In Star Wars Episode II, as Padme Amidala and Anakin Skywalker - two self-acknowledged loose canons - are about to leave Coruscant on their dangerous escape mission, Anakin grins and tells Padme, "Don't worry, at least we have R2 with us." That line always draws lots of smiles from long-time Star Wars fans, who know very well that it's the feisty droid mechanic R2-D2 who habitually untangles Star Wars heroes and heroines out of sticky predicaments.
R2-D2 made many Star Wars fans wish that they could have a handy little astromech droid to humor them, beep at them, and maybe get them out of a tough spot once in a while. There's even a dedicated group of R2-D2 fans called the R2 builders who make working models of R2-D2. Some of the members of Industrial Light and Magic who made the original R2 models for the Star Wars movies have said that the models made by the R2 Builders are better constructed and more usable than the ones that ILM uses for the movies.
However, building a working R2 of your own will cost about $500 to $2,000 and at least a couple months worth of labor on the weekends. Fortunately, there's a much easier alternative to getting your own astromech. Habro sells the R2-D2 Interactive Astromech Droid, a 10.5-inch version of R2 that is has voice-recognition, location sensors, and a navigational system powered by sonar technology. The retail price is $119 and it includes the following features:
- Uses original sounds from the Star Wars movies
- Obeys a specific set of voice commands
- Beeps and whistles
- Flashes lights and swivels dome
- Plays the cantina music and dances
- Has a fold-out cup holder that can carry a drink
- Is programmed with several games
- Has its own Web site, R2 Droid Factory
This R2 unit was actually launched back in 2002 but it sold out quickly and Hasbro had supply problems, so it was very difficult to get a hold of one of these droids back then, unless you wanted to scour eBay and pay over $200. It was re-launched in September 2006 and has not suffered from the same supply problems, although there are times when these are difficult to find. There aren't sold everywhere. The most popular place to get them is at The Sharper Image, which is where TechRepublic found one (see the pyramid of R2s in the photo below).
In order to test out R2-D2, I enlisted the help of my eight year-old son — a serious Star Wars expert — and my 17 month-old daughter, who quickly makes friends with robots. We had a lot of fun with R2 and it didn't take long for my son to start dropping hints like, "I wish we had one of these to keep." Here's my rundown of what we really liked about R2, plus a few caveats:
- Plays authentic R2 sounds
- Very quick to get started
- Commands are easy to pick up
- R2 has some "personality" - he doesn't always respond the same every time
- Looks and moves a lot like the R2 in the movies
- Does not always respond as well to children's voices
- Occasionally locks up and needs to be reset
- It's made out of thin, cheap plastic
For a full visual of this R2-D2 see Photos: Unboxing R2-D2 Interactive Astromech Droid. Also, don't miss TechRepublic's Cracking Open Hasbro's R2-D2 Interactive Astromech Droid from our popular Cracking Open series. And, if you'd like to see a video of this R2, check out our clip Habro's R2-D2 Interactive Astromech Droid in action (below).
Geek Gift score
Fun factor: 4
Geek factor: 4
Jason Hiner has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Jason Hiner is Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.