Steve Sansweet isn't your average, everyday Star Wars fan. He's more like your very un-average, Star Wars FAN-atic. And his personal collection of Star Wars memorabilia is unlike any collection in the world.
That's because it's the world's biggest.
He hosted a CNBC crew a few weeks ago for a rare tour of his private, backyard museum, inside the barn near his Petaluma, California home: Open the door to nearly 100,000 individual, catalogued pieces, and the Star Wars theme envelopes you. And it's loud.
He's no nutcase either. A Temple University journalism graduate, he would later become the Los Angeles Bureau Chief for the Wall Street Journal. He once worked at LucasFilm, serving as director of specialty marketing, and is now in charge of fan relations. Nope, this is just a guy with a bigtime passion and the resources to act on it. And his collection is truly staggering.
Wow, sometimes dreams really do come true!
"This is a model of the original Yoda," says a proud Sansweet, 62. Then he points to a line of extremely high-end cosmetics that Yves St. Laurent tried to market after Star Wars Episode 1: Attack of the Clones as a kind of homage to Queen Amidalah. The make-up was a bigtime failure, which makes the make-up even more collectible!
"This is a pretty exact replica of the bounty hunter Boba-Fett," he says, standing next to the hulking figure of the high-tech assassin.
"This is actually Harrison Ford's face they cast," in "The Empire Strikes Back" when Jabba the Hut entombed him in encarbonate.
His collection features 26,000 trading cards, the most collectible of which he paid $2,000 for. He's got 6,000 Star Wars books. Almost every action figure, of every size. Dozens of box games, Pin Ball machines and video games.
Even an exact replica of the the famous intergalactic jazz band from the Mos Eisley Cantina on the planet Tatooine in the first Star Wars. The collection was made for famed toy retailer FAO Schwarz. It was designed to sit in the company's Las Vegas location lobby. When the toy store filed for bankruptcy, it held an auction, but only careful bidders would have discovered this unusual treasure. That's because in the catalogue, they were only listed as "Alien Musicians," and no one really knew what they were. He picked up the whole set for a bargain price of $2,200.
"It cost even more to ship them to me," he smiles.
But as great as the life-sized band is, his greatest treasure, no question, is Darth Vader.
"The Darth Vader costume is mostly all authentic from 'The Empire Strikes Back' that I acquired in different pieces," says Sansweet, who has the life-sized figure wired so it breathes the trademark breath. He also has the actual head from C3PO, also from Empire Strikes Back, the helmet actually screwed onto actor Anthony Daniels' head during filming.
Why such an obsession? Like so many of us, the first Star Wars movie had him hooked.
"The movie blew me away," he remembers, "and I started buying a little stuff here and there and it became my overwhelming passion."
Passion? More like a single-minded focus. His collection is rumoured to be bigger than even George Lucas'. But ask Steve to put a price tag on his vast holdings, and as you might expect, he demurs.
"I'm afraid that if I added up everything that I have spent over the last 30 years, I will probably have a heart attack. I don't want to know exactly," he says.
"I have friends in ten or 12 countries that look for things for me. I find a lot of stuff on eBay," he says walking our small team around the climate-controlled collection. "This item is from Japan," he says, pointing to a small soda-can dispenser modeled after R2D2.
"Who better to dispense soda than R2D2," he asks, taking a can.
"I have no regrets whatsoever, although sometimes I would stand at the top of the stairs and look at everything and say, 'Oh my goodness. How did this ever happen?'"
That's a good question Sansweet may want to ask his wallet. May the force be with his.... credit cards!
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