When it comes to collecting Star Wars memorabilia Steve Sansweet wrote the book. Actually, he’s written 16 of them that are must-haves for any die-hard Star Wars fan. When mimoZine reached out to Steve, he was gracious enough to give us a personal tour of his revered Star Wars collection which he’s converted into an impressive non-profit museum in Northern California named Rancho Obi-Wan. Enjoy the video tour below and scroll down for an informative interview from the man himself!
“We’ve taken our 1st step into Steve’s larger world”
Room upon room with row upon row of action figures, original set pieces, fan-made masterpieces and even a small treasure trove of those MIMOBOTs we all love so well. It falls smack dab between astonishing and overwhelming when you find yourself surrounded by all these legendary items while Steve gives detailed explanations of every one with a well deserved sense of pride. His affection never wavers from piece to piece and you can’t help but feel the same way.
This tour with our dear friend Steve has been a long time coming, but you don’t have to be on the first-name basis with the guy to get this special treatment. To become a member of Rancho Obi-Wan simply go to www.ranchoobiwan.org/members.php and choose your membership level OR enter our contest here. All levels of membership include multiple perks and exclusive merchandise including shirts, patches, and even a personalized membership card. It’s a non-profit museum and all money goes either into the upkeep of the museum or into donations to other non-profits and outreach programs.
At Star Wars Celebration VI Mimozine sat down with Steve and gathered a wealth of information on his life in the Star Wars universe and the joys of being a collector. Refresh your memory: you enjoy Steve Sansweet and his tremendous Star Wars museum Rancho Obi-Wan!
MimoZine: Can you talk about your background briefly. Where did you grow up? What were your interests in early life that play into your current interest in collecting all things Star Wars?
Steve: I was born and raised in Philadelphia, and left there after finishing college and my first jobs in journalism. I grew up devouring classic science fiction novels, watched cheesy early TV shows like Tom Corbett Space Cadet, and as I got older began building sci-fi models, rockets, and spacecraft.
MimoZine: Can you quickly talk about your first contact with Star Wars?
Steve’s first Star Wars item, a promotional book sent to theatre owners. [early 1977]
MimoZine: Can you talk about the first time you saw the movie?
Steve: Along with a large group of other journalists in Los Angeles, I was invited to see the movie in the Daryl F. Zanuck Theater on the backlot of 20th Century Fox about two weeks before it opened. It grabbed me from the opening.
MimoZine: Was there a specific point when you knew that it was more than a movie? That it would be a larger phenomenon?
Steve: It was fairly clear to me from the start because of the TV coverage and the newspaper and magazine stories. This movie was an instant phenomenon and got people buzzing unlike any other movie in my lifetime
Original Ralph McQuarrie hand-painted banner for San Diego Comic-Con. [circa 1976]
MimoZine: Can you talk briefly about your professional involvement with Star Wars including what prompted your first book on the subject and how you came to eventually work at Lucasfilm?
Steve: I had heard through the pre-Internet grapevine that Lucasfilm’s new publishing department was going to do an authorized collectibles price guide. So I cold-called the head of publishing and brashly told her that if anybody was going to do a book like that it should be me. Her first response was, “And you are…?” Our conversations led to my first Star Wars book, From Concept to Screen to Collectible, and later a price guide through Tomart’s.
The job was serendipity. I got a call in 1975 from Lucasfilm asking if I knew of anyone who might be interested in a maximum one-year job at a middling salary to go around the country and talk at fan conventions the following year about the Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition. At the time I had been Los Angeles Bureau Chief of the Wall Street Journal for nine years, and the Journal wanted to give someone else a chance at that role—although I was offered fantastic alternatives. Instead, I decided to follow my bliss—and the one-year job lasted for 15.
MimoZine: Is there one ‘holy grail’ piece that you will always search for? Or maybe a piece that’s rumored to exist?
Steve: I made the mistake of revealing my then “holy grail” in an article for Starlog magazine in the late 1980s. I said I had regretted passing up a $69 kids Jedi bike in Toys ‘R’ Us just a few years before. Within a week of the article appearing I got calls from two different dealers; each was happy that they could sell me my grail—for $2,000! I passed (years later I got one for considerably less), but that’s the first and last time I revealed any grail item.
Steve not only picked up this ride-on speeder bike sweepstakes prize, but also the store display that was used at the time.
MimoZine: Can you talk briefly about the “dark years” when there were very few new collectibles.
MimoZine: What still drives you in regards to Star Wars and collecting? How has Star Wars collecting changed?
