Natural Health Blogs

Here’s a roundup of some of the natural health blogs I’ve written for Natural Healthy Concepts, a vitamin shop and ecommerce store based in Appleton, Wisconsin. Click on the images to follow the link to each article. Thanks for reading!

2016-8-15-Matcha2016-8-29-Pregnancy-and-Supplements2016-9-12-Private-Label2016-9-23-Zinc2016-10-10-Activated-Charcoal2016-10-28 MCT Oil2016-11-14-Eat-Well-During-Holidays2016-11-28-Healthy-Holidays2016-12-5-Bladder-Control2016-12-23 Leaky Gut2017-1-16-Coconut-Oil2017-2-3-Chapped-Lips2017-2-17-FDA-Regulates-lead-Beauty-Products2017-2-27-Cricket-Nutrition2017-3-13-Biotin-for-Beauty2017-3-20-Spring Cleaning2017-3-31-Emotional-Eating041417-Snot-Social-Landscape-1200x625.jpg042417-Americas-Nutrient-Deficiency-Social-Landscape-1200x625

Top 10+ Geek-Friendly Bars In and Around Nashville

If you’re like me, you’re obsessed with ’80s toys, video games, pop culture trivia, weird collectibles, cult films, comic books and other such novelties. Pair that with craft beer, and your wicked little heart is content.

If you live in or around Nashville (or are just visiting), here are 10-plus, must-see geek-friendly bars and related venues for all you fellow nerds out there! Fans of Frodo, Daenerys, Daryl, Kirk, Han, and The Doctor – come one, come all! Let’s eat, drink, and be merry. Huzzah!

By Leslie I. Benson, 4/14/17

01. Acme Feed & Seed, Nashville, TN
What: Pub, live music and trivia
Why: Wednesday Trivia Night, presented by Geeks Who Drink and local Fat Bottom Brewing Co., welcomes geeks just like you throughout the year for themed trivia nights (Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, Disney, etc.) from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., for $5, winner-takes all.
Pro Tip: Acme Feed & Seed is located at the end of the famous Broadway strip of honky tonks in downtown Nashville, but it’s far from a country music venue. On Tuesday nights, the local No Country For New Nashville blog curates concerts featuring local and touring up-and-coming indie bands, which is worth a visit.

02. Attack Barcadium From Mars Theater, Murfreesboro, TN (about 30 miles from downtown Nashville)
What: Bar and arcade
Why: Although a bit of a drive, this unique, family-run bar-and-arcade combo serves domestic, craft and imported beers, as well as fat-kid snacks (nachos, hot dogs and chips), all alongside a large selection of rotating retro arcade games, video games and pinball machines. Gaming areas feature Star Wars, Star Trek and other themed machines.
Pro Tip: On Friday nights, they’re packed with high school students. “Family Saturday” features half-price admission from noon to 6 p.m., but they’re open until 2 a.m. if you want to avoid kids and would rather enjoy the 21+ “kid at heart” crowd. You can also rent the space for parties.

Your humble narrator with composer Jason Hubard at Re:Wind ‘80s at Canvas in Nashville, 2017. | Photo by Abbey BeeDay

 03. Canvas Lounge, Nashville, TN
What: Monthly ’80s Dance Night
Why: Every second Saturday of the month, girls (and boys) just wanna have fun at Re:Wind ‘80s Video Dance Night! This gay bar near the heart of downtown Nashville hosts a monthly ’80s-themed dance party featuring New Wave and Alternative music from the era, including Depeche Mode, The Cure, Duran Duran, Siouxsie, Devo, New Order, INXS, Blondie, The Smiths, Billy Idol, Pet Shop Boys, David Bowie, Tears For Fears, Echo & the Bunnymen, Kraftwerk and much more!
Pro Tip: If you’re too shy to shake it, you can watch the ’80s music videos that play all night on the big screen. If you’re worried about parking, come early by 8 p.m. and snag a spot in the pay lot at the bank across the street. And if things get crazy and you want to bar hop to see a drag show, Play Dance Bar is within walking distance just a few blocks away.

