What was once thought to be nothing more than an amusing plot contrivance in the original Star Wars film, R5-D4's infamous bad motivator, has been fleshed out in a surprisingly poignant manner in a new franchise canon book. Early in A New Hope, after the Jawas had captured R2-D2 and C-3PO, they set up a droid sale outside the Lars family homestead, where Luke Skywalker and his uncle, Owen, looked to make some purchases to help on their moisture farm. Owen initially settled on C-3PO and a white and red astromech called R5-D4. However, as fate would have it, the droid malfunctioned minutes after he was bought, and R2-D2 became part of Luke's life instead, changing it forever.
For 40 years, this was seen as a coincidence necessary in order for the movie to happen. After all, if R5 became the loyal droid companion to Luke, he never would have seen Princess Leia's message to Obi-Wan Kenobi and embark on a galaxy-saving adventure. It was the 1977 version of Rey stumbling across a trapped BB-8 on Jakku, and audiences have just accepted it, coming up with their own rationales for the development. Some have even written R5 off as a joke, but the story behind "Red" proves once and for all he - more than Jyn Erso, Luke Skywalker, or anyone else - is the real hero of the Rebellion.
A Lonely Life on A Sandcrawler
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Star Wars, Del Rey published the book A Certain Point of View, which is a collection of short stories set during Episode IV, told from the perspective of background and supporting characters. R5-D4 is the subject of the chapter titled "The Red One," written by Rae Carson. In it, it's revealed R5 has been aboard the famous sandcrawler for a period of four years, barely staying together due to a severe lack of maintenance. An abundance of sand, dust, and the extreme heat of Tatooine had all but rendered R5 useless, and only his most basic functions work. He longs for the day of finding a new master, but knows time isn't on his side. This is why R5 gets very excited when he hears the Jawas planning a droid sale at a moisture farm, where an astromech is needed.
After being tidied up for his potential big day, R5 is heartbroken to discover the Jawas' latest find in the sandcrawler's cargo hold: R2-D2. Artoo, of course, is an astromech in much better condition than R5, making it less likely R5 gets sold. He tries to stay optimistic in spite of facing new competition, but a fateful encounter the night before the droid sale forces R5 to make a truly difficult choice.
Sacrifice for the Rebellion
Always the feisty one, R2-D2 didn't lay low during his brief stay on the sandcrawler. Realizing R5's mere existence posed a threat to his important mission, Artoo attempted to sabotage R5, but was caught in the act. Embarrassed, R2 explained the situation to his red rival, mentioning he was part of the Rebellion and needed to get off the sandcrawler as soon as possible. Though R5 knows R2 units are capable of deception, he's moved by Artoo's "sincerity" as the word "Rebellion" triggers what could be a phantom memory. Even though there are universe altering consequences at stake, R5 cannot allow R2 to cripple him further, since if he does not find a master soon, he'll "cease to function." Feeling sympathy (plus, the arrival of some Jawas), Artoo walked away, promising to never hurt R5 again.
The following morning is the day of the famous droid sale, with Owen selecting C-3PO and R5-D4 to work on his farm. Delighted at the prospect of finally fulfilling his purpose, R5 is ready to begin is new life serving the Lars family. However, R2's constant pleas for help gave him pause. Troubled by R2's proclamation the galaxy will be doomed if he isn't purchased right this instant, R5 decides to forego an opportunity at a peaceful life under the care of Owen, Beru, and Luke, and intentionally conducts an "emergency energy purge" as a bit of deception to make it appear he is worthless. The end result is what people see in A New Hope, and Luke exchanges what looked to be a malfunctioning robot peddled by sleazy Jawa businessmen for R2-D2. Artoo is forever appreciative of R5's selfless act, saying, "You may have saved the galaxy today. I will never forget you."
Freedom At Last
It's clear in his brief interactions with R2-D2, R5 isn't completely sure if Artoo can be trusted. Those doubts are put to rest later on in the short story, when a group of stormtroopers lay waste to the sandcrawler in their search for the Rebels' droids that escaped the Tantive IV. The Imperial soldiers shoot anything that moved, so they didn't pay much attention to R5, who kept playing dead in his little nest of scrap. When the coast was clear, R5 made his escape and set off on a quest to find another moisture farm in need of an astromech. His knowledge of the Jawas' routes came in handy, since he knew what direction to set off in.
The tale ends with R5's ultimate fate ambiguous. He is hopeful he'll stumble across someone who could use a free droid and fix him up with the proper repairs, but the damage - both self-inflicted and natural - is described as "critical." What R5 told R2-D2 was true; if R5 doesn't find a master soon, he'll be gone forever. If these were indeed the last days of the droid's life, he can take solace in the fact he did something valuable with what little time he had, helping a new friend bring freedom back to the galaxy. Luke and Han Solo received medals for their bravery during the Battle of Yavin, but if R5 had made a different choice, things would have played out very differently.
Star Wars: From A Certain Point of View is available now.
Source - Star Wars: From A Certain Point of View
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- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: Episode IX (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019