In the lean days before home video releases of the Star Wars films, television appearances by the folks from the galaxy far, far away were pure magic for me. Having missed the Star Wars Holiday special during its one and only broadcast, I was sustained by brief guest appearances by Star Wars characters on shows like Sesame Street or The Muppet Show. I don’t recall for sure, but it is possible that I caught the Donny and Marie Star Wars Special and have since repressed the traumatic memory. In the years before kindergarten or later on the odd holidays off from school, I’d find myself at my grandmother’s house while my parents worked. There, I was often plopped in front of a console television tuned to WLVI Channel 56 where I’d watch shows like Family Affair, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, Bewitched, The Banana Splits, and The Monkees among other staples. During the commercial breaks, and wedged between commercials for the Boston Museum of Science and The New England Aquarium, I’d catch brief moments with two of my favorite droids in the galaxy.
A handful of public service announcements were my steadiest fix during the drought between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. These PSAs shone like rare gemstones among the common broadcast fodder. I have to wonder if I was able to sit through Family Affair in hopes of catching the Star Wars PSAs. The three announcements focused on drunk driving, childhood immunization, and smoking. It was the smoking one that stayed with me most vividly in years before YouTube. To recap, the smoking PSA opens on C-3PO working in a lab room lined with blinking lights and hanging wires. He appears to be soldering a nondescript piece of hardware as something gurgles and boils off camera. Sustaining an electrical shock from the hardware, C-3PO drops his tool and begins to look around for his life mate, R2-D2. Following the sounds of Artoo’s voice, Threepio wanders down a hallway when he notices smoke. Rounding the corner he gasps, “Artoo, you’re on fire!” As he moves in closer he notices that R2-D2 is holding a cigarette. “R2-D2, you’ve found a cigarette!” he exclaims. With a series of defensive tweets and beeps, R2-D2 argues that smoking makes him look grown-up, which is evidenced by C-3PO ‘s response to the contrary. Threepio explains how smoking, “does dreadful things to your lungs, and is very bad for your heart.” Acknowledging that he doesn’t have a heart of his own C-3PO suggests that they set a good example for the sake of humankind. With a coo, Artoo drops his cigarette. Breaking the fourth wall, C-3PO feigns surprise and addresses the audience further declaring the dangers of smoking; the commercial closes with C-3PO oddly asking, “Artoo, do you really think I don’t have a heart?”
This commercial mesmerized me as a child. R2-D2’s chirps and whistles, C-3PO’s flustered tinny voice, and John Williams’ score transported me to a galaxy far, far away. It could be that I retained the smoking PSA over the others as it featured a topic that I could relate to. Aside from the pets, nearly everyone in my family smoked and I functioned under the assumption that they had somehow missed exposure to the PSA. As a result, many of my precious Star Wars figures ended up looking like they suffered a from cirrhosis so severe that it jaundiced their clothes. Princess Leia, once beautiful in alabaster, and the Stormtroopers menacing in bone white, are now all yellow. Coincidentally, R2-D2 did not escape the second-hand smoke. His paper decal, is yellow parchment around his body. In my late adolescent and early teen years, probably hoping to look more grown-up, I’d sneak what seemed to be the popular hobby in my family. How bad could it be, R2-D2 gave it a try, and was able to kick the habit within the one minute long PSA? By the time I was in my late teens, the Dark Side (the tobacco industry) had won. I was addicted.
I wonder how I might have thought of smoking had the roles in the PSA been reversed. Might I have been less drawn to smoking if C-3PO was the one caught with a cigarette and R2-D2 was the sobering voice of reason? The duo was among my all-time favorite robots, but of the two, I favored Artoo. He was the badass of the two after all. He was the one entrusted with Leia’s message to Obi-Wan, and he saved Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewbacca from an unpleasant trash compactor death. He always seemed fearless and laid back in the face of danger. Conversely, C-3PO is somewhat of a genteel wimp who is constantly fretting and complaining, whose greatest characteristic is playing the foil to Artoos’s charisma. Sure, he’s fluent in over six million forms of communication but this hardly seems useful, as everyone seems to understand alien languages in the Star Wars galaxy. So, it’s only natural that I’d want to emulate Artoo. Not being a droid, it was much harder for me to kick the habit than it was for R2-D2. I realize this theory is a major stretch of the imagination, but surely I cannot be expected to take responsibility for my own actions.
I was finally able to quit smoking a few years ago, but not before countless grueling attempts spanning several years. I am confident that it will stick and currently have no want to return to the habit. It could be that I’m less concerned with feeling grown-up these days.
Read what other League of Extraordinary Bloggers members had to say about this week’s theme:
Another Donny and Marie mention in a post about Robots on Goodwill Hunting for 4 Geeks.
Branded in the 80s ponders the sordid origins of a robot that wants to sell you a VCR.
Ponder Hanna-Barbera’s choice to re-imagine the Three Stooges as robots with Cavalcade of Awesome.
Geekshow Ink reminisces about the Tomy Wind-up Walking Rascal Robot.