Dozens of droids will roll into the Los Angeles Convention Center this week for Star Wars Celebration IV, a convention saluting the 30th anniversary of the Star Wars saga. These robots won't be official Lucasfilm property, though. They're homemade droids built by fans with a little technical know-how and a lot of love for the movies. And these fans are going to share their expertise during the event, teaching others how to build their own R2-D2.
"I started building in earnest almost four years ago. It's taken that long to fabricate or secure the parts that I wanted," says Wayne Orr, a member of the R2-D2 Builders Club. "I wanted to build an all aluminum and steel droid, and that's exactly what I did. It weighs in at 220 pounds and has all kinds of animatronic features."
Founded in 1999 by Dave Everett, the club now totals more than 5000 members worldwide. They use the Web to research designs, share resources, and enjoy camaraderie as they build working, remote-controlled models of R2-D2 and other robots from the Star Wars movies.
"I'm a musician by trade and this is a big hobby of mine," says Orr. "I didn't know anything about remote control or fabricating parts at all. The R2 Builders Club on Yahoo was a great resource and help to me. Without it, I wouldn't have been able to complete my little buddy."
More than 100 members will make the trip to Celebration IV, bringing along more than 40 of their droids. In addition to putting their creations on display, the members of the club will pit them against each other in the Droid Races on May 25, pushing motors to the limit to see who’s got the fastest robot around. On May 27, participants in the XXtreme Droid Challenge will try to recreate some of R2-D2's finest moments from the movies. The event will close with the group's droid parade, winding its way through the Convention Center, on May 28.
Fans can make the jump from spectator to participant thanks to three panels also on tap for the convention. On May 26, "Budget Droid Building" will explain how R2-D2 can be yours for less than $1000 and more than a little elbow grease. Also on May 26, "Droid Building 101" will present the basics of remote control, materials, tools, and methods of robot construction. Then there's "Advanced Droid Building" on May 27, which will tackle advanced wiring and electronics, materials, tools, and motor automation.
"The big challenge is time," says Orr. "With a family, it becomes really necessary to prioritize your building time and make sure you have a plan before rushing into it. Some of the parts that are manufactured are very limited, and you don't want to screw them up by not knowing how to attach them or how they fit into a droid."
Don Bies, Lucasfilm's droid supervisor and operator of the "real" R2-D2, will be on hand too. As an honorary member of the club, he will head a panel of former Industrial Light and Magic employees to discuss the R2-D2s through the movies on May 26. Topics will range from the CGI R2-D2s that appeared on screen to the practical robots that can be found in theme parks around the world today.
Star Wars Celebration IV is scheduled for May 24-28. Check the convention schedule for details about R2-D2 Builders Club events and panels.
R2-D2 Builders Club
Star Wars Celebration IV