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How Anthony Daniels Gives C-3PO an Unlikely Dash of Humanity

Anthony Daniels is 71 years old, and still playing the droid C-3PO in the Star Wars saga. C-3PO is one of the few elements of the series that never changes, since he is mechanical and is as good as new with replacement parts (even if his new arm is red). And while his creator Anakin can grow up, rule the galaxy, die, and then be called "Grandfather," C-3PO is still there to be all fussy about protocol and translate what R2D2 says.

In 1976 Daniels was appearing in a London stage production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and was determined not to take a job on a trivial sci-fi film. Then he saw Ralph McQuarrie’s concept sketch for C-3PO. He saw something in that face. The first three Star Wars films (1977, 1980, 1983), all narrative drive and swashbuckle, still hold up. Fast-paced and funny, they repackaged an archetypal quest for revenge and reconciliation as an outer space western. Good versus evil, dark against light. Simple. R2-D2 and C-3PO are the mismatched comic relief, an intergalactic Odd Couple as Greek chorus: Threepio the neatnik Felix to R2’s slovenly Oscar, reminding the audience what’s at stake and how the principals really feel.

“You need a balance of elements in all these films. It’s a fairy story, it’s a romp. So there’s serious bits, the dangerous bits, whatever, and then occasionally the refreshment of a character who doesn’t really fit into the environment,” Daniels says. “That was another brilliance of George [Lucas], that you come back to the protocol and etiquette thing, these are the last skills ever to be required in a horrible desert surrounded by ghastly people.”

Read more about Daniels and the droid he's inhabited for 40 years at Smithsonian.


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