What started as a hidden Star Wars obsession turned into more than 7,000 likes in eight days on 9gag.com, an online forum dedicated to funny posts.
The 1997 Firebird, with a pink Star Wars replica of the drone character R2-D2 on its trunk, stops students in their tracks on the way to class. The drone, called R2-KT, was created to watch over South Carolina resident Albin Johnson’s daughter, Katie, who died fighting a brain tumor. Often parked in the Maverick Activities center lot, the car belongs to broadcast junior David Petty. Petty knew Johnson and said he helped build R2-KT. He asked Johnson if he could create a replica of R2-KT to ride on his car. The Shorthorn received no response from Johnson by press time.
Johnson is the founder of the 501st Legion, a Star Wars costume club with more than 6,000 members worldwide. Members visit hospitals and help with charity events with R2-KT. But Petty has always been a Star Wars fan.
“I used to be a cheerleader in community college, and I was an ‘in-the-closet’ Star Wars fanatic. Literally, all my stuff was in the closet,” Petty said. “And I would try to convince my girlfriend and say ‘Oh, you know, I don’t like Star Wars.’ But she broke up with me. That’s when it dawned on me that I want to be able to flaunt my love, just like everyone else.”
And flaunt he did.
Petty’s car is decorated to look like an X-wing fighter aircraft from the movie series about a galactic revolution. Meters are displayed on the car’s dashboard, and the robotic head of the RT-K2 drone on the back of his car swivels. He said he has taken the car from one side of the country to the other. His love for the series even helped land his new wife.
“She’s a big geek like I am. We met at a comic convention, we got engaged at that same convention later and we honeymooned at that convention,” Petty said, wearing a Darth Vader jacket.
When he talked to his wife about decorating his car, she was hesitant at first, he said.
“It wasn’t that she didn’t want to do it,” he said. “She was more apprehensive about how people would react, because this is Texas. I said ‘Look, let’s do R2-KT. Imagine us getting married and driving away in that car.’ And she said ‘OK, I’m all for it.’ ”
Fans with other Star Wars cars from the West to East coasts were going to go to a convention in Orlando, Flor., at about the same time the couple married last August. So the couple chose to join the caravan, displaying his R2-KT car at NASA and in different shows and parades along the way. The Shorthorn didn’t receive a response by press time from his wife.
“I was talking to my mom about it, and you can’t help but get — not emotional — but kind of proud of it,” Petty said about his trip with the car to Orlando. “Because it’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime kind of things you’ll never get to do ever again. And that was our honeymoon.”
Overall, Petty spent about $2,000 on modeling the car after an X-wing. The R2-KT drone swivels and has a backup camera. Petty is working to add more to the drone, such as noises and lights. He said soon he will be playing Star Wars music through attached motorcycle speakers for external sound.
He’s had a lot of help from friends. He knew someone who could paint the car to look like a flying aircraft.
“‘This is what the jets look like when they land,’ ” he said his friend told him. “ ‘Because they have all that smuts on there.’ ”He said the most frustrating thing about the car was driving it and trying to have a bad day.
“You have those days where you’re just like, ‘I’m mad. Don’t talk to me. I just want to beat a wall,’ ” Petty said. “Then somebody will drive by, take a picture, give you a thumbs up and smile and I’m just like, ‘Thank you.’ ”
The car’s next landing spot? The Dallas Symphony Orchestra.
Petty has also been a part of the 501st Legion since 2008. They will be at the orchestra dressed as characters, greeting people in the lobby a half hour before the concert and during intermission, Chris Schull, Dallas Symphony Orchestra public relations manager, said.
“It will be lots of fun and place patrons back in the movies,” Schull said. “Plus, it’s a great reason for the 501st to dress up.”