At first glance, More Than Robots seems like an odd entry in the canon of Lucasfilm Ltd. projects. The company that George Lucas built has mostly focused on scripted fantasy films, with Star Wars projects accounting for more than half of the company’s total output. But when you consider that the project started by documenting the 2020 FIRST Robotics Competition, which featured a themed partnership with Star Wars: Force for Change, the studio’s first documentary not related to the making of a scripted project makes a lot more sense.
Premiering at SXSW ahead of the film’s streaming debut on Disney+ on March 18th, More Than Robots is a showcase of creativity from the next generation of problem solvers. Competing in a global competition, the film profiles four teams from around the world (two in California, one in Mexico, one in Japan) as they prepare for and begin to compete in the 2020 event, held in March of 2020… The narrative is disrupted by the global pandemic, but the story takes on a new life as the students shift their own gears away from robots and towards helping their communities in a time of great need.
More Than Robots not only highlights how cool the FIRST Robotics Competition is, but also highlights the diversity of the teenagers who participate. Amongst each of the four teams showcased, there’s diversity of both gender and ethnicity on display. The students are all inspiring, but one of the great stories within the film is that of two teachers who are married, leading teams at separate schools. Fazlul and Fatima lead teams at different schools with drastically different resources, which is also an interesting component of the documentary; seeing how these two teams make the most of what they have to achieve a similar goal.
The film touches on the creation of FIRST and its mission through interviews with founder Dean Kamen, but it’s by no means a documentary about the organization or even the competition itself. The film is about the next generation of dreamers and doers who, through having access to this fun STEM competition, are training themselves to meet the challenges of tomorrow. The film’s title, More Than Robots, even comes from one of these brilliant young minds in a quote towards the end.
The feature-length documentary directorial debut from Gillian Jacobs, who also directed an episode of Marvel 616 for Supper Club, the co-production company of this documentary, the film is a celebration of the intersections of science, creativity, and storytelling. It’s a passion project for all involved, both behind-the-scenes and on-screen, and it radiates to the viewers as they watch and become inspired by the seemingly endless possibilities that STEM programs like FIRST can achieve.
I give More Than Robots 4 out of 5 droids.
More Than Robots starts streaming Friday, March 18th, on Disney+.