The Sideshow

How to build your own R2D2

Eric Pfeiffer
The Sideshow

View photo

.

R2D2 greets the crowd at this year's Wondercon (Eric Pfeiffer/Yahoo)

ANAHEIM, Calif. - The power of the Force may be elusive outside the fictional Star Wars universe but fans of R2D2 can take home their very own astromech droid if they have the time and money to build it.

Inside the halls of Wondercon 2013, hundreds of potential droid crafters waited in line to hear from a panel belonging to the R2D2 Builders Club, a group of hobbyists who have been assembling their own functional Star Wars robots out of aluminum, plastic and even wood since 1999.

But how much time and money does it take to build a bleeping and whirling R2 lookalike?

"That's the magic question," said Victor Franco, who has been building his own droids for over a decade. "It's the one question you don't want your spouse to know the answer to."

And the answer varies, depending on just how detailed and capable you want your droid to be, with the final price ranging from as little as $500 up to $10,000.

"The average cost is a little over $5,000," Franco said. "A single small aluminum part can cost $100. It's not for the faint of heart."

So, if you really want to join the club and build your own remote-controlled R2D2 all you need is some money, a lot of time and some ingenuity. Based on a survey of the panel members, it takes anywhere from 4 to 16 months to build a R2 unit.

Not surprisingly, a large variety of parts and electronics go into replicating one of the droids, with potential parts including plywood, aluminum, resin, styrene, transmitters and receivers speed controller servo motor and circuits.

Some R2D2 replicas have functional parts, like paneling that shoots out from the droid reminiscent of a scene from "The Empire Strikes Back" when the little droid's circuits become overloaded.

"There's no one way to make an R2 unit," said fellow R2 builder William Miyamoto. "The plus side of using plastic is you pretty much can just use an cacti knife and glue."

At the other end of the spectrum, a finished R2 unit made from aluminum can weight more than 200 pounds and forces the creators to decide if they want their droid to be remote controlled or less mobile.

"I did run over a kid once," deadpanned Chris Romines.

But the four R2 builders said it is a project worth both their time and money. And when a droid is complete, it is almost immediately put into service, appearing at conventions and events for children. The droids have even starred in television commercials for companies like Verizon and ESPN and cruised across the red carpet at movie premiers.

They've even been recruited by Lucasfilm to display their creations at official Star Wars events.

When a pair of the hand crafted R2 units took to the stage on Friday at Wondercon, they were greeted with a wave of "oohs and ahhs" normally reserved for cute animal videos, or small children performing adorable tricks.

"I was poor when I was a kid, so I took my toys apart and put them back together," R2 builder Mike Senna said of how he first became inspired to join the R2 club. And like a select few of his contemporaries, Senna has taken his robot building hobby to the next level, having created replicas outside the Star Wars universe, such as Wall-E.

The R2-D2 Builders Club had humble beginnings when creator Dave Everett first launched the club as a Yahoo group, posting the blueprints showing how other aspiring builders could follow his lead.

Today, the club has thousands of members around the world and brought dozens of their robots to the most recent, annual Star Wars Celebration event.

"At the Star Wars Celebration we even have droid races, including a mouse droid race," said Michael McMaster. "But when I started I was electronics illiterate. But that's part of the beauty of our club -- someone will find a part for you, point you in the right direction or even help you build it."

View Comments (283)