04. The East Room, East Nashville, TN
What: Dark dance night
Why: Fascination Street is Nashville’s monthly off-the-beaten-path destination for current and classic Post-punk, Darkwave, Deathrock, and traditional Goth music. Indulge in a night of dancing, drinks and cult movies. You’ll hear B-sides from Christian Death, Killing Joke, Bauhaus, The Sisters of Mercy and a slew of other dark entities. Walking down the dark alley filled with a cloud of incense to the side entrance, and you’ll know you’re at home.
Pro Tip: Don’t expect any futurepop or upbeat industrial synthpop though. The DJs play much darker, cult classic tunes you can lounge, smoke and sway to. The biggest drawback to this converted house bar is their limited selection of beers. Most are heavier brews, and don’t expect to find any hard liquor or mixers. But at least they serve some local bottles from Yazoo Brewing Company. Bonus: Drive by earlier in the day to stop by the oddities shop right next door. Hail, Dark Aesthetics sells taxidermy, vintage medical supplies, jewelry, dark religious relics and other odds and ends.

05. The Green Dragon Public House, Murfreesboro, TN (about 30 miles from downtown Nashville)
What: Lord of the Rings-themed bar
Why: While you’re getting in touch with your inner pinball wizard at the Attack Barcadium in Murfreesboro, you should probably drop by The Green Dragon too. Where else can you dress up like Gandalf or Frodo and feel right at home with a roomful of strangers? This is the perfect place to share a bowl of hummus and play board games with your new friends from Middle Earth! Even hobbits are welcome.
Pro Tip: Don’t show up on Fridays if you want to find a seat! Tuesdays and Wednesdays after work are the best times to drop by.

06. M.L. Rose, Nashville, TN
What: Craft beer and burgers
Why: With two locations in Nashville, you’ve got two great options for Happy Hours and trivia nights! Order the nachos, dry-rub wings, giant burgers or loaded waffle fries with a local pint of The Rose by The Black Abbey Brewing Company, and test your wits against other trivia geeks every Monday or Tuesday (varies by location) from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. They’re also one of the Best Nashville Brunch Spots!
Pro Tip: M.L. Rose is open late on the weekends, so after hitting downtown, grab some drunk food here and sober up.

We love the free arcade games at The Soda Parlor in East Nashville! Pictured: Electric Dream Society, 2017. | Photo by Kidtee Hello Photography

07. The Soda Parlor, East Nashville, TN
What: Ice cream, sodas and arcade games
Why: Okay, there’s no alcohol served here, but you can enjoy one hell of a root beer float, plus all the free arcade games you can handle—including some ‘80s retro classics! And they’re located right beside one of the best local burger restaurants in town (which does serve craft beer), Burger Up!
Pro Tip: One block away, you’ll find the heart of East Nashville, known as Five Points, home to several celebrity-frequented bars, live music venues, restaurants and local crafts shops. (Not that you care, but Lady Gaga and Steven Tyler of Aerosmith recently hung out in this popular hipster neighborhood.) Across the street, be sure to stop by Asphalt Beach Skate Shop for all your roller derby gear needs. Also, you’ll find a little gem called East Side Story, an eclectic bookstore that only sells work by local authors, right down the street.

08. Two Bits, Nashville, TN
What: Bar and free arcade games
Why: Two Bits is a bar within walking distance of Music Row in downtown Nashville, which is full of free vintage arcade games and board games to enjoy with friends.
Pro Tip: During the summer, you’ll often find block parties or special concerts hosted nearby by Lightning 100, Nashville’s longest running independent radio station on 100.1 FM.

09. Vinyl Tap, East Nashville, TN
What: Draft house, lounge and record store
Why: For a casual, living room vibe, this joint caters to hipsters who love shopping for new and used vinyl, as well as drinking local and regional craft beer. Never been before? Check them out on Record Store Day on April 22, 2017, for some steals and deals! Or visit during any of their vinyl listening parties!
Pro Tip: Join Vinyl Me, Please (record of the month club) for special events and releases. Need extra gas money? Sell them your used vinyl.

