Josh Montgomery said he was somewhat of a late bloomer in the Star Wars fandom. The 40-year-old computer technician only became an avid fan of the popular science fiction series in the last few years, and he certainly doesn’t consider himself a collector – although one piece in his small selection of Star Wars memorabilia is sure to make any fan look twice: a full-sized, fully functional replica of R2-D2, the lovable droid that has appeared countless times in Star Wars films, books and other media.
Montgomery, who works as a full-time assistant computer science professor at Southern State Community College and as part-time director of technology at Chillicothe City School District, has been working on the robot for two and a half years, and he still has some adjustments to make.
Standing at a little over three feet tall, the 175-pound robot is powered by two 12-volt batteries and equipped with four computers, countless LED lights and movement mechanisms, and even a phone charger hidden beneath a panel on its side.
The droid is powered by two “hacked” PlayStation 3 controllers and a remote, and moves on three wheels powered by scooter motors.
Montgomery said most of his building time was spent perfecting the robot’s aluminum dome “head,” the shell of which he obtained from a man in Texas who has the exact cast dimensions used to manufacture the original film prop.
According to Montgomery, six different versions of the prop were built for the first film in the series, some of which could fit a human inside. As the series gained popularity, the droid’s design became iconic, and many fans have gone on to build partial and exact replicas.
Montgomery said his R2-D2 story began a number of years ago when he and his daughter went to a Star Wars fan convention dressed as characters from the series.
“I can’t do anything half-way,” Montgomery joked, saying his daughter dressed up as Princess Leia, one of the main characters, and he went in an elaborate portrayal of Boba Fett, a primary villain in one of the films.
“We just had a blast,” he said.
Over the course of a year, Montgomery said he perfected the Boba Fett costume to 100-percent accuracy of the one used in the original film – right down to the scratches on its painted helmet.
He soon had it registered as an exact replica, and sold it to fund a “new nerd project,” – the R2-D2 replica.
Montgomery said he researched how to build one, then began contracting with a number of machine shops in Japan, Texas, Chillicothe and Columbus for custom parts, and he started chipping away.
“You just kind of keep working with it and keep working with it until you get it perfect,” he said.
When asked what he found to be the most challenging aspect of the droid’s construction, Montgomery laughed and said, “Oh my god, all of it… All of it has been really hard.”
Montgomery said painting R2-D2 was difficult, since the type of paint used on the robot had to be mixed and applied to perfectly match the movie prop.
Working with machine shops was also particularly challenging, since some of his requests would be met with blank stares.
Montgomery said the programming was “so hard,” since everything from the LED lights on the sides – which are programmed to the exact light patterns used by the original film prop – right down to the aluminum flaps that open and close to the beat of a Star Wars song played by an interior speaker, took hours of work to coordinate.
The project often hit dead ends, Montgomery said, but he worked around each one.
Montgomery said he hopes the finished project will demonstrate to his students and others that anything can be achieved with dedication.
“Anything they want to accomplish in life, they can accomplish,” he said.
Although he hasn’t yet managed to get the robot out of his basement – he’ll have to deconstruct it just to get it through the door – Montgomery said he has already received requests from schools and colleges for visits, and one person even asked him to bring it to their wedding to be the ring bearer.
At this point, Montgomery said he doesn’t even know how much it cost to build.
“Took me more time than money,” he said, but, “I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Montgomery lives with his wife and children in the Greenfield area.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.