Playing R2-D2 is a lot harder than it looks. When Kenny Baker first climbed inside the droid “costume” for the original Star Wars, not only did he have to survive the extreme heat of Tunisia while essentially stuffed in a can, he also had to endure nuts and bolts digging peskily into his head. Luckily, George Lucas‘ budget increased for The Empire Strikes Back and they were able to afford foam padding to put inside the dome and spare Baker any further discomfort.
Over the course of six Star Wars movies, Baker developed quite a few tricks for making R2-D2 come alive. Baker was credited as a consultant on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and that would prove to be his final contribution to the saga. Last August, Baker passed away but fortunately he was first able to pass on his knowledge to the man who would take his place inside R2.
With R2-D2 getting over his PTSD and figuring to be a bigger part of the saga going forward, Disney had to find a new actor to portray the droid for Star Wars: The Last Jedi (and presumably beyond). It had been reported previously, but Oh So Small decided to make it official, announcing that Jimmy Vee has been tabbed to pick up the baton from the legendary Baker. Vee talked about learning the tricks of the droid trade from the master:
“It’s been an absolute pleasure to have worked alongside the legendary Kenny Baker. Kenny was a fantastic actor and taught me all the ‘tricks’ on how he brought R2-D2 to life which I will continue to portray in his honor. I’m so excited to be a part of the Star Wars universe and can’t wait for everyone to see what we’ve been working so hard on for the last year.”
Jimmy Vee has a lot of experience in sci-fi and fantasy, having appeared in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as well as several episodes of Doctor Who. Vee’s biggest role to date was as Lofty in 2015’s Pan, where he co-starred alongside Hugh Jackman, Rooney Mara and Amanda Seyfried. Obviously, taking on the role of R2-D2 vaults Jimmy Vee into a whole different galaxy. After playing R2, he’ll be able to make a living at conventions for the rest of his days.
R2-D2 has of course always been a central character in the Star Wars saga. In A New Hope, he was the droid entrusted with the precious Death Star plans, and also rode along with Luke Skywalker for the movie’s climactic space battle. In Empire, he accompanied Luke to Dagobah, nearly being drowned by a swamp monster, and then went on with Luke to Cloud City where he ended up saving the day by hacking into the door that allowed our heroes to get to the Falcon and escape. (And in the prequels, he flew around and… stuff.)
What do Rian Johnson and the gang have planned for R2-D2 in The Last Jedi? No doubt there will be a touching reunion with Luke. The relationship between Luke and R2 was one of the under-the-radar elements that made the original trilogy resonate, and let’s not forget the big part Kenny Baker played in making that friendship feel real. We’ll get to see what Jimmy Vee brings to the character when Star Wars: The Last Jedi arrives in theaters this December.
Source: Oh So Small