This year marks the 30th Anniversary of the release of the first Star Wars movie and what better time to check in with Lucasfilm, Ltd.'s Steve Sansweet. In this web-based exclusive, we continue our magazine discussion with the person who just might have the best job in the world.
NSU: Are you still doing regular television appearances?
SS: Regular? No. Occasional, yes. And because of reruns, people still write or call to tell me they've just caught a show taped six or seven years ago.
NSU: On average, how many conventions do you attend each year? Where do these take you (tell us about some of the further-away destinations)?
SS: That first year, I did 60 presentations around the U.S. from March through October. I barely have time to do even a tenth of that these days. One of the reasons is that I'm in charge of the huge Star Wars Celebration events for Lucasfilm, which had been every three years before each Prequel movie. But it will be just two years when we do what we expect will be the largest yet, Celebration IV in Los Angeles in May 2007.
I always do San Diego Comic-Con International. LFL started the practice of telling fans about movies in 1976, and San Diego was the place. I've been a frequent guest at conventions in Australia, Germany, and Mexico and I've done some in Spain, Italy, Canada, France, and Finland. I'd love to do one in Japan some day.
NSU: Can you give us a sneak peek of what we might expect at Star Wars Celebration IV in Los Angeles (May 24-28) and Star Wars Celebration Europe in London (July 13-15)? Will you be making presentations at both?
SS: Celebrations aren't like Comic-Con where I make the main LFL presentation. I am the co-producer of the Celebration events for Lucasfilm and we have LOTS of LFL folks there to make their own presentations—actors, behind-the-scenes folks, etc. You can expect Rick McCallum to fill fans in on the latest happenings, and some of the folks from Lucasfilm Animation to talk about the animated TV series coming up in 2008.
NSU: I read that people come to your museum to do research and that bits for television series have been taped there. Tell us about some of those.
SS: I've done a lot of interviews in the museum for TV shows in the U.S., Japan, England, and France. Kevin Smith (Clerks, Dogma, etc.) and the Sci-Fi Channel shot a Star Wars Fan Film show here a couple of years ago. And I'm doing a monthly taped mini-show for the Hyperspace section of the official site, starwars.com.
NSU: Does Lucasfilm also maintain an archive that rivals yours? How about George Lucas himself?
SS: The Lucasfilm Archives that everyone talks about is the place where the props and costumes are kept. Lucas Licensing also has a product archive that goes back to the beginning, and it's quite large because licensees send many samples of each product. But that's being winnowed down for space reasons, and my best guess is that I've got more different items by now than the company does.
NSU: I've read astounding facts and figures about the books in the library wing of your museum and that it contains every licensed Star Wars book published in the U.S. and all variations. Care to elaborate on what your trading card collection is like?
SS: Whew! Trading cards are among my favorite things. We're in the process of doing the first real, complete inventory of the collection, and the number of separate Topps items is close to 7,000. And there's still some more to add. Then there are international sets of cards and stickers for the last 30 years. I'll bet the final number will easily surpass 20,000 items.
The trading card/sticker collection has actually been a real mess for the last few years, but my friend and collection manager, Anne Neumann, is a huge trading card lover, and she's been reorganizing the whole collection so I finally can see what I've got…and just as importantly, what I'm missing so I can go hunting for it!
NSU: In an article I referenced in researching this topic, I saw a picture on one of your walls that looked like it could have been the original art for a trading card. Was that correct and do you own much original trading card art?
SS: I've got a couple of choice pieces from the Galaxy series—a color comp from Ken Stacey that was used as a card, poster, box art, book cover and lithograph; a magnificent Tom Taggart Boba Fett collage that looked liked flat art for the series because that was the way he had it photographed (it was also a great NSU cover); and a Gahan Wilson black & white comp that ended up being used as a Galaxy card back.
NSU: Is everything in your collection licensed or fan-made? Or do you collect unlicensed items as well?
SS: I especially love the fan-made items because they are both incredibly clever and show the passion and skill of the fans that made them. And there is a smattering of vintage bootleg items, mostly figures.
