Sad news headed our way over the weekend: actor Kenny Baker passed away on Saturday 13 August after a long battle with illness, aged 81.
Best known primarily for playing R2-D2 in the Star Wars films, his is a face that you may not recognise, but he has nonetheless become synonymous with the saga, a reputation he has helped to foster with numerous appearances at assorted fan conventions over the years.
Having first been discovered as part of a theatrical troupe, the diminutive droid was his first film role – one he would follow up with the likes of Flash Gordon, David Lynch’s The Elephant Man, Miloš Forman’s Amadeus and Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, as well as playing a prominent role in Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits.
In later years his declining health meant that he had to take a backseat on some roles, appearing in The Force Awakens in a consultancy capacity (with Jimmy Vee planned to play R2 in future instalments), but he has nonetheless remained the person people think of when they recall the loveable droid.
Speaking to the Guardian, his niece Abigail Shields said, “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.”
His co-stars were similarly efusive in their praise, with Mark Hamill and Ewan McGregor both tweeting the following:
So sorry to hear about this. It was lovely working with Kenny. Kenny Baker, Star Wars R2-D2 actor, dies aged 81 https://t.co/9HW6f3MWZl
— Ewan McGregor (@mcgregor_ewan) August 13, 2016
— Mark Hamill (@HamillHimself) August 13, 2016
In a time where these kind of roles will invariably be fulfilled by CGI creations, Baker represents a bygone era in filmmaking – we should not only treasure him for the joy he brought to many via his films, but also for the vital contribution he made to cinema history. We can’t stress enough how badly he will be missed.