Star Wars fans who are even in the vaguest sense familiar with the sci-fi hit know that the original trilogy is filled with many different and alien languages. The atmosphere of the Star Wars trilogy was often inundated with alien languages that weren’t translated and seemingly understood by most of the movie’s main characters. Even some of the robots spoke in their own machine language.
Was Luke able to understand R2-D2? It depends on whether C3PO was around to translate what R2-D2 had to say. Most of the time, throughout the movies, Luke doesn’t speak to R2-D2 unless they are on a ship together. Then when R2-D2 spoke it would come through on a monitor as text.
R2-D2 doesn’t speak in basic throughout the entirety of the Star Wars franchise. Instead, he communicates to others in the movies through a series of beeps and whistles that only a few people understood. While much of the audience is left out of what R2 is saying, at times C3PO would translate for him.
How Does Luke Understand R2-D2
There are several points in the Star Wars movies that show that Luke cannot understand R2-D2:
- In the scene of A New Hope, the first movie of the original trilogy, when Luke first acquires C3PO and R2-D2, Luke asks C3PO what he is saying.
- When investigating and cleaning R2-D2, R2 is speaking, and C3PO is directly translating what the droid says to Luke
This is a clear indicator that Luke cannot understand R2-D2’s language of whistles and beeps, at least at first. This doesn’t mean that R2 couldn’t understand Luke though, it seems that through the movies that the droid had no issue understanding those around him.
Luke was only ever able to speak to R2-D2 directly whenever they were in a ship together. When the pair were in an X-wing fighter R2-D2 was able to speak directly to Luke Skywalker with the aid of a text readout monitor. R2-D2 was an astromech droid, an autonomous ship repair droid, and because of this there were special systems onboard the fighter craft to allow him to communicate with Luke directly.
The visual evidence of R2-D2 and Luke being able to communicate directly is when flying to Dagobah, R2-D2 beeps and whistles, and a monitor readout is clearly shown translating what the droid had said. Luke responds to his statement directly with, ‘Don’t Worry, I’d like to keep it on manual for a while.’
This was the only time R2-D2 was able to directly communicate with Luke that was captured on screen. During other periods where the astromech droid and Luke were in an X-wing together, such as in the battle to destroy the Death Star over Yavin 4. It would make sense to believe that they communicated directly here, especially because communication is highly important in a dogfight.
Luke Learned to Understand R2-D2 Through Familiarity
There are times later in the franchise when Luke and R2 are seemingly having a regular conversation when the two communicate back and forth without the aid of any assistive translations. It can be assumed that either Luke and R2-D2 spent so much time together that Luke eventually started to learn what R2-D2 was saying.
People naturally have a habit of picking up languages around them, for instance in immersive language learning, so Luke probably learned what R2-D2 was saying through inference and understanding the droid’s personality.
Is R2-D2 Speaking in a Language
With R2-D2 mostly communicating by whistles or beeps, it begs the question as to whether he is even speaking in a formal language altogether. To the audience, there isn’t much to go on, and I imagine that is a die hard fan out the took the time to write out the linguistics of R2’s communication throughout the movie that he or she would be hard pressed to find any sense of structure in the sounds.
However, it is inferred that he is, in fact, speaking a formal language. Otherwise, C3PO is a total troll, misrepresenting everything and anything the little droid expresses. On a side note, would be hilarious and depressing. Supposedly all astromechs in the Star Wars galaxy speak in what is known as droid speak.
BB-8, which is an astromech droid in one of the newer Star Wars movies, The Force Awakens, also speaks in droid speak. With BB-8 it is obvious that Poe, his companion, can easily understand him without any need for translation. This shows that for the purposes of the movie, droid speak is a legitimate language and that C3PO is not a troll and in fact translating what R2-D2 is speaking.
This is reinforced by the idea that other characters of the Star Wars movie franchise were able to understand astromech droids. Anakin Skywalker was able to understand and speak with R2 in several different scenes where it seems that he can understand the astromech droid’s language clearly. Anakin also grew up working on and with droids, so he most likely picked up the language as he worked.
The list of people that understand droid speak includes:
- Anakin Skywalker, from The Phantom Menace, although only partially.
- Poe Dameron, from The Force Awakens.
- Rey, from The Force Awakens.
Luke, more than likely, didn’t have the chance or opportunity to learn the astromech’s language because he grew up in a desert on a moisture farm. As a matter of fact, Luke’s uncle purchased C3PO because he spoke a binary machine language, meaning that he may not have known how to speak it himself.
As the films progress and Luke and R2-D2 spend more and more time together, it is incredibly likely that Luke began to learn and understand R2-D2. Not to mention that Luke’s affinity with the Force grows throughout the trilogy. The Force in the Star Wars movie is a highly intangible kind of space magic.
Given that different Jedi’s can manipulate the Force in many ways, from reading minds to Darth Vader being able to absorb blaster bolts. It wouldn’t be out of the question to say or believe that Luke may later have been able to use the Force to understand what R2-D2 was saying.
The Magic of Star Wars: Lingua Franca
The magic of George Lucas’s original Star Wars trilogy was not only because they led the charge in using special effects to a new level for their time, but because of the atmosphere, they managed to create in the films. Each alien world in the trilogy had a special and unique feeling to it, filled with the sounds of local flora and fauna.
R2-D2 is not alone in being a character in Star Wars that is seldom understood, Chewbacca also only spoke in his own species language, Shyriiwook. As a matter of fact, throughout the whole of the original trilogy, there are several characters that either can’t or don’t speak basic.
This effect adds to the atmosphere of the movies in a way that really grants authenticity to the Star Wars movies. Though often overlooked, language is a powerful tool in creating atmosphere. The use of language in this way helps to create a rich and diverse atmosphere that is also immersive.
When the movies came out, it offered a cinematic experience like nothing before it. George Lucas managed to put all the right elements in place to really create a fictional universe that a person could easily get lost in.
This is not replicated in later movies anywhere near such a degree, and it seems that suddenly, all the races of the galaxy can speak basic. This breaks the immersive effect that the original trilogy has due to its use of language. That is how powerful such a simple thing as language can be.