U-3PO

K-3PO: The Dead Protocol Droid

I recently wrote a short piece about U-3PO, the other protocol droid on that Tantive IV at the beginning of A New Hope. I did so because a friend had asked me about the protocol droid, wondering if I had any information about it. After writing that post, I got this crazy idea to write some more posts about protocol droids which appear off to the side or in the background of scenes throughout the Star Wars saga. And so, in this post, I want to jump into The Empire Strikes Back and offer some brief background, along with my unsolicited thoughts, on K-3PO, the dead protocol droid in the Rebel base on Hoth.

K-3PO behind Toryn Farr
K-3PO stands behind Toryn Farr.
Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Easily identified by its white-plating and two red dots on the right side of its chest, K-3PO is a protocol droid that works in the Echo Base command center. The first time K-3PO appears in The Empire Strikes Back is when Han Solo enters the command center to tell General Rieekan that he is planning to leave the Alliance. In that scene, K-3PO is working at a tactical screen as Solo walks by. Later, when the fleet of Imperial Star Destroyers arrive in orbit above Hoth, the protocol droid can be found once again in the command center, just before the ion cannon is fired, standing behind Toryn Farr, the woman who is speaking in this particular scene.

After the Battle of Hoth commences, with the Rebels fighting desperately to hold off the advancing Imperial Walkers, we once again return to the Rebel commander center with Han Solo. Questioned by Princess Leia about why he is still in the base, Solo comments that he heard that “the command center had been hit” by the Empire. The scene suggests as much, with the twisted wreckage of screens and computers strewn about the icy room. And there, among the wreckage, is the “lifeless” form of K-3PO, right arm missing and a massive scorch mark emblazoned on its white chest.

To be honest, I have always appreciated that K-3PO is laying among the wreckage in the command center. I admit this seems a bit strange, an odd expression of enthusiasm over K-3PO’s demise. But this is not to say I wanted the droid to die. Far from it. No, what I appreciate is that the protocol droid’s “death” adds an extra layer, even a small one, to the dire situation the Rebels find themselves in at this moment in the film. While K-3PO is not the focus of the scene, its prominent place in the foreground as Han Solo climbs over debris forces the audience to take notice, to recognize that this Rebel droid is a casualty of the Imperial attack. Every time I watch The Empire Strikes Back I cannot help but look at the dead protocol droid, a droid I have seen, albeit briefly, actively working in this very command center in those two previous scenes. I may not have known this protocol droid, not in the way I know R2-D2 or C-3PO, but a tiny amount of sympathy never-the-less takes hold when I see its broken, inactive form among the mangled screens, wires, and debris of the Rebel base. 

U-3PO: The Other Protocol Droid

Knowing that I am fanatical in my love of Star Wars, a friend recently asked me a pretty unsurprising question about A New Hope. The question was this:

“What’s the name of the other protocol droid following R2-D2 and C-3PO at the beginning of A New Hope?”

Answer: U-3PO.

My friend then followed-up with a pretty obvious second question:

“What happened to U-3PO?”

Answer: Hell if I know.

Seriously, I have absolutely no idea. All I can tell you about the silver plated U-3PO beyond it’s name – which it officially received in the 1995 Star Wars Customizable Card Game – is that U-3PO follows the other two droids down a corridor in the Tantive IV before turning off into a different room. Then again, you could have figured that out yourself. What happened to U-3PO once it disappeared from view is a mystery. Admittedly, it is a mystery that has periodically popped into my mind. And if I had to take a guess, I would assume U-3PO was either “…sent to the spice mines of Kessel or smashed into who knows what!” Why? Well, honestly, if I have to explain it I’ll be taking the fun out of allowing you to figure it out for yourself (just re-watch the opening of A New Hope).

So the point is this: U-3PO is just the other protocol droid aboard the Tantive IV and has absolutely no bearing on the events of A New Hope. And yet, I will admit that I have always been intrigued that U-3PO is present in the film for those few brief seconds. It is certainly interesting to think about what happened to the protocol droid, and I hardly think some “canonical” answer is necessary. In this regard, the imagination is good enough for me.

But in closing, I will also say this: I find it equally interesting to imagine what role U-3PO could have played in the events of the film if it had stuck with R2-D2 and C-3PO. Who knows, maybe things would have been incredibly different if there had been three droids, and not two, wandering the barren wastelands of Tatooine.