Actually … these are the droids you’re looking for.
At the Lowe’s in Lake St. Louis, Missouri, a well-known character from a galaxy far, far away is known to roam the aisles. How is that possible? Employee Brian VanNierop builds droids in his free time. The journey started in 1977 when “Star Wars” captivated an 11-year-old boy in St. Petersburg, Florida.
“No one had ever seen something like that before. I remember watching it in the theater and then on VHS all the time. It had a huge impact on me,” he recalled.
Fast forward to 2006. This was the year VanNierop saw a Smithsonian exhibit with the original R2-D2.
“I thought it was going to be so complex, but once I saw it up close, it was held together with duct tape!” he said. “That really gave me the confidence that I could build one.”
In 2010, VanNierop met the R2-D2 Builders Group. With their knowledge and support, he began building his very first droid. He realized there were plenty of replica R2-D2 units, so he decided to make a “tribute droid.” After a year and a half, he completed “R2-66” – a droid with the look and feel of a ’66 Mustang.
“So I finish it, and it’s awesome,” VanNierop said. “People love it. Could be a man-cave item. Cool, but what’s it do?”
That’s when he started taking R2-66 places. He partnered with the local Science Center and other organizations to promote events and show children the power and fun of imagining, engineering and building robots. And then, with Halloween approaching, he thought it could be fun to visit his workplace. Store Manager Natalie Zaher agreed.
“I put a red vest on R2-66, and the kids loved it,” VanNierop said. “They posed for pictures. Had the biggest smiles.”
He loves the fact that his store has such a culture of encouragement.
“To have leadership in the store encourage you, no matter the talent you have, is great,” said VanNierop, who drives to work every day in a truck decorated with a life-size image of R2D2. “There’s an openness to express your individuality and talent here. I love that and so do my coworkers. They come up and just say, ‘Wow,’ because they didn’t know I could build something like this.”
He now has three R2-like units, one mouse unit, and another droid in the mold of BB-8, the robotic star of last year’s blockbuster. He won’t have time to work on them anytime soon, though.
“I’ll be spending the next few weekends at local theaters with “Rogue One” coming out,” VanNierop said. “It will be busy, but I can do it.”
Of course he can. Because he knows: Do or do not. There is no try.