by Alex Newborn on July 28, 2011
If you’re like me, up until Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, you believed that the RX pilot droid was a brand-new model shortly after the end of Return of the Jedi.
But now we know that RX’s were actually in existence prior to A New Hope, which led me to reconsider an obscure passage from L. Neil Smith’s 1983 novel Lando Calrissian and the Mindharp of Sharu. And the traits of the 1986 Rex pilot dovetail pretty nicely with the descriptions from the older novel.
The book is set approximately four years prior to the Battle of Yavin, as things are reckoned in the Star Wars chronology; a young and so far clean-shaven Lando has recently won a starship called the Millennium Falcon in a game of sabacc, but he’s still an “abysmally amateurish astrogator and ship-handler”.
Within the first twenty pages, he “hastily” rents a pilot droid while making a fast getaway from an asteroid in the Oseon system. This requires both a substantial deposit at the rental agency and the removal of the right-hand copilot seat, because the droid’s base is bolted straight to the deck.
Unfortunately, the pilot-bot is glitchy, and Lando must do the flying himself, skidding onto the tarmac in the Rafa system. Clad in a mauve outfit, Lando exits the ship and spots mynocks on the thrust-intermix cowling, and rushes back to the cockpit to ask Teguta Lusat Ground Control for advice on dealing with the problem.
This wakes up the robotic pilot, which Smith describes as a ‘glittering and useless Class Five pilot droid, its monitor lights blinking idiotically’ before giving it a single, truncated line of dialogue:
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,” the robot smirked, despite the daylight pouring through the vision screens from outside, “and welcome aboard the pleasure yacht Arleen, now in interstellar transit from Antipose IX to—”
Lando snarls and deactivates the “brainless rent-a-bot”. After the mynock situation is dealt with, he glibly asks Ground Control, “Would anyone care to purchase a practically new pilot droid? Over?”
Alas, it’s a sales pitch they’re all too familiar with, and they reply, “That rental outfit in the Oseon may not maintain offices here, but they’ve got treaty rights. You’ll have to send it back fast-freight. Expensive. Over and out.”
Lando craftily realizes that it’s cheaper to rent it for longer and ship it back slower, and vows to do nothing on his first night in the Rafa system but relax, feeling he’s earned it after dealing with “that confounded robot.”
So, to sum up, it’s a pilot droid with a non-humanoid design and a large base which precludes a regular chair. It’s notorious for breaking down, it gets shipped around as freight frequently, and it even says the words “Welcome aboard!” in its introductory speech.
If that doesn’t sound like an RX unit, I don’t know what does!
Special thanks to Roy Reeves for the photo of his fabulous scratch-built, scaled-to-the-figures Falcon cockpit!