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R5-D4, also known as "Red" due to its distinct red and white coloring, is an astromech droid in the Star Wars universe, specifically appearing in 1977's Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. The droid is of the R5 series, a line of astromech droids manufactured by Industrial Automaton. R5-D4 became famous for its brief cameo when it is bought by Owen Lars but is then replaced by R2-D2 due to a malfunction. Despite having limited screen time, R5-D4 has garnered a cult following and a detailed backstory in both Star Wars Legends and new canon materials.
In Episode IV, Owen Lars and Luke Skywalker head to the Jawa market looking for droids to help maintain their moisture farm on Tatooine. Seeing R5-D4 among the droids, Owen purchases it along with the Protocol Droid C-3PO. As they head back, R5-D4 suffers a malfunction and its motivator explodes, letting out a plume of smoke. Owen demands a replacement, and R2-D2 is chosen in place of R5-D4. This seemingly minor incident sets the course for Luke Skywalker's involvement with the Rebellion and the unfolding of the broader Star Wars saga.
In the Star Wars Legends continuity (formerly known as the Expanded Universe), R5-D4's malfunction was attributed to a variety of explanations. One story claims that the droid had a personality and consciously sacrificed its chance to leave with Owen so that R2-D2 could fulfill its mission of delivering Princess Leia's message to Obi-Wan Kenobi. However, this story was later superseded by "Skippy the Jedi Droid," a more humorous non-canon take on the character.
"Skippy the Jedi Droid" is a short comic story that humorously reimagines R5-D4 as a Force-sensitive droid named Skippy who uses The Force to repair and maintain the Lars family's moisture vaporators. Skippy realizes that R2-D2 must fulfill its mission and deliberately sabotages itself, allowing R2-D2 to take its place. Although not considered canon, the story highlights the fondness of the Star Wars fan Community for even minor characters like R5-D4.
With Disney+'s acquisition of Star Wars and the reset of the Expanded Universe, a new canon backstory for R5-D4 emerged. In the short story "The Red One" from the anthology Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View, R5-D4 is portrayed as a droid with a strong sense of purpose. R2-D2, aware of its vital mission, convinces R5-D4 to help by sharing information about the Death Star and the Rebellion. R5-D4 chooses to help by deliberately malfunctioning, allowing R2-D2 to go instead and ultimately save the galaxy.
Although R5-D4 has a brief and seemingly insignificant role in the original Star Wars film, its malfunction serves as a pivotal moment in the saga. The character's enduring popularity and rich backstory in both the Legends and Disney+ Canon continuities demonstrate the expansive nature of the Star Wars universe and the ability of even minor characters to inspire creativity and storytelling.
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