10. Wild Wings Café, Franklin/Cool Springs, TN (about 16 miles from downtown Nashville)
What: Wings, live music and trivia
Why: On semi-regular Friday nights, local cover band Rubiks Groove (pictured above) brings an ’80s/’90s Dance Party to the restaurant. On Tuesdays, enjoy trivia night starting at 7 p.m. Happy Hour specials last from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., featuring 33 buffalo wing flavors made from scratch, as well as burgers from grass fed chuck.
Pro Tip: If you come to see Rubiks Groove, keep an open mind. You’ll hear a wide variety of music genres from the ’80s and ’90s as performed by a costumed cast of characters led by a singer who looks like a cross between Pee Wee Herman and George McFly. It’s a ton of fun! Next show: Friday, April 21 at 9:30 p.m. (Central). #FridayFlashback

NEMS Vol. 1 2016 Release

Want More? Here Are 10 Geek-Friendly Meetups!

01. A Night of Free Speech
What: Monthly open mic night (poetry, prose, rants, etc.)
Why: Nashville’s renegade spoken word open mic night, presented by DNR Publishing, an independent local publisher, takes place once a month on a Wednesday. Performers can play music, read poetry or present other works in an uncensored and open environment from 7-10 p.m. at Bearded Iris Brewing in the Germantown neighborhood. Sign-up starting at 6:30 p.m. for a 5-7 minute slot.
Pro Tip: This is an artist’s safe haven, so bring your manifesto! The next event takes place on April 19, 2017.

02. Horror, Suspense, Sci-Fi & Fantasy Friends Meetup, Nashville, TN
What: Film geek meetup and more
Why: Doctor Who, Star Wars and Star Trek fans unite for this meetup, which includes over 1,000 local members. Events and dates vary but may include movie nights, book clubs, ghost tours, presentations, art shows and trips to sci-fi, horror and fantasy conventions.
Pro Tip: From classic horror film appreciation outings to day trips to events like the annual Full Moon Tattoo and Horror Festival, returning Oct. 27-29, 2017, this group has versatile interests.

03. Nashville Electronic Music & Synthesizer Group, Nashville, TN
What: Monthly synth club meetup
Why: The Nashville Electronic Music & Synthesizer Group welcomes anyone passionate about all types of vintage and current synthesizers and electronic music production. The group meets once a month at the SAE Institute to network, share and swap gear, demonstrate new technology, listen to synth experts in the industry (including the founder of Dave Smith Instruments) and more!
Pro Tip: This friendly group of synth geeks loves to collaborate. In 2016, they released their first free double volume compilation album on Bandcamp, featuring 30 tracks showcasing electronic music artists of all varieties and styles from the Nashville area.

04. Nashville Girl Geek Dinner, Nashville, TN
What: Technology Networking Events for Women
Why: The Nashville Chapter of Girl Geek Dinner meets regularly to eat, drink and network with fellow Nashville-based young women and girls pursuing professional technology careers.
Pro Tip: Meetups include freebies from sponsors and workshops on varying topics, including learning how to code.

05. Nashville Grown-up Geeks, Nashville, TN
What: Meetup for Geeks Over Age 25
Why: From tabletop gaming to anime club to bar trivia meetups, this group of over 500 members welcomes anyone over age 25 who shares their common love of geekery. Event dates and locations vary.
Pro Tip: The slant here seems to be people who are passionate about anime.

06. Nashville Mini Maker Faire, Nashville, TN
What: A gathering for do-it-yourself inventors
Why: Each fall, the Nashville Mini Maker Faire takes place at the Adventure Science Center — a special one day exhibition of creative projects by local grassroots makers, craftspeople and inventors. You’ll find exhibitors, vendors, workshop teachers, panelists and performers from around Tennessee.
Pro Tip: Learn a new skill or showcase your unique project at this one-of-a-kind event! Local maker and Star Wars‘ superfan Chris Lee, a frequent exhibitor and panelist, is certainly a shining example of the talented artists you may find at this event.

07. Poetry in the Brew, Nashville, TN
What: Open mic poetry reading and coffee
Why: The monthly Poetry in the Brew event, held on the second Saturday of each month, is a unique gathering of some of Nashville’s most talented creative minds including spoken word artists, poets and storytellers in an open mic forum. Located in the upstairs loft of the cozy Portland Brew East coffeehouse, this is a well-attended event featuring rotating featured poets in an intimate setting. Signup starts at 5:30 p.m. Reading takes place from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Pro Tip: Check out the featured poets and guest hosts on the event’s calendar. The next event takes place on Saturday, May 13, 2017.

