- November 1, 2016
I was sad to hear this but as always, I learn a lot more from reading articles and tributes after someone’s passing than I ever would have before. As Star Wars fans, most of us know he played, with great pantomime ability and comic timing, the resourceful, tough-talking droid Artoo (R2-D2) in most of the SW movies as well as Paploo, the Ewok who distracted the scout troopers by stealing one of their speeder bikes in Return of the Jedi. And because he happened to be ill, his original role of Wicket went to Warrick Davis.
But I learned that he also played a GONK droid in Empire Strikes Back, the fun “refrigerator” robot type first introduced in A New Hope‘s Sandcrawler scene.
I had heard he and Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) were friends, but I gained a new appreciation for the bond they had formed (due to both being far from average heights) from the tribute by Mahew.
Baker would make sure his longtime friend and working partner Jack Purvis also got roles — Purvis also played a number of short aliens and droids, including the Jawa who shot Artoo.
According to Esquire, George Lucas needed a short adult to play Arto because child labor laws would not have allowed a child to do so, while Time Magazine (August 29, 2016, vol. 188, no. 8) and the New York Times, referencing this Stockholm interview, said the reason was that “[y]ou’re small enough to get into [the R2-D2 suit], and you’re strong enough to be able to move it.” (They were likely both right, of course.)
Lastly, Entertainment Weekly has a few articles and links to others.
Artoo was a background character who was always there for, if not directly influencing, important events, but uniquely was the main character of Star Wars, along with Threepio, for a good chuck of the first film’s beginning. It will be bittersweet to see the character of Artoo live on in future films in which he will save lives and keep the plot going by repairing the hyperdrive, walking down stairs, swearing, and trusting strange computers.