In a world in which most movies are available at the touch of a button – or the touch of a button and a rental fee; or, in some rarer cases, the touch of a button and a disc shows up a couple days later – it’s weird to think there was a time period where it was near impossible to watch Star Wars. (Okay, if we are getting into semantics, yes the original, non-Specialized version is pretty difficult to watch right now, but that’s not what this is about.) When I was five years old my parents took me to see The Empire Strikes Back and this was my first cinematic introduction to the Star Wars galaxy. I was too young to see Star Wars in theaters when it came out so that was that and I’d have to wait until a 1981 theatrical re-release before I ever saw the first movie. (Star Wars would not be released on home video until 1982, which I made my parents rent 50 times, in Betamax.)
I mentioned The Empire Strikes Back was my cinematic introduction, but it wasn’t my first experience with the characters because I had already gotten a bunch of Star Wars action figures made by the good folks at Kenner. The brand new toys from The Empire Strikes back then were all anyone could talk about at school and I had been counting the days until I could finally see this movie. So the way it works is, Kenner made 20 figures from the first Star Wars movie. Then they made Boba Fett with the promise he’d be a big part in the new movie that was still many months away. (This is a big reason Boba Fett still has the following he does today among Gen X, even though he’s not really even in Empire that much. The action figure had been released long before the movie so kids had him going on hundreds of adventures long before he just kind of stood around in the actual movie.)
When the new figures from The Empire Strikes Back hit stores, the original Star Wars figures were still there, too, and just kind of all blended together. There was no rhyme or reason to what my parents got me, so I’d get a figure of Walrus Man, then wonder what adventures this Walrus Man fellow will be on in The Empire Strikes Back. (Walrus Man, now better known as Ponda Baba, is not in The Empire Strikes Back.) Speaking of rhyme and reason, there didn’t seem to be a lot of it when Kenner decided what action figures to actually make. Did they make the actual head villain from the movie, Grand Moff Tarkin? Nope, they sure didn’t. Did they make R5-D4? Yep, they sure did.
I truly didn’t realize a good amount of these action figures were only in the movie for a few seconds. I just assumed R5-D4 was R2-D2’s pal. Look at the picture that comes with R5-D4’s action figure, we see our hero Luke Skywalker really having what seems to be an important moment with R5-D4. No doubt thanking R5-D4 for saving the day once again. Anyway, I had had an R5-D4 action figure for well over a year before I ever saw the original Star Wars. And when I finally did, R5-D4 shows up, shorts out, his head explodes and catches on fire. Then some Jawas wheel him away. That was it.
I can only assume Jon Favreau had a similar experience with R5-D4 and wanted to change this narrative. When Favreau was teasing The Mandalorian before its premiere, one of the first photos he shared was of R5-D4, who would eventually show up in the fifth episode, eventually becoming the droid belonging to Amy Sedaris’s Peli Motto. And it was nice that R5 finally had a nice home.
But that now has all changed as R5-D4 has now actually joined the adventure in this second episode of the season, accompanying Din Djarin and Grogu, serving as the astromech droid for Din’s Naboo Starfighter. And, as luck would have it, without R5-D4, that would be it for this season of The Mandalorian. Grogu can do some impressive things, but he probably can’t pilot a starfighter back to Bo Katan. But R5-D4 sure can, and does, paving the way for a rescue. (Well, technically two recuses. It probably wasn’t Din Djarin’s finest hour.)
But it’s a moment that had to make me step back and re-calibrate a bit. What a motley crew. A guy who kind of looks like Boba Fett, with a kid who looks like Yoda, with the actual R5-D4, just cruising around the galaxy looking for memory chips for IG assassin droid units and magical lakes of redemption. What a strange thing to exist. But, most importantly, finally, after all these years, that R5-D4 action figure has finally paid off. Now let’s get Snaggletooth into some action.
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