I just got back from seeing Episode II for the second time. I was surprised at how much more I found in it than the first time. There are many parallels with The Empire Strikes Back and I enjoyed picking up on some I hadn’t noticed. Perhaps knowing the plot changed my perception, but the acting seemed more nuanced than I thought in my first viewing. I caught echoes of Jake Lloyd’s portrayal of Anakin in Hayden Christensen’s vocal delivery, particularly in the early scene where he complains about Ben. It’s always difficult to be believable when using different actors to portray young and old, so even minor cues help. (Ewan McGregor seems perfect as a young Sir Alec Guinness.)
There’s a line in Episode II that got me thinking about R2-D2. In the diner, Ben says something like “If the droids could think, none of us would be here.” Throughout the Star Wars universe, droids pretty much do what they’re told. This was the downfall of the droid army in Episode I. Non-battle droids are pretty simplistic. R2-D2, on the other hand, appears self-directed, motivated, perhaps even sentient. No other droid seems to be so aggressive or loyal. He seems to be much more than a simple astromech droid. For instance, he leaves the ship after receiving the communication from Ben and surprises Amidala and Anakin by seeking them out. Interestingly, C-3PO does not seem to have this quality; it is amusing how he follows R2-D2 around.
I’ve heard comments that the story in Star Wars is really about the droids. R2 plays a primary role here. If I’m right, and he is sentient, it adds impact to Ani’s line to Amidala about having R2 with them. It’s fun to ponder anyway. I’m just thankful that R2 doesn’t behave like Number Five.