K-2SO: Hero or Victim?

K-2SO is a re-programmed Imperial droid who specializes in strategic analysis. He was the break-out star of Rogue One, played by the peerless Alyn Tudyk. If you haven’t seen Rogue One, skip the video the below and the rest of this post. If you already have (and frankly, who hasn’t?) then read one. Because I’ve got a problem with K2SO.

K-2SO clearly has a personality. He is clearly sentient. So are other Star Wars droids like C3-PO and R2-D2.

If K-2SO is not sentient, then his self-sacrifice to protect Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor means nothing. Absolutely nothing. It is no more a great sacrifice than when your kettle switches itself off rather than boil dry and catch fire.

But, if K-2SO the question becomes… how long has he been sentient for?

Is his sentient nature part of the re-programming that the Rebels have done to him or did he have a different personality prior to this? Did the Rebels brain wash K-2SO? Did they murder the “old him” and install this new one.

It’s pretty unclear where Star Wars droids get their personalities from. I’m quite comfortable with the idea that the Empire, after the dismal showing of the “Roger Roger” battle droids prior to the Clone Wars, decided to simplify their droids to be simply soulless automatons and that only the Rebels have clung on to their “thinking” machines.

However, this still leaves the question of why K-2SO sacrifices himself. This entire film is about sacrifice, especially the sacrifices made in war. By the end of the movie, nearly everyone has sacrificed themselves. Some do it for love, others for duty, some for friendship, some for redemption.

Why does K-2SO do it? Is it a simple calculation – his life vs. the success of the mission – or is there something more at play? If so, was this capacity for self-sacrifice engineered in from the very beginning?

K-2SO clearly doesn’t obey Asimov’s Laws of Robotics, he merrily dispatches StormTroopers through the movie, so this is not a simple case of artificial life being worth less than organic life as a trope. It seems to me that whoever re-programmed K-2SO built the capacity for self-sacrifice in from the very beginning. Like his human counter-parts, sent on a suicide mission, he was built to die.

I think that makes K-2SO’s story all the sadder.