R2-D2 is the unsung hero of the Star Wars franchise; the little droid has fought alongside multiple generations of Skywalkers, and has been an integral part of the Galactic Senate’s fight in the Clone Wars and later the Rebel Alliance’s fight for freedom. Stubborn, loyal, and resourceful, R2-D2 (or Artoo) is always there to save the day and his friends (especially C-3PO – okay, mostly Threepio). It turns out, though, that the droid at the heart of the Star Wars story has some surprises.
Given the recent passing of actor Kenny Baker, who brought R2-D2 alive in the first seven Star Wars films, we wanted to honor his memory by writing about and celebrating the character that he helped to create. Artoo has touched millions of fans, and Kenny Baker’s impact on Star Wars fans will not soon be forgotten. Many of Baker’s fellow actors, along with George Lucas, have commented on his passing, and it is clear that he is dearly missed.
From R2-D2’s origins to his cultural legacy, here are 15 Facts You Didn’t Know About R2-D2:
15. KENNY, TONY, RALPH, AND BEN
A number of people were involved in the process of bringing R2-D2 to life. In addition to George Lucas’s development of the character, several key players contributed to the R2-D2 that audiences know and love today.
Kenny Baker, the actor who played R2-D2 in each Star Wars movie to date, passed away on August 13, 2016. Baker had retired from playing the role of R2-D2, with The Force Awakens (2015) as his last Star Wars film. The actor, who was 3’8″, fit inside of a special Artoo costume, brought the character to life in a number of shots which were combined with a robotically controlled Artoo.
Ralph McQuarrie, who designed R2-D2 passed away in 2012. Tony Dyson, who built the original R2-D2 models, passed away earlier this year on March 4, 2016.
The original voice and sound designer for R2-D2, Ben Burtt, is currently the sound designer for the upcoming Episode VIII (2017).
14. HE’S APPEARED OUTSIDE OF STAR WARS
R2-D2 is enough of a cultural icon that he has appeared repeatedly outside of the Star Wars franchise. He appeared on Sesame Street alongside his fellow droid C-3PO in 1979 and in 1980; in one episode, R2-D2 falls in love… with a fire hydrant. For these episodes, Kenny Baker did not play Artoo; instead, only the robotic version of Artoo was used, and he was credited as playing “himself” in the credits.
More recently, R2-D2, C-3PO, and BB-8 appeared at the Academy Awards in 2016 to honor composer John Williams. The young actor Jacob Tremblay (Room) took great interest in their appearance, standing from his chair in order to get a better look.
R2-D2 also visited the White House alongside some First Order stormtroopers for Star Wars Day on May 4, 2016 (Chosen for the pun “May the 4th be with you.”). R2-D2 met President Obama’s dogs, and danced with Barack and Michelle Obama.
13. HE’S INSPIRED REAL-LIFE ROBOTS
When Helen Grainer was ten years old, she saw Star Wars in theaters, and was inspired by R2-D2 to create robots of her own. The character truly stuck with Grainer over the years: she graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and went on to found iRobot, a company that builds an assortment of robots, including the famous Roomba vacuum which uses sensors to navigate by itself. iRobot also specializes in building robots for the military and police forces of the United States. Grainier is currently the CEO of CyPhyWorks, a company that creates robotic aerial drones.
A number of scientific inventors and pioneers have been inspired by the world of science fiction, and it is likely that R2-D2 has inspired countless other people to pursue careers in engineering, technology, and computer programming. Grainer is just one example of R2-D2’s influence, and she herself has cited how profound that influence was on her young ambitions.
12. MANY MODELS WERE USED FOR FILMING
There were only two R2-D2 models in the original Star Wars; one could fit Kenny Baker inside of it, and one could move via remote control. For The Empire Strikes Back (1980), there were eight models built: two fit Baker, two were remote control, and four were designed to be used in the Dagobah scene when Artoo is spit out by the creature in the swamp that tries to eat him. Tony Dyson also built R2-D2 molds for Empire so that future identical R2-D2 models could be made easily.
The number of R2-D2 models only increased. In Attack of the Clones (2002), there were fifteen different R2-D2 models.
For The Force Awakens, two R2-D2 fans, Lee Towersey and Oliver Steeples were given the task of recreating and bringing the famous droid to life. Towersey and Steeples, who are both members of the R2-D2 Builders Club, met Kathleen Kennedy at Celebration Europe. Kennedy recommended them to the film crew, and the pair were given the job. Their Artoo was the most advanced model yet, improving on the mechanics of the droid’s original design.
11. HE’S IN EVERY STAR WARS MOVIE (SO FAR)
R2-D2 has appeared in every Star Wars movie to date, including the seven major films, animated Clone Wars (2008) movie, and the Holiday special (1978); he has also appeared in the Clone Wars (2008) television series, the Rebels (2014) television series, and a number of Star Wars Legends stories in various mediums. Artoo and Threepio also appeared in a cartoon series called Star Wars: Droids (1985). Unsurprisingly, Artoo is also set to appear in Episode VIII.
