In my previous two posts about protocol droids I focused on two from the TC-series of droids: TC-14 and TC-70. In this post, I decided to switch things up once again and go back to the 3PO-series by offering some details about R-3PO, the red protocol droid.
R-3PO, like its counterpart K-3PO, only appears in The Empire Strikes Back. Specifically, the protocol droid can be found in two distinct scenes in the film, both times in the Echo Base hanger. The first scene is in the opening minutes of the film when Han Solo returns from his tauntaun patrol of Hoth. As Solo walks around an X-Wing and heads towards the Millennium Falcon, which is in the background, one will catch a quick glimpse of R-3PO walking by in the foreground. But to see the droid you have to look closely because the foreground is dark and it is slightly difficult to see R-3PO.
Later in the film, when the Rebels are scrambling to evacuate Echo Base, R-3PO shows up once again. Following the death of Admiral Ozzel, and Captain Piett’s promotion to Admiral, the very next scene takes us back to the Echo Base hanger. Now, we see Rebel pilots running to join Princess Leia’s briefing where she is discussing the evacuation and defense of the base. As the pilots run to the assembly of pilots, R-3PO is clearly visible on the right side of the screen, standing near an X-Wing and watching the commotion unfolding around it.
And, yeah, that is it. As I said, R-3PO pops up briefly in two scenes. Ultimately, like so many other droids in the saga, R-3PO’s role in The Empire Strikes Back is straight-forward: populating the background in the Star Wars universe. Never-the-less, even though R-3PO is an extremely minor character doing very little on-screen, it has been given a sliver of backstory. As the canonical reference book Star Wars: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know notes, R-3PO is a “moody, red protocol droid on the lookout for spies” (pg. 164). This counterespionage role for R-3PO is, in fact, a carry over from the Expanded Universe where R-3PO was first presented as being tasked with weeding out spies among the droid pool in Echo Base. And considering this aspect of R-3PO’s background has been maintained in the Star Wars canon, it is probably safe to assume that the droid was also abandoned by its master, a smuggler who “accidentally” left the moody R-3PO in the hands of the Rebel Alliance.
Check out these other posts about random protocol droids in Star Wars: