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History in Objects: Reel 2 Dialog 2

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The “reel” story of how R2-D2 got his name

“History in Objects” is a continuing series exploring Lucasfilm’s legacy stretching from our founding in 1971 to today. Through objects both rare and commonplace, the company’s past, present, and future are brought to life.

The names that fill the Star Wars galaxy come from many sources of inspiration – from an improvised line by a voice actor on 1971’s THX 1138 who coined the term “Wookiee” to a chrome ball in the 1979 horror movie Phantasm that, according to The Force Awakens director JJ Abrams, gave Captain Phasma her name. Probably the most famous name inspiration, however, came during a sound mixing session for George Lucas’ 1973 classic, American Graffiti.

“[W]hen we were mixing soundtracks from American Graffiti, sound editor Walter Murch…and I were working at three o’clock in the morning…[and] wanted to fix something in one of the tracks,” recalled Lucas in a 1980 interview. “So Walter asked me to go over to the rack to get R2D2, that’s Reel 2, Dialog 2, and I said, ‘I like that, that’s a great name.’ I wrote down in my little book, ‘Great name.’ When I was developing the character of the little robot I developed it around that name.”

At the time, there were about 21 reels on a theatrical feature and three or four dialog tracks – so the various tracks would get a reel and dialog number combination to label the recorded footage. The sound of the “R2D2” combination struck a note with Lucas, and the rest is history.

The legendary little reel still survives today, having made a rare appearance at Lucasfilm’s 2018 celebration of American Graffiti at Skywalker Ranch.

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