WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Marvel's Star Wars #73, by by Greg Pak and Phil Noto, on sale now.
The final trailer for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker prepared fans for C-3PO's death in front of his friends, and made it seem like this time, unlike all the others, would be his final stand. Despite his cautious, pacifist nature, Threepio has shown a worrying tendency to get himself skinned, dismembered, disconnected, shot at and beheaded, but somehow he has always managed to come back from the Chromium Gates with a little help from his friends.
These feats are a fun, non-permanent way of illustrating the themes of death and resurrection for younger audiences, as well as C-3PO's character evolution. Episode I features his "birth" as Anakin Skywalker's first creation. He then goes on to die twice in the prequel trilogy: once in Geonosis, where he's dismembered and stuck to another droid, and once in Episode III, when Bail Organa and Obi-Wan erase his memory of Padmé and Anakin. None of these "deaths" are a direct consequence of his actions, but rather a harsh punishment from outside forces: he has no agency.
In the second trilogy, C-3PO dies once in Cloud City, when the Imperial troops dismember him. Fortunatey, Chewbacca manages to put him back together. In The Return of the Jedi, he doesn't as much die as ascend as the prophet of the Ewoks, a role that he relishes because it allows him to help his friends and civilize sentient species. These two occurrences are not entirely voluntary, but at least they derive from Threepio's decisions to either explore Cloud City (curiosity killed the cat) or to apply his programming to a practical situation.
Going by The Rise of Skywalker's trailer, C-3PO's final death might be a very conscious decision on his par. And given that self-preservation is an essential part of his programming -- one that he has been trying to share with all droidhood -- it's not an inconsequential one. This points to two things: First, the reward for this sacrifice must be objectively gigantic; Second, this death might not be reversible, because that's the price C-3PO has consciously chosen to pay.
To give us a taste of what this means, Marvel presents a similarly bleak situation in Marvel's Star Wars: Destination Hoth #74, by Greg Pak and Phil Noto, set between episodes IV and V. In this issue, Luke, Leia, Han, Chewbacca, and C-3PO managed to lure part of the Imperial fleet (and Darth Vader!) to allegedly lifeless K43. They plan to blow up the planet and take out the fleet with it. However, on arrival, C-3PO discovers that the planet is inhabited by the Karkoans, rock-people with electromagnetic powers that feel close to him -- because he's made of ore.
C-3PO is horrified by their pending demise and tries to warn them about the bombs ticking away at the planet's core; he doesn't want to kill these many sentient beings because, for him, it would be a pyrrhic victory. However, the Krakoans know how to disconnect the bombs by sending electromagnetic pulses through the planet. The issue is that these EMs will kill any machine close to the surface, including X-Wings, lightsabers... and C-3PO himself.
But C-3PO barely hesitates, explaining to Chewie that he's only happy to be of service and asking his Krakoan friend to just "do it." So they do. And C-3PO falls into Chewbacca's arms, much like he did in The Empire Strikes Back.
In addition, back in 2016, Marvel already presented fans with the incredibly artistic Star Wars: C-3PO miniseries, where they explain C-3PO's red arm. In it, Omri, a protocol droid who has suffered incomplete memory wipes, is tortured by the idea that droids' makers don't care about them, and because of this, they will never be conscious of their role in the grand scheme of things despite their intelligence.
In a key moment that will tie in with The Rise of Skywalker, C-3PO confesses that he remembers flashes of terrible and beautiful things, but that he still trusts his masters to do what is right. Despite his misgivings, Omri sacrifices himself in the pouring acid rain to save C-3PO and help him succeed in his mission. As a tribute to his courage, C-3PO takes Omri's arm to replace the one that melted in the rain, making a vow always to remember the droids that lost their lives as his friends.
So what does this mean for The Rise of Skywalker? From a mythological perspective, C-3PO's sacrifice sets him up as a martyr and a savior, a position that rings not only of Christian tradition but also ancient Greek, Celtic and Nordic tales. But from a character evolution perspective, this means that C-3PO has transcended droidhood and is following in the steps of his Maker's family, Anakin and Luke, who just like him lost an arm in a personally painful mission, and just like him, chose to sacrifice themselves to save what they loved.
Directed and co-written by J.J. Abrams, Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker stars Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong’o, Keri Russell, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Marie Tran, with Ian McDiarmid and Billy Dee Williams. The film arrives on Dec. 20.