By Dale McGarrigle
for the weekly
BANGOR — There’s one form of therapy that Eastern Maine Medical Center has that no other hospital in the state can claim.
That’s R2-D2, a frequent visitor to the EMMC Pediatrics unit.
This version of the famed robot was built by Paul Bussiere, a “Stars Wars” fan and a help desk associate at EMMC.
Bussiere’s R2-D2, largely constructed of aluminum, sprang to life after a debate with friends over how R2-D2 worked — Is there a little person inside, or is it all computer-generated?
A friend challenged Bussiere, 40, to create his own. And so began his now-more-than-4-year project.
“I stumbled onto an R2-D2 builders [Web] page,” the Bangor native recalled. “I’ve always been a computer person, so I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to build something like that? How hard can it be?”
Bussiere, whose toolbox consisted of a hammer and a screwdriver when he began building R2-D2, soon found out the answer to that question. It took him until last Halloween to complete the droid, although he’s still refining it.
There’s no R2-D2 model kit. Instead, enthusiasts band together to order individual parts. When there are enough orders, a machinist is contracted to make that part.
“You need to accumulate 40 to 50 specific parts,” Bussiere explained. “Then you use the standardized blueprint and all the pieces fit together.”
While he was assembling the droid, Bussiere made up his mind to use R2-D2 to elevate others’ spirits.
“My godson passed away from brain cancer in 1994, and I remember the very good care he received on Pediatrics,” Bussiere recalled. “I remember thinking that some day it would be nice to pay it forward — and R2-D2 gives me an opportunity to do that.”
Periodically, Bussiere will take the droid in his van to EMMC and store it in an office there. R2-D2 gets disinfected and inspected before each visit to Pediatrics.
“Visits are by request,” he said. “I wait for calls from kids that would love a visitor.”
Bussiere said that his R2-D2 is the only one in Maine, with maybe six or seven in New England. There are fewer than 100 replicas worldwide, he added.
“Some just blink,” he said. “Mine has more safety features, since I’m using it around kids. You don’t want 170 pounds of R2-D2 going crazy around kids.”
Many authentic sounds and some 90 songs are stored in its hard drive.
These working models are authorized by Lucasfilm “as long as we’re not trying to make a profit,” Bussiere said.
On a recent visit to the EMMC cafeteria, R2-D2 drew a crowd. People would spot the 43-inch-tall robot and stop short, then goofy grins would cross their faces and camera phones would come out.
The most common remark that Bussiere hears is “Where’s the gold guy,” referring to C-3PO. But people are constantly giving him ideas for refinements. Right now, he’s perfecting a way to project Princess Leia’s holographic plea for help to Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Bussiere has spent more than $5,000 into R2-D2, but he’s gotten many smiles from kids of all ages as a return on his investment.
“I’m the envy of every 9-year-old in America,” he mused.