The following article contains plot details for Star Wars: The Force Awakens and will spoil the movie if you have not yet seen it.
Star Wars director J.J. Abrams has explained more about R2-D2’s story in The Force Awakens.
The droid, returning from the previous movies, is introduced about halfway through Episode VII where we learn that he has been in a coma-like state since Luke Skywalker is betrayed by Kylo Ren. Late on, R2 awakens to help complete a map that BB-8 had, which identified Skywalker’s location.
It is never explained how R2 came to have the map information, or why he came to at the particular moment he did, but according to Michael Arndt, the movie’s initial screenwriter – who appeared with Abrams and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan at a Q&A earlier this week – it is a callback to when R2 accesses the Empire’s mainframe in A New Hope. Said Arndt;
“We had the idea about R2 plugging into the information base of the Death Star, and that’s how he was able to get the full map and find where the Jedi temples are.”
Abrams also spoke about the timing of R2D2’s awakening, explaining that BB-8’s initial personal introduction made more of an effect than it first appeared.
“BB-8 comes up and says something to him, which is basically, ‘I’ve got this piece of a map, do you happen to have the rest?’ The idea was, R2 who has been all over the galaxy, is still in his coma, but he hears this. And it triggers something that would ultimately wake him up. While it may seem, you know, completely lucky and an easy way out, at that point in the movie, when you’ve lost a person, desperately, and somebody you hopefully care about is unconscious, you want someone to return.”
The Force Awakens is in cinemas now.