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Widget Of The Week

R2D2 Phone Lazerbuilt Model 805, 1995

Few movie franchises have spawned so much merchandise as Star Wars. It regularly features high on the list of the most expensive action figures and collectibles and some of the rarest ones can sell for tens of thousands of pounds. Sadly this R2D2 novelty phone is not in that league but it’s almost certainly worth a fair bit more than I paid for it.

 

It’s an original 1995 vintage model – more about that later – and surprisingly big too, measuring 285mm (over 11 inches) from the base of its articulated locomotive units (legs) to the top of its rotating head dome. The handset is cleverly disguised as part of R2D2’s left leg, and when someone calls the dome lights up and starts moving back and forth whilst emitting a stream of those familiar beeps and chirps. This feature can be turned off if required. There’s also a button on the front, marked Demo, which makes it go through its routine; it is just as well there’s an off switch, as it can get quite annoying after a while. It probably reduces the battery life too, from a year or more to just a few weeks, especially when there are kid (of all ages…) in the house. For such an advanced robotic contrivance the phone part is disappointingly basic; no transwarp Wi-Fi or X-Wing Bluetooth connectivity, just an ancient touch-tone keypad with a last number redial button, but back in this Galaxy, a long, long time ago -- the late twentieth century -- that was all you needed..

 

It is an impressive piece of work though, very well made, and clearly built to please finickity Star Wars fans with lots of small and authentic-looking details. The only real problem with this one, which I found at a car boot sale in Surrey a couple of years ago, is the white plastic on the front part of the case, which has become slightly discoloured. It has taken on the characteristic yellow tinge, which usually means it has been standing in strong sunlight for several years. There’s a lot of advice on the web about how to remove the discolouration but since it mostly involves the use of noxious or messy chemicals and/or lots of elbow grease, it’s not a job I’m keen to tackle anytime soon.

 

The stallholder assured me that it was in good working order and had been in regular use until recently. It appeared to be in very good shape but I wasn’t able to give it more than a cursory inspection as the lid for the battery compartment was held in place by a tiny screw. He seemed like an honest chap and the asking price of £10 wasn’t too outrageous, though I couldn’t resist haggling him down to £8.00. He didn’t protest too much, and I found out why when I got it home. It seemed that he had been telling porkies and it was pretty obvious that it hadn’t been used for a long time, if the state of the two very ancient batteries in the compartment on the back of the unit were anything to go by. One of them had leaked but luckily it was just a dribble. The goop dried quite quickly so the damage was minimal. The worst affected part was one of the metal contacts; some of the plating had been eroded but after a session with my Dremel’s wire brush attachment the worst of it came off and the metal underneath was still clean and sound. The dried up gunge on the plastic came away with a mixture of household cleaners and some gentle scrubbing with a toothbrush and a nylon kitchen scourer. The damage, such as it is, is now virtually invisible. Thanks to the quality of the parts this one survived; all of R2D2’s systems powered up first time and worked perfectly, once some new power cells had been installed. 

 

What Happened To It? 

Collecting Star Wars paraphernalia can be a risky business. Detail and provenance is everything. It pays to do some homework before parting with serious money on allegedly ‘rare’ or expensive items in the hope of one day getting a return on your investment. Take this phone, for example. It was made in 1995 and marketed in the UK by a company called Lazerbuilt. It was a good quality item, aimed at collectors and closely based on the iconic robotic character from the first 1977 film. Back then it was a fairly pricey item, even for a novelty phone. It arrived more than 10 years after the last movie had been released (Return of the Jedi in 1983) so interest in the movies may have been at a low ebb. From the evidence of the serial numbers on this one and others I have seen it doesn’t look like many of them were made. However, in 2005, in the wake of the dreadful trilogy of prequels, released between 1999 and 2005, there was a big revival of interest in all things Star Wars and the company that originally made this R2D2 dug out their old moulds and dusted them off for another much larger production run.

 

That means that one way or another quite a few R2D2 phones have been produced over the years but a lot of those that are still around today are probably not that old, which must be a consideration when it comes to value. I have seen several listed on ebay and other websites, which could easily be the later version, with incredibly optimistic price tags of several hundred pounds. Even though this one is a genuine ‘first’ generation model there’s no way it is worth anything like that; more realistically priced examples can certainly be found and £30 to £50 for a clean, working, Mk 1 version isn’t out of the question.

 

Phones of all types and vintages continue to be popular collectables and more recent ones can be put to good use, providing they still work and have minimal touch-tone facilities. Throw in the Star Wars connection and the obvious quality of this model and you can’t go far wrong, but as always age, condition and price are everything. A good R2D2 phone will always tickle the fancy of Star Wars collectors and the good news is that there are bargains out there to be found, if you trust in the Force. 


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen                 1995

Original Price           £50

Value Today             £45 (0916)

Features                   Feature phone with moving, illuminated head, R2D2 sound effects, switchable ringer, demo mode

Power req.                    2 x 1.5 volt ‘D’ cells

Dimensions:                  285 x 222 x 180mm

Weight:                         1.2kg

Made (assembled) in:    China

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  8


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