One common read on Lucas’s original trilogy says that it’s an old myth in new plating, and that it’s more “fantasy” than “science fiction.” Framed that way, the droids exist to play roles well-established in Western storytelling traditions. R2-D2, that mute, loyal trickster with save-the-day powers, is like an animal familiar—the fylgjur of Norse legend, or Hedwig fluttering around Harry Potter’s head. C-3PO, snarky but living to serve, is a lowly sidekick: a Sancho Panza, a Tonto, a Dobby. If Star Wars is only reenacting a primal fable of good and evil, there is little need to ponder too deeply the secondary characters—they exist in relation to the main journey.
But Star Wars is not simply a mythological arc. It is one of the most fertile speculative civilizations ever dreamed up, appearing at once ancient but futuristic, lived-in but supernatural, and vast but intricate. The galaxy (and the creative sandbox it provides) probably deserves more credit than the Skywalker story itself does for making Star Wars such a cultural force. As Disney undertakes to release a new movie every year, in addition to a steady stream of novels and other tie-ins, inevitably, previously yada-yada’d questions about this shabby-chic setting have to be answered.
Solo is explicitly an exercise in answering such questions. There are classic Star Wars mythology-mysteries addressed by seeing, for example, Han complete the Kessel Run in under 12 parsecs. There are practical tibits of info, like about how hyperspeed travel requires an unstable, highly valuable material called Coaxium. And inevitably, the galaxy’s deeper, social and philosophical quandaries get touched upon, too. Like: How do the droids feel?
L3 makes a lot of commotion in her short time on screen. As we meet her midway through the film, we also see a vivid reminder of the way droids are usually treated as, well, just things. In an underworld casino where Lando is holding court, onlookers cheer a BattleBots-type spectacle in which droids fight each other. L3 is incensed. She screams at the robot gladiators that they deserve better than this—and strikes back at a bar patron who tries to throw her out. A mere helper, we quickly realize, she is not.
Lando tells Han and his comrades that L3’s his ace co-pilot, with the best navigational computer in the galaxy. “She’s a self-made droid,” Waller-Bridge has said while promoting Solo. “She created herself out of parts of other droids.” This explains her odd, unfinished look. Her saucer-like head has a simple light-up display evoking eyes or bucked teeth, and her tall silhouette, it must be said, has noticeable hips. She walks with some of the ungainly springiness you see in those viral Boston Dynamics videos of real-life robo protoypes.
Her voice, harsh and knowing, comes from Waller-Bridge, a critically beloved actress and screenwriter best known for her acidic TV comedy Fleabag. And her dialogue is, indeed, acidly comedic. Part of what’s funny is her sincerity: When she replies “equal rights” to Lando’s question of whether she needs anything, and when she admits feeling romantic tension with her master, it’s uproarious because of how unrobotic it is. But there’s also an uneasy edge to the humor, and her very existence is part of the punchline. Aren’t we to laugh because a robot can’t have rights, and because they can’t love?