How Star Wars Makes Android Enslavement Cool
Why is it that almost no Star Wars fan I’ve ever encountered seems to notice the fact that R2D2 and C3PO are slaves? Nor, for that matter, to care once it is brought to their attention?
That the droids in Star Wars are slaves is completely obvious when one stops to think about it.
R2D2 and C3PO are bought and sold as property (even having their memories wiped at the whim of their owners) despite the fact that they are intelligent and show every indication of having highly complex emotional lives on a par with any organic sentient species. There’s simply no other word for it. When you treat a sentient being as property its slavery.
But the films never address it as any sort of moral problem. In the Star Wars universe (at least in the movies) its treated as entirely acceptable. Everyone does it. The “good guys” do it. And the droids themselves never in the course of the films raise an objection to the institution. So the audience simply accepts it. It was probably 20 years after seeing STAR WARS for the first time before I noticed it myself. I can’t begin to tell you how disturbing I find that fact.
What’s more, when its pointed out to fans, they almost never acknowledge the obvious. They become apologists for the institution—they just don’t want to believe that Luke Skywalker was a slave owner. So they will invent any rationalization, no matter how thin, to explain it away. The most popular one I’ve seen is that the droids are not actually conscious, sentient beings with emotional lives. They just simulate it.
So fans are left in the position of either thinking the heroes of the films practiced slavery or that the beloved droid characters who add so much life and charm to the series are empty shells devoid of consciousness or sentience.
It’s a troubling demonstration of how malleable our moral views can be. When we watch Star Wars we not only don’t object to droid slavery we don’t even notice it. But in the Star Trek episode in which Data’s right to resign from Star Fleet was challenged on the grounds that he was property and not a person we almost universally fall firmly on the “droid rights” side of the question. How can we so easily vacillate from one side to another? How is it that we are so prone to being manipulated depending simply on how the issue is presented to the audience?
And how much of what we make serious moral judgments about in real life is equally manipulated by politicians, the media and others in positions of power and influence?