On the off-chance that you'd missed it, the collector subculture in Star Wars is alive and well. In a previous article I interviewed Star Wars expert and collector extraordinaire Steve Sansweet, the man with the biggest Star Wars memorabilia collection in the world. Speaking to Steve after the interview, he recommended I contact Gus Lopez, a man with a reputation for an equal level of Star Wars passion, a crazy detailed collection of SW memorabilia, and a couple of books to his name too...
So, who is Gus Lopez?
Gus is a longtime Star Wars collector whose collecting interests center around obscure and rare Star Wars items including movie props, unproduced toys, cereal boxes, cast and crew items, and so on. He's written articles on Star Wars for the likes of Star Wars Insider, Lee's Toy Review, Toy Shop and Star Wars Galaxy Collector. Gus also created The Star Wars Collector's Archive in 1994 - which was the first Star Wars collecting website on the Internet. Asides from this, he's also co-author of four books on Star Wars, which makes him a bona fide expert in my book...
And since, as I've said before, I'm doing my best to find interesting and I suppose 'educational' people from the Star Wars community, I thought I'd ask Gus to give us an insight into what turns about to be the insanely dedicated world of Star Wars collecting. And he was a pretty friendly guy too.
So, wihout further ado, introducing Gus...
Could you give an overview of the collecting scene?
The Star Wars collecting community is vast. There are different areas of collecting that attract like-minded fans. For instance, there are different forums and communities for trading cards, replica props, vintage toys, the latest toys, movie posters, original props, and more. Each of these areas has specialists who go deep in that area. There are also Star Wars collecting clubs around the world that network in their local area (trade with other collectors, attend events together, etc.).
I read that the toy manufacturer, Hasbro's, products are especially collectable. Why?
Hasbro makes the licensed Star Wars action figures today and these are still popular with collectors. Years ago, Hasbro acquired the Kenner Toy company which released the original vintage Star Wars toys. The vintage toys by Kenner are perhaps the centre of Star Wars collecting since they are nostalgic to people who grew up with the movies. From the original Kenner toy line there are various toys that are difficult to find and on most people's want lists: e.g. the vinyl cape Jawa, remote controlled Sandcrawler, Yak Face figure, Cantina Adventure Set, and the TIE Bomber die cast toy to name a few.
Asides from Hasbro's things, what things are most coveted by the community?
It's difficult to say, since there's so much prized stuff. For posters, it's the Revenge of the Jedi one sheet before the film title was changed. For trading cards, it's possibly the promo card with an alter of Yoda characters which was pulled before release. For cast and crew items it's the Norway parka used by crew members for the filming. For lunch boxes it's the R2-D2 vinyl lunch box that was only made as a sales sample. For food items, it's probably the bag of Harper's Dog Chow from Australia.
What are some of the most bizarre things that you and others have collected?
The bizarre items are some of my favourites. For instance, I particularly like the 4 different barf bags from Virgin Atlantic for the 2005 release of Revenge of the Sith. In Germany, they released Star Wars toilet paper. There's also the Jawa garden gnome, which is one of my favourites.
Is there anything that you want to get for your collection but have yet to acquire?
I always have tons of things I'm looking out for. For instance, I'm looking for a Star Wars Weeties cereal box from Australia from 1978. In toys, I'm looking for a Meccano Death Star playset from France. For prototypes, I would really like to track down pieces related to the Star Wars Rebel Blockade Runner, a toy that was considered in the mid 1980's but never made it to market.
What have you brought back from your world travels?
I've been to all the Star Wars filming locations (in Italy, Spain, Tunisia, USA, UK, Norway, Guatemala). I've visited the locations in Tunisia 4 times and on all these trips I've found things to take home. On my 2nd trip there, I acquired a bunch of set decoration from Star Wars Episode I that had been sold off to a local merchant for scrap. I also managed to find some krayt dragon bones from the original Star Wars that was filmed in 1976. These were in the background of the "Dune Sea" scenes in Star Wars. Lots of props and set dressing were left behind in Tunisia.