Nashville maker Chris Lee revisits his TEDxNashville ‘Star Wars’-themed speech about building a full-scale Millennium Falcon, 2015. | Photo by Leslie I. Benson

08. TEDxNashville, Nashville, TN
What: TEDx speaking event
Why: This annual, independently organized TED speech event features community leaders and professional guest speakers who present their research and discoveries in the spirit of sharing ideas. The highly inspiring event showcases a variety of subjects every March, ranging from education to the environment to entertainment to healthcare and more.
Pro Tip: This event lasts all day for several days, so pace yourself! Do your research on the guest speakers in advance to decide which day you want to attend. Watch past speaker Chris Lee’s “Robots, Spaceships, and Greeblies: Build Your Dream” 2015 TEDxNashville presentation.

09. Way Late Play Date, Nashville, TN
What: 21+ themed science museum outings and beer
Why: This adults-only, pop culture-themed event gives working professionals the chance to experience the local Adventure Science Center without being bothered by screaming kids. Take part in cool science activities, tour the exhibits, and relive your youth!
Pro Tip: Past themed nights have focused on Doctor Who and Star Wars. The next event, Marvel vs. DC, will take place on Thursday, Apr. 27, 2017, from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Explore the science behind comic books – from high-tech gadgetry to super powers. The event includes admission to all exhibits and activities, beverage tickets and a planetarium show.

10. Zombie Run 5K, Nashville, TN
What: 5k race with “zombies” chasing you
Why: Tired of the same old boring 5K fundraisers? Are you fitness-minded but never felt inspired to get out and really get physical? Maybe you’ll feel better being chased by zombies! Zombie Run is a unique 5K race away from volunteers dressed as brain-eating, bloody zombies. The immersive experience will not only awaken your zombie geek nature, but also get your adrenaline pumping!
Pro Tip: All participants get a medal upon finishing the race, and kids can enjoy a special Kids Zombie Zone featuring foam machines and bubble soccer. Although this isn’t a beer-drinking event, running from zombies will surely make you thirsty for some ale by the time you’re done! The Nashville event takes pace on June 3, 2017. Register now at the link above!

LeVar Burton’s ultimate ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ selfie, taken before Wizard World Chicago, 2014. | Photo courtesy of @LevarBurton

Soak in the ‘Con Funk’: 4 Geek-Friendly Conventions

01. Con of Thrones, Nashville, TN
What: Game of Thrones fan convention
Why: Con of Thrones is the largest-ever convention for fans of Game of Thrones, A Song of Ice and Fire by fantasy author George R. R. Martin. Special guests will include the actors who portrayed Ramsay Bolton and others. Con of Thrones will take place at Nashville’s historic Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center. Rally the realm and attend this con on June 30 to July 2, 2017.
Pro Tip: The con will feature a vendor marketplace where you can get all the Game of Thrones-themed collectibles you could ever want. Bring your friends!

02. GMX (Geek Media Expo), Nashville, TN
What: Multi-fandom convention
Why: While the next Geek Media Expo probably won’t be scheduled again until 2018, the annual event is the Nashville area’s next generation multi-fandom convention, representing all things pop culture.
Pro Tip: This is a celebration of fandom for tech-lovers, makers, tabletop gamers, pop culture enthusiasts, cosplayers and more!

03. The Walker Stalker Convention, Nashville, TN
What: Sci-fi and horror convention
Why: The Walker Stalker Convention, an annual event that tours the U.S., has its local podcast, The Walker Stalkers, headquarters on Main Street in nearby Franklin, TN. The con celebrates the best in horror, fantasy, and sci-fi books, TV and movies, featuring celebrity panels, meet-and-greets, costume contests and vendors. While this isn’t really a beer-centric event, you’re sure to find beer vendors nearby.
Pro Tip: On June 3 and 4, 2017, Nashville’s Walker Stalker Con will feature VIP photo ops with many members of The Walking Dead cast, including Daryl, Negan, Carl, Glenn, Morgan, Abraham, Eugene and more!

