Person of Interest: Mike Senna, Movie Droid Maker

Photograph by Mark Edwards

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away—actually, it was 2003 in Yorba Linda—Senna handcrafted his first movie droid: R2-D2. The working replica of the iconic “Star Wars” sidekick was such a hit with fellow sci-fi fans, Lucasfilm contacted the computer programmer and asked him to represent the company at various media events. That’s how Senna’s R2 ended up at last year’s Academy Awards.

Total hours to build a droid from scratch?
About 1,500 for my first R2 (I built a second one in 2006), and about 750 for BB-8.

What did your family think?
My wife was supportive, but she didn’t know what we were going to use it for. Then we were asked to bring R2 to a school for special-needs children. When he rolled out, the impact was insane; they loved it. We thought, OK, we’re onto something. So we’ve done lots of appearances and charity gigs. As for my son and daughter, they’re almost adults now, but they used to judge their growth as “I’m almost taller than R2.”

Ever meet George Lucas?
Yes, at a “Star Wars” event in L.A. He met R2, and we chatted a bit about the tech challenges. He said if there’d been an R2 Builders Club in 1977, he would’ve used us.

Any other celebrity encounters?
R2 got a kiss from Lady Gaga right before he rolled onstage at the Oscars for the John Williams tribute. Luckily, no one noticed the red lipstick mark on his dome.

Meet the Droids! Senna, R2-D2, and BB-8 will greet visitors at WonderCon in Anaheim on April 1.

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