Perhaps no other character from the Star Wars cinematic universe has proven as constant and well appreciated as the R2 series astromech droid R2-D2, whose cylindrical shape, iconic blue and white aesthetic design, and instantly recognizable series of digital voice modulations has proven inseparable from the science-fiction franchise canon. After his first memorable appearance in the original Star Wars film of 1977, the constant companion and trusted little robot has proven a more than worthy friend and confidant to many a human master, including father and son duo Anakin Skywalker and Luke Skywalker, before finding himself in the employ of Genereal Leia Organa and the Resistance movement in last year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Many fans of the franchise might best remember the name of actor Kenny Baker whenever they think of the man who brought the little droid to life over the years since the character fist made its big screen debut nearly forty years ago, it was Tony Dyson who built some eight different versions of the R2 unit, including the one worn by Baker in the films. Without Dyson’s work behind the scenes, R2-D2 would not be such an immediately recognizable object of the Star Wars universe, which is why the man’s recent passing is so singularly tragic and bittersweet.
According to Variety, Dyson was found dead in his home on the Maltese island of Gozo according to several corroborating media reports, with no signs of foul play involved after his body was discovered by a few close friends after Dyson had remained missing for a few days. The local newspaper publication Times of Malta has since reported that the man is suspected to have died at the age of 68 of natural causes.
Before working on George Lucas’ A New Hope in 1977, Dyson worked for the White Horse Toy Company in the U.K., in addition to past partnerships with Sony, Philips, and Toshiba. While working with Lucas, Dyson based his eight initial R2-D2 models on the original designs provided by illustrator Ralph McQuarrie, with the help of special effects artist John Sears, and the final physical performance by Baker. Taking to his personal website before his death, Dyson remarked upon his years working in the film industry, which included roles on such films as Superman II, Dragon Slayer, and Moonraker, with special attention paid to his bringing R2-D2 to life. In reflection Dyson wrote:
“I can honestly say it was one of the most exciting periods of my life. The love for R2 is universal; no other Star Wars character has been loved over the years the way R2-D2 has. His merchandising has rocketed over the years and his influence in the world of robotics is truly remarkable.”
The world of Star Wars has lost an irreplaceable facet of its history and personal mythology with Dyson’s passing, though R2-D2 will live on to uphold the late model builder’s legacy well into perpetuity. It would be impossible to imagine a cinematic universe bereft of the former iconic character, and without the life’s work of Dyson the cinematic lexicon would have been amiss an irretrievable talent as well.