Bringing an Astromech droid to life in 1977 was not an easy task. Not able to rely on advanced electronics, deep green screen and CGI work and there being no such thing as an R2 Builders club - or even a professional droid builder for that matter, it came down to the puppeteer to bring the little bot to life, and that man was Kenny Baker. While the beeps, whistles and squeals are oft-imitated and much-loved, it was the undeniable sense of personality that Artoo had that made him an instant favorite.
Here's Why We Love Kenny Baker's R2-D2.
He Had Heart (Literally)
Baker, literally inside the domed body of R2-D2, lent him a sense of humanity. Whether it was an excited shuffle from side to side, a slight rock forward or slide back, or an annoyed bump against someone or something, Baker was able to give a personality - and even body language, to what was essentially a wheeled garbage can!
He's a True Hero
Artoo, from the beginning, was fiercely loyal and effortlessly brave. Without his call to action, his delivery of the message from Princess Leia, there is no Star Wars. He's been similarly important throughout the history of the franchise, in the further original trilogy films, in the prequels, the cartoons, and of course playing a pivotal role in the finale of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He was at once the pet, fulfilling the "boy and his dog" motif, but also the best friend. He was wiser than most would think, and willing to give a zap when needed.
He Set the Standard for Star Wars Droids
Artoo's legacy - and thus Baker's - can be seen in obvious and non-obvious ways. In Star Wars, other droids like Star Wars Rebels' Chopper or the adorable ball droid BB-8 simply wouldn't have been if it wasn't for R2-D2. Chopper and other astromechs like him still rock from side to side when they're excited or upset. The droids all tend to do the slight tilt and roll to show sadness or fear - these are things that Baker directly innovated. Even artists at Marvel Comics attempt to show that same rock in their astromechs That legacy extends beyond Star Wars, too. In the Disney film Wall-E, that little robot can't speak (much) either, and his movements, as pioneered by R2-D2, help to tell his story.0comments
Nowadays, there are advanced robotics and you can't go to a convention without seeing 50 astromechs rolling around (and still delighting young and old instantly). But none of them have that little extra, that feeling that you're communicating with someone that can read and react to not just your words and actions but also your emotions and non-verbal response.
Rest in Peace, Kenny Baker. Thank you for being a huge part of why we love Artoo, why we accept droids as intelligent beings, and why we love Star Wars.