- Associated Press - Saturday, June 7, 2014

LENEXA, Kan. (AP) - Most people just have cars, bikes and lawn mowers in their garage. George Westwater has a droid.

As in R2-D2. As in Star Wars. As in … “Whoa! Where’d you get that thing?”

With “Star Wars: Episode VII” now shooting, every tidbit of news about the iconic franchise flies across social media and the Internet at light speed.

Fan-built droids are part of the frenzy. Costing more than $16,000, the Lenexa man’s R2 is no dime-store copy. Though you could believe he got it at a George Lucas estate sale, actually he built it by hand with his sons, 7-year-old Alex and 5-year-old Zach.

Turns out that Star Wars fans around Kansas City and around the globe are doing the same thing. Westwater belongs to Astromech.net, an international droid builders club with 14,000 members.

“I have personally talked to people in Argentina, Brazil, New Zealand, Australia, France, England and Italy,” Westwater said.

The fans’ droids are so good that Star Wars producer Kathleen Kennedy hired a couple of British club members to make the R2-D2 and other “astromech” droids for the new movie.

“It’s a dream come true,” Oliver Steeples of Berkshire, England, one of the club members now working on the movie, told LucasFilm.com,

To make the plans for building “screen-accurate” droids, club members got measurements from the movies, then got help from Star Wars creator George Lucas, who made available parts from the films’ archives.

The resulting droids are more than just nerd nirvana. They’re little robotic ambassadors doing good in the world. Their owners take them to charitable events and children’s hospitals, where they bring smiles from kids of all ages and special bonds with special-needs children.

Westwater’s droid is technically an R2-A7, sporting slightly different colors (green, silver and white) than the original R2-D2 (blue, silver and white). But in virtually every other way it is so accurate you’d almost expect Luke Skywalker and C-3PO to come strolling through the room.

Westwater’s droid beeps and boops. Its brushed metal dome spins, and its multicolored LED lights flash with computerized precision. Complete with a motor and a remote, it can move around a room and play sound clips from the movie, including the theme song.

It is made from aluminum, which increases the cost. But other droids can be made (mostly of wood) for as little as $1,500, he said.

For Westwater, a 36-year-old software engineer who started the local chapter of Astromech two years ago, making droids and other robots with his boys is a labor of love.

The most fun part?

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