There aren’t many droids in Star Wars that speak full sentences, and much less that have human personalities. And though most people would point to C3-P0 as the greatest humanoid-droid in the Star Wars franchise, it’s just not true. Threepio is great, sure, if you like a character who continually bickers and complains and has only contributed to the plot like three times out of his ten appearances. No, the best humanoid droid in the galaxy is K-2SO of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Cynical yet practical. Hopeful yet realistic. And most importantly? Useful. So, what makes K-2SO such a unique character? He’s us.
Once a Cog in the Empirical Wheel, K-2SO Kept the Wheels Turning for Rogue One
(Image: Star Wars: Rogue One: Cassian and K-2SO Annual #1, Marvel Comics)
Before joining Rogue One and working with Cassian, K-2SO was a security droid for the Empire. As described in Star Wars: Droidography, “KX droids have a long-range of combat capabilities, excellent probability analysis algorithms, and direct access to the Imperial datanet.” The KX droids were built to be badasses. In fact, they’re just battle droids with a different name. Star Wars: Rogue One: The Ultimate Visual Guide explains that the KX Series manufacturer Arakyd Industries got around the Imperial Senate’s law prohibiting battle droids by merely calling them “security droids” instead.
Then the most important off-screen “meet cute” happened in cinematic history. K-2SO crossed paths with a Rebel Alliance captain, Cassian Andor (who is getting his own Disney+ series, also starring K-2SO!). Like most great partnerships, Cassian and K-2SO tried to kill each other. Dwayne Swierczynski and Fernando Blanco show the soon-to-be friends encountering each other for the first time in Star Wars: Rogue One: Cassian and K-2SO Annual #1. Not long before Rogue One, Cassian shuts down K-2SO and wipes his memory. Actually, it took a couple of tries, but he eventually reprogramed the “security” droid. And just like that, we have our hero.
The Beauty of Michael Giacchino’s Music—and Alan Tudyk’s performance—Humanizes K-2SO
(Image: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Walt Disney Pictures)
In the podcast “Star Wars Minute,” episode Rogue One Minute 101: Three Mountains, composer Chrysanthe Tan says that “It’s one of the most iconic, most memorable things that just makes Star Wars so special…the humanization of machines.” They’re talking about the moment when the AT-ATs invade the beach. But earlier in the episode, they discuss K-2SO—especially how composer Michael Giacchino adds emotion to a pivotal moment for the character. Giacchino’s uses a harmonization “times perfectly with K-2SO’s line,” from his last moment with Jyn Erso. In the Rogue One scene, Jyn hands K-2SO a blaster so that he can defend himself and help finish the mission. “Your behavior, Jyn Erso,” K-20 says, “is continually unexpected.” Alan Tudyk’s pause and Giacchino’s lingering notes build an unexpected tension that turns to sweet yet somber with an “unexpected chord change,” Tan explains.
But one of the reasons why K-2SO feels like such a natural, human character in Rogue One is because director Gareth Edwards wanted actor Alan Tudyk to ad-lib at times. Since he was reprogrammed, K-2SO’s conscience was unlocked, and he was able to speak his mind. “That gave me a freedom on set sometimes to just speak my mind and whatever came to my mind, so some of it was in the script, and other stuff wasn’t,” Tudyk said in an interview with Collider. In fact, one of the best moments between K-2SO and the Rogue One crew wasn’t scripted:
“I just remember one, the, where the joke was what happens if they don’t open the gate? Well, then we’ll all be destroyed, we’ll be pulled into the vacuum of space or whatever it is that Riz’s character says. And I said, “Not me. I could survive in space.”
The Droid, the Rogue, the Legend: The Tragedy of K-2SO
(Image: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Walt Disney Pictures)
For both the crew Rogue One and the movie Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, K-2SO plays a significant role. He’s a pilot that can not only fight, but can access Imperial records. In the mission to get the Death Star plans, he’s the one who finds their location for Jyn and Cassian. But it’s not just his droid features that make him important. His relationship with Cassian is clearly a mutual friendship. They trust each other, but we also learn about Cassian through his interactions with K-2SO. Although K-2SO is designed for combat, Cassian always wants him to stay behind in a safe place, until that is no longer an option. And the way K-2SO, who has free will, follows Cassian lets us know that despite his moral ambiguity, Cassian is a good guy.
But K-2SO’s most important function is how he dies. It’s not just that he dies, but what he says and the way he dies. While Jyn and Cassian are searching for the Death Star plans, K-2SO is holding off Imperial troopers. But he’s overwhelmed, and he knows that he isn’t going to make it. In his last act as a friend and member of Rogue One, K-2SO sacrifices himself to barricade the door to the records room on Scarif. The droid doesn’t simply die, though, he gives his comrades one last set of instructions and then, saying “goodbye,” smashes his fists onto the control panels to the archives, sealing the doors.
The Death of K-2SO Sets Up the Ending to Rogue One
(Image: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Adaptation #6, Marvel Comics)
The moment K-2SO says goodbye to his friends, something immediately clicks with the audience: this is not going to end well for the Rogue One squad. Of all the members of Rogue One, K-2SO is the first to die. And we quickly realize that this was never a movie about rising up; it’s a movie about sacrifice. One by one, the characters we grew to love sacrifice themselves in various ways. Chirrut Îmwe sacrifices himself to turn on the master switch. Baze Malbus takes out the rest of Krennic’s Death Troopers. Bodhi Rook dies sending their signal to the Rebellion fleet above. And finally, after sending the Death Star plans, Jyn and Erso die on the beach, killed by the very weapon their actions sacrifice would soon help destroy. Even Paodok’ Draba’ Takat Sap’De’ Rekti Nik’Linke’ Ti’ Ki’Vef’Nik’NeSevef’Li’Kek dies!
But it all starts with K-2SO sacrificing himself not just for the mission, but for his friends. If he never locked down that door, episodes 4-9 wouldn’t be possible (narratively speaking, that is).
(Featured Image: Star Wars: Rogue One: Cassian and K-2SO Annual #1, Marvel Comics)
Roman Colombo finished his MFA in 2010 and now teaches writing and graphic novel literature at various Philadelphia colleges. His first novel, Trading Saints for Sinners, was published in 2014. He's currently working on his next novel and hoping to find an agent soon.