R2-D2

Star Wars Character Profile

R2-D2
R2-D2. Image Gallery. Lucasfilm Ltd.

R2-D2 (or Artoo-Detoo, spelled out phonetically) is an astromech droid, a type of robot that usually served as a mechanic and backup computer for small spaceships. Astromechs cannot speak; they communicate with electronic beeps through an interpreter droid or computer. The fact that R2-D2 cannot directly express himself may have helped him fly under the radar and avoid frequent memory wipes, which in turn allowed him to develop a distinct, eccentric personality.

R2-D2 in the Prequels

Sometime before 32 BBY, the droid manufacturing company Industrial Automation created R2-D2 as part of the R2 series of astromech droids. He was purchased and modified by the Royal Engineers of Naboo and served aboard Queen Amidala's Royal Starship. R2-D2's quick repairs allowed Amidala to escape during the Trade Federation's blockade of Naboo in 32 BBY. He first met his future counterpart, the protocol droid C-3PO, when the ship made an emergency landing on Tatooine.

When Padmé Amidala became a Senator, she took R2-D2 with her. She later gave the droid to her husband, Anakin Skywalker, after he became a Jedi Knight. R2-D2 served as the maintenance droid for Anakin's starfighter during much of the Clone Wars. Although it was protocol to wipe droids' memories regularly, Anakin let R2-D2 accumulate information and knowledge without a memory wipe so he would become better at his job.

This nearly put the Republic at risk when R2-D2 fell into enemy hands.

After the end of the Clone Wars in 19 BBY, Obi-Wan Kenobi entrusted R2-D2 and C-3PO -- along with Anakin and Padmé's daughter Leia -- to Alderaan Senator Bail Organa. The droids were forced to escape when pirates attacked the Tantive IV and spent the next few years traveling with a succession of different masters, including speeder jockey Thall Joben and explorer Mungo Baobab.

R2-D2 in the Original Trilogy and Beyond

At some point, R2-D2 and C-3PO found their way back to the Tantive IV, where they served under Princess Leia. In 0 BBY, they accompanied Leia on a mission to Tatooine to contact Obi-Wan Kenobi. When the Empire attacked, Leia hid the plans to the Death Star, a new Imperial superweapon, inside R2-D2.

The droids escaped to the planet's surface, where they were captured by Jawas and sold to the moisture farmer Owen Lars, and his nephew, Luke Skywalker. Knowing that Obi-Wan was nearby, R2-D2 showed part of Leia's recording to Luke, enticing him to remove the restraining bolt that kept the droid from escaping. This allowed R2-D2 to escape, seeking out Obi-Wan on his own.

R2-D2 eventually reunited with Leia when Luke rescued her from the Death Star, with the help of Han Solo and Chewbacca. During the rest of the Galactic Civil War, R2-D2 primarily served as the mechanic droid for Luke's X-wing fighter. He later went with Luke to the new Jedi Academy on Yavin 4. After Luke was exiled in 43 ABY, R2-D2 left his service and returned to Leia. Passed down from generation to generation, he eventually came to serve Luke's descendant Cade Skywalker in 137 ABY.

R2-D2's Personality

Some droids are programmed with personalities, but others will begin to develop one if they go long enough without a memory wipe. R2-D2 avoided memory wipes since at least 19 BBY, when Anakin Skywalker owned him, and as a result became quite stubborn and eccentric. At one point, he even refused to show recordings of Anakin and Padmé -- even knowing how long Luke had been searching for the truth about his mother -- in an attempt to protect Luke and Leia.

Because R2-D2 can only communicate in beeps and whistles, however, the full extent of his personality doesn't always come across. C-3PO spends much of his time mitigating R2-D2's rude comments and dismissing his useful insights, while Luke seems to frequently humor the droid, perhaps not realizing the extent of R2-D2's personality development.

One of the few places where R2-D2's speech is actually translated appears in Enemy Lines II: Rebel Stand by Aaron Allston and gets the point across fairly quickly:

"YOUR FACIAL FEATURE SET SUGGESTS THAT YOU DO NOT HAVE THE INTELLIGENCE TO RETAIN MY NAME FOR MORE THAN A NANOSECOND. IT IS EVIDENT THAT YOU HAVE BEEN TAUGHT TO REPEAT SOUNDS YOU HAVE HEARD AND THAT YOU UNDERSTAND NEITHER THE WORDS YOU HEAR NOR THE ONES THAT EMERGE FROM YOUR MOUTH."

R2-D2 Behind the Scenes

In creating the early scripts for Star Wars, George Lucas took inspiration from Japanese samurai films. R2-D2 and C-3PO were inspired by Akira Kurosawa's film The Hidden Fortress (1958), which uses two peasants as comic narrators for a historical adventure about the upper classes.

R2-D2 was portrayed by actor and comedian Kenny Baker in the Star Wars films. Lucas needed someone small to fit inside the robot and maneuver it; Baker, who is 3 feet 8 inches tall, got the part "because I was the smallest guy they'd seen up until then." A separate R2-D2 model, used for scenes when the droid is moving, was controlled via remote. About 18 different R2-D2 models appear in the Prequel Trilogy, as well as CGI for scenes of the droid flying and walking up stairs.

Sound designer Ben Burtt called creating R2-D2's voice "the toughest challenge" he faced in the Star Wars films. He eventually created a mix of electronic noises and himself speaking in baby talk. The addition of a human voice helps the emotion come across in R2-D2's expressions, even if he has no words.