Very sad news for film historians and Star Wars fans everywhere today.
On a given movie, there will always be people whose names you know—the directors, the writers, the actors, sometimes the cinematographers or editors or production designers, etc. But there are, obviously, hundreds of other people working on a film who don’t get recognized. Sometimes until, sadly, they pass away. Professor Tony Dyson is one of those unsung heroes. Dyson, who built the original eight R2-D2 droids for the Original Trilogy, has died at the age of 68.
Based on the conceptual designs by the legendary Ralph McQuarrie, Dyson was the man who actually built them and made them functional. On top of the several he built for different purposes in the films, he built four main control units of R2, two with a chair and gears inside for actor Kenny Baker to sit in and operate, and two that were used in the swamps of Dagobah (since the actor obviously couldn’t sit inside the droid submerged in water).
Dyson owned and operated The White Horse Toy Company and also built props for a number of other films during the period. He created 36 model spacemen with backpacks, spacesuits, and laser guns for the ridiculous(ly fun) climactic space battle in the James Bond film Moonraker; he built models for Superman II; he built the 35 feet of human intestines for a dream sequence in the trippy Ken Russell film Altered States; he worked on the large, mechanical dragon used in the Disney film Dragonslayer; and he designed the robot and directed all of the effects scenes in the nutso sci-fi chiller Saturn 3. The man is legend!
Still, for all of those great feats, it’s R2-D2 and his iconic shape and operation that has stood the test of time. How many countless DIYers have built their own version of the little blue droid to be screen accurate? And not only did Dyson have to build it, but he did so several times over, and in such a fashion that someone could sit inside it and actually give the character life. Dyson’s work was honored properly when R2-D2 was one of the first droids inducted into Carnegie Mellon University’s Robot Hall of Fame.
The next time you watch A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, and you see R2-D2 trundling along the desert or traversing the quagmire, remember the brilliant and iconic work of Prof. Dyson, whose name should now be among the pantheon of Star Wars legends.
Images: Lucasfilm/Tony Dyson
Kyle Anderson is the Weekend Editor and a film and TV critic for Nerdist.com. Follow him on Twitter!