Baker, who was just 3 feet 8 inches tall (112 centimetres) due to a form of dwarfism, passed away on Saturday (13Aug16) after a long illness.

The filmmaker remembered the late actor in a touching statement following his death. "Kenny Baker was a real gentleman as well as an incredible trooper who always worked hard under difficult circumstances," Lucas said.

"A talented vaudevillian who could always make everybody laugh, Kenny was truly the heart and soul of R2-D2 and will be missed by all his fans and everyone who knew him."

Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy added, "We’re all saddened to learn of Kenny’s passing. There is no Star Wars without R2-D2, and Kenny defined who R2-D2 was and is. He will be greatly missed."

Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars trilogy, wrote on Twitter after news of Baker's death broke, "Goodbye #KennyBaker A lifelong loyal friend - I loved his optimism & determination He WAS the droid I was looking for!"

Born in Birmingham, England, the star's small size saw him cast by Star Wars director Lucas as R2-D2 in the original 1977 film, with Kenny placed inside the robot and operating it from within.

He reprised the role in both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, as well as the Star Wars prequel films, playing R2-D2 for the last time in the 2005 instalment Revenge of the Sith.

Baker also starred in a number of other much loved films, including classic children's adventure comedy The Goonies, Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits and another science-fiction blockbuster, Flash Gordon.

His agent told the Press Association on Saturday, "He will be sadly missed." He added Baker had been ill for a couple of years, and had been cared for by his nephew.

Ewan MCGregor, who played Obi-Wan Kenobi in the three prequel films of the sci-fi trilogy, wrote on Twitter, "So sorry to hear about this. It was lovely working with Kenny."

Boba Fett actor Daniel Logan said, "So sad to hear one of my dearest friends passed away. Rest in peace Kenny Baker. Love you. Will miss you!" while Lord of the Rings star Dominic Monaghan tweeted, "You left your legendary marks #KennyBaker #rip to a lovely gent and a fantastic legacy. @starwars."

Director Kevin Smith, who is a huge Star Wars fan, paid a touching tribute to the diminutive actor on social media. "Rest in Peace @starwars legend #KennyBaker - whose name I learned at age 7 because he brought #R2D2 to life. Feels like losing family..." he posted on Twitter.

British director and filmmaker Edgar Wright also tweeted, "RIP R2D2. Farewell Fidget, Time Bandit. Goodbye Mister Kenny Baker."

Baker's niece told the Guardian on Saturday, "It was expected, but it’s sad nonetheless. He had a very long and fulfilled life. "He brought lots of happiness to people and we’ll be celebrating the fact that he was well loved throughout the world. We’re all very proud of what he achieved in his lifetime."