Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Ryan Neal
Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: RidiculouslyExtraordinary. Posted by Ryan Neal
Star Wars Series
Currently Known For:
Star Wars Series
Some of the most iconic characters in film history are very unique in the fact that they aren’t even human, and don’t even speak. R2-D2 from the “Star Wars” series is one of these characters, being the droid companion to Luke Skywalker in five different films. On top of that, R2-D2 had been in the prequel films working with Luke’s father, making him one of the most established characters in “Star Wars” lore. Instead of using CGI or remote controlled robots, R2-D2 actually had a human wearing the costume, and that was Kenny Baker, who appeared in many other films, as well.
Baker was born on August 24, 1934 in Birmingham, England, to parents that had both been typical heights for adults. Baker, however, wouldn’t grow to the height of most others, having not reached four feet tall. Baker didn’t plan on becoming an actor, as he didn’t think that there was much for him in that career path. That would change when Baker reached his teenage years, though, as Baker had been invited to perform with other little people, and decided that a career in entertainment would be worthwhile.
Along with his fellow performers, Baker would end up performing a lot of shows on skating rinks, and then turned toward comedy. Baker and his comedy group began playing in night clubs, starting to get more widespread attention. This would include the attention of George Lucas, who was in the process of creating the “Star Wars” franchise. Among his characters was the famous droid R2-D2, and he needed a smaller actor that would be able to fit into the costume and operate it during filming.
Baker said that Lucas’s selection was as simple as the fact that the actor could fit into the costume. “I just jumped into the robot. And I didn’t enjoy it all, I didn’t like it all,” he said. “I didn’t think (“Star Wars”) was gonna be very successful. So I turned it down about three times...I thought, ‘Well, I’d rather not be stuck in a robot, to be honest.’ But they talked me into it and, as we all know now, it was a big success.”
The first “Star Wars” film went on to become one of the largest profiting films of all-time, and spawned an entire series that has had multiple trilogies. “It just happened to hit at the right time,” Baker said of the film’s success. At the time, Baker had only been in a couple of TV shows in very brief appearances, but playing R2D2 allowed him to have a role that he could come back to multiple times. Baker put on the costume for the original trilogy, as well as the prequels that would also be released.
Outside of the “Star Wars” universe, Baker appeared in films such as “Flash Gordon” and “Labyrinth” during the 1980s. He had actually been working quite regularly away from Lucas once “Star Wars” had started, but it was always R2D2 that had been associated with Baker’s career. As for how he felt about having roles that were mostly in fantasy productions, Baker said he wasn’t upset with his casting.
“There are not very many opportunities for little people in the industry,” Baker said. “There are small parts and character parts, but we don’t get the girl at the end of the film kind of parts...but I was quite happy with what I was doing. I didn’t really get involved too heavily with being an actual film person. I’ve always been a cabaret-vaudeville artist - an hour long cabaret and a floor show in a hotel - somebody like that. That’s my main forte.”
In the 2000s, Baker reduced the amount of films that he had worked on, but saw through the finish of the “Star Wars” prequels. Outside of that, he appeared in an episode of the show “Swiss Toni”, as well as “Casualty”. Baker’s final performance came several years later in 2013 when he provided the voice of the bartender in “One Night at the Aristo”, a short film.
Baker was getting set to celebrate his 82nd birthday in August 2016 when his health took a turn for the worst. He had completed his work on the first film in the newest “Star Wars” sequel in 2015, but unfortunately wasn’t able to continue working on the series. Baker landed in the hospital due to illness, and after a full life, he passed away on August 13. There was an outpouring of those memorializing the late actor, who had been one of the biggest characters in movie history.
Co-stars and fans alike had offered statements, including George Lucas, who had created the R2-D2 character. Lucas said that Baker was a “real gentleman as well as an incredible trooper who always worked hard under difficult circumstances.” As for the actor he was paired up with in his most famous role, Mark Hamill, he called Baker “a lifelong loyal friend,” saying that Baker lived a life of “optimism and determination.”