The heartwarming story behind R2-KT: the droid built by Star Wars fans to immortalise a young girl that will now be part of the new film, says Lucasfilm president
For many, the release of the new Star Wars film is just an exciting event over the Christmas period. But, as demonstrated by the sad case of Daniel Fleetwood – the terminally ill Texas fan who got to see The Force Awakens in his final days – the much loved franchise has been a lifeline. Now, a droid built to comfort a dying girl is set to become an official part of Star Wars lore, as R2-KT appears in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
In 2004, Katie Johnson was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour. In her last few months her father, who founded the 501st Legion – an organisation of Star Wars enthusiasts dedicated to making costumes from George Lucas’s universe – came up with an idea to enshrine his daughter’s memory and also comfort her in her last days. He would have a model of an R2 droid created and named after her.
R2-KT, its last two initials phonetically mimicking the girl’s name, was built by the R2 Builders Club at the request of the South Carolina family. The droid who resembles the much-loved R2-D2 was painted in a pink color scheme at the suggestion of sister Allie: it was Katy’s favourite colour.
Pushed for time, the club realised that they wouldn’t be able to complete their plans before Katy died. Andy Schwartz, another builder of R2 droids, came to the rescue by painting his own and immediately sending it to the Johnson family. Katy, who had been brought up with Star Wars, threw her arms around the robot the moment she saw her.
When Katie passed away the Star Wars community – lead by the 7,000-strong 501st Legion – mourned her, and also took her as an inspiration for charitable endeavours. The final R2-KT model built by the R2 Builders Club, which was completed in 2006, has been a staple of charitable Star Wars events over the years.
In the last couple of years the female droid has even been inducted into the canonical Star Wars material. David Filoni, who directs the animated TV series The Clone Wars, introduced her as QT-KT, a droid owned by Jedi Master Aayla Secura: a character who appears in the prequel films. Now R2-KT is set to appear in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Albin Johnson told Geek Speak:
“Mary Franklin of Lucasfilm asked me to pitch the idea to [Lucasfilm president] Kathleen Kennedy, and after hearing the story of our pink ambassador of hope Lucasfilm requested we ship her off to London early last year. Quick repairs were made and off she went for six months.”
The R2 Builders club have also been called upon to oversee the R2 units in the latest installment of Star Wars, The Force Awakens, and the 501st Legion are now consulted on costumes for the new film.