Sunday, April 25, 2010

"The Star Wars Robots" from Edcon Publishing

Some movie stars have never had an acting lesson.

The robot is a popular character in science-fiction films, for there is a special magic about a machine meant to take a human's place. A film robot displays an assortment of skills. It can do the work of a computer. It can lift heavy objects or walk through walls of solid rock. It can move with equal ease on strange planets or the hulls of spacecraft. It faces all kinds of dangers, even destruction, without complaint. And all of these marvelous feats are demonstrated only on the command of its human masters.

Perhaps best of all, robots can play many roles. They can walk, talk, eat, and smile like humans, never betraying that they are only machines. Or they can look like the machines they are, move about on tracks and wheels, and communicate only in beeps. Their wonderful skills can be used for Good, as when a robot aids the escape of the trapped hero. Or they can work on the side of Evil, their powers terrifying, beyond control. Over the years, science-fiction films have placed robots in all these roles, and more. Three popular movies - Silent Running, Westworld, and Star Wars - show just how different the roles of robots can be.

In Silent Running, a space station endlessly orbits an earth too crowded for its forests. On the space station a few clusters of trees have been placed under glass domes to preserve them for future generations. A small crew tends the trees, aided by a trio of robots. When the order comes from earth to destroy the space station and come home, the human crew prepares gleefully to do so. But one gentle, sentimental crew member, Freeman Lowell, makes up his mind to save the forests. He uses the three robots, whom he names Huey, Dewey, and Louie, in a plan of mutiny.

The three robots are tiny, barely reaching to Lowell's knees. They cannot even communicate with their master in human speech. They can only listen and obey. But Lowell is lonely and he begins to see the trio as friends and allies. He talks quietly to them of the forests and growing things and the earth becoming green again; he sings Smokey the Bear songs. At the conclusion of the film, Lowell lies dying but content, for the forests have been saved. He charges the only remaining robot with the task of tending the forests. The robot obeys, not because it shares Lowell's feeling, of course, but because it has been designed to obey.

The robots in the movie Westworld differ in almost every respect from those in Silent Running. The movie is set in a vacation resort where robots help to fulfill the resort guests' dearest dreams. Westworld is one of three separate parts of the resort (the others are Roman World and Medieval WorId). It resembles a frontier town of the old West, featuring an assortment of robot people and animals, including dance-hall girls, horses, gunfighters, piano players, and rattlesnakes. Each robot is a perfect imitation of the real item, with one important difference - it cannot harm a resort guest.

The guests may choose any role that is appropriate to their resort area. In Westworld, for example, a guest can be a bank robber, sheriff, cowboy, gunfighter, hotel keeper, dance-hall girl, or a cheater at cards. He or she is free to do whatever the role requires. He can hold up a bank, ride his horse into the hotel dining room, lock up thieves, or shoot it out at sundown. He is assured of adventure and excitement, whatever his role, and knows that he cannot be injured. In a shoot-out with a robot gunfighter, the robot always loses.

The robots are carefully controlled by a team of white-coated experts who watch computers and TV screens for hours at a time. When a robot is killed (damaged so badly that it ceases to work), it is dragged out of the way by other robots. Then, in the dead of night, after the resort guests are sound asleep, a crew comes out in a truck and creeps about collecting the damaged robots. Another crew, in a control center much like a hospital operating room, repairs the damaged robots. New wiring is put into place. New arms and legs are attached. New plastic skin is skillfully applied. The robots are then returned to action.

One day, without warning, the robots begin to turn on the guests. Within hours, an all-out mutiny has begun. The computer experts, trapped in their control room by an equipment failure, can do nothing to help. People are shot, stabbed, burned, and tortured by robots. One Westworld guest is trailed by a gunfighter robot through Roman World and Medieval World as he seeks aid. The robot has a special skill: it can track a human through a device that senses body heat. The gunfighter can follow its prey anywhere, simply by sensing the heat left by human feet on the ground. At last the guest is able to destroy the robot - but not until he has reduced it to a burned, staggering wreck.

