Endearing and stubborn, R2-D2 is without doubt one of the most beloved characters in Stars Wars. Since its very first appearance in 1977, it has never ceased to conquer the hearts of the public.
Its original looks, courage and personality have made this robot an iconic figure in the saga. In this article, we zoom in on its achievements, history and features.
Which character was R2-D2 inspired by?
The R2-D2 robot from Star Wars was inspired by Huey, Dewey and Louie from the 1972 film Silent Running. These characters represent robotic worker bees, communicating by whistling.
To create the R2-D2 character in Star Wars, George Lucas was inspired by the animation mechanism of these worker robots, their language and the evolution of their personality. It’s worth noting that in Silent Running, the bees develop a certain form of consciousness as they come into contact with the main character.
The concept? Go beyond the simple status of tools and give these robots a real presence alongside the saga’s key characters.
Where does the name R2-D2 come from?
The name R2-D2 was born during a work session for the film American Graffiti. By pure chance, editor Walter Murch had used the abbreviation R2-D2 for “Reel 2, Dialog Track 2”. This literally translated as “Soundtrack 2, Dialogue 2”. Seduced by the name, George Lucas incorporated it directly into the Star Wars script.
He then incorporated the name into the story to give it meaning within the context of the saga’s universe. The first part of the name “R2” refers to the second model of Industrial Automaton’s R-series astro-mechanical droids, hence the name R2.
The actual size of R2-D2
R2-D2 is an egg-shaped droid, measuring around 0.96 meters in height. Its size and appearance are the few features it has in common with the other R2 series robots.
This R2 series marked the first steps towards small-scale astro-mechanics. With greater flexibility of movement, this format enabled R2 units to be mounted on starfighters.
The cast of R2-D2
Behind the droid R2-D2 was a talented British actor: Kenny Baker. The diminutive robot played the role of the robot in the first six episodes of the saga. Thanks to his suit’s integrated control mechanisms, Baker could literally bring the droid to life and transmit his emotions through the screen.
However, the physical constraints imposed by the costume had made the performance grueling for the actor. As the saga progressed, a remote control system was developed.
Kenny Baker, who died on August 13, 2016, was replaced by Jimmy Vee from Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens onwards. But with the help of the remote control system and computer-generated images, the latter was only present in a few scenes.
R2-D2: a versatile robot
R2-D2 is an astromech droid, designed to provide technical support and carry out maintenance tasks on board spaceships. The many skills and functionalities developed by this robot through its adventures make it an exceptional companion.
This overview of some of its equipment demonstrates the complexity and richness of its capabilities:
- Retractable arms;
- Repair tools (oil injector, clamp arm, fusion cutter, small circular saw);
- Computer interfaces ;
- Fast-moving thrusters;
- Holographic projector and recorder;
- An electromagnetic field sensor ;
- Fire extinguisher ;
- An electromagnetic feed arm ;
- Two turbines ;
- One computer connection port ;
- Electric pick;
- Circular saw;
- Internal comlink;
- A smoke diffuser ;
- A tow rope ;
- A memory for storing media and disks.
R2-D2’s functionality goes beyond that of a simple R2 unit, as Anakin Skywalker himself had added additional skills to ensure its autonomy.
R2-D2’s personality development over the years
R2-D2’s personality made him irreplaceable. Ready to do anything to protect those he considers friends, his loyalty is unshakeable. His courage is also exemplary, as he doesn’t hesitate to face dangerous situations to accomplish his missions.
Sometimes stubborn, R2-D2 develops the ability to think independently and act according to his own judgments. His special relationship with the Skywalker family has greatly contributed to his evolution.
R2-D2: a robot with a complex language
R2-D2’s language consists mainly of chirps and electronic noises. Sound designer Ben Burtt developed this form of communication on an ARP 2600 analog synthesizer.
To achieve this particular sound, he recorded and mixed his own sighs, grunts, coos and whistles. It’s astonishing to think that a simple collection of noises can convey emotions and feelings. But that’s exactly what Ben Burtt achieves with R2-D2.
R2-D2 and C-3PO: A legendary duo
Present in most Star Wars episodes, R2-D2 and C-3PO are one of the saga’s most popular duos. While C-3PO is known for his sensitivity and talkativeness, R2-D2 is known for his recklessness. Their very special personalities have often created moments of laughter and emotion throughout the saga. Their relationship is based on solid friendship and mutual trust, even though they have little in common.
If this friendship has lasted so long, it’s mainly because R2-D2 and C-3PO have shared many adventures. The duo also witnessed the rise and fall of many of their friends. They also experience the same curse of eternity: that of seeing their loved ones and everything they knew gradually disappear.
R2-D2 and C-3PO were both unplanned in the first version of the Star Wars script.
Key events in the history of R2-D2
R2-D2 has had many adventures. He took part in many of the saga’s battles. Here are a few key facts about the droid.
Assistance at the Battle of Naboo
R2-D2 makes his first appearance in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. In this episode, he helps repair Queen Amidala’s ship, which has been damaged by the Trade Federation.
Support for the destruction of the Death Star/Black Star
In Star Wars Episode IV, Princess Leia was captured by Empire troops led by Darth Vader. She was later imprisoned aboard the Death Star. Later, the crew of the Millennium Falcon free the princess, thanks to the intervention of R2-D2, who was able to locate her in the Death Star.
Before her capture, the princess managed to entrust the plans for the space station, the empire’s ultimate weapon, to her faithful droid R2-D2. The latter is entrusted with the mission of transmitting the stolen Death Star plans to Obi-Wan Kenobi. A task he accomplishes brilliantly, enabling the Rebel Alliance to destroy the space station.
Meet Luke Skywalker
R2-D2 and C-3PO have been bought by Luke Skywalker and Owen Lars on Tatooine. Since that first meeting with the son of his former adventuring companion, Anakin Skywalker, R2-D2 has grown fond of Luke Skywalker, helping him in his quest to become a Jedi.
R2-D2: the star droid of popular culture
With its sober appearance, limited language, versatility and distinctive personality, R2-D2 is a blend of classicism and uniqueness. It’s this simple yet heroic character that appeals so much to fans of the saga. Fascination with this robot has even led some fans to develop robotic innovations.
R2-D2 has become a classic sci-fi character, and is mentioned many times on screen outside Star Wars. For example, it makes a brief appearance in the Star Trek films, directed in 2009 and 2013 by J. J. Abrams, and in the saga Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark, in the form of hieroglyphs.