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The droids in Star Wars are much more than simple automatons designed to fulfill a singular purpose and be disposable. Sure, maybe that’s what their manufactures inside of this movie world intended, but R2-D2 and C-3PO became integral parts of the team and even friends to the other heroes, not to mention characters beloved by fans. And it looks like Star Wars: The Force Awakens will continue this trend with the latest addition to the droid family, BB-8, doing a great deal to find a place in our hearts.
Like R2, BB-8 is a feisty little bucket of bolts with all kinds of attitude and personality, and the production went to great lengths to make him come to life and convey emotion. Making sure BB-8 performed appropriately was the responsibility of puppeteers Dave Chapman and Brian Herring. In an in depth new piece on StarWars.com, Herring said:
BB-8 can cock his head over and look away, he can double take, he can look scared, he can look angry. We managed to find a whole vocabulary of movement for him, if you will. We worked out a whole bunch of stuff. What would he do if you turned him off? What happens to his head if you power him down? Does he go down stairs? Does he go up stairs?
Not only did they have to figure out how to operate the droid puppet in order to convey a range of emotions, form happiness and joy to sadness and fear, but they had to get across more esoteric feelings, like curiosity. That’s a trick and a half. All of this, including establishing a natural, consistent set of reactions, comes together to really define the character, to give the little robot its own personality.
And it was a serious process. Chapman and Herring spent weeks just tinkering with the puppet on a sound stage, figuring out how it should move, doing camera tests, and generally getting to know the character they were helping to manufacture. That was even before they showed their work to director J.J. Abrams.
Making BB-8 a real, physical presence in the film is just one way that Abrams and company went about differentiating their films from the much-maligned prequels (trust me, I know there are prequel fans out there, but there are also a great number of haters). Instead of the ubiquitous CGI and green screen George Lucas used in Episodes 1-3, The Force Awakens uses as many practical special effects as they can. This gives the actors something concrete to react to, and so much of is on full display in that video from San Diego Comic-Con.
We’ll have to wait and see how well BB-8 can actually act when Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens everywhere on December 18. Maybe we'l get a BB-8 toy when Lucasfilm unveils all the new swag.