November 5, 2011
Story & Photos by: Chris "Darth" Spice

 

OPERATION OCCUPY SANSWEET!
If our invasion of Skywalker Ranch wasn't enough to quench your Star Wars thirst to kick off the weekend on Friday, I was fairly certain to be blown away for the true reason I made the late season trip to California. When I received the invite just after I booked a trip to Fan Days, I wasn't sure I would be able to go. Seeing as something like this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, there was no better time to take up Steve Sansweet on yet another invite to Rancho Obi-Wan. This wasn't a convention or trade show of any sort, in fact it was something right up my alley, a party! Even though the experience at Skywalker Ranch was better than I could have ever imagined, I'm not a film maker. I'm a toy collector, so talk about a vicious win-win. I can't believe it's getting closer to a decade since I first met Steve. I can honestly say it was truly humbling to be among the very limited guest list. So for that reason alone I had to find a way to make the trip happen. The tour kicked off with a unique audio taped welcome to Rancho Obi-Wan, courtesy of James Arnold Taylor. I did my best to listen as I shot photos all around the office, or where all of the many emails directed my way begin "Now Chris,!"

The upper level also houses the Ephemera Room that has over 30,000 cataloged trading cards, stickers, posters, game cards and food related collectibles. This is one of the places where I simply put the cameras down and tried to take in as much of it as I possibly could. The map we were given also informed us the library contains books from 37 countries in 34 languages plus Braille. There were also bronze Sideshow pieces and the Robot Chicken toys on the wall, I wonder how many people have those? I could have spent days in the very first area or wing of the Ranch, but before I knew it we were headed towards the Museum Front Bay. As soon as you walk down the stairs, there are four unique photo ops that await you. The first to your left is the animatronic  Cantina Band that used to be displayed behind the soda counter of FAO Schwarz Las Vegas. The second photo op, moving left to right, is the 501st shrine that pays tribute to the largest Star Wars costuming group in the world. However the most impressive might be the Darth Vader that stands literally in front of you once you descend down the stairs. With exception to the boots, gloves and saber, the rest of the suit has been identified as screen used. Last but certainly not least, there's the life-sized Don Post Boba Fett and Han Solo in Carbonite statue. Without a doubt, walking just a few feet into the front of the museum bay can take your breath away.

The next set of shelving offers many of the fruits that is the vintage Star Wars collection. We're not talking just the original set of 12-backs here. Mr. Sansweet has put together an impressive barrage of everything ever made. Cardbacks, variations, you name it, it's there. While browsing the boxes upon boxes in one of the surrounding hallways, I looked up to find Seth Green and asked him if he's ever seen anything quite like it, and after convincing him there were indeed cameras all over the place, he put the box down that he was attempting to heist!  It was also very cool of him to participate in the filming of our video clip, if any of you get the chance to meet Seth, there's no doubt you'll never forget it. After being blown away by seeing ever Kenner Hasbro product ever made, I found my way to the back bay of Rancho Obi-Wan and yet I still wasn't anywhere near the new additions! The back bay highlights included everything LEGO, a life-sized R2-MR. T2 and magazine and comic collection that included over 10,000 issues! There was also a LEGO Darth Vader statue that was extremely rare, only two were made and the other was purchased by Michael Jackson. Which only makes you wonder, where the other is at now that he's passed away?

Inside what is called the "Curtain Room" might be more impressive than any other area of the Ranch. First of all, nearly every item ever created from Attukus is there. However the 3-D blueprint of the Falcon that the crew used as a guide to build the real version on set was pretty impressive, as was the Yoda puppet that was cast off the original. The original has long since disintegrated, so this might be the closest I'll ever see to the real deal. Also to note, the bronze Yoda that stands guard at most LFL sites was also represented in the room, I shuddered when I wondered the value of just the one room I was standing in. How did he track down every single one of the Droids & Ewok figures? There were also the primitively painted gun towers from the original Death Star used in A New Hope. At this point I was beginning to feel quite dizzy, but up the hall into the Tantive IV corridor that the R2 builders club originally assembled for Celebration IV, now it included an intro that Steve seemed to enjoy entertaining the crowd with! The Tantive IV corridor was decorated in a splendid fashion, as most of the 1:1 Side Show life-sized busts align either side of the entryway. There were several instances where I didn't know what the hell I was looking at, but I was smart enough to know I'd never be able to afford it!

As we made our way into the "new" wing or the addition, you are immediately overwhelmed by the many large or life sized props that decorate the entry. From the screen accurate DeJarik table build by Phillip Wise, screen used Empire Strikes Back crew uniform or the chair from Revenge of the Sith that was used in the cockpit of the Coruscant consular ship, it was all mind blowing. There were Japanese golf bags of both Vader and Stormtrooper and the Return of the Jedi Speederbike / Green Machine that included the store display backdrop. These were just a few of the incredibly awesome items that align the upper shelves. There was also an arcade of pinball and original Atari games and even gaming machines from Germany and Japan, the cool part was they were set to free play and the party-goers really seemed to enjoy that! Just as the party seemed to kick into gear, we took party in the ribbon cutting ceremony that officially opened Rancho Obi-Wan for business.

After a thrice of attempts by the Mayor of Star Wars Town, the festivities were back underway. After stopping off for a beverage and a snack, I made my way back into the new addition and held my jaw in my hand as I browsed the artwork, statues and most of the Vader helmets that were auctioned off at Celebrations for Make-A-Wish, and I have no doubt Mr. Sansweet probably gets a very nice Christmas card every year from them! From the replica R2-D2 mailbox to the Rebel Command Center model built for the Blu-Ray at Comic-Con last year, one could only walk around and be nothing but amazed. This indeed is the ultimate showcase of Star Wars collecting, what we all as collectors can only aspire to be. I know over the years I've gotten to know Steve Sansweet pretty well, but have to say again how humbled I was to be among the crowd gathered that evening. To have a conversation with Duncan Jenkins, Gus Lopez and Pablo Hidalgo and ask "How often is it you guys see something that outdoes all of your collections combined?" All nodded heads in agreement, Rancho Obi-Wan indeed holds the title. Now that the public can take tours, I would certainly make it a tourist attraction if you are ever in the San Francisco Bay area. Rancho Obi-Wan was inspired by the Force of Imagination, and I have no question will be the epicenter of this hobby and set the bar for Star Wars collections for generations to come. As sad as it may be, I couldn't list all of the highlights in one report. In fact, I did the best I could to enjoy it without looking through a camera lens. The hundreds of photos I took simply can't do the place justice. The party was only seven hours long and I think I could have spent as many days in the library or poster room alone. That's something I very much hope to do when I return, as no doubt I won't take as many years to visit the Ranch next time the offer is out there, thanks again to Steve and the entire staff at Rancho Obi-Wan. This night was no doubt one of the greatest I have ever spent in association with my work with this website or the 501st Legion. As we all have to remember, the Force will be with us... always! 

PHOTO GALLERY
To see the photo gallery from Rancho Obi-Wan click here!

Check out the video of the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony and interviews with Steve Sansweet and James Arnold Taylor!