He built a moving, nearly life-sized 'Star Wars' X-wing fighter. Now, he wants to use it to help Ukraine
By Ryan Bergeron, CNN
(CNN) -- It might look like something from a galaxy far, far away but this "Star Wars" X-wing starfighter came from a very earthly garage.
The out-of-this-world replica was the brainchild of Akaki Lekiachvili, who works as a physician at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. He spent about six years working on the project in his free time.
Now that it's done, he says he's ready to use its force for good, "to fight the evil empire, just like in the movies."
For him, that involves raising money for Ukraine.
Attacking the project
The idea to build the X-wing starfighter came to Lekiachvili in 2016 as a fun way to teach his kids about science and technology.
He calls himself a "tinkerer" with a passion for space.
"Ever since I was a child, I always wanted to be aerospace engineer, but my parents guided me to go to med school," he says.
The project got started in his garage until the spaceship became too big. Lekiachvili then built a 30-foot extension for his garage, but it wasn't big enough to fit the fighter's iconic moveable wings once they were attached. So, he pivoted to the next best thing and built an X-wing hangar in his backyard. (His wife was not thrilled, he says.)
Without any blueprints or instructions, the project required a lot of research -- watching scenes of the X-wing and studying screenshots from "Star Wars." Lekiachvili, 50, did not come across the "Star Wars" films in the same way most Gen Xers his age did. He grew up in the country of Georgia when it was under Soviet control.
"It was very controlled -- what kind of movies were allowed to come in and (be) distributed in the Soviet Union," he says. "I guess to prevent so-called 'Western propaganda.'"
It wasn't until the late '80s, when he was a teenager, that he first discovered the "Star Wars" movies and was immediately hooked -- he was especially drawn to the theme of good versus evil, which he says "resonated with us very much so."
'Rebellions are built on hope'
After six years of designing, tinkering, soldering, welding and backyard hangar-building, Lekiachvili's starfighter finally became ready to spread its wings... literally.
The X-wing replica, about two-thirds the scale of the original, is operated by a wireless remote control that manipulates its wings and cockpit window. It can taxi on the ground at about 4 mph. Its jet thrusters open and close, as well as light up. Inside the cockpit, there are two cameras and a targeting system like the one Luke Skywalker used to destroy the Death Star. It even has its own R2D2 -- an inflatable droid for easy removal. The only things it doesn't do is fly and shoot lasers. But it does feature laser buttons with sounds.
The finishing touches were finally put on the fighter in early 2022, just as Russian forces began to invade Ukraine. Since Lekiachvili and his wife, who is from Poland, both have family in countries neighboring Ukraine, they felt a strong need to help. Instead of keeping his new toy locked up in his hangar, they began pushing it out into the world to try and raise money for Ukraine.
"We roll out the X-wing and people line up. Kids want to sit in and push buttons, take pictures and donate. We've been raising very good money," Lekiachvili says.
So far, the X-wing has been raising money for The Ukrainian Congress Committee of America's Georgia branch during its public showings. In order to increase donations, Lekiachvili hopes to tap into the "Star Wars" fan base. He started a Twitter account for the X-wing which he says caught the attention of Mark Hamill (or Luke Skywalker, himself). It was also recently displayed at an Atlanta Braves "Star Wars" night.
Lekiachvili's ultimate goal, however, is to partner with a nonprofit or someone that can help him auction off the unique "Star Wars" memorabilia with all the money going towards helping out those in Ukraine.
"I can build the X-wing but raising money is not my area of expertise," he says.
He estimates the starfighter cost between $50,000 and $100,000 to build, but it was the experience itself that was most valuable to him.
"I probably completed a couple of Jedi training tasks in this process," he says.
Keeping the words of Yoda in mind, "Do or do not. There is no try," Lekiachvili is using all his newly learned powers for hope.
"I do believe that if we continue pushing, we are going to come up with a right strategy to make an impact," Lekiachvili says of his efforts to fundraise for Ukraine. "It's a huge, huge tragedy. Lots of people are suffering and it's a really good opportunity to help."
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