GILFORD — Movie houses will likely be packed today and into the weekend for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The Powers family plans to be among the crowds, though they have a unique relationship with the franchise, all thanks to a dream that Dana Powers had eight years ago.
Powers, like many his generation, was a fan of the original Star Wars trilogy when he was growing up, but his young fascination didn't move past the collection of a few action figures. In 2007, then a father of a three year-old, he decided to dress up as a Jedi knight for Halloween, and gave his son Jesse a matching costume. Afterward, he said, "I had a dream about building an R2-D2," referring to one of the film series' characters, a charming droid. "I went online and found a building community where people shared ideas about building an R2-D2... I thought, wouldn't it be cool if my son had an R2 unit."
The construction of the R2-D2 replica proved to be beyond cool. Powers's droid is an exact copy of the machine seen in the films – actually, the production utilized about a dozen different R2-D2s throughout its filming, each with their own idiosyncrasies, so he picked one of them to recreate. And, with electric motors and a remote control, it moves, chirps and squeaks just like the one on the big screen.
Having their own functioning Star Wars droid turned out to be just the beginning. Powers's R2-D2 was so faithful to the real thing that he became a star at fan conventions, which the Powerses began attending frequently. At these conventions, the family has met nearly lead every actor from the films, with the exception of Harrison Ford. They've even met George Lucas, who directed the original films, as well as J.J. Abrams, director of "The Force Awakens." Jesse's favorite celebrity encounter has been with Anthony Daniels, the actor who portrayed the droid C-3PO.
"He was very nice to me, and I really like C-3PO," he said.
It took Dana about a year to build R2-D2. He started by spending about six months researching techniques, compiling a large file of plans and schematics. Then, he took six months off from work to build the robot.
"You start with one piece," he said. "There's no kit, there's no right way to do it."
Dana said he was "meticulous" in his attention to detail and feels his creation is "100 percent screen-accurate."
The Powers family has grown since then. Jesse has four younger sisters now, and the whole family is known to dress in Star Wars costumes for local parades, as well as at fan conventions. The robotic family is growing, too. Dana has built a landspeeder, the vehicle seen on the fictional planet Tatooine. Like the one used in filming, his is a fiberglass body placed on a stripped-down electric golf cart. He ordered parts to create a C-3PO replica, and plans to place that droid in the landspeeder next to R2-D2.
He also has begun working on a replica of the BB-8 droid, which appears in "The Force Awakens." A spherical droid, BB-8 will be much more difficult than R2-D2, though Dana hopes online communities, as well as advancements in 3-D printing, will help resolve technical challenges. "It's going to take some figuring," he said.
Star Wars is unique among film franchises, because its appeal has proven to last through several generations. If the excitement surrounding "The Force Awakens" is any indication, there's no end in sight for Star Wars films. Powers said he intends to continue his creative form of fandom, and with a bunch of daughters now in the family, he's especially glad to see the proliferation of female heroes in the Star Wars universe.
This winter, the Powers family will take their landspeeder to Canada for a show of famous cars, and expect to continue exhibiting their creations at fan conventions across the country, where as many as 30,000 people attend. As a featured exhibitor, he sometimes will receive enough to cover travel expenses, but it's not a profit-making venture. "You do this because you love it. It's our adventure."
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