Making your own functioning R2-D2 is a labor of love
Last year at CES, I remember seeing a life-size, fully functioning R2-D2 unit (minus the Leia hologram, sadly). I assumed it was hired out from a professional movie props unit or something similar; now I’m not so sure. Walking around SX Create — the maker faire section at SXSW — I bumped into not one, but two equally well-made replicas only to find they were handmade. In fact, there’s an entire club — funnily enough, called R2-D2 Builders — dedicated to making them. What’s more, the models I saw were built using a veritable menagerie of weird and wonderful items, including a good old lazy susan. But that doesn’t mean building your own R2 comes cheap, or is a project for the feint-hearted.
Jamie McChan from the Central Texas charter of R2-D2 Builders explained how he made his. First of all, you’re going to need deep pockets and an understanding family. His R2 (they also make R5s and other iconic droids from the franchise) cost him a relationship-testing $8,000 and two years of dedication. McChan says that figure can reach nearer $10,000 if you want to upgrade the finish with more aluminum parts. You also can’t cheap on the wood. A typical R2D2 weighs in at around 150lbs, which requires Baltic birch to stop the force of gravity from reducing it to parts even the Jawa couldn’t sell.
While it might be a costly hobby, it’s not one without rewards. McChan told me that the club mitigates some of the cost by grouping together to buy in bulk. Even then, the aluminum dome alone can set you back $5-600. Of course, when you’ve invested so much time and money, you end up with an R2 that’s good enough to pass for something from a Hollywood props department. McChan says he’s even had his R2 at events with NASA and in front of Lucas himself — they also feature them at shows like ComicCon as additional ways to support the habit. When they’re not doing that, they take them to charity events and children’s hospitals. Something we’re sure even Rylo Ken would approve of.
Just met this guy at SXSW. #SXSW #sxsw16 #R2D2 #starwars #ENGADGETSXSW
A video posted by James Trew (@thatstrew) on Mar 11, 2016 at 10:05am PST