Your collecting specialties are pretty...far out. Why'd you go for certain things?
if there's a common theme to what I collect it's that these items are all extremely challenging to find. I've been collecting a long time and try to find things that few have scene before and that I find challenging to locate. So these areas are some of the most difficult to track down because so little is known about them. Each collection reflects the tastes of the collector who puts that collection together. I try to find older items that few people knew about some I'm drawn to under-documented areas like food collectibles, props, crew items, etc.
Anything cool & Star Wars that our UK readers need know about?
There are a lot of UK exclusive Star Wars items that are way cool. For example Helix made a Death Star pencil sharpener that is very popular. One of my favourites from the UK is the Shreddies cereal box from 1978. Of course, since 4 of the 6 Star Wars films were made in the UK, the UK is a great place to hunt for original Star Wars props.
How did you become a Star Wars fan? Do you remember the moment that you knew you were?
I remember being hit by Star Wars in 1977 shortly after the film came out. It was a quite a moment for kids at that time as there was nothing like it that had ever been released and movies to this day are profoundly influenced by Star Wars. I saw the film a bunch of times that first year. As collectibles started coming out, I was buying everything I could find.
How'd you get started with this level of collecting? What is that drew you to it? And why Star Wars?
I had kept everything I had owned as a kid but didn't collect actively in the late 1980's when the Star Wars films had finished at that time. In the early 1990's I started to get back into Star Wars with the release of the new novels and comics. I went back to my parents' place and brought back all my old Star Wars toys. Then I proceeded to track down things I didn't have and it just went big from there. I did build my interest gradually. Loose toys led me to packaged toys which led me to toy displays and then onto toy prototypes. As I bought local collections up, I expanded my interests as I was exposed to more things. I loved discovering new items and gravitated towards documenting what had not been discovered before.
You have been involved in organising the Celebrations right? Could you talk a little about what you do there?
I have organised the Collecting Track at the Star Wars Celebration events. In the role, I reach out to members of the Star Wars collecting community to be panelists and speakers, arrange volunteers to help with the collecting events, organise giveaways, plan social events with other collectors. The goal is to deliver a high quality segment for Star Wars Celebration for many of the fans who are collectors. At the past several Celebrations, all of the events have had completely filled rooms for every panel. Imagine putting on 15-20 panels across a few days and have each one fill up. That's what we try to do every Celebration and it seems to be popular with collectors.
I also read that you've authored some 3 SW collectables books too? Could you tell us a little about how that came about and what the books contain?
Yes, I've co-authored two books with Duncan Jenkins, Gus and Duncan's Comprehensive Guide to Star Wars Collectibles, Gus and Duncan's Guide to Star Wars Toy Prototypes, and Gus and Duncan's Guide to Star Wars Cast & Crew Items. Duncan and I spent 5 years writing the first book (Comprehensive Guide). We wanted to build the definitive guide to every Star Wars item ever made. This involved documenting over 77,000 items, taking 35,000+ photos, and doing extensive research in all areas of Star Wars collectibles. For the other books, we focused on specific areas of interest, cast and crew items and toy prototypes. We wanted to do in depth books on those subjects where we could get into more detail and provide extensive photography on these little known areas of collecting.
Could you tell me a bit about the Star Wars Collectors Archive? Is it still active today?
I created the Star Wars Collectors Archive in 1994. It was the first Star Wars collecting site on the Internet. The concept was to create a virtual museum of some of the finest things in Star Wars collecting. It is still active today and we continue to add to it. In the early days of Star Wars interest on the Internet, it became the place where people shared information about rare and unusual items.
Did Han shoot first?
Han shot first back in 1977. That's all I remember.
Jack Oughton, AKA Koukouvaya has serious problems writing biographical information about himself in the third person. Jack also spent too much of his time and mental energy on Star Wars as a child. Follow Jack on Twitter or Facebook. Or don't. Whatever works for you.
More movie articles by Jack Oughton :