04. Wizard World, Nashville, TN
What: Comic convention
Why: This annual convention for comic, film, TV and anime fans features panels with artists, actors and creators, cosplay enthusiasts, VIP photo ops and tons of vendors to meet all your geeky needs. The next event takes place at Nashville’s Music City Center from Sep. 8 to 10, 2017.
Pro Tip: Past year’s celebrity guests have included the entire cast of Star Trek: Next Generation, except for Patrick Stewart. Luckily, that year also featured another very special captain – Kirk (played by William Shatner), who all spoke in guest panels and sat in for photos with fans. Who knows what this year will bring?

Alrighty, Nash-villains (and yes, I said villains), what other geek hotspots am I missing? List your faves in the comments below!

Fascinating Famous Readers (Infographic)

They say you are what you read. From Stephen King to Madonna, let’s find out just who these famous readers really are. … Now, what’s on your bookshelf?

you-are-what-you-read-bid4papers.jpg

The Ultimate ‘Star Wars’ Fan is Building a Full Scale Millennium Falcon

Follow the story of Chris Lee of Nashville, Tenn., the founder of The Full Scale Millennium Falcon Project, as he evolves from a 12-year-old boy drawing R2-D2 sketches in 1977 to a full-fledged ‘Star Wars’ universe maker—38 years later.

Story by Leslie I. Benson, Photos by Jason Reed Milner
Nashville, Tenn.
Republished from Two Clones magazine

What motivates film fanatics, especially followers of epic classics such as Star Wars, to recreate their favorite movie in real life? Some may believe that by reconstructing parts of the film, they’ll enter its universe, in essence becoming an extension of the story itself. It may be this passion for film—a childhood desire to see their favorite movie come to life—that drives talented inventors, designers and artists to dream big and make it happen.

With a mindset similar to those who find themselves dressing up for comic book conventions or steampunk gatherings, these fans transport themselves into a fantasy universe. They become their alter egos. They become their own super heroes. And heroes to the rest of us, too.

So what is it about Star Wars that drives people worldwide to spend half their lives figuring out how to replicate their favorite fantasy? For Nashville, Tenn.-based sci-fi and technology enthusiast Chris Lee, recreating the Star Wars universe is something he’s wanted to share with the world for 38 years and counting.

It’s happening now, and you can help.

The Birth of Dreams

1977 sketches

“Since77.” Lee’s license plate sums up his perspective on life perfectly.

If you’re as big of a Star Wars fan as Lee, you probably live on a BSW (Before Star Wars) or ASW (After Star Wars) timeline, too. After all, when the first film was released in theaters in 1977, it changed the lives of fans forever—especially Lee’s. When he was 12 years old, the film lit a fire inside him. He had to find out how Hollywood and the mechanics behind its movie magic worked.

Lee had three big dreams: to build his own robot; to build his own spaceship; and to build a tool that would help others to do the same. Lee, now 49, has already achieved one of those dreams, and he’s close to fulfilling the others.

Dream one, building his own robot, began with early sketches of R2-D2, the quirky droid made famous in the Star Wars saga. “I had a huge imagination and the support of my family,” Lee says, who realized hundreds of thousands of other kids who had done similar drawings were now grownups too.

“As an adult, you’re dangerous,” Lee continues. You actually have the resources to pay for the things you want to make things happen.

In 1995 (18 ASW), while searching the Internet, Lee stumbled upon a comic book storeowner in Texas who was selling a Stormtrooper costume he had built out of fiberglass. “I never really wanted to be a (Star Wars) character,” Lee says. “But I wanted to be in the universe.”

Nonetheless, how could he refuse? He bought the costume, wearing it to parties and even surprised his youngest brother’s elementary school class in it, scaring a roomful of 6 year olds. It was the start of something great.

In 1997 (20 ASW), Lee found another resource online—a group of master craftsmen and professional prop designers who were sculpting higher-quality Stormtrooper uniforms. That group, First Through the Door, would eventually rename itself the 501st Legion of Imperial Stormtroopers (501st.com).

“I ended up getting good replica fiberglass armor,” Lee says of his costume. “Albin Johnson, the founder of the 501st, told me I was the only member in Tennessee at the time. Each member has a call sign. (Mine) was TK-326,” he says.

