Two weeks ago, I got an email from my local Hoyt's movie theater inquiring about having R2-D2 over for the opening of Star Wars in 3D. I explained that I thought it would be a great idea but an even better one if we could tier it into a charity fundraiser. They were all for that and asked me which charity I had in mind. I suggested the Children's Miracle Network (CMN), since they did so much for my God Son, Jake, before he passed away in 1995. I have also had the honor or working with and meeting many CMN staff and children.
We came up with a donation for photos with R2-D2. Local businesses also donated some Star Wars related gifts, so the theater staff sold tickets for $5 each for those. Again, all the proceeds going to CMN.
I was asked if I could do the midnight showing but I couldn't do that. We decided to aim for the times where the kids would be at. On Friday I brought R2-D2 over for the 7pm and 955pm shows. We got to the theater at 3:45 so we could be in our designated spot for 4pm without dealing with any crowds. Once in our spot, we had a wonderful CMN intern, Nikita, handle accepting donations and raffle tickets so I could focus on just operating R2 and answering questions. We were in a roped in area so I didn't have any crowd control issues.
I can't say enough good things about the theater staff, especially Joe who was my liaison. After doing charity events with R2 for a while now, sometimes you are just asked to show up and you're largely on your own to fend for yourself. Other times, like this one, the hosts are amazing to work with. Joe made sure I was all set unloading, setting up and assisted in escorting R2-D2 and I to go see the 7pm showing. They also provided me with several free tickets to the show, which I shared with co-workers I knew were Star Wars fans.
One little surprise was an interview with the local ABC affiliate, WVII. They wanted to do a live interview at 6:25pm. The only problem I had with that was the netbook inside of R2 that provides all of R2's sounds and animatronics. I was pushing the power threshold on it...I knew the netbook would shut down soon, most likely during the interview. And sure enough, it did. Just as the camera's red light went on! The interview went well, I explained R2 had "stage fright" and we moved on to the "Why I built R2" line of questions and what can it do compared to the movie props.
With the interview wrapped up from live TV, we let the kids waiting to take pictures go ahead and do so. The reporter wanted to ask a few more on camera questions for the 11pm broadcast, so we did that for a few minutes. Seeing myself on TV, I felt I talked too quickly...but everyone else thought it was good.
One thing that was standing out in my mind all evening was that of my best friend, Jim, who passed away in December. Jimmy was a movie fan to the nth power. He was always into going to opening night. He loved the feedback from the audience and loved film. He got the biggest kick out of things, such as when Star Wars (A New Hope) came out with new and improved scenes, and how everyone cheered when the Death Star blew up. He was a big part of my R2-D2 project, playing both fan and lead jester in his well-intentioned teasing. He would have loved to have been in the theater when R2-D2 and I rolled in.
And roll in, we did. And what kid hasn't dreamed of having his own R2-D2 sidekick? We rolled into the theater and parked in the handicap-accessible spot. Kids and adults swung around in their seats, smiled and pointed. To be polite, I shut off R2's lights so they wouldn't be a distraction.
How was the movie? Well this is a long movie and the pace is pretty slow. George Lucas has a lot of backstory to create and asides adding the useless character Jar-Jar Binks, does an OK job of it. The 3D is done very well and tasteful, I think. Some scenes you do not really notice it while in others, it really looks sharp. To me, it added more depth, much like as a kid when you viewed those ViewMaster slides and felt like you could reach inside the view. I was concerned the 3D efforts would be trying to outdo movies like Avatar but that isn't the case here. And for a 13 year old movie, all those effects made in 1999 still look exceptional even by today's CGI standards.
I had snuck out during the movie with R2's netbook to let it recharge. After the movie let out, with the help of the theater staff, drove R2 back to our designated spot. I re-installed the netbook and had R2 making sounds again. We had a very large crowd waiting to meet R2 and the donations kept coming in. We stayed for the 955 showing and since we had a lot of people still wanting to meet R2, stayed until about 1030.
We also did the 1230 pm matinee Saturday and for a very special young man, were able to have R2-D2 sit next to him and watch the movie together. The look on that boy's face was priceless as they watched the movie. For all those times my friends didn't "get" why I built this R2-D2, I wish they could see moments like that and have the answer.
It was a very, very long weekend for R2-D2 and I. We didn't have any serious mechanical issues and despite the snowy/icey conditions Saturday, made it home safely.
Here's some more pictures: