Star Wars hires R2-D2 Builder's Club

HISTORY IN THE MAKING: Director/writer J.J. Abrams, builders Lee Towersey and Oliver Steeples, and Lucasfilm boss Kathleen Kennedy.
HISTORY IN THE MAKING: Director/writer J.J. Abrams, builders Lee Towersey and Oliver Steeples, and Lucasfilm boss Kathleen Kennedy.

Hollywood producer/director J. J. Abrams has found the droid he's looking for.

R2-D2, the iconic pint-sized "astromech" droid from the Star Wars films, is the first cast-member confirmed for Abrams highly-anticipated Star Wars Episode VII.

Abrams has taken the director's helm on a new cycle of three films in the Star Wars franchise, falling after the original trilogy of episodes VI, V and VI, and the "prequels", I, II and III.

Abrams, whose credits include the hit TV series Lost and the reboot of Paramount's billion-dollar Star Trek franchise, will direct the film and co-write the screenplay with Michael Arndt and Lawrence Kasdan.

Kasdan notably worked on two of the original trilogy films, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.

While principal photography has not yet commenced on the seventh chapter of the Star Wars saga, Abrams has released an image from the production via the Twitter account for his production company, Bad Robot.

The picture showed Abrams, model builders Lee Towersey and Oliver Steeples and Lucasfilm boss Kathleen Kennedy standing with the refurbished R2-D2 model.

In the original films R2-D2 contained actor Kenny Baker.

The body of the droid was actually a converted air-conditioning unit from a Convair CV240 airliner, which was modified by designer Tony Dyson.

The new droid is fully automated, and was built by Towersey and Steeples, two Star Wars fans who are members of a British fan club, The R2-D2 Builder's Club.

According to reports, Kennedy saw the work the pair had done at a Star Wars convention in Europe and hired them to work on Episode VII.

Security around the production is tight, though that hasn't stopped the odd leak.

Actor Jason Flemyng, best known for roles in Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels posted an image of an audition script for Star Wars VII to his Instagram account.

The image was too blurry to reveal any actual information, but it was quickly deleted, a clear indication that Lucasfilm's internal police are keeping a watchful eye.

In broadly historical terms, Star Wars creator George Lucas has stated in interviews that any follow-up to Star Wars' sixth - and for a time, final - chapter would pick up the story several decades later.

Lucas has also said that only the characters of R2-D2 and his counterpart, the "protocol droid" C-3PO, would appear in all nine films, as part of his original vision.

They were first introduced in 1977's Star Wars, as the property of Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), whose starship, the Tantive IV, was captured by the empire.

R2 - as he was known informally - was sent by the princess as a courier of stolen plans to the empire's dreaded planet-destroying space station, the Death Star.

He later became the property of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill).

In 1999's prequel, The Phantom Menace, it was revealed that they had previously been the property of Luke's father, Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), the young boy who would grow up to be the principal villain of the story, the Sith Lord Darth Vader.

Abrams, however, looks to be keen to bring back many iconic characters from previous chapters to join R2-D2.

They include actors Mark Hamill, who played farmboy-turned-Jedi-knight Luke Skywalker, Carrie Fisher, who played Alderaan's heroic Princess Leia and Harrison Ford, who played the smuggler Han Solo.

Sources at Disney say that Abrams will, to some extent, fulfill Lucas' vision for the third trilogy in the Star Wars saga.

Lucas had, at various times, worked on drafts for a nine-film story, though the plan was believed, for many years, to have been abandoned.

In an interview in 1980, Lucas said that episodes VII, VIII and IX would deal with the reconstruction of the Galactic Republic, which had been dissolved by the tyrannical Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid).

Sydney Morning Herald