Today, the 501st has more than 11,500 members in 47 countries worldwide. Lee was No. 61. The MidSouth Garrison (MidSouthGarrison.com), covering Tennessee and Kentucky, of which Lee is a member, currently has 145 active members, according to its website. The all-volunteer 501st, which is unaffiliated with Lucasfilm Ltd. (purchased by The Walt Disney Company in 2012), wear their Stormtrooper garb to conventions, parades, festivals and fundraisers.

Members of “Bad Guys Doing Good,” the 501st’s fundraising branch, often suit up to visit burn units at children’s hospitals, raising money and awareness for organizations such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation. “(We’re) highly recognizable, and kids love it,” Lee says, who has since added the call sign TB-326 to his repertoire for his new Biker Scout costume, noting that it’s the only set of armor from the Star Wars realm you can sit down in.

However, Lee couldn’t bear to part with his first fiberglass suit, so in 2009, he epoxied more than 7,000 glass mirrors to it over a period of three months and topped it off with RGB LED lights. Now he’s known as Disco Trooper at Star Wars events.

Thanks to all their handcrafted costumes, the Stormtroopers of the 501st have made a huge impact in the lives of others. In 2013, Lee says, they indirectly helped raise more than $32 million in charitable donations: “Not bad for nerds wearing white plastic!”

Building a Robot

R2 b

Become a real-life Stormtrooper: Check. Now, Lee was onto fulfilling his first childhood dream—owning an R2 droid. All it would take was pulling out his old sketches and tracking down other fans’ drawings and research to make magic happen.

In 1999, Lucasfilm began throwing official Star Wars celebrations to coincide with the prequels, which Lee jokingly refers to as the “children’s films.”

At that first Denver convention, Lee met twin brothers who had constructed their own R2 robot—the first full scale replica he had ever seen. Lee jumped online again looking for others who had done the same. He found the R2-D2 Builders Club (Astromech.net), a meticulous group of Star Wars fans (also unaffiliated with Lucasfilm) that had designed, named, numbered and catalogued every part used to make an R2 droid based on their film research.

“There’s even a set of standard blueprints two master draftsmen keep,” Lee says.

In 2002 (25 ASW), Star Wars Celebration II took place in Indianapolis, Ind. “That’s when I started working on my R2,” Lee says, showing a TEDxNashville audience in Tennessee in March 2014 a photo of miscellaneous gadgets and gears. “This is what we call ‘part porn!’ (laughs) By this time, I had accumulated a pretty good set of parts for R2.”

Along the way, working toward making his childhood dreams come true gave life to other movie-inspired miracles as well—like dating (and later marrying) a fellow Star Wars fangirl named Leah D’Andrea-Lee (who, resembling a young Carrie Fisher, pronounces her first name the same way as the princess).

Addressing an intimate crowd of fans at Yazoo Brewing Company in downtown Nashville on June 16, 2014, during a post-TEDxNashville networking event, it’s evident how passionate Lee and his wife are about Star Wars—and each other—as they finish each other’s sentences, retelling past stories of convention memories and when they first met.

“My girlfriend at the time (who is) my wife now—and yea, her name is really Leah—we recorded (her) on a green screen in our house,” Lee says.

Through his technology background, a decent costume, cue cards and blocking, Lee and his wife were able to recreate one of the most memorable scenes in Star Wars when Leia appears as a hologram projected by R2-D2: “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.”

“Mine is the only droid with a Princess Leia hologram,” Lee says, proudly.

Hologram

In 2005 (28 ASW), Lee had finally finished building his own R2. He and D’Andrea-Lee debuted it at Star Wars Celebration III in Indianapolis. Since then, their R2 has been a ring bearer at six weddings. “If he could talk, people would just have me hand the phone to him when they call,” he says.

Lee’s R2 has celebrity fans too. Afterhours during the Celebration III convention, George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, and some of his crew met with Lee, D’Andrea-Lee, R2 and their friends. “Lucas saw the hologram projection and said, ‘That’s incredible,’” Lee says. “The droid wrangler for Lucasfilm, Don (Bies), showed up and hung out too. It was the payback moment I never thought I’d get.”

