I Can’t Stop Thinking About The Acolyte’s Chair Droids

I Can’t Stop Thinking About The Acolyte’s Chair Droids

One very good thing about a new Star Wars project means that you’re always going to get a modicum of Funny Little Guys. Your glup shittos, your merchandisable new droids, your Bell Guys, your Blurrgs, things of that nature. Star Wars worldbuilding is built on the backs of not its heroes and villains, but a galaxy of weirdoes that are on screen for about five seconds and that’s it.

Which brings me to The Acolyte, the latest Star Wars project, which of course, is just teeming with Funny Little Guys. There’s the little guy Mae pays off to learn where Indara is in the opening scenes of the premiere. The barkeep she then threatens, that leads to Indara’s death during their duel. There’s the Neimodians Mae’s sister Osha works for, and their ginormous hats (and slightly less questionable accents!). There’s all the prisoners aboard the Republic transport Osha is ushered onto when the Jedi charge her for Indara’s death. And then there’s the droids—so many Funny Little Droids!

We’ve got Pip, Osha’s multi-tool companion, who, on top of being able to weld, offer fire suppression, and do a bunch of other things, appears to be just as sentient a being as any humanoid-scaled droid we see. In episode two, the Jedi outpost on Olega has a version of the door-droid we saw in Return of the Jedi on Jabba’s gate. And then there’s that aforementioned Republic transport, which has not only a droid security guard as seemingly the only official on board, but then the really interesting Funny Little Guy of this whole endeavor so far: the Chair Droids.

The Chair Droids are amazing pieces of design. They are, literally, chair droids—they’re the pilot seats of the Republic vessel, a presumably auto-pilot system but personified and given form. The form is Chair. Just as fascinating is that they have two modes, a more humanoid-chair hybrid when they’re in operation flying the ship, but they can also be disabled for, presumably, organic pilots to take over (or even the security droid—like we said, the ship seems to be entirely droid-operated between the guard and the Chair Droids). Their arms and hands fold back into their body to become literal armrests. Their heads snap from a forward-facing alignment back to horizontal with the seats and lock into place, becoming literal headrests. It’s like, what if a Transformer was already 90% chair, but then their switch from robot mode to the alternative made them 100% chair. In a story of twinned reflections, there is Osha and Mae, Light Side and Dark Side, Heroes and Villains, but there is also Chair Droid and Chair.

Screenshot: Lucasfilm

But what pushes the Chair Droids beyond cool design into that kind of perfect piece of Star Wars worldbuilding is all the questions they raise—especially in regards to the franchise’s up-and-down grappling of droid personhood up to this point. Just how much “Droid” is there in a Chair Droid? They have the intelligence to pilot a ship, but they are also humanized enough that they have been given nods towards personhood in their design—if they were just a ship computer that could autopilot the vessel, there wouldn’t be a need to give them approximations of a head, of arms and hands to manipulate controls, of lights that act as “eyes.” And if the ship is entirely run on droid labor, who are they personifying the Chair Droids for in the first place? Does the security droid care that the seat looks like a person, like they do? With that personhood in their physical form, how expansive is their programming compared to droids in more traditional forms that blur the line between tool and an actual, sentient being? This is a question The Acolyte has already answered with Pip—Pip is a pocket sized tool, but also Pip speaks in beeps and boops that Osha understands and responds to as she converses with it. Osha treats Pip as a person as much as she treats it as a welder, or a scanner, or a lock pick, or a fire extinguisher, despite Pip’s form being something she can tuck in the pockets of her mechanics overalls.

So what about the Chair Droids? They likewise beep and boop, even if we never get to see them actually communicate with another being. How aware of their existence as individual people, instead of just fancy pieces of furniture with rudimentary programming, are they? Early on in the first episode of The Acolyte it’s established that the Republic has outlawed extra-ship repair work for organic laborers—such work is too dangerous for what it regards as sentient beings, so by law it now has to be performed by astromech droids, like we see R2 and others of his kind do in The Phantom Menace. But to the Star Wars audience, R2 is much a person, a being, an individual, as C-3PO, or a Battle Droid, or BB-8, or Chewbacca, or Anakin, or anyone. If the Chair Droids are similar replacements, are they not still people? Are they now just a horrifying servant class, aware enough of their existence, but due to their very bodies, unable to exist outside of their work as pilots and also, chairs? What happens to a Chair Droid when their ship is decommissioned? How did the Chair Droids feel in The Acolyte, when the ship is nearly destroyed in its crash landing on Carlac? Can a Chair Droid feel?

None of these questions really need answers (as much as I would like Star Wars to be a little more declarative about treating droids as people instead of a quasi-sentient labor underclass). But that you can ask them after about 10 seconds of airtime is the kind of thing that makes Star Wars such an incredible, enduring world to explore in the first place. It’s a galaxy filled with this weird and wonderful texture, a marriage of bizarre ideas, cool designs, and, through layers and layers of generations of storytelling, a path that leads you to having an existential crisis about a chair’s livelihood. The Funny Little Guys are what makes Star Wars’ galaxy keep on spinning, and the Chair Droid is just the latest in a long line of them.

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