These are the droids you're looking for!
I've tested a lot of R2D2 toys since the first Star Wars film came out in 1977, yet without a doubt the Droid Inventor Kit featuring R2D2 is one of my absolute favorites, because it is so much more than just another RC vehicle in an R2D2 shape. In fact, it is not just one of my favorite Star Wars toys, it is also one of the very best LittleBits electronic construction sets, and that is saying a lot!
LittleBits virtually created a whole genre of (safe) hi-tech electronic exploration years ago when it developed circuits that could be assembled without solder, linking plastic blocks housing electronics with magnets. The design is great: it keeps kids safe while allowing them the opportunity to explore and build working devices.
Unlike other R2D2s this one comes disassembled and is made of clear plastic. Like the Visible Woman models of years gone by, this kit lets you look underneath the skin to see how things work. The set comes with stickers you can apply to give the droid the markings of R2D2 or his evil twin, but our testers preferred keeping things Nixon-style, you know, "perfectly clear".
Like almost every hi-tech toy this year, you start this one by downloading an app, but this one doesn't suck. Instead of "lessons", you learn to build your droid through "missions". Animations guide you step-by-step, while Star Wars inspired music gives atmosphere! The clarity of the instructions should serve as a model for anyone thinking of manufacturing a kit for kids (or adults, for that matter). Beyond that, the parts are brilliantly designed and executed. They fit together perfectly.
I did have one quibble with the instructions: it wasn't clear where to begin. The only printed instructions in my set were a black and white page about building the mechanics of the droid, and not the electronics. Once you open the app, it is clear that you weren't supposed to build from the printed instructions.
The app is a model of how children's software should be written: granular, clear, engaging, never talking down, respectful of its audience and subject matter. Each mission leads to the next, and makes you want to continue to build and explore.
When you complete the first set of missions you'll have an R2D2 you can drive by remote control from your smartphone. You can trigger sounds remotely from your phone. It "feels" like R2, not a speed demon, just a little droid trying to get by in the world. Later projects include using sensors to give the droid additional modes.
The droid does have some limitations. Since there are only two motors in the kit, to make its head turn you have to lose mobility. On the other hand, this gives the kit replayability as the "extra" projects keep bringing you back.
Costing about half the price of the more expensive, smaller, Sphero R2D2, this one is perfect for the do-it-yourself Luke Skywalker's in your family.