That the robots in Westworld cannot be distinguished from real people and animals makes them especially terrifying. The guests cannot tell friend from foe. Worse yet, the robots are only machines and cannot reason. The only way to escape them is to destroy them. The greatest danger lies in the fact that they are machines with astonishing abilities, machines no longer obedient to those who created them.

Star Wars presents robots in yet another role. The film is set in the distant future, when people have colonized space. A battle rages between the evil, powerful government and an alliance of rebel worlds. The rebels steal the plans for a secret weapon. The plans are given to a robot named R2D2 (or Artoo Deetoo), who must get them into the proper hands. Artoo's squeals and beeps are the best it can offer in the way of speech. As for appearance, Artoo looks like a barrel on three clumsy metal legs. But he has his talents: he is a computer and able to plug into any other computer to drain its information as needed.

Artoo is joined in his task by a second robot, C3PO (Cee Threepio). Threepio is a bit more like a human in appearance than his robot friend, resembling a knight in golden armor. His speech, although stiff and formal, is quite human. This unusual alliance becomes important as time goes on. Threepio rescues Artoo from a junkyard, and the two work together to save a group of brave rebels from the hands of the evil government. And when Artoo goes into battle near the end of the film, Threepio pleads in sentimental tones, "Hang on tight, Artoo, you've got to come back. You wouldn't want my life to get boring would you?"

Artoo and Threepio are lovable characters. Threepio is practical, cautious, and, above all, dignified; Artoo is brave and loyal. Threepio's speech suggests real feelings of fear and love, and even little Artoo's beeps and squeals betray a tender heart. Of the three films, only Star Wars places robots in roles that win the viewer's sympathy and approval. In Star Wars the robots are very nearly human.

Film stars have long been admired and adored by millions, but science-fiction films may be providing new idols for the public.

This story is an article from a series of Reading Comprehension Workbooks by Edcon Publishing Group. Edcon Publishing has a very large selection of different types of readings and other
materials for learning. I highly recommend this company. - The Teacher


1. A popular character in science-fiction films is the ______
a. spacecraft.
b. human master.
c. computer.
d. robot.

2. Three popular movies show _____
a. how alike the roles of robots can be.
b. space stations endlessly orbiting earth.
c. trees under glass domes.
d. how different the roles of robots can be.

3. A trio of robots is used for Good in the film ____
a. Westworld.
b. Silent Running.
c. Star Wars.
d. Mariner 9.

4. The robots in Star Wars were named ____
a. R2D2 and CP30.
b. Artoo Deepio and Ceetoopio.
c. Artoo Deetoo and Cee Threepio.
d. Good and Evil.

5. The personalities of the two robots in Star Wars _____
a. were similar.
b. were very different.
c. were exactly the same.
d. were annoying to viewers.

6. Robots won the viewer's sympathy and approval ________
a. in one of the films mentioned.
b. in two of the films mentioned.
c. in all of the films mentioned.
d. in none of the films mentioned.

7. The film mentioned second in the story is ______
a. Smokey the Bear.
b. Star Wars.
c. Westworld.
d. Silent Running.

8. The following person would probably be added to the staff of a film company producing a science-fiction movie:
a. an electronics expert.
b. a doctor.
c. a nutrition expert.
d. a teacher.

9. Another name for this selection could be _______
a. "Future Film Stars."
b. "Writing Science Fiction."
c. "The Thrill of Westworld."
d. "Stars of Star Wars."

10. This selection is mainly about _______
a. all types of film idols.
b. the popularity of outer space travel.
c. the role of robots in new science-fiction
d. the writers of science-fiction films.

The Droid, R2-D2, from Wikipedia
R2-D2 in Episode One of Star Wars, Youtube
R2-D2 in Episode Two of Star Wars, Youtube
R2-D2 in Episode Three of Star Wars, Youtube
R2-D2 in "The Attack of the Screwdriver."
R2-D2 Lament: Electronic Music for Diego, Youtube

This Youtube video from VOA shows where Robot technology stands now.

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