The beloved actor who gave rise to the equally beloved R2-D2, hero of the film saga, dies at the age of 81.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… a galactic civil war was waged. It was a story about good versus evil, a rebellion rising against a tyrannical empire, and a family determined to rescue a lost soul. When George Lucas unleashed Star Wars on an unsuspecting generation, how could he have imagined that his story — a space opera — would three decades later continue to inspire. That may have been the farthest thing from his mind, but the filmmaker would also go onto to revolutionize the industry with a series of incredible special effects achievements, and colorful characters, some of which would win our hearts.
When Episdoe IV begins it’s experienced through the eyes — or more accurately — the photoreceptors of a pair of droids (re: robots) that are on a mission! The ever-oppressive galactic Empire has attacked a rebel transport, and in an effort to valiantly fight another day, C-3PO and his trusty astromech counterpart R2-D2 are dispatched as a special envoy, to locate a long lost warrior and general of a previous battle, and deliver vital information that will turn the tide of the growing war. C-3PO and R2-D2 emerged as the tale’s two most unlikeliest heroes, and as the story would evolve we would learn just how important their role would be.
Star Wars changed my life. When I was a child, the film was released in theaters at about the same time that my parent’s marriage was unraveling. I can recall vividly the day we ventured as a family, the last time that we would, to a local theater in New Jersey where we lived, to see the film. We would often go to the movies, and the experience of entering a darkened auditorium, or sitting in the backseat of our car (where I saw Jaws) at a drive-in, would begin to inevitably shape and influence my imagination. Going to the movies was safe. It was life a refuge from the world.
As the 20th Century Fox fanfare began, I knew that my life would be irrevocably changed forever, and as the final credits rolled I understood that everything was going to be all right. Just like R2-D2 had survived the attack on the Death Star, I would also get past the trials of a divorce. And I had two of the unlikeliest role models to remind me to persevere. I walked out of the theater that day empowered, reinvigorated and knowing that the force is strong.
I became fascinated with George Lucas’ world and especially in the magic behind the film. That included one of its most impressionable personalities. If it wasn’t for R2-D2, the heroes would never have found their way; if it wasn’t for the droid the rebels would never have destroyed the Death Star, an ultimate weapon determined to obliterate freedom.
When my father revealed to me that there had been an actor inside the barrel-shaped astromech droid responsible for how R2-D2 moved, it blew my mind! That actor was Kenny Baker and his name would become synonymous with that of Anthony Daniels the actor who portrays C-3PO. It was always obvious to me that there was a person inside the golden suit of armor bringing the protocol droid to life, but I couldn’t see anyone but a puppeteer on the outside animating R2.
It was in that moment that R2-D2 became all the more real to me. In that instant I realized that a robot could have a soul. Kenny Baker was the heart that pumped within the shell, and the spirit of determination that gave R2 his personality. Because of Baker’s participation in the Star Wars saga, R2-D2 would eventually be revealed to have been one of the most important components of the long running adventure, even as most recent as last year when Star Wars: The Force Awakens continued the story.
With the passing of Kenny Baker, at 81, it’s important to celebrate one of the unsung heroes in filmmaking. As R2-D2, Baker brought us all so much joy and had an entire generation fall in love with him, and also reminded us all that good guys come in all shapes and forms. Even the littlest spirit, can be largest presence in the room. To Kenny Baker…thank you for saving me too.