Robots in Star Wars and other famous Movie Robots
How 7 famous movie robots were brought to life on screen
In celebration of the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, we’re taking a look at seven famous robots from Star Wars and other famous sci-fi worlds and how they were brought to life on screen.
The clock is ticking until the second film of the Star Wars sequel trilogy hits our screens. Written and directed by Rian Johnson, the plot of the film has remained a closely guarded secret. Of course, there’s lots of rumours out there – such as Luke Skywalker being revealed as a broken man with no desire to continuing the Jedi Order and thinking it should end(!). But we’ll have to wait and see if they’re true!
What do we know? In Star Wars tradition, we will more than likely kick off exactly where the first film Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) ended with Rey joining Luke Skywalker on a remote island.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi will feature a number of fan favourite droids including C-3PO, R2-D2 and BB-8. There’s also going to be a new droid called BB-9E who seems to be an evil counterpart to the loveable BB-8.
Other than BB-8 there are no other new droids that we know of… yet! However there are two new alien species, the very loveable Porgs who are native to Ahch-To and the Caretakers, who maintain the Jedi Temple and the other structures on Luke’s island.
Wait…droids? I thought you said robots?
Droid is the term used to describe robots in the Star Wars universe, originally a shorthand for the ‘Android’ – meaning a humanlike robot or machine. The term droid in Star Wars applies to any robot on screen and has been a registered trademark of LucasFilm since the first Star Wars film in 1977.
That answers that! Onto the creativity that brought your favourite robots, droids, androids, automatons and autobots to life on the big screen…
7. Q – The Master Mystery (1919)
Played by Harry Houdini, Justice Department agent Quentin Locke investigates a powerful cartel while being protected by a robot named Q. Q was the first robot to ever appear in cinema, the term “robot” didn’t exist yet so they refer to Q as “the Automaton”.
The design of Q inspired designers of robots in later films, as well as robot toys over the following 40 years. Take a look…
6. Johnny 5 – Short Circuit (1986)
A classic from the eighties. “Number 5”, a robot developed for the Cold War, is hit by a lightning strike resulting in a power surge that scrambles its programming and gives it a sense of free will.
Designed by Syd Mead, Johnny 5’s presence on screen feel very realistic and he can perform impressive moves like dancing to Saturday Night Fever. This was achieved using a “telemetry suit” which is worn by a puppeteer and linked to sensors on the robot.
The idea for the film came from a project to educate students about robotics, just like the educational services we offer here at Robots Direct. However none of our robots have been struck by lighting and escaped…yet.
5. WALL-E – WALL–E (2008)
In a distant (but not impossible) future, mankind has abandoned earth because it’s overrun with rubbish and polluted. WALL-E, a garbage collecting robot has been left to clean up the mess, alone on Earth except for a pet cockroach. One day, EVE, a sleek reconnaissance robot, is sent to Earth to find proof that life is once again sustainable and WALL-E falls madly in love with her.
WALL-E’s design is reminiscent of Johnny 5 and most of the robot’s sounds are created by Ben Burtt. Over two years he recorded 2500 different sounds – that’s double the average of any Star Wars movie! Several people have made working real life WALL-Es, but this build by Mike Senna is likely the most impressive with over 38,000 hours spent making it!
4. Robby the Robot – Forbidden Planet (1956)
A crew investigate the status of a planet’s colony only to find two survivors, Dr. Morbius and his daughter, and their robot Robby who is created to serve humans. Meanwhile, a terrifying monster is on the loose…
Costing roughly $125,000, Robby was expensive for a prop of this era. Robby’s main designer, Robert Kinoshita, used thousands of drawings by five men over five weeks to design the final version. Before working in film, Robert Kinoshita designed washing machines and this is reflected in the design of Robby whose chest and legs resemble a washing machine tub.
3. Optimus Prime – Transformers film series
This heroic robot is famously the world as leader of the Autobots, an alien race of robots who disguise themselves on Earth by transforming into regular everyday vehicles and machines. He first reached our screens in the 1980s Transformers animated series, with an iconic voice performance by Peter Cullen. His voice was so popular that fans demanded that he be cast in the 2007 film version. Not everything was brought back for the film, as the truck Optimus transformed into was redesigned to make Optimus taller and more distinct.
Transformers are huge in China – literally. A trend has emerged of building huge statues of Optimus Prime across the country. In 2010, a 10-meter-tall statue of Optimus was erected near Beijing National Stadium. In 2011, the game was raised and an 11-meter model was built in Shenyang City using old car parts. Very apt!
2. Data – Star Trek: The Next Generation films
Lt. Commander Data is an android who serves aboard the flagship Enterprise-D.
According to the Star Trek universe, famous for technobabble, Data’s brain is capable of running sixty trillion operations per second. In reality it was all the acting skills of Brent Spiner and the work of the special effects and make-up teams.
Data doesn’t have emotions but wonders what it would like to have them, he plays poker, socialises and is the only principle cast member to have a pet. The writers used this to grapple with big philosophical questions and in one film Data is given an “emotions chip” allowing him to experience human emotions. If you are interested in the ethics of AI and what it mean to be human there are some great Data storylines to enjoy.
1. C-3PO and R2-D2 – The Star Wars saga
Yes I realise there’s two droids here, but these two come as a pair – BFFs for life! We were first introduced to them in the first film, helping the Rebel Alliance defeat the evil Galatic Empire. Many theorise that without Threepio and Artoo, the entire Star Wars story could not take place. Without them Luke would not have met Obi-Wan Kenobi and discovered his calling as a Jedi, they could not have hired Han Solo and ride his ship the Millennium Falcon, they could not have rescued Princess Leia, they could not have escaped the Death Star and of course they could not have destroyed the Death Star the film’s climax.
C-3PO was played by actor Anthony Daniels, who perfectly captured the nervous energy of the character. Not an easy thing to have done while filming in a suit, often in the heat of a desert in Tunisia. The idea of bickering sidekicks took inspiration from the Akira Kurosawa film Hidden Fortress and was greatly helped by the fact that Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker, who played R2-D2, often found themselves bickering in real life.
The design of R2-D2 is incredible, communicating such depth of character and comedic timing using what essentially looks like a bin on a tripod with flashing lights and beeping noises. It is a just another testament to the talent of the production that made Star Wars the instant worldwide phenomena it became rather than another cheesy looking seventies sci-fi flick. New droids in the Star Wars universe have a lot to compete with but I look forward to seeing what they come up with next!
keep calm and robot on.