Elstree Props (e11e on eBay) is marketing another very expensive “original” prop auction with pieces claimed to have been “prototypes” in the production of Star Wars: A New Hope. This new eBay offering is a set of lightsabers, attributed to a January 1976 meeting. Comparing the claims made in the auction listing with J.W. Rinzler’s The Making of Star Wars raises many questions about these vintage camera flashguns being offered for sale starting at $19,938.00.
Here is an archive of the public auction listing:
STAR WARS ORIGINAL MOVIE PROP LIGHTSABER PROTOTYPES – VADER & SKYWALKER WITH NOTES FORM 1976 MEETING UNIQUE! (eBay Listing # 350075140833)
ORIGINAL STAR WARS DARTH VADER AND LUKE SKYWALKER LIGHTSABERS!
COMPLETE WITH 7 PAGE 1976 HEAD OF DEPARTMENT MEETING NOTES!
UNIQUE PIECE OF MOTION PICTURE HISTORY.
This UNIQUE auction is for both Darth Vader and Luke Skywalkers prototype lightsabers from BEFORE the first movie Star Wars Episode IV A New Hope was even started! Below are the sabers pictured with the flash dishes and the notes that were rolled up inside. These came directly from John Stears who was the mechanical effects supervisor. John won the Oscar for his work on this classic movie. These are NOT screen seen and have never been the property of LucasFilm. They were used for the meetings only and were John’s property. We brought John’s entire collection in 1985. We are able to use some of the trademarked names under Fair Usage policy to accurately describe the contents of this auction. All trademarks acknowledged.
(The original Indiana Jones whip and original Stormtrooper blaster are not included in the sale by the way, although we will be listing them on eBay later so keep watching. They were John’s as well, and the blaster is mentioned in the H.O.D. notes included with this auction!)
These two flashguns represent a unique piece of Movie History! As the resident engineers we worked with John Stears very closely on Star Wars. If you look at the early concept drawings for Star Wars and read the original stories that George Lucas wrote, you will see that Luke was originally “Luke Starkiller” and that he used a “Laser Sword”. Below is a picture of “Luke Starkiller” holding such a sword. This sticker is on the front of the original Droid Manuals that John wrote which we also own. You can see the movie was to be called “The Star Wars!” These detail how he made and how to operate R2-D2 and the other four R/C droids, the Stick robot, Dome robot, Baby Box robot and Umbrella Droid. But it’s the Laser Sword that is relevant to this auction : )
Initially we helped John make swords with a motorised handle driving a triangular blade which had a silver reflective surface. This spun rapidly and it was hoped that this would create the effect George Lucas wanted. It didn’t:) George Lucas wanted a sword with a concave dish at the top of the hilt that would reflect light up to the tip, a bit like a radar dish. So for the Head of Department meeting on 16th January 1976 John Stears took these two flash guns in as he thought the Flash bowls would be ideal. Further meetings with Roger Christian are detailed in the notes
Eventually George Lucas was shown these two actual pieces and instantly disregarded the bowls and saw what no-one else had considered, the bodies of the flash guns would be perfect lightsabers! That is how the lightsaber were created, these are the actual two pieces that he handled! Here is the front page of the seven sheets included with this auction to prove that this was all well before shooting started on location in Tunisia and here at Elstree Film Studios:
So these pieces show the creative genius of George Lucas We are including the actual notes from this meeting as part of the auction. There are seven pages in all, detailing fascinating facts about the landspeeders, “Artoo”, C-3PO, the X-Wings and much more. Only the winning bidder will see it all, but there are some brilliantly creative ideas in there. John Stears actually talks about training Jackson River rats which can be dyed different colours, and using rideable Ostriches! The two paragraphs below are very interesting as well. We have one of the actual “dummy” stormtrooper blasters detailed below. There was no licenced armourer going on location so weapons with wooden barrels and cast metal breeches were specially made. This will be put on eBay if we get sufficient interest! The second paragraph is also particularily interesting if you have been following the court case between Lucasfilm and Mr Ainsworth, it seems to prove the Trooper helmets were based on an original sketch!
The actual flashguns themselves are a Microflash Flash Gun and bowl made by Micro Precision Products Ltd of England which later became what Darth Vaders weapon was based on, and a Graflex flashgun and bowl made by the Folmer Graflex Corporation of New York that later became Luke Skywalkers saber. They are both obviously very old, the MPP flash has P60/6114 engraved on it. Inside the handle of the MPP we found these notes rolled up. There are also some other pieces dated 1985 which was when we got John’s collection. These will only be disclosed to the winning bidder. We are giving eBayers first chance on this historic set, if it doesn’t go it will be off to one of the old traditional auction houses. Here are some closeups of the actual “Sabers”
So to value! In our humble opinion a prop is only worth what someone will happily pay for it. This pair and the included notes and other memorabilia are unique and obviously a very important part of motion picture history. Movies don’t come any more memorable or iconic than the first ever Star Wars movie, and piece are highly sought after. An “original” lightsaber sold at Profiles for over $70,000 last year. We don’t want to put a reserve on these, but also don’t want them going too cheaply, so we are starting at £10,000. That seems a reasonable starting point based on the pieces we have sold over the last 30 or so years! The winning bidder is of course welcome to collect from us here at Elstree Film Studios, or we can ship anywhere worldwide. Full COA from the film studios obviously, as well as all the other provenance. Shipping will need full insurance as these are high value pieces. These can also be cased with appropriate lighting and backdrops in lockable cases for £300 each if required.
