STAR WARS: 10 Things You Might Not Know About R2-D2

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Weep, wooop, wub, waaaaaargh...


1. Neither R2-D2 or C-3PO appeared in George Lucas' original 1973 fourteen-page story synopsis of "The Star Wars", but the following year when Lucas put together his initial 132-page rough draft he introduced two construction robot characters called ARTWO DETWO and See Threepio, who worked in an Imperial Space Fortress. Lucas described ARTWO as a short, old and battered claw-armed tripod whose face is a mass of computer lights surrounding a radar eye, and also had the ability of speech! ARTWO's first line in the May 1974 draft was:
"The external bombardment does appear to be concentrated in this area. The structure has exceeded the normal stress quotient by point four, although there appears to be no immediate danger."
By 1975, George Lucas had re-written his treatment again, and re-titled it to The Adventures of the Starkiller, Episode I: The Star Wars. The story now began with the two droids aboard a Rebel Spacefighter and followed their evacuation, landing on Utapau, and being captured by Jawas. With relatively few changes, to their story or character descriptions, this is how the two droids went on to appear in the original Star Wars film.

2. When it came to designing R2-D2, Lucas went to Ralph McQuarrie who began working on sketches. He co-developed the look with mechanical effects supervisor John Stears. The duo were told by animatronics experts that it would be virtually impossible to create mechanical beings with the functionality required of the characters. So they looked to using a combination of a movable remote control unit and an elaborate costume for an actor to perform inside for the areas that were not possible with animatronics. The task of actually building the first ever remote control R2-D2 unit was outsourced to Tony Dyson, who ran his own studio called The White Horse Toy Company in the UK.

Tony Dyson and the original R2-D2

3. For the actor-performed R2 unit the original idea was for a child actor to be inside, and at 0.96 meter (3'1" ft) tall that would've been fine. However the final model weighed approximately 80 pounds, meaning it was unlikely that any child would be able to support the weight, let alone make it move around. So a call was put out for little people to audition for a role "inside a robot suit".

3'5" tall stage comedian Kenny Baker was in London performing a musical comedy act with his friend Jack Purvis, and went to the London office of Twentieth Century Fox, to meet George Lucas. Baker claims that...
"Lucas looked at me and immediately said: "You'll do.""
Although he wasn't officially offered the part of R2-D2 then, he was measured before leaving the studio. Afterwards Baker found out more about the part, and when he was offered it he turned it down. Three times. His comedy act was becoming successful and he was getting TV variety work from it, and so felt hesitant to take a break from that career just to appear in a film where his face would not be shown..

In the end George Lucas spoke to him personally, explaining that R2 was the pivotal character in the while film as he was essentially the narrator, and so everything revolved around him. Baker signed up there and then.


4. Kenny Baker performed the role of R2-D2 inside a standing unit of the droid, wearing a specially-made suit and manipulating the droid's lights and appendages, turning his head, rocking his body back and forth, and moving his eye with a rod.

5. The original 1977 Star Wars had just one remote control R2-D2, used to compliment Kenny Baker's performance, primarily for any scene that required use of R2-D2's third leg. Improvements in technology along with an increased budget for the sequels saw more remote control units built and used more frequently - each with different functionality, e.g. a rolling unit, a unit that could deploy tools from body panels etc. By the time of 1983s Return of the Jedi the remote units have more screen time than Baker's original.


6. Star Wars sound designer Ben Burtt created R2-D2's voice. He originally used some electronic sounds recorded from a small synthesiser, but felt that didn't feel "alive enough", so he combined these sounds with modified human-generated squeaks - which was just himself trying to emulate an excited baby-talk! Burtt ending up with a final mix of about 50% synth 50% human. Burtt still considers R2-D2's voice to be the most difficult challenge of all of his sound design work on the Original Star Wars trilogy.

7. By the time it came to shoot the Prequels, at least 18 different physical R2 units were used, including the exact same costume originally worn by Kenny Baker over twenty years prior, only now modified to be more comfortable. The Prequels also made use of a CGI R2-D2, but George Lucas always tried to use Kenny Baker whenever it was possible, stating that Baker bought the droid to life, adding personality into the character, and living touch which made R2 a little more human.


8. R2-D2 was infamously given the ability to fly in the Star Wars Prequels. This 'new' functionality troubled many fans, as the little droid could not take to the sky in the Original films, yet they are set afterwards. It took a Star Wars Expanded Universe novel to explain this away, revealing that the company responsible for the development of R2-D2's boosters had gone out of business, so when his rocket boosters were damaged they were unable to be repaired.

9. Although C-3PO actor Anthony Daniels claims to be the only person to appear in every film, Kenny Baker performed as R2-D2 in all six Star Wars movies to date. Daniels stated that Baker did not film any scenes for Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, and Baker has admitted that most footage of his R2-D2 unit appearing was taken from the filming of Episode II, however he did film several small segments, and still received the credit for playing R2-D2 in the film.

George Lucas with the prototype R2-D2 unit.

10. After selling Lucasfilm to Disney and walking away from his beloved Star Wars franchise, George Lucas named R2-D2 as his favorite character, stating that he would miss the little droid the most, owing to R2's tendency to come through and save everyone.

George Lucas went on to say that he always wanted a friend like that of his own.

In memory of Kenny Baker, who passed away August 13th 2016 at the age of 83.


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This article was originally published March 4th 2015.

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