Tag Archives: hack

R2D2 “Hack” at MIT

Text: In May 1999, MIT students pulled a prank that involved making a building resemble R2D2.

Minor Genre: Prank, Practical Joke


When the Phantom Menace opened in May of 1999, students on the MIT campus colored fabric panels to make a building resemble R2D2, a beloved droid from the Star Wars universe. According to L, who witnessed the building, “MIT is very proud of its prank culture.” Such pranks were common on campus and encouraged among students. They were dubbed “hacks” among those involved, and “hack culture” was widespread at MIT. Part of hack culture was to “do no damage,” which is a potential reason why the administration allowed for such a mischievous culture to thrive.

When the R2D2 “hack” took place, L described that “campus was buzzing. It was the kind of feeling like ‘it’s cool that I go to a school where people do stuff like this thing.’” The prank made national news because it happened at a time when “everyone was going crazy about the Phantom Menace.”


“Interesting Hacks To Fascinate People: The MIT Gallery of Hacks” is a website created by those involved in “hack culture” intended to document the history of pranks at MIT. The website describes the meaning of the word: “the word hack at MIT usually refers to a clever, benign, and ‘ethical’ prank or practical joke, which is both challenging for the perpetrators and amusing to the MIT community (and sometimes even the rest of the world!).” (https://hacks.mit.edu/) Although hacks are not officially sanctioned by the university, the culture built on clever practical jokes has had a significant impact on broader MIT student culture.

The R2D2 hack described by my mother is officially catalogued on the MIT Gallery of Hacks as the “Great Droid.” It stood in place from May 17th through the 18th in 1999 on the Great Dome building. The “Great Droid” is a prime example of how pranks can utilize popular culture to inspire excitement and a sense of unity within a community. It also provides insight into the values of MIT as a whole; due to its overall high level of safety, the hack received praise from an MIT security officer and the administration initially declared they would allow it to remain in place for three days. The MIT “hack culture,” therefore, was based on intellectual and thorough planning to create large-scale, harmless pranks.