One and a half years. That’s how long it took for Ng Hak Beng to build his very own R2-D2, complete with the droid’s sassy beeps.
An IT consultant by day, but a Star Wars fan all-day, Ng is the only builder in Singapore who has his very own R2-D2 to interact with. He admitted that the idea didn’t start out from him. Rather it was a friend who came up with the thought of being a droid builder while they were having drinks. “Are you crazy, it’s going to be a lot of work,” Ng questioned his friend.
Turns out, the conversation led to him becoming the only droid builder in Singapore who completed an R2-D2.
The building process wasn’t exactly the easiest, and Ng had this wistful look as he recounted the experience of starting with the dome. The astromech droid's head consists of an inner and outer lay, both of which requires absolute precision to perfectly fit R2-D2’s holoeyes and lenses in each hole. “I sat in the kitchen, with sandpaper wrapped around a bottle and patiently smoothened the edges for months,” quipped Ng.
This, according to Ng, is the real test to see if builders can follow through and finish their project. His advice for aspiring droid builders is to start building from the dome, the most time-consuming part. “If you have the time and patience to finish it, the likelihood of completing the whole droid is very high,” he said.
The building process, however, did not take up the full one and a half years. It was really mostly waiting for the parts to arrive, which sometimes takes months. Through the part runs, Ng has also collected a few spare parts, one of which is an eye that didn’t quite fit the other parts. “But I managed to get it signed by Kenny Baker,” Ng said with an excitement in his voice at how he met the man who plays R2-D2 in the movies.
With the parts fully gathered and nights and weekends spent assembling the parts and connecting the intricate circuitry, Ng got R2-D2 fully functional around five years ago. But he is quick to mention that R2-D2 isn’t truly complete. “You can make the third track retract, add the electric prodding stick or a periscope that R2 used in the Dagobah swamp, there’s just so much more, it’s a matter of time and effort,” he added.
Still, the past five years were really spent maintaining R2-D2 in tip-top condition, though he has seen some wear and tear on the droid from making appearances at Stars Wars related events.
"No! It defies physics! Also, there’s no consistency, if he can fly, he would have done so in the forest during the Battle of Endor"
But it’s all worth it, according to Ng. The sheer joy and reaction from kids and adults who see R2-D2 in action is priceless. “There was even an elderly guy who was happy to take a photo with R2-D2 and it was the last thing I expected,” he said with a grin.
While Ng usually stands inconspicuously by the side, controlling R2-D2 through a radio remote controller in his bag, he observes how kids’ eyes light up when they see R2-D2. “But they are usually shy so I move R2-D2 closer slowly and maintain a distance,” he added.
These appearances, however, are more than just for fans to see a real-life droid from the Star Wars universe. Ng’s R2-D2 has also participated in charity drives, working with groups such as Make-A-Wish foundation to let kids interact with the astromech droid during the Singapore Toy Game and Comic Convention.
“One of my wish is to bring R2-D2 to a paediatrician ward to brighten the day for kids,” said Ng, even after he mentioned that R2-D2 can’t go to certain locations due to accessibility concerns.
Not really, R2 is always together with C-3PO because of the main characters and he always has to save C-3PO. They might complain about each other a lot, they still are there for each other. I feel R2 is one of those witty, smart aleck guy. He’s like the cool guy that stays at one corner, comes do his thing and disappears. That’s the reason why I like R2, he gets things done.
Meanwhile, Ng is planning to build a second R2 unit, and he’s already completed 80% of the part run. Though SG50 will be ending soon, he still intends to build one with a red and white theme. What’s more, he has a spare dome of an R5 unit, which he can interswitch with the body to create the astromech droid that blew up before Luke Skywalker could bring it back.
BB-8 isn’t in the pipeline though, even though a real-life one appeared during the Star Wars Celebration held at Anaheim recently. Mainly, because Ng isn’t sure how it’s physically possible for the spherical droid to run at that speed, much less have its paintjob intact.
But one thing Ng is very sure of, is who he’ll choose between BB-8 or R2-D2.
“Always R2, it’s like a first love kind of thing and a long-term relationship. BB-8 is kind of like a fling, but I’ll always go back to R2,” Ng said with a sheepish grin.
If he can really speak, he’ll burn C3PO. A lot. I think Luke truly understands R2. Because after a while, you can get used to a particular style of speaking, there are certain things you can sync up and understand.