Before its release, 1977’s Star Wars was the movie no one thought could work. Even many of the actors involved suspected it would fail. Anthony Daniels — who played C-3PO throughout the saga — initially had no interest in the project, for instance. And yet, Daniels was so passionate about the part that he insisted on returning decades later. As it turns out, he did so partly to prevent his character’s “awful” role in the prequels.
C-3PO is 1 of the most consistent ‘Star Wars’ characters
Set in a “galaxy far, far away,” the Star Wars saga has always been a sprawling space opera. Across its three trilogies and numerous other movies, TV shows, and assorted media, the franchise spans decades and, at times, centuries and even millennia. Yet, at least in the films, C-3PO has been a constant. And every single time, he’s been played by Daniels.
In fact, the actor is one of only a few who appear in the original trilogy, prequel trilogy, and sequel trilogy. C-3PO — and R2-D2, his counterpart and most frequent scene partner — is a constant throughout the Skywalker saga. And Daniels even makes brief appearances in Rogue One and Solo, though the latter was as a different character. Needless to say, the actor has become protective of his protocol droid alter-ego.
Anthony Daniels criticized this ‘awful’ aspect of the prequels
When 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens began ramping up, director J.J. Abrams called up Daniels. And as the actor told Entertainment Weekly, Abrams initially offered for Daniels to only perform the voice. But the actor was adamant about suiting up for the role once again, provided he could get a more user-friendly version. His reason for insisting he physically play C-3PO on set? How poorly the character plays otherwise.
“There’s no way I would just do the voice. … [During the prequels], the only time [Threepio has] been CG was when it was very dangerous [to act in the scene in a suit] — and it wasn’t very good. In fact, I’m going to say it was awful. One of the difficulties is with a character that you know and love so well is that, as a member of the audience, you go, ‘Oh no, that’s not right. No, he doesn’t move like that.’
With me [in the suit], he’s always going to move the same way and have the same reactions, timing, and so on. With CG, you’re working with some brilliant person on the keyboard who is trying to pretend to be me. The only time that has worked without doubt is Disney’s Star Tours: The Adventures Continue [theme park ride]. There’s an element in the pre-show which is digital, and I cannot tell it’s not me. It’s brilliantly done by Disney.”
Certainly, C-3PO’s most notable computer-generated sequence comes in Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones. The protocol droid gets swept up in the Battle of Geonosis, with his head ultimately fused onto the body of a battle droid. And to Daniels’ point, it looks jarring compared to how C-3PO is normally depicted. The prequel trilogy in general has left its actors with mixed feelings about the result. So there’s no surprise there.
Anthony Daniels retired from ‘Star Wars’ movies in 2019
Regardless of Daniels’ long-standing connection to Star Wars, the actor seems ready to let C-3PO go. Reportedly, 2019’s Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker marked his final appearance in the role. And with no clear indication when or if the Skywalker saga will continues, it’s possible fans have seen the last of the character.
Granted, C-3PO will likely live on in other Star Wars media for years to come. Much as The Mandalorian featured a computer-generated version of young Luke Skywalker, so too might C-3PO make a surprise return on one of the many upcoming Disney+ shows. Like Daniels, fans can only hope he’ll come to life with practical effects rather than digital wizardry.