The roots of the LEGO minifigure has been a long journey and one that started in 1978 before it got its first Star Wars rendering in 1999.
At this point it’s worth noting that LEGO does not consider our current subject matter a minifigure but rather classifies it as a droid figure. A minifigure, they say, has to have a head, arms, legs and a torso and generally fit a largely anatomically humanoid shape rather than conform to the requirements of being a nearsighted scrap pile.
The LEGO community largely ignores this classification and so, in our ongoing series of minifigure studies, let’s look at the subtle changes that LEGO has made to their version of R2-D2.
The most well-known astromech in all of the Star Wars universe is R2-D2, who alongside C-3PO, has appeared in more Star Wars films than any other character. This plucky droid has only been included in twelve different forms across 49 different sets (not including pens, magnets, watches, key chains or LEGO Star Wars magazine foil bags) making this character piece surprisingly under-utilised.
Gracing the LEGO Star Wars collecting world from 1999, this astromech was quite unique as it required three different brand new elements to be created. Each of them would go on to be featured in non-Star Wars sets, but in 1999 this was a special occurrence. The first R2-D2 (above), which appeared in 14 sets and a couple of watches, was molded in all white parts with his blue, black, gray, and silver printing added accordingly. As a side note, the silver printing on the dome of this figure is notorious for wearing off over time.
Debuting in two The Phantom Menace sets that same year, an R2-D2 minfigure wouldn’t make an Original Trilogy appearance until the new millennium had begun. Serendipitously this set was 7190 Millennium Falcon.
With set 6210 Jabba’s Sail Barge arriving in 2006 we received our first variant of R2-D2. The minifigure itself did not change, but he did get upgraded with a dark bluish gray serving tray and trans-clear beverage containers. With such a specialized look, it wasn’t surprising that this variant was only included in one set.
Two years later, we received our first true update to the R2-D2 minifigure and it had a 10 set lifespan (which included three Ultimate Collector Series sets) until its retirement in 2013. This time the dome was light bluish gray and the printing was spread out much more than the original. This increased use of the dome surface would be carried forward through all the remaining variants of Artoo. The body of the minifigure was exactly the same print as the original.
Only a year after, LEGO produced another variant of R2-D2, this time in The Clone Wars fashion. This version had a dome in pearl light gray. The dome printing was once again updated and appeared larger than the prior version. This variant was short-lived though and only appeared in one set (8037 Anakin’s Y-wing Starfighter). It is unlikely that we will see another similar version, but with the release of the new season of The Clone Wars, it is still a possibility.
Like a growing number of Star Wars minifigures, R2-D2 also got his chance for a holiday makeover. In 2012 he was included in 9509 Star Wars Advent Calendar in full white, with a black top hat and two carrots printed on the body. It was clear that it was an astromech droid, but without the classic blue coloring it was difficult to see him as R2-D2. Regardless, this was a novel and fun holiday treat for the 23rd day of Advent.
Similar to its predecessor seven years earlier, the next variant of Artoo came in 75020 Jabba’s Sail Barge and had a serving tray added to its accessory list. The light bluish gray dome R2-D2 received a dark tan tray once again with various beverage containers, but this time a bottle was added! Unlike the previous drink-dispensing droid, it didn’t have any changes to the minifigure itself but is still considered a separate version by collectors.
The next iteration of R2-D2 was an important one because, in 2013, the dome color was switched to flat silver. This change was significant in that the dome would remain this color, and even current sets use this element. As flat silver completely replaced pearl light gray, circa 2010, the dome element didn’t have a running pallet change like the contemporary Chewbacca minifigure did. This version – which came in 10236 Ewok Village – still carried the original body print (above; released in 1999).
Now that the new dome color was decided upon, it was time to change up the print. In 2014 the dome print was shortened back up and a dark blue line was added along the bottom. Incidentally, this change saw two different prints: a so-called “red dot” and “lavender dot” version. Both were found within the same sets making it unclear if the color difference was intentional or a printing error. However, the difference was consistent and recognizable which qualified it as a variant. The lavender dot version appears to have replaced the red dot version though as it has continued in sets up through 2020. The dome print was not the only thing that was changed; the body print received its first real update (not counting The Clone Wars body since it was a one-time use). The blue was switched to dark blue printing and an extra line of print was added at the top of the body to match that added to the dome. Additionally, more lines were added giving further detail to the body. Between the two, they appeared in 16 sets, 2 con exclusives, one foil pack, and the Epic Space Adventures book.
For the second time, R2-D2 was added to a Star Wars Advent Calendar and given some holiday attire. This time it wasn’t a print update but instead a set of reindeer antlers were placed on the dome of the red dot version. Fans were pleased it wasn’t a serving tray with mugs of eggnog!
Though not quite a minifigure, R2-D2 got the full treatment in 2017 when LEGO commissioned ten silver and five platinum facsimiles to be cast by London-based bespoke jeweller Daniel Greenburg. These are considered to be the rarest, most sought after and expensive R2-D2 minifigures ever made and joined a very elite club of rare metal minifigures that includes Boba Fett, C-3PO and Galileo Galilei and the Roman Gods who, for a short time, were the only LEGO minifigures on Jupiter.
Although the print had already been updated, the sheer number of times that an R2-D2 minifigure has appeared in sets made the figure somewhat repetitive. Collectors wanted something special, and LEGO had just the answer. In 2018 for the new 75208 Yoda’s Hut set, Artoo got decorated with Dagobah dirt (actually mud but the alliteration is nice!). On an otherwise lavender dot version, mud printing was added to both the dome and the body. Unfortunately, the opportunity to give leg printing was not taken, but nevertheless it is a great variant.
All of this brings us up to today when we have found yet another new version. After a 5 year run, the lavender dot has some competition. A new dome now printed with a “dark pink” dot has been created. This version also has re-proportioning of the print; most notably the photoreceptor has been upsized. It is unclear if this new version will replace the lavender dot going forward but that is likely the case.
This astromech droid has been in minifigure form for as long as the LEGO Star Wars line has existed. There are a total of 12 different variants. Covering 49 regular production sets, two con exclusives, a foil pack, and multiple watches and books, Artoo has seen his fair share of LEGO action. Will this most recent version be the last update to the R2-D2 minifig? Will R2 ever get back or leg printing? Is a third leg something we will see as an official assembly? Just a few of the questions that remain on the most popular astromech!
If this article has got you interested in minifigs then head over to our specially crafted LEGO Star Wars Minifigures section of our forum and start your journey. You can also track all of these variants using the LSW Collector mobile application for Apple devices.
This post originally appeared on Rebelscum.com on the 25th of May, 2020.
As the chief archivist, Kevin Downard maintains and curates the library catalog.
Getting in at the ground floor when the LEGO Star Wars theme first launched, Kevin has been collecting ever since. He is a self-proclaimed minifigure guru and has a passion for tracking down and cataloging every minifig variation – no matter how obscure. He has assisted Rebrickable and Bricklink in maintaining their set inventories, helped overhaul the rebelscum.com LEGO forum, and created the LSW Collector mobile app.