Fictional droid related news and analysis is an important part of my job, so I was very pleased to learn that a new astromech droid was revealed (well, via toys) as part of the upcoming installment of the little-known laser-cutting-device enthusiast movie series, Star Wars. And if some of the old basic Star Wars conventions about droid naming hold here, then these new droids represent a major shift in how astromech droids are categorized.

The new astromech droid is named BB-9E, though because of his general similarity to BB-8, the spheroid-and-a-half droid introduced in 2015's The Force Awakens, along with his black color and allegiance to the alt-Empire First Order, he’s already earned a nickname:

There’s also a lot of assumption that BB-9E is somehow ‘evil,’ but as someone who respects droids and the work they have to do, I’m not going to fall into that trap.

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Until I see actual evidence of willful cruelty, I’m going to give BB-9E the benefit of the doubt that he’s just doing the jobs he was programmed for. You can’t blame the robot for who he was sold to, right? He was probably part of some large order of droids. I mean, it’s not like he can just tweet out something defiant, quit his job, and knock over some furniture on the way out to find a new gig, right?

I want to take a quick look at BB-9E and another similar droid so far just referred to as a ‘resistance droid,’ but, more importantly, I want to bring attention to what is likely modern civilization’s most pressing problem: droid names make no sense.

It’s clear BB-9E is in the same general category as BB-8: a droid design based on an omnidirectional sphere acting as both main body and the primary means of locomotion. It’s a good design, I think a big improvement from the earlier movies’ astromech design of a three-legged barrel, and I had always thought it was a mistake we never saw more BB-type droids in The Force Awakens, even though they were discussed as though they were familiar units.

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Now, BB-9E is similar in basic design to BB-8, but his head is a truncated-conical shape, or perhaps a tapered cylinder, or whatever you call that shape, where BB-8's head was a hemisphere. The difference is analogous to R5-D4's head compared to R2-D2's head.

The other droid, the Resistance BB unit, has an unusual head design with an external eye and a more irregular shape. I like the utilitarian, no-bullshit look of this droid. There seems to be a certain modularity to the head design, which suggests ease of repair and maintenance, as you’d expect from a workhorse droid working for a military organization.

It seems to be suggested that all these droids are, collectively, BB-units. That seems to make sense, but it completely inverts how astromech droids used to be classified and categorized: by their heads.

A dome-headed astromech droid like R2-D2 was an R2-class droid. A droid with a head like BB-9E’s was an R5-class droid. The shape and design of the heads is how astromech droids were always subdivided, even though their bodies were essentially the same.

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Now, with the BB-series droids, it appears that head design doesn’t change the droid type, at least if we believe the BB-prefix indicated the droid type.

Of course, I’ve long felt Star Wars droid names were a mess, and I feel like BB-9E is a slightly different droid model from BB-8 beyond just color and a job description that includes “assist with evil-goings on.” So I have a bit of a theory.

In this context, when a droid is called a BB-unit, it’s a more general term for an overall type and design of droid, much in the same way R5s and R4 droids were just referred to as ‘R2’ units more generically in the original movies. BB-type droids may just be the category of sphere-bodied astromech droids.

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So, I’m going to guess that there’s more to the droid names than we can see, which would also make sense for why BB-8 has a very improbable one-digit name. Maybe the names fit a format like BB [general series]-[submodel type]-[specific DIN (droid identification number)].

This is essentially the same as what a Lucasfilm story editor speculated about droids in the earlier movies:

... droid names are usually fragments of much longer serial numbers. He uses G8-R3 as an example, speculating that his real name might have been something like “R5-X41238-G8-R3-3124-D2.”

So, that’s likely the case here. We’re seeing new BB-class droids, and also seeing two new subcategories of BB-class droids, which means we now have three known BB-class droid types.

Whew. I’m glad we got that all cleared up.

Now you can enjoy your long weekend in true peace.