Why Didn't Obi-Wan Recognize R2-D2 and C-3PO in A New Hope?
Why Doesn't Obi-Wan Remember R2 in Star Wars?
Love 'em or hate 'em, the Star Wars prequel films greatly expanded the universe and answered several key questions. Yet, for every mystery solved, the films seem to create a new plot hole. For instance, we see Anakin and Obi-Wan interact with R2-D2 numerous times throughout the Clone Wars; how could Obi-Wan fail to recognize the droid in Episode 4: A New Hope?
As surprising as it is to hear someone defending the prequels, here's a case where the answers are actually present—they're just written between the lines. So, is my defense a desperate attempt to conceal a continuity error, or is Star Wars more clever than it seems? You be the judge as we explore why Obi-Wan evidently didn't remember R2-D2 and C-PO in the original trilogy!
Luke Meets Obi-Wan on Tatooine
1. Obi-Wan Only Says He Never Owned R2
When Luke tells Obi-Wan that R2 belongs to him, Obi-Wan responds "I don't seem to remember ever owning a droid...Very interesting". Note that he says nothing about not recognizing R2; his clever dodge gives the impression that they're strangers, but doesn't actually deny knowing the little astromech. Thus, there really isn't a "contradiction" in the first place—Obi-Wan was just being his cunning self.
And before you bring up R4 from Episode 2, yes, she worked with Obi-Wan, but it's hard to fault his statement based on his a droid he hasn't seen for 19 years (she was destroyed in Episode 3). Additionally, whether he "owned" her is debatable; the Star Wars wiki mentions she was "assigned" to him, a wording that doesn't imply ownership.
2 Obi-Wan Is Known to Stretch the Truth
Obi-Wan never said that he didn't recognize the droids, but even if he did, he's been known to fib beore. For instance, he initially lied to Luke about Anakin's fate (well, I suppose it was true from "a certain point of view"), and in a sense, he's been lying for years under his fabricated identity of Ben Kenobi.
Obi-Wan does all this with good intentions, so it's not implausible that he'd fudge the truth for the sake of guiding Luke along what he perceives as the right path. But in this case, Obi-Wan was very clever with his wording, adeptly evading the question without stating too much. The subtle looks actor Alec Guiness gives also offer clues that wise old Ben knows more than he's letting on.
3. He Acknowledges R2 in a Canon Novel
This matter was firmly put to rest in the canon novel The Princess, The Scoundrel, and The Farm Boy, which retells Episode 4's events. In this tale, during everyone's ride to Alderaan (which would end up taking them to the Death Star) aboard the Millennium Falcon, Luke engages a training droid with his lightsaber. Han watches, but also notices Obi-Wan fondly place a hand on R2's dome, quietly stating "it's good to fly with you again, my old friend".
This was so quiet that Han wasn't sure he heard correctly, and he probably didn't think much of it, as he wasn't present when Obi-Wan (falsely) implied on Tatooine that he didn't know R2. This revelation firmly puts the matter to rest, but even without this little addition, Obi-Wan's vague words weren't really a contradiction—though it's nice to see a more obvious nod to his recollections. But, how much did our other characters remember?
Did R2 Remember Obi-Wan and Anakin?
Perhaps we should look at this from the other way around. How much does R2 actually remember about Obi-Wan? He clearly knows that he's supposed to find him, as per Leia's instructions, but does he possess his full memory of the Clone Wars?
Probably. You'll remember that, in the conclusion of Revenge of the Sith, C-3PO's memory is wiped, so he loses his knowledge of the past. R2's isn't stated to be erased, so he presumably maintains his memories; why does he never tell Luke about Anakin? Well, maybe he didn't want to. R2's always been surprisingly insightful; perhaps he, like the elder Jedi, understood that Luke should only hear about his father's past at the right time.
Additionally, exactly how much Artoo knows about Vader is uncertain. He was nearby when Anakin Force choked Padme on Mustafar (he and Threepio brought her aboard the ship afterwards), but possibly missed the event itself—and thus may be unaware of Anakin's fall.
Did Darth Vader Recognize R2-D2 and C-3PO?
Obi-Wan isn't the only character from the prequels who traveled with the droids. What about Anakin himself, now clad in black as Darth Vader? Well, Vader had precious little interaction with the droids in the original films, perhaps catching a very brief glimpse of them in A New Hope.
As for Episode 5, it's revealed in the comic "Thank the Maker" of Star Wars Tales 6 that Vader did remember Threepio in Empire Strikes Back, and was in fact the one who ordered the droid returned to the Rebels after being shot in Cloud City. This was a brilliant touch that not only explained why they were given Threepio, but highlighted a private moment of the Sith's remembrance.
Did R2 Remember Yoda?
R2 and Yoda are both on board the same ship at the end of Revenge of the Sith, and they shared several encounters in the Clone Wars animated series, so the two undoubtedly know each other; why did R2 act so strangely (as if he didn't recognize the Jedi) when they met on Dagobah in Episode 5?
I admit, this point could use an official explanation, but I'd guess that either R2 caught on to what Yoda was doing and played along (my preferred explanation), or maybe he did have his memory wiped at some point. Sure, only C-3P0 was specifically scheduled to be reprogrammed, but the 19-year gap between Episodes 3 and 4 leaves plenty of time for another wipe. Also, consider that Luke needs help understanding R2; without C-3PO or a ship's translator, the two can't fully communicate.
Future of Star Wars
Not only was Obi-Wan's memory outright confirmed in The Princess, small hints imply the truth even in the original films. Vader did recognize C-3PO, and R2 quite possibly recognized Yoda, but either couldn't or chose not to inform Luke about him.
The prequels have many, many problems, but sometimes, they get a bit more hate than they deserve; in my humble opinion, for every "I hate sand" line or Jar Jar, there's an awesome Darth Maul or Jango Fett scene. But for now, I hope you enjoyed exploring the truth behind everyone's memories of the prequels, and I'll see you at our next Star Wars review!
© 2018 Jeremy Gill