The Simple Secret Behind R2-D2’s Name

By Chris Snellgrove | Updated

r2-d2 blue

Star Wars is a franchise filled with strange names, many of which evolved quite a bit over the years. For example, many fans know that the famous “Skywalker” last name was instead going to be the much more ominous “Starkiller.” However, the famous droid R2-D2 owes his name to the early George Lucas film, American Graffiti, and some special lingo that his sound editor made up on the spot thanks to how he cataloged his audio reels.

It Started With American Graffiti

Star Wars

Before we can dish about R2-D2, we need to briefly talk about the significance of American Graffiti. Released in 1973, this film was George Lucas’ love letter to his own past and focused on fast cars and hip teenagers. It had a tiny budget of $777,000 and went on to earn $140 million at the box office, cementing Lucas as a successful Hollywood director and even thrusting Harrison Ford into the spotlight for the first time.

Now, we know what you’re thinking…what does a car movie have to do with R2-D2? In a 1980 interview, Lucas revealed what a perfectionist he was while making this early hit film. He and sound editor Walter Murch to work on the movie in the wee small hours, and they were working on fixing one of the American Graffiti audio tracks at 3:00 am.

Reel 2, Dialog 2

Lucas revealed that the different audio tracks for the movie had very specific and slightly sterile names. For example, Murch at one point wanted Lucas to hand him Reel 2, Dialog 2. Instead of saying the whole name out loud, though, the editor shortened the whole thing, asking Lucas “to get R2D2.”

Immediately, George Lucas was struck by what a great name that would make for one of his future stories. He immediately wrote it down and kept the memorable name in mind. When he began working on Star Wars and needed a name for the movie’s most iconic droid (sorry, Threepio), he named him “R2-D2” based on this moment during the production of American Graffiti.

From Tape To Tatooine


But what was Reel 2, Dialog 2? Back when that movie was made, movies tended to have 21 reels and 3-4 dialogue tracks. When footage was recorded, it was labeled by reel and dialog number. In this particular case, Lucas and Murch just happened to be working on the reel that would give us R2-D2’s iconic name.

“Wookiee” Came From An Improvised Line

Incidentally, R2-D2 isn’t the only Star Wars character that got his name due to Lucas liking the sound of something he heard someone else say. While George Lucas was filming his first movie THX-1138, actor Terry McGovern improvised the line “I think I ran over a Wookiee back there,” which the future Star Wars director obviously used as the name for Chewbacca’s species.

And as we wrote about recently, the clones in the prequels were going to be created by “Sido-Dyas” as a pseudonym for “Sidious,” but when a script typo said “Sifo-Dyas,” Lucas decided he loved the name and created an entirely different character.

R2-D2 Is A Testament To George Lucas’ Creativity


Stories like how R2-D2 got his name are a great reminder that George Lucas is truly unique among major feature film directors. He doesn’t always connect (yes, we’re still mad about the prequels, deal with it), but nobody can deny that the director always takes major creative swings and knows how to synthesize countless different inspirations into an unforgettably unique story. When Hollywood was in need of genuinely transformative sci-fi back in the ‘70s, Lucas was in fact what Obi-Wan Kenobi was in fiction: our only hope.