In 2012, The R2-D2 Builders Club made an appearance at Star Wars Celebration VI in Orlando—its largest droid gathering yet. Lee and fellow R2 builders from across the country came together to showcase their robots, including a Lego and Ironman version of the beloved droid. “This whole community is built around guys and girls with the same passion,” Lee says, who also met Kenny Baker, the English actor who wore the R2-D2 costume in the original films, and Ben Burtt, the creator of Star Wars sound effects (and the “voice” of R2) during the event. “It was a ‘meet your heroes’ kind of moment.”

The robot’s #R2selfie has even made its way to Felicia Day of “The Guild” fame. Lee’s droid has gained much popularity, but not as much as one very special pink robot.

The Legend of the Pink Droid

In November 2004, 6-year-old Katie Johnson was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. In April 2005, her dad, Albin, the founder of the 501st Legion, turned to Lee and his friends in the R2-D2 Builders Club with a request for a one-of-a-kind pink droid that would watch over his ill child.

Jerry Greene, one of the primary draftsmen and manufacturers of R2 parts from the R2-D2 Builders Club, asked his friends for donated parts, volunteering his own time to construct the droid. Over 4,000 501st Legion members and other Star Wars fans rallied together to support Katie’s last wish. Unfortunately, she passed away on Aug. 9, 2005, before the custom-built pink droid known as R2-KT had been completed. (She had, however, been introduced to a prototype of the pink droid she was able to enjoy).

In Katie’s honor, her family and friends created a website for the droid (R2KT.com) and members of the 501st and began taking R2-KT on tour to raise awareness and funds for charities of pediatric cancer and other childhood illnesses. In 2007, Hasbro produced a limited edition R2-KT action figure, the sales of which raised more than $100,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

“The pink imperial droid with the heart of gold” was really living up to its name. A year later, R2-KT made a cameo appearance in the animated feature film Clone Wars. R2-KT continues to tour children’s hospitals and the convention circuit to this day.

It’s a cause close to Lee’s heart, as is his dream to share a spaceship with the world.

Don’t Worry. She’ll Hold Together.

Chris Lee TEDTalks

In 2005 (28 ASW), Lee began dreaming up a way to create a full-sized replica of the Millennium Falcon spaceship in the Star Wars films. He bought 88 acres of land located an hour west of Nashville for the purpose of building a spaceship on it.

Lee founded The Full Scale Millennium Falcon Project in hopes of finding other fans like him with similar big dreams. Together, through crowdsourcing, he believed he could make this dream come to life. So far, he has been right.

Through extensive research and conversations with other Star Wars fans, Lee discovered people who do 3D modeling that could help him start designing and constructing the spaceship, which will be a one-to-one replica, minus the working engine, of course.

Lee also found the Replica Prop Forum (TheRPF.com), an online haven of professional replica builders who see something they love on film and spend years reconstructing it. One of their members, Stinson Lenz (DeeplyObsessed.blogspot.com), of Philadelphia, Penn., had already completed 3D modeling of the Millennium Falcon cockpit console when Lee tracked him down.

“I said, ‘I want to build this thing,’” Lee says. “He went on to design the whole ship.”

Using the DK Ultimate Collection blueprints as a guide, the Full Scale Millennium Falcon team calculated the outer dimensions of the structure as follows: 114 feet (length); 81.5 feet (docking ring to docking ring); 24.9 feet (height to top of body, not counting quad-laser turret); 30.9 feet (height to top of dish); 7.8 feet (clearance from ground to landing gear bay level); and 13 feet (clearance from ground to outside bottom of cockpit tube).

The Falcon is bigger than Lee’s house.

“It would fit inside the aquarium at Epcot,” D’Andrea-Lee adds.

Stinson’s 3D models included the rest of the spaceship, including interior and exterior details, to scale. The plan is to use a conglomeration of concrete, steel, sheet metal, fiberglass, resin, 3D printing, hand sculpting and many other parts to recreate the spaceship—one piece at a time.

Another RPF member, Greg Dietrich, of Huntsville, Ala., where the Millennium Falcon is now being built in its entirety, took Stinson’s 3D designs and starting constructing the physical elements of the spaceship, starting with building the console of the cockpit where Han Solo and Chewbacca sit in the film.

