Darth Vader, Yoda, and lightsabers, oh my (pictures)
At Steve Sansweet's Rancho Obi-Wan in Petaluma, Calif., 'Star Wars' fans of all colors have a chance to see what might be the best collection of the films' artifacts in the world.
PETALUMA, Calif.--If you think that George Lucas has the largest "Star Wars" collection in the world, you'd be wrong. That distinction belongs to an unassuming man named Steve Sansweet who houses more than 300,000 individual items in a nondescript building in the middle of what used to be a giant henhouse.
Sansweet's project is known as Rancho Obi-Wan, and it is a sight to behold. With more than 90,000 items on display, the museum is a must-visit for true "Star Wars" fans given that it houses countless one-of-a-kind items, from special promotional objects to fan-made projects to bootleg items.
Among the museum's treasures is this working animatronic cantina band, from the original "Star Wars." Sansweet was able to purchase it from former toy empire FAO Schwarz's bankruptcy sale in Las Vegas. It used to live behind the soda counter at the toy chain's Vegas store.
If you were around in May of 1977, you might have seen this poster outside movie theaters everywhere. The image of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia is one that will live forever in moviegoers' memories.
Everyone is familiar with the world-famous stylized "Star Wars" logo. But Ralph McQuarrie, the artist who created the look for the first three films, actually created another logo first. This is a sign McQuarrie hand-painted with that logo. According to Sansweet, McQuarrie told him, "I still like my logo better than theirs." This is one of Sansweet's "most precious" objects.
Many "Star Wars" fans think that the movie burst onto the scene in 1977 after having been kept entirely under wraps all throughout production. In fact, though, George Lucas had published a "Star Wars" novel in 1976, and a fanbase for the project had begun growing immediately afterwards.
A replica of the Dejarik game from the Millennium Falcon from the original "Star Wars," along with an R2-D2. In the film, R2-D2 was convinced to let Chewbacca win in order to keep the wookiee from getting too angry.
An invite to the cast and crew screening of "Star Wars," held at the Academy Award Theater in Beverly Hills on May 21, 1977, just days before the public opening. As a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, Sansweet attended the screening, and his life was changed forever.
Sansweet says that this is George Lucas' favorite "Star Wars" poster, a work painted in 1977 and release in 1978 and known as the "Circus poster." It was done in the style of 1930s and 1940s movie serial posters.
Sansweet's favorite poster is this one, the original "Empire Strikes Back" poster, which was created in the style of "Gone with the Wind," with Han Solo and Princess Leia posing like Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'hara.
The poster was used in theaters for about a month when "Empire" was released in 1980, but was eventually pulled because 20th Century Fox wanted something less romantic and more attractive to kids, Sansweet said.
Any visitor to Lucasfilm headquarters in San Francisco will encounter a stunning Yoda sculpture made by artist Lawrence Noble directly outside the building's offices. This is a matching piece by Noble.
The collection at Rancho Obi-Wan contains a wide variety of knock-offs and bootleg items. Some manufacturers tried to evade Lucas' lawyers by doing things like saying the items were from "Starswar" instead of "Star Wars," as was the case with this Turkish action figure.
Sansweet said that the maker of an early Japanese set of action figures had trouble with translation, and called every one of the figures a "stoomtrooper," regardless of whether it was a stormtrooper or not.
During the filmming of the scene in "Return of the Jedi" when Jabba the Hutt tries to execute Han Solo and Luke Skywalker by throwing them into the mouth of the sarlacc, stuntman Paul Weston fell over the side of the set of the prison skiff and broke his leg. Weston's cast became part of "Star Wars" lore, as it was signed by many of the cast and crew.
In order to throw would-be snoopers off the scent during the filming of "Return of the Jedi" in rainy Northern California, Lucasfilm used the codename "Blue Harvest," which is emblazoned on this raincoat used during production.