Tucked away in a small suburban East Bay neighborhood, the Galactic Empire is plotting a comeback.

In a garage surrounded by bottled water, a washer and dryer and various hardware tools, the Dark Side's biggest weapon is being rebuilt by six seemingly harmless citizens.

And if Shawn Cordeiro and friends have their way, the Death Star being put together in Pleasanton will be fully operational on Saturday at the Red Bull Soapbox Derby.

Cordeiro, a Pleasanton native, and his crew are one of 35 teams that will dash down four blocks on Dolores Street in San Francisco's Mission District in hopes of being crowned champions and winning an all-expense-paid trip to an upcoming NASCAR race.

"The minute my friend and co-worker told me about the competition, I knew we were going to build the Death Star," said Cordeiro, a "Star Wars" fan since childhood and a current San Francisco resident.

In order to avoid the fate that the Dark Side experienced in the cinema version, Cordeiro, 26, and his team, Fully Operational — named after the status of the Death Star from the "Star Wars" movies — will face stiffer competition than all the Jedis combined.

A tank with a twist from Christopher Rodriguez and his San Ramon-based team Suds of War, an oversized shopping cart filled with garbage bags from Dustin Moore and his Livermore-based Team Recyclers, a sled dog theme racer from Niket Desai's Team Husky from Berkeley, a "Simpsons" inspired space shuttle from James Martin and his Danville team Honor Roller, and Justin Cases's Team Retro Rocket Racer from Fremont will all be hot on the heels of Fully Operational.

The race features teams from throughout Northern California and from as far away as Hawaii. The crews will be judged on three different categories: creativity, showmanship of their 30-second skit before their vehicle speeding down Dolores and how fast their contraption makes it through the course.

All teams submitted sketches of proposed vehicles and were selected from a group of more than 200 entries.

The soapboxes, which have been clocked between 20 and 40 miles per hour, must be homemade, at least 7 inches off the ground and no more than 7 feet tall, 6 feet wide and 120 feet long. The vehicle must also be under 176 pounds, not counting drivers and other occupants.

For the last month, Cordeiro, five friends, and his father, Ray Cordeiro, who is a millwright, have been building a scaled-down version of the planet-sized Death Star.

Fully Operational leaned on Cordeiro's dad to build the prize of the Dark Side's new fleet. Cordeiro and friends Kai Mak, Jeff Wilcox, Nils Ratnathicam and Alex Madera have constructed a 6-by-6-foot sphere held together by two mountain bike frames welded together and surrounded by a welded steel sphere. The sphere is wrapped in chicken wire and covered with gray landscaping paper. It seats two and also includes a small video camera with monitor.

"I knew instantly that we would build it here," said Cordeiro about constructing the racer in his parent's garage. "It's what we do."

The Cordeiros are all about building and design.

Shawn Cordeiro has a degree in industrial design from San Jose State, and Ray Cordeiro has been building things all his life, even having made an appearance on TV's "Junkyard Wars" back in 2000. On the show formerly on The Learning Channel, Ray Cordeiro and his team built everything from a giant Bigfoot type monster truck to a minesweeper.

"I have the ideas and he has the know-how," said Shawn.

Ray replied with, "It's been engineering by the seat of our pants."

The ideas have been grandiose.

In order for the Death Star to rightly call itself "Fully Operational," it had to have a working cannon. But instead of a laser capable of destroying a planet, this weapon is a water cannon. The top half of the sphere also rotates and will blast unsuspecting spectators with water during the race.

That is one of many surprises Cordeiro and company plan for spectators. Cordeiro also spent time creating an online video to drum up support for his team and made hundreds of storm trooper masks for fan participation.

"There is a crowd favorite prize," said Shawn Cordeiro. "We're hoping people text in our code."

And yes, Cordeiro and team are rooting for the Dark Side.

Reach Robert Jordan at rjordan@bayareanewsgroup.com or 925-847-2184.

SLIPPERY SOAP
What: Red Bull Soapbox race
When: Pits open at 11 a.m., racing starts at 1 p.m. Saturday
Where: Dolores Park, Dolores Street between 18th and 20th streets, San Francisco
Who: 35 teams from the Bay Area, Northern California and Hawaii
Cost: Free admission
Video: For video footage of Fully Operational constructing the Death Star visit shawncordeiro.com/team_fully_operational.html