“These guys are as crazy as I am!” Lee says.

Lee and his friends debuted the console at a Nashville Mini Maker Faire and at conventions, where several “Game of Thrones” actors showed up and had their picture taken with the iconic replica set. “Even Adam Savage (of ‘Mythbusters’ fame) came down to Huntsville and hung out with us,” Lee says. “He said, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve been following this project (online) for over a year.’ He actually signed it, too, so now we’re officially ‘Mythbusters’ approved!”

Hundreds of people have been involved in helping the project thus far, though Lee says he has a team of about a dozen people “actively building it.” Star Wars fans around the world are contributing over the Internet to the construction of the Falcon too. The project has had volunteers from cabinetmakers to contractors offering their services, pouring their dreams into Lee’s idea.

Crowdsourcing Works

2014-6-6 Chris Lee and Wife Leia 3

Project supporters have been able to successfully identify and catalogue the many parts of the Millennium Falcon—many of which are known as “greeblies,” referring to random bits and pieces that are later added to a model to make it look complex for the sake of storytelling.

Most greeblies on the spaceship in the original Star Wars films came from 1960’s-era British tanks, planes and vehicles, Lee says, which his friends are tracking down to bring back to the workshop. For any unidentifiable parts, Stinson is 3D printing them.

“In order for us to build this ship, we have to add greeblies,” Lee says.

In 2015 (38 years ASW), Lee is also using his technology background to put the final touches on fulfilling his third dream: Creating a community of online resources for dreamers and makers just like him.

Lee, along with Make Nashville (MakeNashville.com) and a coding community, are launching a website aptly named Greebli.es, a crowdsourcing tool that will allow inventors and tinkerers to collaborate on real-world fabrication projects such as the Millennium Falcon.

Lee is unsure when the Falcon will be complete, though he hopes it will happen in the next few years. “The journey is the reward,” he replies.

Ideally, Lee wants to build an entire creative campus around the Full Scale Millennium Falcon—a maker’s retreat with an education center for workshops where kids can learn how to weld and build things, and more. He also wants it to become a destination for the Star Wars community—a place where fans can rally together in their own universe.

Whether the Falcon ends up outside of Nashville or on the grounds of a U.S. museum is up to fate. But one thing’s for sure, Lee says: “You grow and mature, but (you) never let go of that dream, or that notebook.”

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WHO IS CHRIS LEE?

TEDTalks 2

When not recreating the Star Wars universe, Chris Lee works as the vice president of technology at Anode Inc. (Anode.com), an award-winning interactive web development and marketing company in Nashville, Tenn. He is also the co-chair of the Nashville Mini Make Faire (NashvilleMakerFaire.com) and a founding member of Make Nashville (MakeNashville.org), a nonprofit organization dedicated to opening a public makerspace and supporting makers of all ages in the Nashville area.

Lee debuted his presentation, “Robots, Spaceships, and Greeblies: Build Your Dream,” which you can watch on YouTube at TEDxNashville on March 22, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. A few months later, he invited fans to meet with him at an exclusive TEDxNashville Social event, held at Yahoo Brewing Company, on June 16, 2014. Among those in attendance were his wife, Leah D’Andrea-Lee, their R2-D2 unit and a documentary film crew making a movie about The Full Scale Millennium Falcon Project’s incredible journey.

Follow Chris Lee on Social Media:

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GET INVOLVED. SUPPORT THE FALCON PROJECT.

The Full Scale Millennium Falcon Project is looking for prop builders, model makers, painters, special effects techs, contractors, detailers, forum moderators, heavy equipment owners, and more. Lee and his team are organizing build weekends where supporters can gather and help with various jobs. To join the team, contact info@fullscalefalcon.com.

Join the discussion in the forums and sign up for the mailing list at FullScaleFalcon.com.

Follow the project on Twitter @fullscalefalcon and Facebook (Facebook.com/fullscalefalcon).


THE NEXT ‘STAR WARS’ FILM

Disney (Lucasfilm Ltd.) will release Director J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens on Dec. 18, 2015.