Relevant Production Paperwork Photos:
Text from “LASER-SWORDS:
The Sp.Fx. Dept. hope to test new swords on Wednesday (21/1); it will not be necessary to test the rotating swords. Test to be made on the tapered round sword. Test also to be tried on sword which has small cup in convex dish.
John Stears and Roger Christian to have a meeting Monday morning (19/1) on the type of sword handles George Lucas prefers.
Primary Marketing Photo:
Found Part Vintage Camera Flashguns
The two “prototype” lightsabers pictured in the auction are one MPP Microflash manufactured by Micro Precision Products of England and one Graflex 3-cell flash.
The MPP is the camera flash upon which the Darth Vader saber was based in A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. The Darth Vader lightsaber used in the film was a modified/customized MPP.
The Graflex 3-cell is the camera flash upon which the Luke Skywalker saber was based in A New Hope and The Empire Strikes back. Again, real Graflex flashguns were customized for the production. You can learn more about the authentic props used in the films at Parts of Star Wars.
As a point of reference, the MPPs are somewhat hard to find and the 3-cell Graflex is, in fact, quite common. The two camera components generally sell on eBay for $250-$750 and $75-$250 respectively.
In the first two Star Wars films, it is my understanding that lightsabers were resued from film to film. Given the characterization of these two pieces at auction, it does seem unusual that, if they were available in early 1976, that they were not used in the production.
Regardless, in referencing The Making of Star Wars (see Book Review: The Making of Star Wars), the information presented in the book appears to be at odds with the story and claims in the Elstree Props auction.
The Making of Star Wars: December 1975 to March 1976 (Page 119)
The Making of Star Wars is written by the Executive Editor at Lucasfilm Ltd., J.W. Rinzler, and is a fully authorized and exhaustively detailed and comprehensive work that archives the production and making of Star Wars: A New Hope. This book is officially described, in part, as follows:
Using his unprecedented access to the Lucasfilm Archives and its trove of never-before-published “lost” interviews, photos, production notes, factoids, and anecdotes, Star Wars scholar J. W. Rinzler hurtles readers back in time for a one-of-a-kind behind-the-scenes look at the nearly decade-long quest of George Lucas and his key collaborators to make the “little” movie that became a phenomenon.
But perhaps most exciting, and rarest of all, are the interviews conducted before and during production and immediately after the release of Star Wars-in which George Lucas, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Sir Alec Guinness, Anthony Daniels, composer John Williams, effects masters Dennis Muren, Richard Edlund, and John Dykstra, Phil Tippett, Rick Baker, legendary production designer John Barry, and a host of others share their fascinating tales from the trenches and candid opinions of the film that would ultimately change their lives.
In short, it would be difficult to dispute the original photographs and other collateral and first hand accounts of those involved in the production of the film. Much of what is presented is not only first hand testimony but excerpts from other sources made at the time of the production.
Page 118 includes a section titled “VOYAGE TO THE UNKNOWN”, which I copy here for the purpose of discussion and analysis:
VOYAGE TO THE UNKNOWN
Following the first special effects tests on January 14 with “laser swords, R2-D2 model, and illuminated control boards,” a second test took place on January 23 with “laser swords and Jawa ‘eyes.'” Between the two, Lucas sat down on January 20 with Kurtz and director of photography Gil Taylor, who at this point was quite new to the production and clearly coming to grips with many of its technical challenges.
This is an archive of Page 119, which serves as reference for questions with regard to the Elstree Props “original prototype lightsabers”:
As a continuation of “VOYAGE TO THE UNKNOWN”, “LASER SWORD” includes a dialogue between George Lucas and Gil Taylor (circa January 20, 1976):
George Lucas: As it stands now, we’ve got three scenes with the light sword. The first scene shows what it is. Luke just turns it on. The next one is a very quick scene in the cantina-it’ll just be a flash. In both those cases, it’s just one sword. The last is the final battle between Ben and the warlord. That’s going to be a tricky one where they actually fight, but at least now it’s down to a very controlled setup.
Gil Taylor: Are the laser sword and the laser gun one and the same thing?
Lucas: No. Laser guns are going to be essentially real guns that fire a blank that makes a big flame. We’ll make it into a nice laser-gun sound later; then we will optically, in cases where it is necessary, animate the blasts, so you’ll see the bolts ricochet around. But you’ll never actually have to deal with it photographically.
Photocaption: McQuarrie’s early concepts for the laser sword
Below is a close-up of the reference photos (circa January 14, 1976 – January 25, 1976) of the actual “prototype” lightsabers:
Photocaption for images above: [The] production’s reference photos of early prototypes
None of the prototypes shown and attributed to that time period are Graflexes or MPPs.
