I didn’t set out to own the world’s largest collection of Star Wars memorabilia, as recently certified by Guinness World Records. It just sort of happened… over a period of 37 years. The more-than-300,000-piece collection is housed in what used to be hen houses that held around 20,000 egg-producing chickens until the early 1970s. I call the place “Rancho Obi-Wan.”
I’ve always had the collecting gene—baseball cards, comic books, matchbook covers, you name it. But growing up with a love of science fiction and fantasy, I gravitated toward older Japanese space toys and robots when I started collecting as an adult. And then, in 1977, my life changed, as did my collecting habits, as Star Wars blew me away. It all started as part of the space toy collection, but after The Empire Strikes Back came out, it really took over. My one-story cantilevered house in the Los Angeles hills eventually became a three-story house; one supplemental storage locker grew to five.
In 1998, I moved north to join the Lucasfilm Marketing division, and two 42-foot moving vans (and one 28-foot one) needed someplace to drop off all this stuff. Thus was born Rancho Obi-Wan on 2.25 acres of land just outside Petaluma, California, about 50 minutes north of San Francisco. In November, 2011, a few months after I retired full time from Lucasfilm, Rancho Obi-Wan was incorporated as a nonprofit public benefit corporation, and with total space approaching 9,000 square feet, we were able to open it up to guided tours for the public.
This isn’t a museum like most others. It’s an experience—personal tours of around three hours that I lead, telling stories about many of the items or how I came to get them. Our holdings include movie-used props, vintage toys, international playthings, wonderful art, and sculptures and fan-made pieces that show the passion and skill of so many Star Wars fans worldwide. Where else would you find a bantha piñata, a carved wooden AT-AT, or an amazing crocheted Salacious Crumb, Jabba’s cackling sidekick?
Steve Sansweet, head of Fan Relations at Lucasfilm for 15 years and now Fan Relations Adviser, is chief executive of Rancho Obi-Wan, a nonprofit museum that houses the world’s largest private collection of Star Wars memorabilia. To find out about joining or taking a guided tour, visit RanchoObiWan.org. Follow on Twitter @RanchoObiWan and Facebook.com/RanchoObiWan.