Published in The Chronicle of Higher Education 51.39 (3 June 2005), The Chronicle Review p. B4. Copyright, Chronicle of Higher Education Inc.
Professor of English
University of Toronto
[From a Chronicle Review feature, "The Short List: Favorite Star Wars Characters," in which 6 academics each provided a couple of short, word-limited paragraphs on their favorite character. Seven words added here, placed within square brackets, and one misprint corrected.]
C-3PO provides a splendidly comic reflection of the serious, heroic development of the major Star Wars characters such as Anakin/Vader, Luke, and Obi-Wan Kenobi, who move from boyhood innocence to emotional, adolescent discovery of the evil in the world around them and in themselves; through ordeals and literal or symbolic death and resurrection; to, finally, self-controlled, compassionate, and self-sacrificial maturity. They follow the mythic pattern, as described by Joseph Campbell, of the epic hero's departure, initiation, and return. C-3PO goes comically through the same pattern, full of fears (the hero's greatest enemy) that he exaggerates ("We're doomed!") but nevertheless manages to overcome. Born/created innocent on Tatooine, he discovers imperfection and evil ([like Adam and Eve after the Fall,] "I'm naked!"--Episode I), loses his (adolescent) head both literally and symbolically on Geonosis (Episode II), is nearly destroyed (that is, disassembled) on Bespin but is reassembled by Chewbacca (death and resurrection, Episode V), and becomes an astonished "god" on Endor (Episode VI).
C-3PO's developing compassion and sometimes comically reluctant self-sacrifice (as in Jabba's palace in Episode VI) become evident, despite his fears and fussiness. He's a comic Everyman, a semi-parodic example of the levels of heroism possible for even the most annoyingly egotistical and pessimistic of us. He's also a foil to the adventurously heroic and also comic R2-D2, and even a comedic stand-in for George Lucas in narrating the Star Wars saga in Episode VI to the Ewoks. If you think his character is unimportant, look at the public outrage when Jar Jar Binks took over his comic-thematic role in Episode I!