Kenny Baker was credited with playing Artoo in all of the major films; both he and co-star Anthony Daniels (who played C-3PO) have said that Baker was not on set for Revenge of the Sith (2005) and that any footage that did include Baker in the Artoo unit was recycled from previous films. Baker did not appear in the Christmas special, and his services were not needed for R2-D2’s animated adventures. Actor Jimmy Vee will take over where Baker left off, starring as R2-D2 in the upcoming Episode VIII. At this time, it is unknown if R2-D2 will appear in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), but since his adventure begins where Jyn Erso’s leaves off (and Bail Organa is confirmed for a cameo), he could very easily appear in the film.
10. FIND HIM IN OTHER FILMS!
R2-D2 is so iconic that he has been used as a hidden easter egg in other films. He can be found on the underside of the Mother Ship in Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977); he was apparently placed there by special effects artist Dennis Muren, who worked on both films. Artoo’s likeness can also be seen in another Spielberg film, among the hieroglyphics in Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981); this image is pictured above and circled in red. Given that Spielberg and Lucas are close friends, it’s not surprising that R2-D2 appears in these movies.
More recently, R2-D2 has appeared (briefly) in J. J. Abrams’ Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) in ship explosions. You can also see him in Michael Bay’s Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen in the desert scene (2009). If you blink, you might miss him, but Artoo certainly knows how to make his way into a number of films.
9. GEORGE LUCAS HAS MANY INSPIRATIONS
George Lucas has named a number of inspirations for R2-D2. The three robots, known as Huey, Dewey, and Louie, from the film Silent Running (1972) are one inspiration; all three of these robots do not use human speech and are unable to talk.
However, another inspiration from a completely different genre of film, is Tahei and Matashichi, two Japanese peasants in the samurai film Hidden Fortress (1958) directed by Akira Kurosawa. The two clownish peasants, who act as the viewpoint of the audience, accidentally get embroiled in a rescue attempt of a princess. The two bumble and argue, but over the course of the film it becomes clear that they care about each other deeply. Tahei and Matashichi’s relationship mirrors that of Artoo and Threepio, and like the two peasants, the two droids are the first characters that the audience interacts with for a long period of time in Star Wars.
8. HIS NAME COMES FROM… AMERICAN GRAFFITI?
Walter Murch, the sound designer for American Graffiti (1973), claims that he was inadvertantly responsible for the creation of Artoo’s now-famous name. George Lucas directed American Graffiti while he was still developing the story and characters of Star Wars, and Murch has said that during the post-production of American Graffitti, Lucas was writing the script for Star Wars. While working on the sound mixing and editing for American Graffiti, Murch called out for the second dialogue reel, which had the abbreviated name “R2-D2″ short for “Reel Two, Dialogue Track Two”. George Lucas, overhearing Murch, quipped that it was a good name – if the story is true, then it’s clear that the name stuck with Lucas and influenced how he named other droids in the Star Wars universe, too. Lucas has never shared his own version of events, and he has neither confirmed or denied Murch’s story; however, Lucas is the sort that would speak up if someone tried to take credit for something Star Wars that they didn’t have a hand in.
7. BEN BURTT VOICED R2-D2
Sound designer Ben Burtt has talked about the process of trial and error that he had to go through in order to create R2-D2’s voice. Initially, Burtt used exclusively machine noises, but he felt that it lacked a range of emotions that the character of R2-D2 would need to express. Artoo wasn’t simply a machine; he was a multi-dimensional character who had thoughts, feelings, and motivations of his own. Burtt eventually combined his own voice, imitating the sounds of a baby, with machine and electronic noises; this blend of synthetic and organic created the perfect voice for Artoo, which fans have found endearing since first hearing him in the original Star Wars.
Burtt is a talented sound designer who is credited with creating other iconic Star Wars noises, including Darth Vader’s breathing and the sounds of lightsabers. He was so well-known as a robot vocalist, however, that he also created the voices of Wall-E and Eve for Pixar’sWall-E (2008).
6. HE’S A WAR HERO
In the Clone Wars animated television series, R2-D2 joined D-Squad, an elite droid-only task force. Alongside WAC-47 (a DUM-series pit droid like those in the podracing arena) and three fellow astromech droids U9-C4, QT-CT, and M5-BZ, Artoo was chosen for this special squad. The group, put together by Colonel Meebur Gascon, was given a recon mission to retrieve an encrpytion module from the Separatist forces. Over the course of four episodes, the droids, who all belonged to different Jedi involved in the Clone Wars, managed to work together and defeat their Separatist opponents.
Of course, this is one of many examples of the times that R2-D2 has saved his friends and the side that he is fighting for; however, this particular adventure also helps to illustrate how many of Artoo’s friends, from C-3PO to Luke Skywalker, don’t know the extent of his combat experience. It’s no surprise that he is ready to jump into action at the beginning of A New Hope.