NSU: Do you collect anything else besides Star Wars?
SS: Not now. I do still have most of my vintage space toy collection, but that's packed away. Even with a large barn, there are space limitations.
NSU: Are you still as excited about collecting Star Wars as you were before you were a Lucasfilm employee?
SS: Absolutely! My job at Lucasfilm as Director of Content Management and head of Fan Relations in the Marketing division has nothing to do directly with collectibles. So collecting is still my leisure-time (what little there is of it) hobby. And I still love it. And I love the idea that my books over the past 15+ years have turned a lot of other people on to this wonderful, boundless hobby of Star Wars collecting.
NSU: Are you involved with other licensed Star Wars properties in this same way?
SS: I write books, of course. And I serve as primary or secondary editor on our four licensed fan magazines in the U.S., U.K., France and Germany. I get involved with Hasbro from time to time, and talk to top collectibles licensees like Master Replicas and Gentle Giant. And every time we have a Star Wars Celebration, I'm heavily involved in selecting and/or approving the merchandise.
NSU: Before Episode I, there was talk of another card manufacturer getting the trading card license. Wouldn't it have been sad if Topps was no longer the Star Wars licensee?
SS: It would have been inconceivable to me. But Topps stepped up to the plate, swung for the fences, and did what it took to keep the license.
NSU: Please tell us the story behind the infamous dirty C3PO card.
SS: Dirty? Really? It's all in the eye of the beholder. There have been lots of stories and urban legends over the years, like some printer at Topps had a grudge and manipulated the photo before the card was printed. But I asked Gary Gerani, and he insisted that the photo came from LFL that way—it looked like C-3PO had an X-rated appendage—and that no one caught it until the set was distributed. I took that with a grain of salt…until I located the actual photo in the image vaults at Lucasfilm. Sure enough, it was in the negatives—and there were multiples of them. Some speculate that it was a piece that fell off of the costume just as the photo was taken, or an optical illusion. But when you look at the negative it's hard to believe that it was an accident. I suspect that someone, somewhere along the way, decided to have a bit of fun and doctored the original negative and made sure that only the doctored ones were left. We'll probably never know for sure.
NSU: It's amazing to me that all during the huge reaction to the original film in the 1970s, and then in the 1980s, we were led to believe Lucas had plotted the saga out as nine films, not six. Once the last three were into production, the story seemed to have been changed to Lucas having plotted out only six, not nine. What is the source of the confusion, and do fans believe Lucas has answered this satisfactorily?
SS: I can't answer as to what fans believe. All I know is that George plotted out three movies, but had to craft a bit of a back story so that he knew the history of his characters and his universe. There have never been storylines for any more than six movies.
NSU: What is your relationship with George Lucas like? How often do you see him?
SS: I used to see George a lot more when we all worked at Skywalker Ranch (most of the company now works at a beautiful campus in San Francisco near the Golden Gate bridge). I first met him years before I joined the company when I interviewed him for my first Star Wars book. I've worked directly with him on a few projects over the years and he never fails to be helpful.
NSU: Can we expect a new wave of promotional tie-ins to celebrate the anniversary? If so, do you happen to know if any will involve cards?
SS: As of now, the main activities for the 30th Anniversary will be the Tournament of Rose Parade, Star Wars Celebration IV, and Star Wars Celebration Europe. There will be some degree of merchandise connected with all, but I don't know about cards specifically. I'll bet the 501st Stormtrooper Legion—200 of whose members will be marching in the Rose Parade—might come up with a Rose Parade commemorative card as part of their continuing series of individual member cards.
NSU would like to thank Steve Sansweet for being so gracious with his time and providing us with his voluminous insider's insight. To read more of NSU's exclusive Sansweet interview, including what led Steve to become a Star Wars collector, what's in his collection, and his favorite type of Star Wars collectible, see the latest issue of Non-Sport Update magazine.
Interview by Harris D. Toser for Non-Sport Update; (c) 2007 Non-Sport Update; Posting of this article on other websites is prohibited.