Crawford reaches for the stars


Photo courtesy of Justin Crawford

Justin Crawford poses for a picture with his dad at a Wizard World.

Apparently, the force is with Justin Crawford (9).

After seeing a Star Wars movie with his dad back in 2012, Crawford saw droids on display that were built by the St. Louis R2 Builders Group, and he and his dad were inspired to start building a droid of their own.

“We were really interested, so we went to Indianapolis to a thing called Droid Con,” said Crawford. “We learned about the group there and then we finally started building our droid.”

The planning phase for their droid started five years ago, when Crawford was 10. Several decisions had to be made for the design, including the colors, materials, cost, and which droid to build.

“I realized that not many other people were making R4s, and I wanted our droid to be unique,” said Crawford.

After a year of planning, they finally began building their droid, R4 J3, in 2014. A massive project like this can take up so much time during the week and even years to complete. Crawford and his dad spend up to 20 hours a week working on a droid.

“It’s a lot of late nights,” said Crawford. “A lot of times it’s working on the droid throughout the whole entire day.”

R4 J3 is a fully-functional droid. The head can rotate, it can move around, and it makes sounds, all of which are currently controlled by a bluetooth Playstation 3 Move controller.

Building the droid combines several skills and methods, such as carpentry, metalworking, engineering, programming, coding, and even some 3-D printing.

“It seemed overwhelming at first, but mostly my dad was doing a lot of the working stuff like power tools,” said Crawford. “It was a lot easier doing it with two people.”

Still, the project is always a work in progress.

“It’s never really done because we always have pieces, like sometimes kids poke and prod, and we have to repair stuff,” said Crawford. “And we also have to make upgrades to the code.”

Crawford and his dad bring R4 J3 to multiple conventions and events in the St. Louis area and throughout the country. They showcase it at several conventions and events in Missouri and throughout the country, like Wizard World comic con, First Friday events at the St. Louis Science Center, and Star Wars Celebration, the biggest Star Wars Convention, which takes place in Anaheim, California.

“It’s a lot of fun. I just really enjoy seeing little kids’ faces light up.” Crawford said.

The droid is also brought to elementary schools to teach students about robotics and electronics. They are able to demonstrate to kids what powers the droid and how it moves, as well as circuits and programming.

“We went to Oakville Elementary to teach them about robotics because they have a robotics club there,” said Crawford. “We taught them about the circuits and the programming we used.”

Crawford and his dad are also building more domes to switch out on the droid. The R4 head can then be switched with an R2 or R5 droid head. In addition, they currently are building a mouse droid, a C-3PO head, and 3-D printing a BB-8.

With lots of hard work, Crawford has not only become strong with the force, but has been able to share that with others.

“I think it’s really neat that I have been able to bring joy to them and make their day better,” said Crawford.