5. HE’S HAD A NUMBER OF OWNERS
Over the years, R2-D2 has had a number of owners. The first owner appears to be the government of Naboo, and by extension, Queen Amidala. However, after she takes a personal liking to the droid, he remains her companion after she finishes her duties as queen. For a time, R2-D2 appears to be the droid of Anakin Skywalker, fighting and piloting alongside him in the Clone Wars. After Anakin goes to the dark side, R2-D2, along with C-3PO, end up in the service of Bail Organa and Captain Raymus Antilles.
Antilles is an active member of the Rebel Alliance, along with Bail Organa and his adoptive daughter, Leia. Captain Antilles appears in the opening of A New Hope – he’s the man who Vader chokes and lifts from the ground. R2-D2 and C-3PO have been in the service of Captain Antilles for nineteen years, which is why Threepio is so surprised when Artoo says that his owner is Obi-Wan Kenobi and references Captain Antilles as a previous owner.
When the quest to find Obi-Wan gets sidetracked, R2-D2 is briefly in the possesion of Uncle Owen and Luke Skywalker, although Artoo doesn’t seem to acknowledge Luke as his owner until after Obi-Wan’s death. He remains in the service of Luke Skywalker until he deactivates following Luke’s disappearance – that is, if you don’t count Jabba the Hutt as an owner in The Return of the Jedi. It’s unclear who Artoo’s owner is after he wakes up, but it’s presumably still Luke, although we may have to wait until Episode VIII to know for sure.
4. THERE’S A REASON WHY HE STOPS BEING ABLE TO FLY
Some fans were confused and even annoyed when R2-D2 was shown as flying in the prequel trilogy; after all, Artoo never flew in the original trilogy, and his jet boosters might have come in handy in a number of situations. However, as it turns out, by the time of the Galactic Civil War, R2-D2’s rocket thrusters, which he uses in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith as well as in the animated Clone Wars, had damaged – apparently, beyond repair.
In the children’s novelization of the film Return of the Jedi, titled Beware the Power of the Dark Side!, this originally fan-based theory was confirmed: Artoo’s rockets were no longer usable, and that’s “why” they don’t appear in the chronologically later movies. Since the children’s book is technically Star Wars canon under the new guidelines, it’s safe to say that R2-D2 would have flown if he could have. Of course, whether or not that is a satisfactory explanation is up to the fans…
3. IT’S UNCLEAR HOW OLD HE IS
R2-D2’s life before Episode I is completely unknown; his lifespan, past Episode VIII, is also a mystery for the time being. Since his memory has not been wiped over the course of the Star Wars series, he has seen the rise and fall of republics and empires, along with the deaths of many people who he considered friends. While Artoo’s canon life is unknown, in Star Wars Legends, he is still alive and kicking with Cade Skywalker some 130 years after the Battle of Yavin.
One fan theory has posited that R2-D2 kept and recorded all of the events of the Star Wars saga and relayed it to the Whills, who in turn wrote it in the Journal of Whills. This transmission became (in a metatheatrical way) the story that audiences in our galaxy have seen. Given R2-D2’s centrality in all of the Star Wars films, Artoo becomes the protagonist because the story is relayed through him.
2. HE’S A NICKNAME FOR REAL TECHNOLOGY
R2-D2 may not be real, but his name has been used as a nickname for not one but two impressive pieces of military technology. R2-D2 is the nickname for the military Phalanx CIWS, which is an advanced anti-ship missile system used by the US and British Navies as well as the US Coast Guard.
R2-D2 is also the nickname for the Nortronics NAS-14V2 Astroinertial Navigation System used on the SR-71 Blackbird; this device allows the Blackbird to navigate at speeds up to Mach 3 by using celestial positioning. The SR-71 was first used in the 1960s through the 1990s by the United States Air Force and by NASA.
Both of these namesakes are very fitting, since Artoo is known for helping to keep the shields up on ships in order to keep them safe, and he has acted as a co-pilot, helping to navigate both Anakin and Luke Skywalker’s fighters.
1. HE’S GEORGE LUCAS’S FAVORITE CHARACTER
R2-D2 is George Lucas’s favorite Star Wars character – the director and creator revealed his particular love for the droid during the commentary of Revenge of the Sith. Lucas also noted that because of how much he loved Artoo, he made sure that the droid saved the day at least once per film: in Phantom Menace, he brings up the shields on the Queen’s ship; in Attack of the Clones, he saves Padme’s life in the factory on Geonosis; in Revenge of the Sith, manages the elevator for Obi-Wan and Anakin; his mission in the first Star Wars helps the Rebels get the Death Star plans, and his hacking saves Luke, Han, and Leia from being crushed by the trash compactor; in Empire he fixes the hyperdrive of the Millenium Falcon; he hides Luke’s lightsaber in Return of the Jedi so that it can be used against Jabba’s henchmen – and finally, in The Force Awakens, R2-D2 awakens, with the map that Rey needs to find Luke. No doubt, R2-D2 is a true hero – maybe the true hero.