Kenny Baker leaves this galaxy for one far, far away

Kenny Baker provided heart and compass to the Star Wars films, saving lives and saving the day over and over.

Kenny Baker with R2-D2 (promotional still)
Kenny Baker with R2-D2 (promotional still)

WASHINGTON, August 13, 2016 – Kenny Baker (Aug. 24, 1934 – Aug. 12, 2016), who as the droid unit R2-D2 provided the heart and compass to the science fiction film juggernaut “Star Wars” for nearly three decades, has died. The actor was 83.  Baker, who was 3 ft. 8 in. tall, first gave the round-top droid his childlike but wise personality in the initial Star Wars film, “A New Hope,” in 1977.

Movie Set promotional still
Movie Set promotional still

In 1977, precision robots were still a dream for film makers. When this early droid rolled forward, a motor or cable was used to pull him. However, fans can easily tell when Baker is inhabiting the droid by the black exhaust tubes, obscuring Baker’s legs, on the droids undercarriage.

Fans of R2-D2 know he is the most underrated hero in movie history. With unparalleled hacking skill he stopped the The Trade Federation and the deaths of the larger Star Wars characters including Obi-Wan, Padme, Anakin, Luke, and Leia who would have been killed had R2-D2 not helped to defeat the Death Star. And instead of being frozen in carbonite by Jabba, Han Solo would have been killed had it not been for “Artoo.”

Some of his more memorable acts of bravery include, in Episode I, “The Phantom Menace” (1999), where he fixes the Queen’s shield generator and turns the autopilot off on Anakin’s ship. In Episode II, “Attack of the Clones” (2002), Padme escapes death thanks to R2-D2, while in Episode III, “Revenge of the Sith” (2005), he keeps Anakin’s ship from being destroyed by buzz droids.

In Episode IV, “A New Hope” (1977) the first film released in the ongoing series, it is R2-D2 that saves the day carrying the Death Star plans and Princess Leia’s “Help me Obi-Wan” message to Luke. As if that weren’t enough, Artoo saves Luke, Han, Leia and Chewie from being crushed to death in the outer space garbage pit.

"Help me Obi-Wan" - Promotional image A New Hope - Star Wars 1977
“Help me Obi-Wan” – Promotional image A New Hope – Star Wars 1977

In Episode V, “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980), Artoo fixes the Millennium Falcon and allows for a hyperdrive escape from Cloud City. And in Episode VI, “Return of the Jedi” (1983), he breaks chains that are holding Leia a captive of Jabba the Hut, allowing her to escape from the soon-to-explode ship, just after he tosses Luke’s smuggled lightsaber to him.

The actor also appeared in “Return of the Jedi” as the Ewok Paploo, the furry little guy that hijacks an Imperial speeder bike.

Baker spoke of his experiences in a Metro interview, saying “When you put the head on, the eyes steamed up so you couldn’t see where you were going. We kept tripping over branches and, when you were down, you couldn’t get up—you just had to lie there until someone picked you up.”

His niece, Abigail Shield, said Baker was recently able to see George Lucas when he visited Manchester for a red carpet event. Of his death, she told the Guardian:

“It was expected, but it’s sad nonetheless. He had a very long and fulfilled life. He brought lots of happiness to people and we’ll be celebrating the fact that he was well loved throughout the world. We’re all very proud of what he achieved in his lifetime.”

Long before his role as R2-D2 in “A New Hope,” Mr. Baker began performing in his teens, first appearing with a theatrical troupe and then in circus ice shows. He was also a member of the musical comedy act The Mini Tones followed by early minor film and television roles before he landed his breakout role as R2-D2 in 1977’s “Star Wars.”

The Droids footprints at Graumans Chinese Theater in Los Angeles (fan photo courtesy social media)
The Droids footprints at Graumans Chinese Theater in Los Angeles (fan photo courtesy social media)

In 1978, appearing as R2-D2, Baker embedded his footprints into concrete outside of the legendary Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles.

It was a long way from Birmingham, England to Los Angeles for Baker. When he was a child, was told that he probably wouldn’t survive through puberty.

“Being a little person in those times, they didn’t have a very good life expectancy,” Ms. Shield said. “He did extremely well in his life. He was very ill for the last few years so we had been expecting it. He had been looked after by one of his nephews, who found him on Saturday morning.”

Baker resided in Preston, Lancashire where he was married to actress Eileen Baker (who co-starred with him in the 1977 film “Wombling Free”) from 1970 until her death in 1993 due to complications from epilepsy. Although Eileen also suffered from dwarfism, neither of their two children have the condition.

Shield added that Baker “had problems with his lungs and was often in a wheelchair. He was very poorly for a long time. He was asked to go out to LA for the new Star Wars premiere but he was told he was too ill to travel. Luckily he did manage to meet George Lucas again when he came to Manchester.”

Baker is also known for appearances in beloved ’80s films like “The Goonies,” “Time Bandits,” “The Elephant Man” and “Flash Gordon.” Visit Mr. Baker’s website for a full listing of his many appearance and roles.

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