Kenny Baker, 81, died on August 13 after a long illness. The actor was best known for his role as R2-D2, the feisty droid who loyally accompanied Luke Skywalker in the “Star Wars” movies. Baker had originated the role in the first movie that had come out in 1977. Baker also played one of the Ewoks in 1983’s “Return of the Jedi.” He appeared in other movies including “The Elephant Man” (1980) and “Time Bandits” (1981).
Baker was born in Birmingham, England on August 24, 1934. He had a type a dwarfism and reached an adult height of 3 feet, 8 inches that made him the perfect size for playing R2-D2. Baker sat inside the robot and controlled it. While most of the robots in the movies were remote-controlled or CGI, Lucas had human actors portray R2-D2 and C-3PO, for they were major characters that needed to connect with the audience. Lucas proved to be correct, for R2-D2 became one of the more popular characters in the series. He later noted that Baker had to endure “tough working conditions” like the desert heat of Tunisia.
Lucas himself was partial to the droid and always included at least one scene in which he aided the heroes in every movie. He also liked Baker, and said in the obituary on starwars.com, “Kenny Baker was a real gentleman as well as an incredible trooper who always worked hard under difficult circumstances. A talented vaudevillian who could always make everybody laugh, Kenny was truly the heart and soul of R2-D2 and will be missed by all his fans and everyone who knew him.”
Kathleen Kennedy, the president of Lucasfilm, said, “We’re all saddened to learn of Kenny’s passing. There is no Star Wars without R2-D2, and Kenny defined who R2-D2 was and is. He will be greatly missed.”
R2-D2 will still be played by human actors. Jimmy Vee will take over the role for “Star Wars: Episode VIII.”