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‘Star Wars’ fans debate the meaning of BB-8’s most memorable gesture

A memorable moment may not be as clear as we thought.


Michelle Jaworski

Internet Culture

Posted on Jan 16, 2016   Updated on May 27, 2021, 8:52 am CDT

Warning: This article contains minor spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Star Wars fans have had plenty to discuss and theorize about since the release of The Force Awakens last month, but the latest debate looks deep into the intentions of one of the film’s most beloved new characters.

Once Finn, Rey, and BB-8 stole the Millennium Falcon and flew off Jakku, Rey had to work quickly to fix a malfunction before a noxious vapor killed them. While Rey worked on repairs she asked for the location of the Resistance base, which BB-8 told her was on a “need to know” basis, so they wouldn’t be detected by the First Order. That was a big problem for Finn because, as the audience already knew, he wasn’t actually part of the Resistance.

A back-and-forth between Finn and BB-8 followed as Finn tried to get BB-8 to reveal the location of the Resistance base after admitting he used to be with the First Order. Eventually, BB-8 agreed to tell Rey where she needed to go, and once she ducked out of sight Finn gave BB-8 a thumbs-up, which the droid appeared to return with his lighter.

But was it actually a thumbs-up?

A small portion of Star Wars fandom online believes that BB-8’s gesture to Finn was less a sign of approval than we originally thought: He wasn’t giving Finn a thumbs-up, he was flipping him off.

BB-8: thumbs up or middle finger?

Some of those in the middle finger camp believed that BB-8 flipping off Finn was a way to show an aspect of the droid’s personality—that he’d wryly deliver a big “fuck you” to Finn after learning about Finn’s deception. It’s akin to imagining that R2-D2 is swearing every time we hear him speak in binary.

At one point, editor-in-chief Mike Cooper brought the question to fans on Twitter, who overwhelmingly ruled that the lighter indicated a thumbs-up.

The debate resurfaced on Thursday after Geek & Sundry used the GIF to show excitement over the new Poe Dameron comic and learned that many of its followers thought that BB-8’s flame was signifying the middle finger.

Geek & Sundry put it in a poll of its own, comparing it to Star Wars’s version of the Dress, and while there are more voters this time around (and time left to vote), there is one clear winner. One follower even gave us a great idea of what it would look like if BB-8 wanted to flip off Finn (and the audience).

Though the “did BB-8 give a thumbs-up or the middle finger” question may turn into one of Star Wars fandom’s next big, lighthearted debates, it’s a question that already has an answer. 

The Star Wars: The Force Awakens novelization also depicts the scene where BB-8 gestures to Finn after revealing the location of the Resistance base, and it clearly indicates that BB-8 is imitating Finn’s gesture.

As soon as [Rey] was out of sight, the grateful Finn gave BB-8 a thumbs-up. The droid responded by shooting out a welding torch in imitation of the human’s gesture. 

As some fans may point out, the novelization is canon unless the movie contradicts it. But Industrial Light and Magic, the visual effects studio that worked on The Force Awakens, also confirms that BB-8 is giving a thumbs-up in that scene (instead of the more crass gesture) in an interview with MTV.

“We did several different prototype ideas of what that could look like, and we had various amounts of metal and plastic on there,” said Patrick Tubach, an ILM visual effects supervisor on The Force Awakens. “One of the difficult things with animating something like that is you have to be very careful that it doesn’t look like he’s giving you some other sort of gesture! We moved all the pieces around to make sure it was very clearly a thumbs-up over any other kind of ‘salute.’”

Of course, that doesn’t mean fans will stop questioning the motivation behind BB-8’s gesture. We know for sure that it’s a thumbs-up, but how genuine is it?

While BB-8’s loyalties lay first and foremost with Poe Dameron, he’s taken quite a liking to Rey after their meeting on Jakku. To everyone’s knowledge, Poe is dead and Rey has promised to help him complete his mission to get the map leading to Luke Skywalker to the Resistance. If Finn—revealed as an ex-stormtrooper to BB-8—somehow betrays them, what’s to say that there won’t be some more electric zaps from BB-8?

We’re definitely be keeping a closer eye on that droid in Episode VIII.

Screengrab via ディズニー・スタジオ公式チャンネル/YouTube

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*First Published: Jan 16, 2016, 12:00 pm CST