An intriguing one-shot about the nature and existence of droids in the Star Wars universe, C-3PO: The Phantom Limb is a decent-enough Marvel one-shot that is somewhat let down by wonky art and some heavy-handed storytelling.
C-3PO: THE PHANTOM LIMB IS PART OF THE CURRENT STAR WARS CANON. CHECK OUT THE TIMELINE.
As one of the earliest one-shots to be announced following Disney’s unsympathetic detonation of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, it’s easy to overlook C-3PO: The Phantom Limb. Initially slated to tie directly into the theatrical release of Episode VII: The Force Awakens, it was delayed and delayed again, and its timeliness has long since passed us by. Still, it is part of the official canon and it deserves some coverage in these hallowed pages, so allow me to do the honours.
The story concerns a ragtag group of droids who, after having crash-landed on an unknown, hostile planet, must find a way to work together despite their differences as they search for a crashed First Order ship that they can use to signal their position to the Resistance.
The group includes a couple of protocol droids (one a prisoner), a security droid, a medical droid, a construction droid – blimey, I’ve written the word “droid” so many times that it doesn’t mean anything anymore. Still, you get the idea. This is all spelled out by a few laborious, exposition-laden introductory pages, but it’s your typical story of unlikely allies marooned on foreign shores, only with the neat twist of the survivors being bound to programming rather than human ingenuity and intuition.
Even though there’s an additional wrinkle in one of the droids, Omri, knowing the location of a First Order base where Admiral Ackbar is being held prisoner, C-3PO: The Phantom Limb isn’t really about any of that. It’s more a meditation on the nature of droids in the Star Wars universe, asking pointed questions about their role, nature and sentience, mostly using Omri as a philosophical mouthpiece. Each of the plot’s events is designed, quite explicitly, to facilitate the asking of more questions, none of which really have satisfactory answers – which is kind of the point.
Synthetic beings pondering the age-old quandaries of their existence is hardly new material in science-fiction, but it mostly works in C-3PO: The Phantom Limb thanks to the familiar presence of C-3PO himself, who we’ve known for 40 years but still, apparently, don’t properly understand. He doesn’t really understand himself, which is why his conversations with Omri – and his eventual attachment of that one red arm, the origins of which the book was (accurately) marketed as an explanation for – are so surprisingly compelling.
The focus on C-3PO and, to a slightly lesser extent, Omri, leave the rest of the cast feeling a little short-changed, although it’s such a short story it’s hardly a major issue. Besides, one of them can only state his make and model, like a prisoner of war, and the other communicates only in beeps and whirrs. You get the sense that knowing these other droids is hardly the point; what matters are the interesting avenues down which they steer the central discussion, which is where the oil-stained heart of the story lives.
I disliked the art, by the way, as I found it cluttered and unclear, and I’m sure there was a more organic way of establishing the particulars without having to waste several pages explaining things at length. The connection to the broader Star Wars mythos is also negligible, but no matter. C-3PO: The Phantom Limb builds towards a nice conclusion, finding its feet along the way with a more stripped-down approach to storytelling, and some interesting philosophical musings on the nature of a beloved, enduring character. I’ll take it.