Jun 18

1/12 Star Wars C-3PO by Bandai

In 1977, when my Father took my brother and I along to see Star Wars for the first time, I knew I had seen the golden droid before. There was something about that fussing, flustered but always warmly amusing C-3PO that rung real bells in my mind, even as a nine-year old.

I knew I’d seen him somewhere….

Or her!



Right on the cover of one of my coffee table books on science fiction cinema, there she was: False Maria, the robot who helped Fritz Lang turn his masterwork Metropolis into one of the yardsticks for modern fantasy cinema.

I sought it out and consumed it as soon as I could and, though I did not grasp the narrative at my tender age, the image of Maria was as powerful to me as her ‘Grandson’ had been to me in Star Wars…

One of the first successful SF movies made, and following from Karel Čapek’s play, Rossum’s Universal Robots, this feature took an incisive view of Wiemar Republic Germany, and postulated what might happen in a society which becomes polarized by social division.

Freder, the son of The Metropolis’ governor, and the poor Maria, a mundane worker, meet and fall in love. Borrowing from the work of Chikamatsu Monzaemon (especially the Love Suicide play Sonezaki Shinju), Lang paints Metropolis in a classic vein, blending primal desire with social obligations in the build up to what the director sees as a revolution of thought, emotion and hope as well as action.

In all this, the role of the (false) Maria robot is central – being used as a device to manipulate and guide the downfall of common humanity.


Metropolis, 1927 Fritz Lang

Metropolis behind the scenes

Maria: A False Prophet

Metropolis’s Maschinenmensch (machine human) is perhaps the most impressive SFX element produced in the first fifty years of Cinema, perhaps only finally bested by the effects which made Star Wars itself such a Sea Change in the medium.

Walter Schulze-Mittendorff, the robot’s designer, originally considered making the robot from copper sheet, but discarded the idea, as it would have weighed more than a suit of plate armour and prevented actress Brigette Helm from even moving properly in it. Having been introduced to the then-newly invented material of ‘wood putty’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wood_putty) Walter took a plaster cast of Brigette’s body and formed the putty, in sections across the whole. He then scuplted the shape of the final robot into the still-soft plastic wood, before spraying it with metallic spray and mounting it with strapping.

As one might expect, the suit was not perfect. It was reportedly impossible to sit down in without modifications, it pinched and cut at almost every step and was so cumbersome that even simple scenes took many takes (even days) to complete. The 17-year old Brigette won the respect of her crew, who would, it is said, often push money into the armour cracks so that she might buy some luxuries for herself at the end of the day’s filming (her salary for the film was surprisingly low, being an unknown).



The characters of C-3PO and R2-D2 were primarily based on characters created by Akira Kurosawa to provide light relief and exposition in his 1958 film, The Hidden Fortress. Indeed, many elements of that film were lifted to provide central narrative points for the first Star Wars film: from the princess in danger, the old warrior who becomes her guide and the titular hidden fortress itself. Just as The Hidden Fortress is told from the point of view of the peasants Tahei and Matashichi, Star Wars might also be be said to be a film about Threepio and Artoo, in as much as they are the first traditional POV characters to which the audience is introduced, and crucial in conveying the plot.

This called for characters who were, though very different from each other immediately graspable by the audience and empathic in their performance.

The look as we know was grasped perfectly by the Star Wars design team, taking their cue from the work of Ralph McQuarrie.

However, visuals aside, the real charm of the fussy protocol droid was found in his ‘English as Scones’ portrayal by character actor, Anthony Daniels – who has stayed with the character to this very day.

However, as with the Maria robot for Metropolis, the desire to make the C-3PO costume as realistic and human as possible meant for a very form-fitting, and restrictive manufacture. As with the earlier costume, Daniels could not sit whilst wearing the suit and often had to suffer cuts and punctures during the shoot, especially in Tunisia, during which he suffered heatstroke when filming one of the desert scenes. Propped up on a board between shots, and seemingly constantly sipping from hydrating solutions, the whole image seems out of place with the shiny little butler we all know today, but is also one of those idiosyncratic elements which just endears C-3PO to the hearts of fans…

‘He’s perfect….’ – Amidala

There have been a number of kits of Threepio over the years, but none have quite managed to get the chroming quite right without resorting to specialist airbrush paints. However, Bandai’s latest developments in coating (also seen on the new Saint Seiya and Hyaku Shiki) has brought us a kit which requires very little finishing to achieve the mark.

Bandai has recently been taking the world by storm (yes. Hyperbole. I know…) with their new Star Wars line of fighters and figures. It is very nice to see someone actually doing something with the license and, even more, doing it in grand style. I was always fond of the Fine Molds kits, but I cannot argue with Bandai’s take on their kits.

Made as snap-fit ‘semi finished’ kits as many of their products are, all the current Star Wars range can be thrown together without paint and still give a decent look.

However, with some work, weathering and care, they look as fine as any kit can. This is especially true of the figures (Vader, Stormtrooper and, of course C-3PO…)

I am especially pleased with the gold plating on this kit. In fact, I’ve never had a model on which this sort of finish has been done so well. It is a little uneven in places, but for the most part it gives a literal mirror finish.

I was concerned when opening the kit that trimming the model would ruin the look, but in every case, the sprue mounts are fixed to blind sections of the kit (in the seams, or on back plates) which render the point of spurs, or blank patches moot.

In brief, for a very small kit, I am looking forward to this build indeed…

Let’s get the restraining bolts off and get this going.

Dr. Robodaz


  1. I’m always baffled by the background stories when you review a new kit. Every time I get to know new facts I didn’t know or didn’t even think of someone or something had gone trough such lengths to reach us, be it on the “silver” screen or in model form.
    Thank you very much for sharing your knowledge with us and love seeing the finished Threepio.
    I wish you good luck and happy building

    • My mind is basically fly-paper and there are thousands of little facts stuck there which are normally useless.

      Seriously, mind you… I love delving into why I like something, and the same goes for my modeling. There is always a story behind the model (or behind the story behind the model). Its just me, but I like rooting in the dirt for all the little tid-bits I can find.

      I love this stuff. 😀

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