What are the defining characteristics of a Star Wars droid? If you ask me, there’s the always problematic trend of withholding important information from our heroes (I’m looking at you, R2-D2). More prominently, there is an almost slavish devotion to their masters. R2-D2’s devotion to Luke Skywalker, BB-8’s devotion first to Poe Dameron, then Rey in The Force Awakens. They are the trustworthy little buddies who are just there to help.
Outside the radius of the heroes, droids within the Star Wars universe are basically slaves. Programmed to fulfill a specific task, such as repair or reconnaissance, they are often without distinct personalities because let’s face it, there just isn’t enough time to get to know all of them. It’s also what makes the hero droids so special – they’ve usually got their quirks to go along with their bleeps and boops.
In the case of K-2SO, the Rogue One hero droid voiced and motion-capture acted by Alan Tudyk, we are seeing for the first time a droid that has lived in both of these worlds. He’s an Imperial protocol droid, one of thousands of identical models built to perform tasks at the behest of Imperial soldiers. That is until he was captured and reprogrammed by Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and “set free.”
As Alan Tudyk told me when we sat down to chat at the Rogue One junket in San Francisco, it’s more than just reprogramming K-2 to follow his orders. It is truly a giving of freedom. “When I first talked to Gareth while the script was coming together,” Tudyk explained. “One of the stories he wanted to tell in the droid world was their servitude. The story of where droids personalities and soul… what that’s worth in the world of Star Wars. There is, within all of the literature, a place where they talk about how they’re slaves. How does a freed slave respond in a world in which people still treat him as if he’s a slave?”
“It doesn’t define him as a character wholly,” Tudyk continued. “But it is in there. He does what he wants. If people ask him to do things that he doesn’t want to do, he just doesn’t do it. I think he has a bit of a chip on his shoulder. He was reprogrammed and that’s how it’s explained why he just does and says what he wants. He is who he is. And since Cassian’s the one who did it, who freed him, he has a lot of devotion.”
K-2So’s independence is one of the things that makes him unique. But there’s also his humanoid appearance. Even more so than previous droids such as C-3PO, K-2 is both very agile and humanoid. This, as Tudyk discovered on set, is another way that he is set apart. “He has sort of a casual way about him that does give him more life,” he said. “More humanoid expression.”
When I asked about what had changed since he played Sonny in Alex Proyas’ I, Robot nearly 12 years ago, Tudyk mentioned the lack of strain on the production when capturing a character that will ultimately be generated in post-production. “After I would do the scene,” he said of that previous experience. “I would leave set. Then Will would have to do the scene without me. Then they’d take a robot model around the set to get the lighting right. Back then, it was more of a drain on the production.”
The other difference? Reverence. “It was a different job in that because it’s a Star Wars movie and I’m a droid in a Star Wars movie, people have a reverence for those characters that have come before me. And on set people treated me like every other character.”
This might have had something to do not just with reverence for Star Wars, but with Tudyk’s towering size while on set. As you can see in the featurette above, the effects team created special stilts that allowed him to walk around at K-2’s seven-foot height. As we learned during a tour of the ILM effects workshop, these stilts were built with a special mechanical ankle that allowed him to move (and in some cases run) naturally, rather than stomping around like someone wearing immovable stilts. The result in the film is the very natural, casual, humanoid nature of K-2. The result for Tudyk on set? Well, that was all about respect.
“When you’re seven feet tall on set, people give you respect.”