This article first appeared in PC Gamer magazine issue 387 in August 2023, as part of our Why I Love series. Every month we talk about our favourite characters, mechanics, moments, and concepts in games—and explain why we adore them so much.
There’s an art to good videogame cannon fodder. Your classic villainous mook needs to have personality, yet be morally uncomplicated to kill by the dozen; fun to smash to bits, without it feeling sadistic or gruesome; enough of a threat to engage you, but not so much that you don’t relish any chance to fight them. You know who ticks all those boxes? Star Wars’ battle droids.
Introduced in the justly maligned prequel movies, battle droids have nonetheless stood the test of time as an iconic addition to the setting. Across the trilogy, and then the Clone Wars TV show, they quickly evolved from an emotionless horde to lovable slapstick villains, and even became strangely relatable—in their pondering about their role and orders, there are shades of uninterested nine-to-five workers just trying to make it through the day without taking flack from the boss.
(Image credit: Electronic Arts)
When I booted up Jedi Survivor, the sequel to Jedi Fallen Order, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I never quite gelled with the first game, and a big part of that was because it made such a bad first impression kicking things off with a dull planet filled only with weird animals to fight. It just wasn’t Star Wars, to me. What a relief, minutes after setting foot on Survivor’s first planet, Koboh, to hear the warbling, tones of battle droids!
Looted and reprogrammed in the aftermath of the war, these droids are property of a bandit clan rather than the Separatists, but they’re just as lovable as ever. They’re the perfect target dummies for slicing up with your lightsaber—as brittle as twiglets, and you can chop off their heads all day without ever feeling queasy. And developer Respawn got their personalities spot on—listening to them cluelessly admire the view, or discuss their unlikely ambitions for leadership, before you ambush and hilariously outmatch them, is pitch perfect Star Wars comedy. Even just their generic barks make me laugh—every reedy, “Hey, wait!” and, “It’s the Jedi!” said just late enough that I’ve dismantled their mates.
The various different battle droids created over the course of the movies and TV show make for a perfect set of videogame enemies, filling every combat role neatly.
And yet they’re far from just endless chaff, thanks to their different variants. Your B1s are the classic incompetent rank-and-file, but B2s—those hulking silver lads—are much more of a challenge, and the acrobatic BX commandos are deadly in a duel. The various different battle droids created over the course of the movies and TV show make for a perfect set of videogame enemies, filling every combat role neatly.
Though I have to applaud Respawn for adding one more of their own—melee B1s, so hilariously useless against a lightsaber-wielding opponent that they add a new layer of slapstick to every fight they’re in.
(Image credit: Ubisoft)
It’s testament to the versatility of battle droids that essentially they’re just the same here as they were in Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga. The same humour, the same satisfaction of smashing them to bits… they transcend the tone of everything around them, fitting into a serious story as easily as a goofy one.
But battle droids are more than just something to laugh at and/or break, they’re an emblem of a certain time and place. Thanks to the bad reception of the prequels, there are a lot of elements of it subsequent Star Wars media tended to avoid, sticking to the safer ground of the imagery of the original trilogy.
Jedi Survivor is set years after the Clone Wars—but of course it would make sense for battle droids to still be around and be exploited by villains. 500 million robots don’t just disappear, and seeing these iconic villains of the prequels alongside original trilogy elements like Stormtroopers and X-wings creates a real sense that this is a transition period between the two eras. It helps flesh out the kind of world protagonist Cal was born into and grew up in—his fight now is with the Empire, but as a child it was droids that gave him his first taste of war.
So I’m heartened to see that the recently announced Star Wars Outlaws is doing something similar—not only featuring a reprogrammed BX commando droid still around in the period between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, but actually making him a major character. A battle droid, swaggering around in a trenchcoat—what a banishing of prequel embarrassment that represents. Sometimes I think we may almost be ready for the great Jar Jar Binks reappraisal.