Steve: It’s still about seeing something cool or totally unexpected. These days I really look for one-of-a-kind fan made items or original art, among many other things. In the “old days” you had to go to local shows or buy things through publications like Toy Shop. Today’s it’s eBay and online search and shopping.
Ceramic assortment highlighted by an ‘interesting’ C-3P0 tape dispenser
From the infamous “StarsWar” Turkish bootlegs line by UZAY, here is the Imperial Gunner hard at work…on an Imperial Calculator.
MimoZine: Any tips on someone who wants to get into, or back into, now?
Steve: Just buy what you love! Always buy top quality and condition even if that makes an older item cost more. And keep your collecting in check: don’t spend the rent or mortgage money on a collectible, no matter how cool.
MimoZine: How did the idea of a museum come to be?
Steve: We were looking for a way to be able to share the collection with more fans from around the world, rather than just have occasional visits from friends and fellow collectors. I knew I’d be leaving Lucasfilm full-time, and that seemed the opportune moment to start a major expansion and renovation. It’s also when we started the work to incorporate as a non-profit and I came up with our slogan: Inspired by the Force of Imagination.
MimoZine: What is your goal with opening a museum?
Steve: I own and still buy everything for the collection. I lease the collection and the building to Rancho Obi-Wan Inc. at no cost. This is not like most museums where you pay admission and walk around. A visit involves a two-to-three hour personally guided tour by me filled with stories and behind-the-scenes accounts. The money we raise through tours, memberships, and donations helps to defray some of the expenses of running the museum. We have a board of directors whose members have come up with some great ideas for the future. We’re always going to be changing things to make the experience even better.
You can take a picture with the Cantina Band in front of one of the actual Cantina doors salvaged from Tunisia.
MimoZine: What kind of expression do you love to hear when showing your collection?
Steve: It’s not an expression so much as the look on people’s faces when I do a big reveal of parts of the museum. The open-mouthed smiles and looks of sheer rapture are what make it all worthwhile for me.
The hungry hordes couldn’t get enough at Celebration VI.
Steve: While the Rancho Obi-Wan Experience was much more work and hard labor than my associate Anne Neumann and I ever dreamed it would be, we loved doing it. It exposed so many more people to our little piece of Star Wars heaven; we more than doubled our memberships and booked a lot of new tours at the show. We had a great group of volunteers who treated each visitor as an honored guest, and the feedback has been fantastic.
Steve: We had a lot of super visitors: Ian McDiarmid, ILM stalwarts Dennis Muren and Jon Berg, and…oh yeah…George Lucas. I had the chance to show them and some others around personally and it’s safe to say they all “got” it. Anne and I carefully curated the display so it told stories and wasn’t the stereotypical “Oh, look how much stuff I have!” kind of thing that some non-collectors expect to hear.
MimoZine: How can people find out more about the Museum?
Steve: Information about memberships, tours, donations and more is at www.ranchoobiwan.org. We have a very active and constantly updated Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/RanchoObiWan, and you can follow us on Twitter @RanchoObiWan
MimoZine: Where do you see Star Wars going? What are avenues of development that you’re excited about?
Steve: The recent big news about new Star Wars films being made and Lucasfilm finding a new home with The Walt Disney Co. is very exciting. I can’t wait to see new stories on the big screen! And the possibility of more Star Wars theme park attractions, television shows, a broader online presence—all of that revs me up!
MimoZine: What is your favorite scene in the Star Wars saga and why?
Steve: My favorite scene is in Star Wars, and it’s wordless. It’s when Luke walks away from the homestead, plants his feet on the ground and looks up at the setting suns as John Williams’ incredible “Binary Sunset” music plays in the background. I connected with that emotionally— I could feel Luke’s frustration, his yearning to leave home and set out on a journey of discovery. That scene still gets to
Mimos Mimos everywhere!
This tour with our good friend Steve has been a long time coming. But you don’t have to be on the first name basis to get his special treatment. To become a member of the Rancho Obi-Wan simply go to www.ranchoobiwan.org/members and choose your membership level. All levels of membership include multiple perks and exclusive merchandise including shirts, patches, and even a personalized membership card. It’s a non-profit museum and all money goes either into the upkeep of the museum or into donations to other non-profits and outreach programs. If you’re anywhere near as in love with Star Wars as we are then we highly recommend putting a Rancho Obi-Wan visit on your bucket list. You might find yourself inspired to start up your own collection, might we suggest starting it off with some MIMOBOTs?
Thanks to everyone who entered our competition, we loved hearing your favorite items from Steve’s collection.