Tech Industry

A new hope: Can "Star Wars" aid eBay?

George Lucas' Lucasfilm, which rarely sells items to the public, joins the list of high-profile companies helping eBay reach its charity-auction goal.

The Force is with eBay.

Beginning Wednesday, "Star Wars" fans will be able to bid on related collectibles, including two authentic movie props offered by series creator George Lucas' Lucasfilm. The items are being offered as part of eBay's Auction for America, which benefits the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Lucasfilm rarely offers items from its archive for sale to the public, but decided to participate in the charity auction after a request from eBay, Lucas Licensing president Howard Roffman said.

"We felt in light of the magnitude of what happened that this would be a very good thing to participate in," Roffman said. "We felt it required a very big gesture."

eBay representatives did not return calls seeking comment.

Lucasfilm joins a list of other high-profile participants in the Auction for America effort. Last month, eBay announced that Wells Fargo bank, Starbucks, Pepsico, Federated Stores and Taco Bell had all contributed items for the charity auction. Pepsico, for instance, donated a replica of NASCAR star Jeff Gordon's racecar, and Wells Fargo offered a stock certificate dating back to 1870.

Auction for America had gotten off to a slow start. Although eBay set a goal of raising $100 million in 100 days, the charity auction raised just $5.6 million in its first 50 days. Many sellers criticized eBay for the auction, charging that the San Jose, Calif.-based company was taking credit for their donations and that eBay was using the auction to promote its proprietary payment service.

But Roffman said that Lucasfilm is not concerned that the slow pace of the Auction for America will affect bidding on its auctions.

"Quite frankly, I can't think of another forum where these items would get as much attention," he said. "For us, it's not (about) where eBay (stands) against its $100 million goal. It's what 'Star Wars' (can) contribute to the effort."

Among the items that Lucasfilm is donating to the charity auction is the stunt lightsaber used by Ray Parker as Darth Maul in "The Phantom Menace" and a Stormtrooper helmet that was worn in both "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi" films.

Lucasfilm is also contributing two items that were inspired by the movies, including a replica lightsaber built by the model makers at Industrial Light & Magic, and a Darth Vader helmet cast from the original one used in the films. Industrial Light & Magic is Lucas' special-effects company, which created the visual effects and models for all of the "Star Wars" movies.

The other 11 items Lucasfilm is contributing are models put together by Industrial Light & Magic model makers from kits sold by companies such as AMT. All of the items offered by Lucasfilm include certificates of authenticity, some signed by Lucas himself.

The first item up for sale is a model of Anakin Skywalker's podracer, which Lucasfilm listed Tuesday night. The bidding starts at $200; as of Wednesday morning, no bids had been made.

Lucasfilm will list the other 14 items during the next 24 hours. Each will be up for auction for 10 days.

Unlike most sellers on eBay, Lucasfilm is requiring all bidders who participate in its auctions to have their identity and credit cards verified. Although potential buyers can place bids without being verified, Lucasfilm is threatening to remove the bids of unverified bidders. The company has contracted with TransRow to call bidders.

"This verification process is designed to give additional comfort and security to those serious bidders who are intent on purchasing this item," Lucasfilm told potential bidders in a note on its podracer auction. "We sincerely hope that you appreciate the efforts we are taking to provide the highest level of integrity and security in this auction."