Kenny, or Kenneth Baker, was a British actor, as a fair number of actor from the original trilogy were, who is by far best know for playing everyone’s favourite droid (sorry C3PO), R2-D2… Come on, he was by far the cheekiest of the 2 and definitely deserves that title. But he didn’t just play this one role, he was also known for appearing in a good 4-odd tv and movie productions including Labyrinth, Casualty, Willow, Sleeping Beauty, the Goodies and Flash Gordon.
During a few of his filming jobs including Willow, Labyrinth and of course Star Wars he worked alongside Jack Purvis, with whom he had forged a comedy group outside the film work, called the Minitones who worked the nightclub circuit. By all accounts from the various different jobs in the entrainment industry, Kenny Baker was an all out entertainer!
When you think of or see R2-D2, the character is synonymous with Baker, and everything we know about the movements and quirks of the droid are as a result of his acting. It must be hard to bring that much personality to a character which so many people assume was entirely remote controlled rather than from inside. In some instances this was the case. When you see R2 moving around, this is usually one of the remote controlled models, but for much of the close up action and movement, especially the more intricate stuff or things which maybe had to be done more quickly and in direct response to things like the environment and dialogue etc. it was done from within R2.
Baker appeared as R2 in the first 6 movies, although he and Anthony Daniels (who plays C3PO) have stated that any footage of him in Revenge of the Sith is most likely left over footage from the 2 movies prior to this. He also didn’t appear in the holiday special, where R2 is credited as playing himself! He’s probably glad that he managed to swerve that gig!
All in all, whilst the R2 we know is largely remote controlled (with the exception of some unmanned stunts, some stunts filmed by Deep Roy and later by Jimmy Vee), his personality stems from the work done by Baker.
His comedy background really shines through in his Star Wars work though as he also played Paploo, the Ewok who steals the imperial speeder bike in Return of the Jedi.
He was invited to attend the LA premiere of the Force Awakens in 2015 but was too ill to travel, having been suffering from a lung condition for a number of years prior to this. Sadly he passed away a year later just 11 days before his 82nd birthday.
As a casual fan of the movies you might not know his face, recognise his name or even know that there was a talented actor inside R2, but for those who were able to meet him at conventions – just like the majority of the Star Wars original trilogy family, delighted fans the world over!