Terra Bella farmer devastated by drought gets help from 'Star Wars'

TERRA BELLA, Calif. (KFSN) -- "Star Wars" fans are counting down the days until the new movie "The Force Awakens" premieres in December. A Tulare County farmer has been on the road, helping Lucasfilm build up excitement among fans. It's an unlikely journey that involves the drought and droids, and a man named Michael McMaster.

There's no farming happening in some dry orange groves in Terra Bella, so all the activity is focused inside at a workshop for tinkering, for creating movie magic -- "Star Wars" magic. And the wizard, Michael McMaster, 49, took us behind the curtain

"If I had told my 11-year-old self watching 'Star Wars' that things like this would happen, I wouldn't believe it. It's almost too good to be true," said McMaster.

Under the watchful eye of Master Yoda, McMaster built a 12-foot-tall, 36-foot-long Sandcrawler.

"It will be an exact reproduction of the scene you saw in 'A New Hope' when they were selling the Droids in front of the Jawa Sandcrawler," said McMaster.

The 1:1 scale piece is actually based on blueprints from Lucasfilm from the original movies.

"We're trying to keep the weight down. I used one-inch steel tubing, the lightest tubing I can get. It's skinned with plywood, just a quarter-inch plywood. The rings are just foam that we cut and skinned those with plastic and painted them," said McMaster.

Every detail is painstakingly created.

"There's never been anything like this before, and no one has tried to build one of these since 1976," said McMaster.

That is until April 2015, when it was displayed front and center on the convention floor at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim.

Fans couldn't get enough.

"I watched the process online, and it turned out amazing. I can't believe how much work they put into it. It turned out really great," said Kendra Moras, a "Star Wars" fan.

It even caught the attention of Hollywood. McMaster took a photo with Guillermo, Jimmy Kimmel's sidekick, and one with Anthony Daniels, the actor who plays C-3PO. The new "Star Wars" film director J.J. Abrams and producer Kathleen Kennedy were also there.

For McMaster, his "Star Wars" journey started 13 years ago when he joined the R2-D2 Builders Club. From a few hundred members to now 14,000, some of its members are collaborating with filmmakers. Two of those men were spotted on stage alongside Abrams and Kennedy with the actual R2-D2 they made appearing in "The Force Awakens."

While McMaster's creation, Chopper, has traveled the world on behalf of his employer, Lucasfilm. Chopper is from the animated series "Star Wars Rebels" -- made from scratch in McMaster's workshop. McMaster's faithful reproduction even wowed animators who created the character. And wherever Chopper goes, from Europe to Orlando, McMaster's there too. Any profit goes back into his farm.

It's a dream job that started as a hobby and has now become a lifeline for McMaster, whose orange trees produced no crop this year.

"This year we claimed insurance, but the insurance pays pennies on the dollar. So we're running off savings and hoping that next winter is a wet winter," said McMaster.

Devastated by the drought, but saved by his Droids.

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