PROMOTION: How eBay And Colin Furze Brought A TIE Silencer To Life


by Promotion |
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In a galaxy far, far away, military might is the standard operating procedure for the First Order, where vast armies of stormtroopers, TIE fighters and Super Star Destroyers inspire fear, terror, and awe. But in a galaxy a little closer to home — just outside Northampton, to be precise — a vast spaceship has been built in the unlikeliest of places, sourcing parts from the most convenient of places, with a builder about as far from the First Order’s ranks as possible.

With excitement for Star Wars: The Last Jedi reaching fever pitch, eBay challenged one man to build a life-sized model of the TIE silencer, Kylo Ren’s shiny new ship from the film. The builder? Colin Furze, a former plumber-turned-YouTube hero, inventor and all-round handyman. “In theory, I still am a plumber,” laughs Furze, speaking from the build site, “because it’s the only thing I’ve got qualifications for.” Furze has been messing around with bits and bobs, inventing plumbing tools and hare-brained gadgets, for as long as he can remember. He started making “silly videos” in his spare time in 2006, just as YouTube was in its ascendency, and quickly built an audience that has grown to over five million subscribers. “What was just messing around after work has now turned into my job,” he explains.

Star Wars has got such an avid fanbase. It has to look right, or everyone will pull it to pieces.

An avid film fan from an early age — even if “we didn’t get a VHS player until way after all the other kids” — his cinematic heroes were inventors like Wallace and Gromit, or Data from The Goonies. “I used to love Data’s little gadget inventions sticking out of his jacket,” he recalls, “and that thing where you ring the doorbell and the blummin’ bowling ball comes down just to open the gate. Anything like that, I was all over it.”

The turning point for Furze’s career, he says, was getting a shed — the Jedi Temple of any self-respecting handyman. “Once I got my own space, and got a bit of freedom, it all turned into the monster that it is, where apparently no job is too big!” Well, quite. Among Furze’s achievements, he holds the records for the world’s longest motorcycle and the world’s fastest pram. He has made fully extending Wolverine claws, attached a jet to a pedal bike, invented hover shoes, a pulse jet pressure washer, and a firework rocket launcher — all with the resourcefulness of a Jawa and the childlike enthusiasm of an Ewok.

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Then, last year, eBay approached him with a challenge: create a giant 5.5-metre-high AT-ACT Walker, like the one seen in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, as a playhouse for one very lucky young Star Wars fan — using only materials sourced from eBay. The resulting video earned over 34 million views worldwide. In the grand tradition of a Star Wars saga, a sequel seemed inevitable. “Following last year’s AT-ACT,” says eBay’s Faisal Alani, “we sat down and said, ‘Can we go bigger?’” Furze mooted a few ideas for his 2017 build, at one point pondering a model of a Death Star hanging from a crane. “But I think health-and-safety alarm bells were going off,” he smiles. When the explosive full trailer for The Last Jedi arrived in October, featuring Kylo Ren’s souped-up TIE fighter, the silencer, barrel-rolling through space, Furze knew he had found his next project.

“Well, it just looks pretty badass, doesn’t it?” he says. “I just thought, ‘Nah, we’ve gotta have a crack at that.’” The challenge, says Alani, was to “bring three passionate audiences together for an event that needed to capture fans’ imaginations while still encapsulating the possibilities eBay can enable.” So Furze and his team set about making their most taxing build yet: a scale 1:1 model of the fearsome fighter, complete with interior cockpit and a spaceship fit for a Knight Of Ren. Accuracy was a factor; Disney and Lucasfilm were understandably protective of their most valuable property. But the greater concern was to keep the average man-on-the-Coruscant-street happy. “The thing with Star Wars is it’s got such an avid fanbase,” Furze says, quite seriously. “It has to look right, or else everyone will pull it to pieces. The details, the dimensions, everything has to look spot on.”

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So how does one build a spaceship that doesn’t exist in real life? General Hux is hardly going to just give up his blueprints. Instead, the blueprint came from a toy. “We were sent a TIE silencer toy via eBay,” Furze explains. “We measured this toy, and just scaled everything up.” It was a complex build, taking six weeks and a team of up to five people. The sheer size of it all — 14.5 metres long, 6.7 metres wide, 3.8 metres tall, with an estimated weight of seven tonnes — proved a particular challenge. No single piece of it could be lifted by a human, so everything had to have grooves that a telehandler could lift.

Remarkably, all the items used in the build, apart from the steel frame, came from eBay — everything from the acrow props (the same load-bearing steel beams used to support a house when a wall is removed), to the paint, to the welding supplies, to the LED panels in the cockpit, were found on the site. “The great thing about it is it’s full of everything, isn’t it?” says Furze. “You can search and get countless options.”

Not everything proceeded as Colin had foreseen. Construction took place in a barn on a working farm, and Furze’s team had to build it to one side of the barn “to leave enough space for a tractor to pick up this pile of animal feed”. (Supreme Leader Snoke surely never had to deal with tractors.) And the first time the TIE silencer’s lengthy wing was attached to the chassis was “pretty scary”, Furze recalls. “It was hanging on straps, and the weight alarm was going off on the JCB. That was a nerve-racking day.” The second wing attachment used acrow props as false legs, which did the trick.

It just looks pretty badass, doesn’t it?

Once completed, it took five articulated lorries for TIE silencer’s vast parts to be moved from the secret build site to Burghley Park in Stamford, the grand country estate where the ship was revealed to six extremely lucky Star Wars fans. There, the ship was joined by four First Order stormtroopers from the 501st Legion, UK Garrison (the fan-based Star Wars army), and a working scale replica of BB-9E (the new First Order version of loveable droid BB-8), created by robot engineer James Bruton. Like Furze, Bruton created his droid in just six weeks, made from items sourced only from eBay, using a mixture of handmade components, 3D-printed parts and self-balancing weights.

ebay new

The finished product is something to behold — a luminous being rather than some crude matter, you might say. eBay’s Faisal Alani approves: “Colin and James’ talent, coupled with the breadth of eBay’s range, meant that they could dream big and create something incredible,” he says. Furze, meanwhile, sounds as excitable as a fan. “Oh, it’s amazing,” he coos. “It’s just got that stealthy, mean look about it. It’s really imposing. You look at it, you think, ‘It’s quite frustrating that it doesn’t actually fly!’” True, it might not be able to make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. But with a cockpit filled with merchandise (courtesy of the gigantic eBay Star Wars shop, which has everything from collectibles to brand-new merchandise, including 12,000 new product lines added to the site for The Last Jedi’s release), it’s enough to convince Kylo Ren himself.

And unlike his earlier build, everyone will be able to witness the power of this almost fully operational battle station. After its grand premiere, eBay and Furze opened the spaceship to the public, enabling fans to get TIE silencer selfies and feel like a member of the First Order.

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After bringing a little piece of The Last Jedi to life, what’s Furze’s fertile mind formulating next? Could he finally realise his dream of hanging a Death Star from a crane, health-and-safety be damned? “It’d have to be pretty big,” he laughs. “They’ve just announced three more films, right? That’s three more potential projects! Who knows...” The real Force, it seems, is not on Tatooine, or even Ahch-To — it’s in a shed in Northampton.

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