In the “Star Wars” movies, R2-D2 is more or less an outsized, high-tech Swiss Army knife, equipped with tools and soldering irons and holographic emitters. It also serves as a navigational computer that can be removed from one ship and plugged into another. Given R2-D2’s position on the “Close Encounters” ship, a fan might posit that R2 is serving as the navigator for the “Encounters” aliens.
The same might be posited about the exploded ship that the U.S.S. Enterprise encounters in “Star Trek.” Someone with sharp eyes might have seen, flying through the debris, a little tiny R2, clearly blown off the hull. Look just above Sulu’s head in the picture above, and one can see R2-D2 on the ship’s viewscreen. R2-D2 also sails by the screen, albeit even more quickly, during an explosion scene in “Into Darkness.” One really has to know what they’re looking for to see the droid.
On the red carpet, a fan pointed out to Abrams that they had spotted R2. Abrams eagerly pointed out that he played the same trick twice, saying:
“He was also in this movie. He’s been in all the movies I’ve directed. […] But the reason I did that is because in ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind,’ which I saw when I was a kid, R2-D2 was in that movie. So, oddly, putting R2-D2 in these movies is really an homage to ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind.’ So it’s a very strange homage to a movie that was making an homage to a movie.”
R2-D2 is not a “Star Wars” reference, but a reference to a “Close Encounters” “Star Wars” reference. Weird that Abrams seemed to have killed R2-D2 in both films.