Meet the father and daughter behind the galaxy's coolest droid.
Most Impressive Fans is a feature highlighting the amazing creativity of Star Wars devotees, from cosplay to props. If there's a fearless and inventive fan out there, we'll highlight them here.
Tony Francis had a flight to catch Sunday, and just enough time, snow, and spray paint to make good on a promise he’d made to his daughter, Gwendolyn, last year.
After Gwen, now 7, saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens in theaters, she came up with the idea of building a snowman in homage to Rey’s astromech pal, BB-8. “She was excited,” Tony tells StarWars.com, but as spring set in there was never enough snow in their Highland, Utah, yard to make it happen.
“She really wanted it done. I have two boys. If they mention it 16 times, OK, they actually do want it.”
With four inches of perfectly packable flakes last weekend, and two hours before he had to leave for the airport, Tony knew it was time. “I just told her we’ve got to do this now, so this is our chance. Where I live the snow doesn’t last forever.”
The 41-year-old father and environmental consultant doesn’t consider himself very creative. “I haven’t made a snowman in, you know, decades,” he says. But the pair pulled up some reference images of the spherical sidekick on Tony's cell phone and got to droid building.
Father and daughter worked together using their combined strength to roll the base, fighting against a few abortive attempts at the start when the massive snowball kept breaking in half, until it became too heavy to push around. Then it was Gwen’s job to pick out the dead leaves and smooth out odd lumps while her father patched over grass-stained sections to create a clean, white canvas.
“It took longer than I thought to make it round,” Tony says. “When you roll snow, it’s kind of lopsided. Other than that, it seemed to go fairly well. I just copied it the best I could.”
The dome-shaped head was easier to pack together than the ball-shaped body, and balanced on top of the snow sculpture on the first try. Then Tony used a bread knife to saw off the jagged bottom edge, giving it the precise angles of its metal-bodied counterpart. Under Gwen’s artistic direction, Tony used three colors of spray paint to flesh out the details, and finished off the masterpiece with a pair of twigs. “She went searching for the twigs for the antenna,” Tony says.
Still, despite her enthusiasm throughout the year, Gwen’s excitement waned during the process.
“Even during smoothing it out she was like, ‘Can we be done?’ For her, two hours is too long.”
Tony had just enough time to get cleaned up and hustle to the Salt Lake City airport for a flight to El Paso, where he spent the week working. “I had to hurry for the airport,” Tony says, but once he was there, he filled the time by idly uploading pictures of the four-and-a-half foot tall snowdroid onto Facebook and Reddit.
By the time he got to his hotel that night, the post had been up-voted to Reddit’s front page. The next day, he was fielding requests for images from the likes of ABC News and other media outlets.
Gwen was excited to learn that the official Disney page had also put up a link to a story on their creation. “She just thinks it’s amazing,” Tony says. “She wanted to know if Rey was going to see her snowman.” (The young Star Wars fan dressed as the heroine last Halloween.)
But by then, the real snowdroid was already starting to melt, the victim of a fate worse than Teedo -- sleety, wet snow that hit the area Monday and his wife, Emily, had concerns about how the spray paint would affect the natural order of things. “She went out and scrapped off the paint and put it down the kitchen sink,” Tony says. “I’m the environmental consultant and I wasn’t worried about it, but she was.”
The head also began to melt and fell off, his wife reported back. “It’s looking pretty sad. It’s not recognizable anymore…. I would have taken better pictures had I known this was going to be popular.”
Tony may consider recreating another beloved Star Wars droid next time there's a big snowstorm. He probably has the skills to pull off a passable R2-D2, he says, but he's not so sure about tackling a bigger project. So don't expect to see any AT-ATs plodding through his backyard on a future snow day.
The Most Impressive Fans Q&A
Who is your favorite Star Wars character?
Tony: Leia is my favorite character. She has always been strong: a senator, a leader in the Rebellion, etc. Even towards the end, she was a general in the Resistance while Han was back to being a smuggler.
Which Star Wars film ranks highest on your list?
Tony: My favorite is not Empire, like a lot of people might say. I liked Return of the Jedi because everyone came into their own. More experienced rebels, resolution, Palpatine had to go, and Vader's redemption.
Gwen: The Force Awakens because Rey is in it.
What's your first (or favorite) Star Wars memory?
Tony: My first Star Wars memory was my (older brother) getting so excited to see Return of the Jedi. I was eight years old and still unclear on what everything was about, but his excitement wore off on me.
Gwen: Watching Star Wars all day (Episodes I to VI marathon) before going to see The Force Awakens.
Do you have a favorite scene?
Tony: Favorite scene is definitely the first lightsaber battle between Luke and Vader.
Gwen: When Rey fights Kylo.
If you had to choose: join the rebels or live the Imperial life?
Tony: I would choose the rebel life. Have to. Even though the Imperials have a cooler look.
Gwen: The good guys.
Kristin Baver is a writer and all-around sci-fi nerd who always has just one more question in an inexhaustible list of curiosities. Sometimes she blurts out “It’s a trap!” even when it’s not. Follow her on Twitter @KristinBaver.