[Star Wars fans were saddened to learn today of the passing of Kenny Baker at age 81. His long list of credits include Labyrinth, Time Bandits, and even Amadeus, but every piece ever written about him will focus on his longtime career as the soul of R2-D2. We previously told the story of the one time Anne and I met him, in 2002 at Star Wars Celebration II here in Indianapolis. If memory serves, he was the first Star Wars actor we ever met. The following is a modified reprise for the occasion.]
When the exhibit hall doors opened at 9 a.m. fans from the front, middle, and back of the line all bum-rushed the doors at the same time. Much yelling and tension ensued. It had been a long, long weekend for everyone. Patience and several other virtues were wearing thin.
We had to start with Kenny Baker’s line because Anne promised my son she’d get him R2D2’s autograph. The line took 2½ hours because first he had to catch up on hundreds of pre-purchased autograph requests before he could turn to us in-person beings who were ready to come up and meet him. Baker carefully signed his full name in legible cursive on each photo at an average speed of 10.78 seconds per autograph according to my measurements, which is much longer than the autographing industry standard of .05 seconds per unreadable squiggle. Eventually live humans were allowed to approach, but he didn’t have time to look up from the table because of all that intensive autographing. Regardless of what sort of paycheck he and the Mrs. had at stake, such a long, dull, repetitive task would require immense patience to carry out without snapping or taking breaks after every tenth signature. He certainly exhibited more calm and composure than us weary, cranky fans.
Baker played Artoo in the first six Star Wars films, but would later be credited only as an “R2-D2 Consultant” in the Star Wars: The Force Awakens end credits, probably his final role in the Lucasfilm universe. My son’s R2-D2 autograph, which we framed and had in his bedroom for years, was left behind when he moved up to college, but now stands in our library as a souvenir and tribute to Baker’s legacy of bringing life and spirit to an underestimated droid with a plucky heart.