Star Wars: Kenny Baker, Star Wars' R2-D2, remembered by his son
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Actor Kenny Baker, who played the beloved R2-D2 in six Star Wars movie, died in August at the age of 81. Baker began his career as a nightclub double act with comedy partner Jack Purvis and, in addition to his role as everybody’s favorite bleeping droid, appeared in more than a dozen other films, including Labyrinth, Willow, Mona Lisa, and The Elephant Man. His last credit was as a technical consultant on last year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
London-based photographer Kevin Baker, one of Kenny’s sons, remembers his father in touching detail, below. And also shares with EW anecdotes — and exclusive photographs — of venturing onto the Empire Strikes Back set during his childhood, while his dad was hard at work.
Kevin and Kenny Baker on the set of 1999’s Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace
Dad looks a bit grumpy in this photo, but he was always quite the happy-go-lucky kind of guy. If that hadn’t been his personality, the chance to play R2-D2 wouldn’t have come along. That was he was like back in the mid-1970s, when he was hanging out in bars and clubs and meeting people, and he met this casting agent, who said, “There’s this American kid making a film and he needs a little person. Why don’t you come and meet him.”
And he loved every second of it. He loved shooting in Tunisia, cooking inside that metal, but also getting time to chat with Alec Guinness. He really enjoyed that enormously. And his comedy partner, Jack Purvis, is the Jawa who shoots R2 near the beginning of Star Wars.
Dad could make R2 wobble and jiggle and really give him character in a way that, even to this day, it’s tough to achieve mechanically — that’s why George Lucas always wanted him in there. Still to this day, they can’t really get the robot to move they way that Dad did. It’s tough to recreate the character in just the same way.
But Dad was always down-to-earth about everything. He knew it wasn’t a massive acting role, but he was pleased as punch about the reception from the fans. At conventions he always had the longest line, only because he took so much time with each fan. He took sometimes several minutes to sign an autograph with certain fans.
I was there with him once at a convention, when a guy with R2-D2 and C-3PO tattoos came up to Dad and had him sign his arm. Then he literally ran out the door to a tattoo parlor to get Dad’s signature tattooed on his arm permanently.
He’d often tell a story about a woman who wrote to him and said that, as a little girl, she was bullied and picked on at school. Everything was pretty hard for this girl. And the one thing that got her through the horrible times was being able to watch R2-D2 in Star Wars. That really resonated with Dad and touched him deeply. He always hoped that would be his legacy.
With Mark Hamill and director Irvin Kershner and in the swamp on Dagobah
It probably wasn’t as huge as I remember it as a kid, but the set for Dagobah at Elstree Studios in London seemed like this vast forest that went on forever. I would just play in the forest.
I remember one time being inside Yoda’s house. And I was in there one time and Yoda came to life. It was actually Frank Oz, of course, underneath the floor. And Yoda said to me, “Been to school you have?” And I said, “Yes, Yoda.”
With Harrison Ford on the set of The Empire Strikes Back
The had the the Millennium Falcon there on the big set of the rebel base in Hoth. It was extremely surreal to be walking up the ramp and onto the Millennium Falcon. My brother and I used to sit in the cockpit and pretend that we were flying it. But every time we did this, the lighting guys had turned all the cockpit lights off. So all the buttons were just kind of dead.
But I kept asking Harrison Ford, “When can we turn it on?” And he kept saying, “Another day, kid.” But then one day — I remember this so vividly — my brother and I were walking around and Harrison picked me up and he walked me into the cockpit. And then Harrison cued the lighting guys and they turned on all the buttons in the cockpit. It was amazing.
I also remember that I couldn’t say the word “Harrison” because I’d lost my two front teeth. And Harrison said, “Don’t worry, kid. Just call me Peaches.” I have no idea why.
A version of this article originally appeared in Entertainment Weekly’s collector’s edition of The Ultimate Guide to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, on newsstands now.