Artist brings tiny replica of Pittsburgh's famous Star Wars Pepsi machine to Mt. Washington | Pittsburgh City Paper

Artist brings tiny replica of Pittsburgh's famous Star Wars Pepsi machine to Mt. Washington

click to enlarge Artist brings tiny replica of Pittsburgh's famous Star Wars Pepsi machine to Mt. Washington
Photo: Daniel Thomas
Replica of Pittsburgh's The Phantom Menace Pepsi machine
Over two decades ago, George Lucas delivered the long-anticipated prequel to his original Star Wars trilogy with The Phantom Menace. The film added to the widely beloved franchise and became divisive among fans, who either rejected or embraced the Skywalker origin story.

The 1999 film has a connection to Pittsburgh, but not one that anyone would expect. Now, a New Jersey artist will honor that connection with a pilgrimage on the unofficial Star Wars holiday, May the Fourth. The date was designated by Star Wars fans due to it sounding similar to "May the force be with you," one of the franchise's most famous quotes.

Based in Princeton, Daniel Thomas describes his work as creating models of real-life places "down to the tiniest detail." He recently completed a small model of the famous Pepsi vending machine located outside the 27 Engine fire station in Mt. Washington. The machine has long featured promotional imagery of Anakin Skywalker, the young protagonist of The Phantom Menace.

Thomas tells Pittsburgh City Paper that he will bring his creation to Pittsburgh on Thu., May 4, and place it next to the original. The strange union will be documented on his YouTube channel DTM_Design and other social media.

The vending machine has become an unexpected local landmark, standing as a bizarre, unchanging time capsule in a quickly transforming city. As May the Fourth gained popularity, so, it seems, did the machine — in 2022, it was, according to CBS Pittsburgh, repaired and restocked in celebration of the day.

Thomas explains that The Phantom Menace has a special place in his heart as the first Star Wars movie he saw in theaters. An avowed Star Wars fan, he has applied his trade not only to the machine, but to making Lego versions of characters from the series, including Darth Vader and Jar Jar Binks, as well.

Nostalgia, he says, drove him to create the vending machine replica and to make the five-hour drive to the city. 

"The process of making the scale model of the vending machine is several weeks of work," he says, adding that it was documented on his YouTube channel and Instagram.
With various photos as a reference, he built the replica with 3D modeling, laser cutting, and scratch-building. He then employed acrylic paint washes and pigment powders to add "layers of dust accumulation," rust spots, overgrown weeds on the sidewalk, and even "pieces of miniature trash stuck behind the vending machine."

The piece also features more technical touches like LED lights and "vending machine noises" that play by pressing a hidden button on the base.

Thomas confirms that he will put the model up for sale at some point, and any interested buyers can contact him through his Instagram account.

"Most of the pieces I make are things that I find interesting or enjoy," says Thomas. "An object that gives a feeling such as nostalgia or tells a story. Preserving it in a miniature scale that may last longer than the real-world object it’s based off of."