Many articles and documentaries have shown how Star Wars changed the toy industry. Before Star Wars (1977) was even released, Kenner took the biggest gamble in toy history and put its faith in the franchise, pre-selling box sets that had not even been created in anticipation that the film would be a hit with kids. By the end of 1978, Kenner had sold more than 40 million of the figures for gross sales of more than $100 million. But the revenue expanded far beyond toy sales. At the beginning of 2012, just months before George Lucas would sell Lucasfilm to The Walt Disney Company, an estimated $20B in licensed goods had been sold (excluding ticket sales and home entertainment products).
Lightsabers, lunch boxes, and Stormtroopers were all included in this merchandise empire. A while back, I wrote about the Five Most Valuable Stormtroopers in Canon, which continue to be high-value items in the Star Wars empire. But there is another merchandise powerhouse, perhaps even more than Stormtroopers: droids.
The very term is trademarked by Lucasfilm and has been since 1977 (further proving how much of a visionary Lucas was). Companies like Verizon Wireless and Motorola have paid Lucasfilm for the privilege of using the word for their phones.
With every new Star Wars show that comes out, it is guaranteed that there will be a new droid that people of all ages will obsess over. However, like the many Stormtroopers now in existence, some droids are more valuable within the franchise.
The Good Soldier: B-1 Battle Droids
I have to add an honorable mention to this list because they were a big part of The Clone Wars and the Prequel Trilogy. B-1 battle droids are viewed as disposable (like some view the Clone troopers) and are as easy to kill in Star Wars as the traditional Stormtrooper. But they are always good for a laugh, specifically in The Clone Wars (voice by Matthew Wood). And, because these droids are the Separatists’ army, their action figures are popular for army builders who want to create scenes like the Battle of Geonosis from Attack of the Clones.
With no new main droid introduced during the Prequel Trilogy (R2-D2 and C-3P0 are prominent in Episodes I – III), the battle droids are synonymous with this era and should be recognized.
The Top Five
5. The Smart Ass: K2-S0
The first droid on this list is based on both current and potential popularity. K2-S0 was first introduced in Rogue One, arguably the best-received Star Wars film by fans and critics. And K2-S0 was the most popular new character introduced. His dry humor and directness were quite different from any other droids we have met in Star Wars. Voiced by Alan Tudyk, he is also (spoiler alert) the first member of the Rogue crew to die, and you feel that loss. He gets a hero’s death, taking out Stormtroopers and giving final instructions to Andor and Jyn.
K2-S0 will return in season two of Andor, and we will potentially see their relationship’s development. Andor is already one of the most critically acclaimed pieces of Star Wars content. Although the show does not have too many familiar faces (Mon Mothma is the other most prominent legacy character), K2-S0 will surely get people talking. We already have seen a few K2 units in season one who are more hostile towards Cassian, and the character has the opportunity to rise in the rankings on an already beloved show, which could also use the humor.
4. The Loyal Companion: BD-1
Believe it or not, Star Wars games have been around almost as long as the toys. The first Star Wars electronic tabletop game, Star Wars Electronic Battle Command, was released in 1979. Star Wars games have always been an essential part of the fandom and have only increased in popularity as consoles and graphics have evolved. A few years ago, IGN published the best-selling Star Wars games of all time, and coming in at #2 was Jedi: Fallen Order (2019). The game is so popular that Cal Kestis’s lightsaber won a fan vote to go into production as a legacy lightsaber at the Galaxy’s Edge theme parks. BD-1 is the only droid not from a film with his own lego set.
In the game, BD-1 is the former droid of Eno Cordova, the catalyst for the main mission in Jedi: Fallen Order, and a Jedi Master who has a deep knowledge of ancient civilizations. BD-1 is found by Cal Kestis on Bogano, and the former Jedi Padawan inherits the little droid who accompanies Cal through the game.
BD units have since appeared in the popular Doctor Aphra comics and two episodes of The Book of Boba Fett (testing of the waters, perhaps for a live-action BD-1?). And there is no slowing down as the original will return with Jedi: Survivor in early 2023, so we will see plenty more BD-1.
3. The New Recruit: BB-8
With a long drought from the Prequels of any new individual droids of note, the Sequel Trilogy was ready to introduce a new droid model to Star Wars. After getting a glimpse of the droid in The Force Awakens teaser, the spherical droid named BB-8 was presented on stage at Star Wars Celebration 2014 alongside R2-D2. This was clever marketing to put BB-8 next to the most famous droid in the franchise and one that is the most similar (BB-8 communicates in a binary series of beeps and whistles like R2).
When Lucasfilm launched its first Force Friday before the release of The Force Awakens, there was a dedicated range of BB-8 products, from soap dispensers to suitcases.
But the high-ticket item, and the most coveted, came from robotics company, Sphero. Post a meeting with Bob Iger, Sphero was granted a Disney license and spent 10 months building an app-controlled miniature robot of BB-8, to get it ready for Force Friday. The company even raised 45M in funding based on anticipation of the product release, which did not disappoint. It was dubbed the Tickle Me Elmo product for The Force Awakens, and the little droid has continued making his mark within Star Wars, prominent in the parks and series like Star Wars Resistance.
Following that success, Sphero also created a model of R2-D2 and Lightning McQueen before the company lost the Disney license in 2018.
In fact, if it wasn’t for legacy, BB-8 might be number two on this list, but we cannot ignore the droid that overtakes him (no matter how much we might want to).
2. The Protocol Droid: C-3P0
As I mentioned earlier, Lucas chose to lean on the familiarity of C-3PO and R2-D2 during the Prequel Trilogy, cementing their place in Star Wars history as the droids to beat. The droid that benefitted the most from this was C-3PO (people now have a red arm C-3PO to add to their collection).
But, with the Prequel and Sequel Trilogy, the gold protocol droid has been in the lives of every living generation of Star Wars fans. He is unavoidable and touches across all mediums.
C-3PO’s popularity and ever-presence can not be separated from Anthony Daniels. Daniels’ love for the character he originated is evident, and he has voiced the droid consistently since 1977.
C-3PO is divisive and is often compared to Jar Jar Binks in annoyance by some fans, but the saving grace for the droid is that he is a part of a pair. And the other droid just happens to be number one on this list.
1. The Ultimate Hero: R2-D2
R2D2 is one of the most iconic characters of any franchise. The lovable binary-speaking droid is connected to Anakin Skywalker, Luke Skywalker, and even Ahsoka Tano. R2-D2 has appeared in every film in The Skywalker Saga, The Mandalorian, The Book of Boba Fett, The Clone Wars, and Rebels. His design is instantly recognizable.
You can get an R2-D2 as small as the Lego Minifigure with a retail price of $13 to a life-size replica from Sideshow Collectibles for a cool $7.6k. In 2017, a complete R2-D2 unit used in several Star Wars films sold for $2.76M, far more than Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber (which sold for $450k) and Darth Vader’s helmet ($97k).
Along with BB-8 and C-3PO0, R2-D2 will probably be in Star Wars forever, and thus endless opportunities to occupy retail space.