Star Wars droid builders roll out R2-D2, BB-8 and more to bring movies to life for kids of all sizes

Chris Lindsay, back right, operates his BB-8 droid at the Museum of Flight in Seattle on Saturday during a builders club event put on by Star Wars fanatics. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Well, these were certainly the droids people were looking for on a Saturday in Seattle.

Members of the Pacific Northwest R2 Builders Club gathered at the Museum of Flight and rolled out a large selection of their signature creations: working robots like those from several of the popular Star Wars films.

In the museum’s Great Gallery, where real-world flying machines loomed overhead, droids such as R2-D2, BB-8, R5-D4, R4-M9 and more rolled around on the ground and stopped kids and parents in their tracks.

Builders who belong to the 20-year-old club focus on life-size astromech droids, the most popular of which is R2-D2, the blue and silver beeping buddy of Luke Skywalker, first introduced in 1977’s “Star Wars: A New Hope.” Tutorials and blueprints are available online and many builders spend years crafting and tweaking droids. Some are made of wood or aluminum, and others are now assembled using 3D-printed plastic parts.

Droids assemble for a group photo in the Museum of Flight’s Great Gallery of aircraft. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

“Most of this stuff is done solo in your own garage or workshop, so this is a chance for us to get together and show people what we have and also interact with each other,” said Todd Maxfield-Matsumoto, a builder who started about six years ago with his oldest son.

He got the Star Wars bug early in life.

“I saw ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’ in the theater when I was almost 3, and we had to leave early because I couldn’t stop making Chewbacca sounds,” Maxfield-Matsumoto said. “It’s been a lifelong thing.”

When he’s not building cute robots, Maxfield-Matsumoto works as a mortician for Bonney-Watson.

(GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
Sarah Jane Huff and her husband Jesse Huff plan to build a 7-foot-tall K-2SO from the movie “Rogue One.” (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

His son was operating an R4-M9, which shows up in the beginning of “A New Hope” on Princess Leia’s ship, and they also built a green and white R2-A6, which was nearby.

Dozens of people interacted with the droids throughout the event. Moms and dads snapped pictures and watched as kids of varying sizes crouched to get a better look at characters they have seen in films.

Wearing orange and white BB-8 sneakers, Craig Lindsay was operating his lovable creation of the same color scheme — and stealing the show — nearby. The droid first appeared in the 2015 blockbuster “The Force Awakens.”

(GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Unlike the other droids on display Saturday, BB-8 is unique because he doesn’t move on wheeled “feet,” but rather rolls across the floor with his head spinning atop a spherical body. Despite seeing it happen in the film, fans still couldn’t believe it worked and asked Lindsay how he did it.

“It’s magic!” he said. “Actually, it’s magnets. But they’re magic!”

Lindsay, who works for a software company in Seattle, 3D printed BB-8 after his wife heard a story on NPR and encouraged him to teach their daughter about STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).

Chris Lindsay’s BB-8 sneakers next to his BB-8 droid. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

“It took me nine months to build it and get it rolling, and there have been many improvements … and fixes after shows like this,” he said, watching little kids put their hands on the droid and try to hug it. “There are things that happen with the head and children. Sometimes you have to reprint the head.”

With a group of small kids huddled around BB-8 on the floor, Lindsay said they forget that an adult is anywhere nearby operating the thing, saying that it “brings the movies to life.” But he has to stay close in case someone tries to pull the droid’s head off.

“I often carry baby wipes because the reaction is so positive from kids,” Lindsay said. “They all walk up to it and hug it and sometimes kiss it. I’m like, ‘You know this thing rolls around the ground. You shouldn’t kiss it.’”

(GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Ian Martin, a web applications developer, was drawing a crowd with his droid, too, a R5-D4. That droid almost belonged to Luke in the “A New Hope,” but when it blew up he selected R2-D2 instead.

Using a PlayStation controller to operate R5-D4, Martin opened flaps and extended assorted utility arms and gadgets that he also 3D printed. He said the machine had 36 servomotors inside performing a number of tasks.

With the push of a button, a vintage-looking trading card emerged from a slot with the droid’s picture on it and specifications spelled out on the back. Another button, and R5-D4 dropped a plastic egg from its backside. Inside was a Lego minifigure version of the droid.

A trading card emerges from an R5-D4 droid. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Like many of the builders, Joe Marzocca also belongs to the 501st Legion, an organization of Star Wars fans who dress as characters for various events and charity causes. When he’s not a stormtrooper, he’s been working on a droid for about a year and was sitting behind a table full of parts that will go into building an all-aluminum R2 unit.

He figured it will take about $14,000 to get his version of a droid up and running, and depending on what type of battery he uses, it will weigh close to 200 pounds.

Droid builder Christina Kato and her 3D-printed BB-8. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Christina Kato, another costumer with the 501st, works on sneakers for Nike in Oregon, and she started building droids four years ago.

“I had never seen a full-size droid before,” Kato said. “I didn’t know people built them, I didn’t know that was a thing at all.”

Her BB-8 is 100-percent 3D printed, and the body took about three weeks to complete.

“I love 3D printing, I’ve got several at home,” she said. “I learned how to 3D print because of BB-8.”

“This has been a really fun ride. I’ve had so many crazy opportunities because of the building,” she said, adding that she does a lot of charity work that involves visits to schools and hospitals. “It’s an amazing experience to be a builder.”

A Mouse Droid rolls around on the floor. The tiny robot showed up in a Star Wars film and got screamed at by Chewbacca. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

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