It’s hard to know the year as I’ve no clue how behind the trend Blackpool was, but at the end of the Blackpool Illuminations there is a stretch called the tableaus, and when I was a kid there was one tableau that I looked forward to more than any other, namely the Star Wars one. I’m going to guess at 1978 or 79, certainly pre Empire Strikes Back, and it was a full size X Wing Fighter mounted in flight, with C-3PO and R2-D2 stood in front. One year it simply wasn’t there any more, and I found out much later that it had been destroyed when storms had battered the sea front.
I was told that it had all been blown into the sea, which turned out to be nonsense as I managed to locate some old pictures showing the damage, but that’s by the by, it never returned. I used to will my Dad to drive extra slow past it so I could take it all in, but it always passed far too soon, and I had to temper my frustrations by building it again at home using my action figures.
This is post storm damage. Clearly.
At some point, my Grandad agreed to get the tram with me down to that end of the illuminations in the daytime, so I could go and have a proper look at it. I reckon most of us can only remember a few key moments from childhood, but I remember the excitement of approaching those statues to this day, I remember there being a moment of panic when it seemed that we couldn’t actually get within touching distance of them, and the relief when we worked out a way right up to them. My memory may distort this somewhat in that I recall them being exactly like they appeared in the movie, which photographic evidence now proves they most certainly were not, but they absolutely blew my mind. I stared at them for an age, and craved ownership, particularly of R2-D2. One day I would work out a way of making one, and have it in my house. That was where it started. It was entirely plausible. There was a silver mixing bowl that was dome shaped in the kitchen at home, and I could paint the rest onto it, shove it on top of a painted dustbin (I had no concept of proportion), and the legs would be made from…Well, I’d work the legs out. One day, that would be how I would make it.
So we fast forward to 1992, and I was down in London on a visit from the north. I’d been to Hamleys and lost my shit at the Screamin’ Vinyl Star Wars statues that were displayed in a glass case there, promising myself that I’d get the Darth Vader one at some point, despite the lofty £67 price tag, and I had another eye on the C-3PO one too which came in slightly cheaper at £55. There was no sign of an R2-D2 model though, and I remembered how much I still wanted a 1:1 replica of that little droid (he’s actually deceptively large, but that’s another story). We wandered down towards Picadilly Circus, my head still thinking about the stunning statues I had just seen and my R2-D2 owning fantasy provoking all manner of model making opportunities. Could make the whole thing out of wood maybe? Papier Mache? Was that plausible? Could tin foil be kept creaseless so the dome would stay reflective? We got to Planet Hollywood, to the corner window, and holy shit would you look at that…
R2-D2 and C-3PO. Life size. Stood before me for the first time since my Grandad sneaked me up to those effigies on the Illuminations Tableau years previously. I was simultaneously elated and crushed. We were separated by a window but I was right in front of them, I could make out every detail, and there was no chance I was making either of these characters to that standard. Wouldn’t know where to start. I was suddenly very aware of the amount of detailing on them, suddenly the simple front of R2-D2’s body was a maze of shapes and indentations and intricate paints of different colours. The legs didn’t just have a blue stripe down the side, that was really how I imagined it in my minds eye, despite the numerous rewatchings of the Star Wars films. There were tubes on his feet. Had they always been there? The only way this was ever going to end up in my house short term was if I smashed this window and managed to get this one away quick, I couldn’t possibly construct this myself. Obviously in the future I would be a multi-millionaire as so could just buy one of the originals, but for the time being I was gutted.
Only pic on the internet of that. Don’t know who the bloke is but he shouldn’t be there.
We fast forward again, now to 2016. Over the years I had gotten into the habit in my fantasy ebay searches of typing in “lifesize Star Wars”, just to see what it threw up. For the most part it was replica props, or those awful Jar Jar Binks statues that were in every cinema foyer around the release of The Phantom Menace, but occasionally you’d see somebody selling a home made R2 dome (that usually left a great deal to be desired). I was never once tempted to buy one, I think I had given up on that being a permanent fixture in my abode. I’d toyed with buying the often-listed Stormtrooper armour they regularly have on there, and shoving it all on a mannequin, but had never got round to it. When the Art of Star Wars exhibition visited the UK in 2002 I was again up close and personal with a full size R2 (again separated by glass), an original from the first movie. The detailing mocked me again. It’s a hugely deceptive little droid. If you look at the three horizontal blue bars on this ‘chest’ you don’t even consider the logical nightmare of getting them in there, but when you look at an original prop up close you can see every scuff and shortcut that the workshop will have had to make to put that thing together. Safe to say that anything but an extreme close up wouldn’t have had the meticulous hours put into the prop.
Last year, I’d seen several announcements of an impending 1:1 replica of R2-D2 from Sideshow Collectibles, and had started to think about having him in my house again. I’d mentally justified spending a grand on it. It would probably be anything up to that, and even though that would take a chunk out of my bank account, I had always wanted it right? It was something I was going to have when I was a grown up, and surely I was a grown up by now? I googled it. Found the pictures, looked great, couldn’t find the price. Then I did. I think the first price I found was $5000, but people always listed them stupid high for pre-orders hoping to catch some rich lunatic unawares. Then I found another, roughly the same price, and another, then some higher… none of them were saying £999 which I had reluctantly bartered myself up to agreement on. I wasn’t getting it. Again. I was never going to own that. I bet whoever could afford it wouldn’t even be a Star Wars fan. Not a real one. Deflated yet again.
Now, If you follow me on Twitter you will by now know there is a 1:1 R2-D2 in my possession, I’ve tweeted little else in recent times. I wanted to give the back story, as I am clearly proud of making this droid, but I wanted to express why it has been such a big deal to me to make it and make it well. So with that done, here’s the story of how I made it…
I found a company who were able to mould the myriad of pieces that make up an Astromech droid up in the North East, and after a series of back and forth negotiations arrived at a really good price if I picked it up from them. The day before I was due to drive up there, my friend Barry Dodds was telling me that he had a daft drive that weekend to do a gig up in Stockton-On-Tees, and I told him that was near where I was going. He agreed to go and pick it up for me, saving me a drive, petrol, and providing me with a hugely entertaining story of how he thought he was going to be killed driving around an industrial estate at midnight.
Within 48 hours I had all the pieces in my workshop, now I just had to stick them all together and paint it. I thought. Problem is, moulded pieces don’t come out of the mould ready to paint. Matter of fact they are generally a tip. At this stage I had next to no tools, bar a mini drill/saw thing that I’d bought in hobbycraft years ago. I found out very quickly that wouldn’t cut the mustard. Or the droid.
The trick was going to be to take this slow. If I started to feel myself rush I was to stop. I remembered the close-up flaws on the original model from The Art Of Star Wars Exhibition and wanted mine to be suitable for discerning inspection. I wasn’t planning to weather it either (dirty it up to look “lived in”), so it really needed attention to detail.