Looking Back on BB-9E, the 'Star Wars' Phenomenon That Wasn’t

(Welcome to The Galaxy-Wide Star Wars Character Guide, where we give proper due to the smaller figures in Star Wars history.)

It’s hard to overestimate how excited the world was to meet BB-8, way back in the day when the new Star Wars trilogy still offered an undiluted fountain of potential and optimism. We didn’t know what story was coming our way, we didn’t know who any of these new characters were, we certainly did not suspect the whole thing would end with Rey fighting her grandfather, Emperor Palpatine. We basically just knew that they were happening. In those early days, that was still pretty exciting.

Then we met BB-8, and everyone flipped out even more. And with good reason, regardless of how everything turned out, you couldn’t ask for a more perfect reassurance that Star Wars was going to be in good hands. BB-8 had everything. It was cute and it didn’t just match the Star Wars aesthetic – it felt like a natural evolution of that world.

It was also a real life technical marvel, a trick of science that felt magical in a way Star Wars should. This important feature told us loud and clear that the world these new films would feature practical effects work. Unlike the prequels, we could look forward to a somewhat tactile world. BB-8 was a real thing you could potentially meet and interact with. And for a while there, people tested this by purchasing a ton of little BB-8s of their own. Star Wars: The Force Awakens won an early battle for audience’s hearts and minds with this amazing little droid.

And everything that was great about BB-8 seemed to be missing from his Star Wars: The Last Jedi counterpart, the evil BB-9E.

Who is This Character Again?

You probably remember BB-9E. But it’s way less likely you remember its onscreen story contributions. For those who can’t remember either, BB-9E is essentially the evil version of BB-8, a rolling astromech unit working for the First Order. 

Leading up to The Last Jedi, BB-9E felt positioned to be another success story for the new trilogy. After all, everyone loved BB-8, why wouldn’t they feel the same for his darker relative. To an extent, it’s not a bad idea. The problem is… everything else about BB-9E.

Starting with story, BB-9E’s main deal is snitching on Finn and Rose as they do their little sabotage on the Supremacy’s active tracker system. That’s about it. The droid doesn’t have any big moments to cement its place in Star Wars history. While Star Wars is certainly not above making a lot out of characters with little screen time, this one pushes that to extreme.

But fine, it’s not a big Last Jedi player. That’s not really the problem with BB-9E. The real problem is his design.

Does this Character Warrant a Toy?

BB-9E has a design problem. Assumably, the design goal was to put a goatee on a droid we already love. So for starters, BB-9E is dark while BB-8 is light. No real problem there. The first issue is his weird head. BB-8 has a cool half dome going. BB-9E’s head stops early, giving it a flat top, which feels less visually cohesive and more like a random part thrown onto a ball. And speaking of the ball, BB-9E has circular grills all over his ball. The idea is that these grant it even stronger powers of perception, but the reality is it looks less solid, almost like the droid is unfinished. I’m not sure the right answer is an exact replica of BB-8 with just a different coat of paint thrown on, but the swings taken here feel like misses. 

As a toy, it might look good next to your BB-8, but all by itself, the design does not seem worthy of toy status. Also, this isn’t a design thing, exactly, but the name BB-9E feels super arbitrary and random. On set they called it “BB-H8,” which is too cheesy, but at least lends the droid some character.

How Important is this Character?

Not important at all. One gets the sense that Finn and Rose’s sabotage plan would have gone belly-up with or without BB-9E’s help thanks to DJ. Or the fact that they put a trash can on BB-8 and let him roll around bumping into things like a drunk robot.

Is this a Secretly Great Star Wars Character?

No, this is the opposite. This is a Star Wars character revealed with moderate fanfare who ended up being a major dud. The real marketing heroes of The Last Jedi were the Porgs, and it’s not even close. We all know this.

Of course, anything can happen in this universe. Star Wars is a long way from being done. Some future project could make a star out of BB-9E when we least expect it. The droid’s Wookieepedia page is surprisingly short, which should be seen as a challenge by any Star Wars creator. I could imagine it raising hell on The Mandalorian for instance, if BB droids even exist when that show takes place. Maybe we could see the birth of the first BB and it turns out BB-8 was the copy all along!

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