Star Wednesday: Kenny Baker’s Autograph

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I don’t own many autographed items. I have one Atari 2600 cartridge signed by the programmer (Yars’ Revenge, by Howard Scott Warshaw), a show brochure I had autographed by David Copperfield in the mid-1980s, and three books signed by their respective authors: hacker Kevin Mitnick, magicians Penn and Teller, and my writing professor, Deborah Chester.

The only other autographs that I have belong to people who appeared in Star Wars films. I have five action figures autographed by the people who played them in the films: David Prowse (Darth Vader), Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Anthony Daniels (C-3P0), and Kenny Baker (R2-D2).

The one thing all of these actors have in common is that they are primarily known for playing characters that wear masks. Several of them have cameos and appear as other characters within the films without their masks on (see Anthony Daniels below as Dannl Faytonni, who appeared on screen for just a few seconds in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones).

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For some, however, it was easier to find them unmasked outside the Star Wars universe. When Darth Vader was finally unmasked at the end of Return of the Jedi, it wasn’t David Prowse but rather Sebastian Shaw’s face that appeared. Shaw,not Prowse, also played Anakin Skywalker’s ghost at the end of the unedited original film. It wasn’t until I saw Clockwork Orange that I got my first glimpse of David Prowse acting without his mask and cape on (he plays the bodybuilding bodyguard that appears in the film).

When I was little I thought R2-D2 and C-3P0 were real robots, but it didn’t take long to figure out that C-3P0 — being the same shape and size as an average adult human — probably had a person inside that metal costume. But it didn’t dawn on me for years that there was a little person crouched down inside R2-D2 as well. I owned a remote controlled car as a kid and always assumed that R2-D2 was remote controlled, too. Over the years they’ve experimented with CGI versions and robotic versions of the droid, but looking back, you can see that the man inside that little blue and white astromech droid was actually performing.

It wasn’t until 1981’s Time Bandits that I got to see Kenny Baker actually perform without a silver dome covering his head. Here he is on the far left, standing proudly with a colander on his head… which, now that I think about it, looks a lot like a silver dome covering his head.

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In Flash Gordon and The Elephant Man, Kenny Baker simply played characters named “Dwarf,” but in Time Bandits, he was Fidgit, one of the bandits avoiding both the Supreme Being and evil incarnate as they traveled through time, robbing the rich to feed themselves.

From the moment I saw Kenny Baker in Time Bandits, I always thought of him every time I saw R2-D2 rolling around. I have no idea if he was cramped inside the droid’s body or how much he could see through the costume, but surely rolling around in the desert and on hot sets wasn’t comfortable.

You’re not likely to run into Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford or Carrie Fisher at a run-of-the-mill sci-fi convention, but that’s exactly what brought Kenny Baker to Oklahoma City back in June of 2001: the Sci-Fi Expo and Toy Show.

I think I already had my C-3P0 card signed prior to meeting Baker, so it seemed like the thing to do would be to stick with signed figures rather than 8×10 glossies or posters. I don’t recall what (if anything) the two of us said to one another as he signed my action figure. There were a lot of people in line in front of me and even more behind me. What I do remember is that he smiled, and was kind.

Kenny Baker passed away this past weekend, just a couple of weeks shy of his 82nd birthday. He is the second main cast member to pass away, following Sir Alec “Obi-Wan Kenobi” Guinness who passed away in 2000 at the age of 86.

Sometimes when watching films we see characters and sometimes we see the actors who portray them. It’s hard to watch Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon or O.J. Simpson in The Naked Gun and not think about their real life troubles. Even though we can’t see his face when R2’s dome spins or he emits an excited series of beeps and boops, I plan to make a point to think about Kenny Baker each time I see R2-D2 from now on, and I’ll keep this autographed figure hanging on the wall to remind me of him, too.

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