Filmmaker Kevin Smith’s new television series on AMC, Comic Book Men, recently featured in its second episode (“Life After Clerks”) an individual bringing a prop into the comic book store, claiming it was an original lightsaber used in Star Wars: A New Hope. The shop brought in a third party “expert” to authenticate and value the piece, though no information was provided as to who the authenticator was, or what his qualifications were in being cited as an expert. Having reviewed the segment, in my personal opinion and subjective reaction, the entire affair was quite laughable, from the positive authentication to the assessed value of $7,000 for an original Luke Skywalker lightsaber from The Empire Strikes Back.
I had never previously heard of the new series, but a friend pointed me to it, based on the ridiculous lightsaber prop authentication scene. The “unscripted” series features Kevin Smith’s comic book shop, “Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash”, which is located in New Jersey.
Early on in viewing the episode, I found it to be generally unwatchable, but got the sense as I fast forwarded through it that it is inspired by Pawn Stars, only set in a comic book shop. Part of the problem is that it is hour long format, and really couldn’t hold my interest for more than five minutes. The lightsaber segment was at the very end (0:53-0:57), and followed a scene of an actor from the first Clerks movie playing with action figures. Yes, a scene of an adult playing with action figures. Overall, it seems to be a TV show concept with no actual ideas, stories, or anything of any interest to actually depict. If ever there was a “reality” television series begging for some scripting, in my opinion, this would be the one. It is unbearably boring and aimless.
Which leads to the lightsaber authentication… I wonder if this was the highlight of this particular episode, since it was reserved for the very end.
In the segment, “Keith”, the owner of the prop, enters the store to meet “Kevin”, who the shop had called in as a Star Wars “expert”. As noted, nothing is shared about Kevin to know how or in what manner he is such an expert, or what qualifies him to authenticate original props from the Star Wars films.
Keith pulls out his “prized possession“, his “lightsaber hilt” (cue music for reveal and close up image of photo of the lightsaber, inset into comic art frame, with comic art of non-Star Wars elements such as a car, a stop light, modern day buildings, and palm trees):
Keith explains he purchased the prop 15 years ago from a comic book shop in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The unidentified shop owner bought it at “an auction” (no more information than “an auction” is provided) and that it was on display for one day. The expert authenticator asks no questions whatsoever about the shop or the auction, nor does he indicate that he has done any research into whether any major auction houses offered such a piece for sale 15 years ago.
Kevin the expert asks if it is from A New Hope. Keith states “supposedly it was from the first film, yes. I paused the movie, like time and time again, just staring at the bottom of this thing, to make sure I had the right amount of rubber pieces, and the bottom of it looked correct, and the right bolt pattern, and everything else“.
The fact that Kevin claims to have done such extensive research, yet doesn’t recognize that the design of the lightsaber most closely matches the one used by Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back – not A New Hope – immediately negates any credibility he has on the subject.
The lightsabers from Star Wars are probably both the most studied and the most replicated movie props in the history of film. There are countless books and websites that show photos of them and explain all of the details of each type and variation seen in the movies. There are very obvious and distinct differences between Luke’s lightsaber seen in A New Hope compared with the one in The Empire Strikes Back, and the most casual Star Wars replica prop collector can immediately tell the differences.
The Star Wars expert states that the most important thing about lightsabers is where they came from – “Graflex flash handles” (though only Luke’s ANH and ESB lightsabers were built on Graflex flashguns – Obi Wan’s and Darth Vader’s were not). More, based on the limited visuals in the episode and my familiarity with Graflex flashguns (though no “expert”), I would question whether the piece in question is even built on a genuine Graflex, or a complete one or correct model in any event, as the company information does not appear to be stamped on the bottom (see example of correct stamping below; screencaps from this episode as a point of comparison provided further down in this article):
Not to mention that the piece in this show features wrong sized, wrong tint red buttons, and other details better dissected by the real experts at The Parts of Star Wars or the many, many dozens of members of the Replica Prop Forum (RPF) that specialize in this area, any number of whom would be able to make a real and detailed assessment of this piece.
Kevin the expert goes on to say that “Lucasfilm bought every single one of them that they could possibly get“. This is the only statement that he is actually questioned on during the segment – “how do you know that?” – to which his response is “because I’m a Star Wars geek“…
Below are a handful of images from the scene in the Comic Book Men episode, showing the prop in some detail:
One ridiculous comment from the expert – his only note of skepticism – is his statement that, “[t]he one thing that kind of makes me, um, doubt if it’s real is it’s weight. It’s really, really light. A lot lighter than the ones that Mark Hamill would use“. How would he know? Was he there? Again, no explanation.
The exchanges continue in this short segment, and the details are not worth memorializing here in full. At the end of the painful to watch “authentication”, he provides his assessment:
“I can tell you this is not an authentic lightsaber from A New Hope. I’m about 90% sure that this was actually used in The Empire Strikes Back.”
Keith retells his story that he bought it from someone who bought it from an auction, saying that he paid $60 for it (and no one thinks to ask what the person he bought it from paid, to where a $60 sale price allowed a reasonable profit margin).
To double down on the ridiculous authentication, when the expert is asked what it is worth, he prefaces his valuation with what feels like he is reading from a script from Pawn Stars or American Pickers, noting, “it looks pretty aged” (as though that would be a factor in the value) and then states that is is worth “over seven grand… easily“.
So not only does their expert authenticate a prop – the original of which was made entirely of found parts, of which literally thousands of replicas have been produced – but he has absolutely no idea whatsoever of the actual value of what a genuine version of an original prop would be worth. His $7,000 guess would not even cover the buyer’s premium if an authentic version was sold at public auction.
A few minutes of research via Google on the Internet would return actual, comparable sales figures from auctions that would show that the actual value would be six figures, not four. A Google search of “luke, lightsaber, prop, auction” would return a Daily Mail article on the first page with the headline “Use the profit, Luke! Lightsaber used by Luke Skywalker in Star Wars sold for £133,000“.
Getting back to the authentication, it is simply laughable that an “expert” can look at a prop for five minutes, completely disregard provenance and chain of ownership, have no photographic collateral on hand with which to compare, ask the owner essentially no material questions, and declare with 90% certainty that a piece is authentic. Especially one of the most replicated props in existence, and probably the most replicated modern day prop made of found parts.
Without explanation, at the close of the scene, there is also what appears to be a Darth Vader lightsaber on the counter, next to the subject Luke Skywalker lightsaber. Where this came from and how it relates to Keith’s lightsaber is never disclosed. Did Keith have a second “authentic” lightsaber from another comic store or mystery auction? Did the store have some replica props in stock for comparison purposes? In the end, it doesn’t really matter, as whatever additional discussion was filmed and cut probably wouldn’t have made my personal assessments and opinions from watching the scene any more favorable.
In any event, I am not one to pick apart every poor authentication scene I come across on the various “reality” and “unscripted” television shows, but I would have to say this is, in my personal opinion, one of the best examples I’ve seen that absolutely fails on every conceivable level. If I didn’t know better, and saw just the one scene out of context, I would probably think it was a parody of Hollywood Treasure.