Kylo Ren doesn’t need a sidekick droid – it’s more likely to be actually kicked in a fit of wild rage.
But the First Order does have some roly-poly robots rumbling through the corridors of its fleet, and The Last Jedi will put us in contact with one sinister black and white droid: BB-9E.
The “E” is for evil. But the creation had another nickname: “BB‑Hate, as we called him on set,” says writer-director Rian Johnson.
The make is a familiar BB ball-droid unit, but the model is not. This is a variation on cute and cuddly BB-8 that is meant to evoke dread instead of warmth, with a wasp-shaped flat-top head, a low electronic growl, and a single glowing eye borrowed from HAL 9000, the malignant supercomputer from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
“BB-8 has this huge personality and this huge heart, but you know, in a sense, I’ve always found it to have a sort of slightly manipulative quality,” says Neal Scanlan, head of the Star Wars creature shop. “With BB-9E, we go back to literally the cold First Order sort of Empire version of what a BB unit might be. This was much more cold, calculative, much more direct.”
The chrome grill work on BB-9E’s panels combines with the blue and white lights of its face to suggest … getting pulled over by the police. Scanlan says the character has a “patrolling element” and the body was inspired by the front ends of cars from the 1960s.
So, think of BB-9E as a beachball-shaped squad car bearing down on you in the halls of Supreme Leader Snoke’s star destroyer.
But while BB-8 often pairs with X-wing pilot Poe Dameron, or rolls with Finn and Rose Tico on their mission to the casino world of Canto Bight, BB-9E is a relative loner.
Still, the two droids will have a moment of conflict in The Last Jedi. And their color schemes are a bit of an homage to the orange and white flight suit of an old-school X-wing pilot and the black, life-sustaining armor of a Sith Lord. “There’s a lovely moment between BB-8 and BB-9E, which tells that sort of parallel story of Vader and Luke,” Scanlan promises.
Fans will have to wait to see what that means when the movie opens on Dec. 15.