‘Star Wars’ fan once searched the Sahara Desert for priceless collectibles
The year is 1977, Star wars just opened in theaters, and a worldwide phenomenon has been launched.
Some fans celebrate their favorite characters through cosplay, like this unreal Carrie Fisher lookalike. Others show their adoration by recreating the famous John Williams Star wars hymn with a western twist. This fan recreated a viral TikTok meme featuring The Mandalorian duo, Din Djarin and Grogu AKA Baby Yoda. Someone even built a real Razor Crest.
And then other fans take a storage container to the Sahara Desert in Tunisia to loot a bunch of Star wars fixed parts.
It’s easy to immerse yourself in the Hollywood universe of Star wars franchise – from the casting of relative strangers in the lead roles to the two direct sequels New hope spawned in the global takeover making George Lucas a directorial mega-star. And yet the thing that kept the Star wars saga afloat for more than four decades is the fans.
One of the largest parts of the Star wars universe, apart from its blockbuster films, is arguably its constantly evolving collectible and toy collections – sometimes ultra-rare. Over the past 40 years, Star wars has released a gigantic amount of collectible memorabilia – like the Hasbro Black Series minifigures or the many LEGO sets now available – and with such a plethora of things to buy, trade and sell, Star wars collecting has become almost an industry in itself.
Among the space opera super-fans is a longtime collector – and founder of The Star wars Collectors Archives – Gus Lopez. Lopez started his gigantic collection at the time Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope released when the world was introduced to heroes like Jedi Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and the new big bad, Darth Vader (Dave Prowse). Speaking in an interview, Lopez revealed what brought him to the Star wars the franchise in the first place:
“It’s hard to pinpoint a thing, but Star Wars hit me on a visceral level when I first saw it in 1977 and my life hasn’t been the same since.”
He went on to say:
“This groundbreaking first film was unlike anything anyone had seen before and featured such a rich universe with different planets, aliens, robots, spaceships and characters for new adventures and lots of things to collect!”
Lopez is not wrong. New hope, or just Star wars as it was originally called, was such a surprising success that director George Lucas had not anticipated its huge success, stating that it was only when he saw the lineups at Mann’s Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard that he truly understood the power behind the space opera film he had created.
Introducing heroes like Luke Skywalker, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), Star wars changed the face of the science fiction genre. He made weapons like lightsabers, aliens called Wookiees, and otherworldly planets like Tatooine, colloquial names. He also coined the iconic Jedi phrase, “May the Force be with you”. Collector Lopez commented that one of his favorite places to look for scenery is the location of Tatooine itself, in Tunisia:
âMy favorite Star Wars destination was Tunisia, where they filmed for the planet Tatooine, which features in several films. On some of my travels I’ve been able to get movie props like the Krayt dragon skeleton from Star Wars: A New Hope and humidity sprays and Mos Espa doors from The Phantom Menace.. “
Apparently, on one of those trips to Tunisia, Lopez took a shipping container to the North African country to secure so much Star wars loot as much as possible. Speak with Den of Geek, another toy collector – and The toys that made us (2017) creator – Brian Volk-Weiss, revealed that Gus Lopez is rather famous in the Star wars collection circles. Asked about the âepic lengths someone took to chase an object,â Volk-Weiss said:
âI think Gus Lopez is going to Tunisia with a storage container. This is probably my favorite. I mean, he literally walked through Tunisia to the movie sets and bought stuff from the owners of the land. The sets are still there.
You can almost imagine Lopez searching the Tunisian dunes for settings like the Jawa on Tatooine, or like Jedi Rey Skywalker (Daisy Ridley) on Jakku in the following trilogy. Reveal to The telegraph, Lopez managed to follow specific locations to begin his hunt:
“I brought back huge pieces of fiberglass bone that they left in the desert, for the scenes of their first landing on the planet.”
Star wars Fan Lopez – whose memory-packed Seattle home is known as Bobacabana – went on to describe how he managed to get his hands on some of the one-of-a-kind sets:
“Some wandered in the middle of the Sahara, [â¦] But there were also a bunch of children in the area. I made it clear that I was interested in the purchase and would come back tomorrow. They kept bringing me pieces. I have a ton of stuff.
Apart from his exploits overseas and his ongoing crusade to harvest the most Star wars objects as possible, Lopez also owns the original Death Star model used in the film. He revealed how other collectors found it in an antique store and, after much research to prove it was the real deal, returned to buy the priceless item only to have it. was sold to another local music store.
âYears later Todd, Pat and Tim were discussing the Death Star and heard that the music store had gone bankrupt. They went there to see if they could find it and when they got there they saw that everything in the store had been liquidated except the Death Star, which was used as a trash can.
The Star wars super fan ended up buying the Death Star model from collectors who saved him from his trash can legacy where he still lives in his home.
The world of Star wars collecting seems to operate on a different plane, where replicas of blaster pistols and character costumes are the bargaining chip. There is even a “gray market” that features things that should never have left the set. Collector Jason DeBord said The telegraph that there is a kind of basement Star wars collection operation:
âThe most interesting plays are things that people will never talk about publicly because they are afraid Lucasfilm will come knocking. One of the best I’ve seen is a âheroâ lightsaber (designed for close-up) from the original trilogy. “
Volk-Weiss also hinted at the more exclusive Star wars collecting groups, revealing that there is a private Facebook group called “Deal or No Deal”. The group – which is said to have only 3,000 members – sees its items very high-end, mainly Star wars toys, “sell in the six figures.”
However, it seems unlikely that Lucasfilm will come knocking. With their packed list of upcoming Disney + shows like Obi Wan Kenobi, Boba Fett’s book, and Lando – the mini-series derived from Lando Calrissian – the Star wars the production company is aiming for streaming domination. The first also sees the return of Obi-Wan’s former Padawan, Anakin Skywalker / Darth Vader (Hayden Christensen) to the live-action universe in a Star wars story following the events of Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005) in the prequel trilogy of the Skywalker Saga.
Lopez is arguably one of the definitive Star wars collectors. To celebrate May 4 (AKA Star wars Day), – if Lopez doesn’t see his favorite again Star wars film or the appearance of Boba Fett in the Star Wars Holiday Special – he opens the Bobacabana to other fans for private tours of his collection. He even has electronic lightsabers connected to his Amazon Echo Dot and uses Alexa to turn them on.
It’s safe to say Star wars has loyal, if not the most loyal fans in the galaxy. What is clear is that whatever the polarization of the Star wars the franchise is or is becoming, it will always have dedicated followers to keep George Lucas’ dream alive.
Do you collect Star wars elements?