The word “prototype” has a literally meaning as well as a specific meaning with regard to film props.
With the Star Wars films, the photos provided in the book archived above are the actual “prototype” lightsabers from the time period cited in the Elstree Props eBay auction listing – from January 1976. These are consistent in design with the Ralph McQuarrie conceptual artwork.
The vintage flashguns offered for sale are the same type of found part ultimately used to make the lightsabers used in the film, but they appear unmodified; anyone today can find them for sale for hundreds of dollars or less. Giving every benefit of the doubt, even if these were owned by John Stears at the time of the production, that would not make them “prototypes”, but unused production collateral. The Elstree marketing description asserts that they “were John’s property” and “have never been the property of LucasFilm”, so again, giving every benefit of the doubt, I still do not see how they could be considered “Original” props from the production. No evidence is provided in the auction which proves these two pieces were employed in the production of the film in any capacity.
Leading up to the section on the prototype lightsabers in the book, on Page 117 there is a photo of “interesting junk” and information relevant to acquiring found parts for the lightsabers and other props.
This is an archive of Page 117:
Excerpt from Page 117:
[John Barry says] So one of the first things we did on the picture was to buy thousands of pounds’ worth of junk from drain companies and the like-we have a buyer who’s a very eccentric and amusing man-and we invested £10,000 in a big machine that had previously been making dinghies and boats. The comlink is in fact part of a faucet. The handle of a lightsaber is a very old photographic flash unit, though we never just picked them up and used them. They were repainted, sign writing was put on, and sometimes they were cast again in plastic. Luke’s binoculars are an old Ronoflex.
Original “Graflex” Lightsabers
Elstree Props have previously sold replica prop lightsabers made from Graflex flashguns, like the one offered at auction today as an original “prototype”:
Even with a replica, the Certificate of Authenticity is written in what I personally view to be a misleading manner to sound as though it is the “original” lightsaber made by Elstree Film Studios “as used by Luke Skywalker in the first movie”.
The COA reads:
Certificate of Authenticity
This is to certify that this is an original “Graflex” lightsabers made at Elstree Film Studios, England by the original resident studio engineers as used by Luke Skywalker in the first movie “Star Wars – A New Hope”
The Danziger Collection
Special Effects Supervisor and Licensed Film Archivist
Over all of these years, how was the “prototype” Graflex offered for sale today identified and cataloged so as to keep separate from the other Graflex flashguns sold as replica props?
Past OPB Articles: Elstree Props “Prototype” Terminator 2 Model
- Market Watch: Terminator 2 “Original” Miniature Prototype (Elstree Props)
- Market Watch: T2 “Original” Miniature Update
- Market Watch: T2 “Original” Miniature Update 2
These three articles investigated an Elstree Props eBay auction offering for sale “a very rare prototype piece from a classic movie, Terminator 2 starring Arnold Schwarzenegger”. Just as with the subject of this article, this piece was marketed as a “prototype”. Following further research, the piece was identified as a commercially available licensed model kit sold by Horizon in 1993 – two years after the film was released theatrically.
Past OPB Articles: “Original” Return of the Jedi Lightsaber
- Elstree Props “Original” Return of the Jedi Lightsaber at Auction
- Elstree Props Return of the Jedi Lightsaber Auction – Update 1
- Elstree Props Return of the Jedi Lightsaber Auction – Update 2
- Elstree Props Return of the Jedi Lightsaber Auction – Update 3
- Elstree Props Return of the Jedi Lightsaber Auction – Update 4
- Elstree Props Return of the Jedi Lightsaber Auction – Update 5
- Elstree Props Return of the Jedi Lightsaber Auction – Update 6
This was another lightsaber auction, this one described as “the actual lightsaber that was made for Luke Skywalker to use in Return of the Jedi for the scenes where he makes his own lightsaber”. This is a scene that does not appear in the film, nor does the lightsaber offered for sale (with a “Snap It Up” price of £30,000 or approximately $60,000.00). This lightsaber differed from photos of those confirmed as used in the film.
Most curious about this piece was that it opened to reveal a green crystal (which related to the color of the lightsaber blade). However, the lightsaber used by Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi was intended to have a blue blade as in the prior films and was changed post production. The one sheet for the film showing just Luke’s hands and lightsaber show a blue blade, and early trailers show special effects with Luke using a lightsaber with a blue blade.
Past OPB Article: John Stears Collection Star Wars Imperial Blaster
As is the case with the lightsabers that are the subject of this article, another prop was trading in the marketplace that was described as “originally owned by John Stears”. Mr Stears passed in 1999, so it is obviously impossible to obtain an account from him with regards to these pieces attributed to his collection.
However, as noted in the article linked to above, the “original” Star Wars blaster sold by Elstree Props as from the John Stears collection was determined to have been inauthentic – a custom fan-made prop with unique “fantasy” elements not seen in the film.
Issues of authenticity aside, the camera flashguns offered for sale today by Elstree Props do not resemble the actual prototypes pictured in the work, The Making of Star Wars.
Jason De Bord