dawn by artist Michael Whelan. I chose The Robots of Dawn.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a physical model of the droid since my original 3.75″ figure is long gone, therefore I have to settle for a picture of the Revoltech model. The Revoltech figure is an amazing figure! Furthermore, it is very detailed and provides an ideal study.
I begin by building out the sketch on the iPad Pro using the Procreate app, one of my new favorite drawing apps. Utilizing various shades of yellow and black, and pulling some of the colors from the Revoltech picture, I blend together several layers giving him his characteristic shine.
The Droids of Dawn
I put Threepio in the place of Asimov’s robot but I still needed a background scene similar to Whelan’s cover. I settled on a Ralph McQuarrie painting of Cloud City from The Empire Strikes Back. It has similar tones as Whelan’s backdrop and gives a feeling of despair. This seems like an appropriate scene for Threepio because the last time he visited the city, he left in pieces on the back of a Wookiee. The only thing remaining is a title change.
Droids are human, too!
Isaac Asimov’s robots and George Lucas’ droids draw a distinct contrast much in the same way as do the worlds of Star Trek and Star Wars. On one hand, Asimov’s futuristic world is purely scientific and based on facts while Lucas’ galaxy is a space opera and filled with feeling and emotion. As a result, it’s no surprise that I’m more drawn toward the Star Wars galaxy.
Undoubtedly, two of my favorite Star Wars characters in the entire saga are the inseparable duo, R2D2 and C3PO. In fact, the scene in The Phantom Menace that makes me so happy is when we see the two meet for the first time. On Tatooine, Young Anakin Skywalker shares with Padme that he made Threepio to help his mom. The humanity in this moment is priceless.
Finally, using the Procreate App on my iPad Pro and my Apple Pencil, once again, I chose to create a quick representation of Threepio at his most basic level, with all of his parts showing. Even in this primitive state, I feel that See-Threepio is more human than any of Asimov’s robots.
Kendall Schroeder saw the original Star Wars in a small theater in the summer of his 10th birthday and immediately fell in love with the Far Away Galaxy. Pretending to be either Jedi Luke Skywalker or Colonel Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man, Kendall always believed he had special powers. Maybe that’s why he truly believes there is good in all people. And, he will stop at nothing to help rid the world of evil. When Kendall is not creating art, he is leading educators as the head of an online school. Kendall lives in West Michigan with his wife and two kids.