Droids used for war devastated the Star Wars galaxy for years, possibly causing the survivors to go to great lengths to ensure it never happened again
In the Star Wars universe, the era of the Clone Wars was devastating for the galaxy, leading to untold levels of death and destruction. In addition to the pure horrors of war, the conflict also led some to mistrust droids — in fact, The Mandalorian‘s Din Djarin demonstrates this exact prejudice. Though droids were likely impossible to completely eliminate from the galaxy as they were needed to ensure future safety, context clues from The Return of the Jedi may suggest that giving them the ability to feel pain was the way organic beings dealt with the threat.
A Reddit theory posted by u/EquivalentInflation points out that in Episode VI, Jabba’s palace has a droid torture chamber where hot brands are applied to a gonk droid’s feet as it to cries out in pain. This seems odd for a robot who theoretically has no need for nerve endings, and is doubly strange when considering that in Attack of the Clones, C-3PO was essentially decapitated and reconstructed without expressing any pain whatsoever. However, the difference in reactions could be explained if droids had some means to feel pain installed into them post-Clone Wars.
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From a practical perspective, pain receptors would help mitigate the use of droids as soldiers in conflicts, undercutting the past strategy of the Separatist Army. The battle droids of the prequels were shown to be somewhat slow and incapable of great reasoning, putting them at a disadvantage next to opponents like the crafty clone troopers. Their advantage came in their large numbers, ease of construction and ability to withstand injuries that would have slowed down a living being. While it’s practically impossible to address the first two issues, taking away the latter would certainly make droids more controllable.
Anti-droid sentiment actually became widespread in the years after the conclusion of the war and the formation of the Empire. In A New Hope, C-3Po and R2-D2 were not welcomed at Chalmun’s Spaceport Cantina because of this lingering droidphobia. Droid memories were also wiped in large numbers to render them more obedient, and some worlds like Nakadia banned droids altogether. In such a climate of hate and distrust, it’s certainly possible that some would go to great lengths to force droids to feel pain in order to level the playing field between them and organics.
Such fear wasn’t a particularly irrational response either. Star Wars: The Old Republic mentions a Great Droid Revolution in 4015 BBY. And Solo: A Star Wars Story‘s L3-37 championed droid rights and actively advocated for the overthrow of their human masters, even going as far as inciting a droid revolt on Kessel. Such a capability to rebel, combined with the trauma brought on by years of warfare, may have made a potential droid fifth column realistic enough to warrant concern.
One notable example of a post-Clone Wars droid who seemingly did not feel pain is IG-11, the bounty hunter turned protector of Grogu. However, he may have avoided the forced reprogramming because he was a droid who operated outside the law and not feeling pain was likely a professional advantage. It’s difficult to determine how many other droids felt pain because most don’t typically speak and communicate their feelings. R2 cries out when hit during the Death Star trench run, but this could be more out of surprise than anguish, and the ferry droid from The Mandalorian‘s Season 1, Episode 8, “Redemption,” didn’t make any noise at all when it was executed by Cara Dune.
The likeliest scenario is that if droids underwent installation of pain receptors, the initiative was hit and miss, especially with existing models that may have evaded reprogramming. Droids may have also been more likely to have pain installed if they lived closer to the more developed Core Worlds or worked in official roles where governments could easily track them down.
Though it’s not possible to completely prove or disprove this theory, it does address some of the potential inconsistencies in droids’ reactions to pain in an elegant and lore-conscious manner. With the huge volume of new Star Wars content coming in the next few years, there may be more chances to meet droids that could give fans a definitive answer.
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