Vintage R2-D2 Prototypes
Posted by Dustin on April 16, 2011 at 08:31 PM CST:

What you see here is the greatest and most complete collection of vintage R2-D2 3? prototypes ever assembled. With only a few exceptions, one sample of each stage of known R2 prototype is shown here. But first a short history of the prototype stages of our loveable hero . . .

While mundane to some and unique to others, first shots and engineering pilots are all we have to show for representation of the prototype processes for R2-D2. The original R2 was sculpted as a wood pattern, common for more ?mechanical? designs seen in the vintage Star Wars line. Unfortunately the wood patterns for the original figure have never publicly surfaced and it is not known if they exist today ? all we have is this great photo from The Star Wars Collectors Archive. Since R2 collectors don?t have wax sculpts or hardcopies to collect, the earliest stage for most of the R2 iterations is the first shot.

Prototypes for the original R2 are hard to come by and coveted by collectors, as are all ?original 12? prototypes. Prior to the December 2003 find by The Earth Collectible Toy Mall, only a handful of first shots were known. A first shot from the Early Bird set exists, which was possibly used as a photo sample, as does a first shot with an unmetallized dome. The Earth find brought several first shots to market with the majority of these being in pristine condition, save for a few with quality control cross hatch markings on the dome (these markings were done to test the durability of the vacuum metallization process).

In addition, several engineering pilots exist for the original R2 with Taiwan and Hong Kong copyrights.

Regarding the ESB-era sensorscope figure, no mock-ups have surfaced but it?s not hard to envision a Kenner designer taking a dremel to a production R2 and mocking up the sensorscope feature. Since the body and legs didn?t change for the sensorscope version, there was no need for prototypes to exist for this figure except for the dome and scope feature. The biggest problem for collectors with this figure is only the dome changed and, having no copyright placement, it is virtually impossible to determine if a figure is a first shot or not (the original 12 body and legs were used for this figure so existing molds were utilized). In early 2004 a well-known first shot collector purchased what is the only known sensorscope prototype(s). Two heads were part of the purchase, both in non-standard colors, along with a stock body and legs. The green dome has the sensor feature while the blue dome lacks said feature.

A sensorscope engineering pilot also recently surfaced through an auction held by Hollywood Heroes. This is the only known engineering pilot for the sensorscope figure.

The next version of R2 featured what would be a major change which would carry through the POTF and Droids line ? the pop-up lightsaber feature. This feature required a change not only to the dome but also the body. The author is aware of the existence of an early kit-bashed R2 featuring this pop-up feature which resides in a private collection. Again, it?s not hard to imagine a Kenner designer mocking up this feature using an existing R2 body, a dremel and some resin or wax. Hopefully one day pictures of this great piece will be shown publicly. Aside from the kit-bashed prototype, no other early prototype stages have surfaced for this figure and all we?re left with again is first shots. There are several first shots known to exist however it is interesting that three are encased in mock-up packaging (one on a ROTJ Rebel Commando sample card, one on a ROTJ Rancor Keeper sample card and one on the Toy Fair mock-up for the POTF figure). One loose example exists with no sticker and colored feet and was even part of a child?s toy collection purchased in a large lot by The Earth! In addition, several stray parts have also surfaced enabling us to create what is essentially a Franken-R2. No engineering pilots are known to exist for the pop-up saber version.

As Kenner ventured into the early vestiges of the Expanded Universe with the Droids series, R2 came along for the ride. A pop-up lightsaber version was included in this line, only this time R2 was given a stylized look more in line with the short-lived cartoon series. The figure shown below is one of the most unique of all known R2 protos. It is the only known prototype to publicly surface for this R2 figure and is also the only known handpainted R2 this author is aware of. Although the body, legs and dome are stock, the dome has been handpainted to achieve the cartoon look desired by the style of the line. A slightly modified version of this figure was shown on page 6 in the prototype section of the deluxe hard cover version Tomarts Star Wars Guide to Collectibles but this version has never publicly surfaced. Interestingly enough, the figure in the Tomart?s book appears to be a sensorscope figure (not a pop-up saber figure) with a hand painted dome. One wonders if the early plans for the Droids line included reintroducing the sensorscope figure to production.

Compared to U.S. first shots, foreign first shots are down right rare. This first shot is from the Glasslite line and features an unmetallized dome. It was obtained directly from a well known Glasslite collector. The Glasslite figure also used a slightly different screw which is shown below.

Finally, an unproduced electronic 3? conceptual figure from the tail end of the Star Wars line surfaced and is part of Gus Lopez?s amazing collection and can be seen here.

I hope you had as much fun reading this article as I did writing and researching it. Contributors to this article include Michael Ritter, Dustin Roberts, Ben Sheehan, Todd Hudson, Gus Lopez and The Star Wars Collectors Archive. I thank them personally for helping out. Certainly as new prototypes surface this article will need amending. To report any additions, errors or omissions please contact me at simmons.bryan1@gmail.com.

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