From Luke’s yellow ladder A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back to his hero lightsaber from Return of the Jedi, the “Star Wars Original Props and Costumes” discussion panel at Star Wars Celebration 2015 in Anaheim ran the gamut of obscure background props to the best of the best. Participants included Stephen Lane and Brandon Alinger from Prop Store, Tom Spina from Tom Spina Designs, and legendary collector Gus Lopez, creator of the Star Wars Collectors Archive. Each panelist took us through one of their own “prop story” tales, showcasing the background of one of the prized pieces in their own collection. Of note was that this was the first public announcement by Brandon Alinger that he owns what is essentially the hero Luke Skywalker lightsaber from Return of the Jedi, which was also used by Sir Alec Guiness in A New Hope as a fighting lightsaber (and not to be left out, it was also a practice dueling saber employed in The Empire Strikes Back). It was an incredible display of both knowledge and images, and overall it underscored the importance of collectors in tracking down, identifying, restoring and preserving these important pop culture artifacts.
Knowing each of the panelists myself, I was already aware of many of the pieces that they discussed, though some of the artifacts were so recently acquired that it was news to me as well. One example being Stephen Lane’s “prop story” about Princess Leia’s ceremonial gown from the end of A New Hope (which was also on display at the Prop Store’s exhibitor booth).
Definitely an incredible story about this “lost” prop, the terrible condition it was in, and the painstaking efforts to restore and preserve the gown.
Stephen Lane also talked about a number of additional key Star Wars props that serve as the foundation of The Prop Store Collection, including a Darth Vader helmet, Han Solo’s jacket from Empire, and more.
Gus Lopez told the story of the Death Star from A New Hope, which he owns. I had heard the general story outline in the past, but never all of the details discussed at this panel. Gus also included historic images of the Death Star and its fate following production, including storage outside at an antique mall.
Per Gus, the Death Star and other assets from the first film were held at Dollar Moving and Storage in Southern California. No one wanted to save it, nor did they wish to continue paying to store it. Lucas purportedly retrieved droids and other pieces, but a lot of props, costumes, and models were thrown out.
“Doug W”, an employee of storage company, felt that the Death Star seemed like something to hold onto…
He and his family moved to Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri to run a “Mexican hillbilly antique mall”.
Around 25 years ago, a collector – Todd Franklin – learned of the model and researched it and ultimately felt he had proved that it was authentic and used in the film, so he went to buy it and learned that Doug W’s parents had just sold the Death Star model to a local music shop for $300.
Eventually, the music store went out of business. Everything was liquidated. Todd Franklin went back and the Death Star was still there… though it was in the corner of shop and they were using it as a trash can. Three guys went in together and bought it and kept for 10 years.
Gus had an open offer with them to buy it… he was not prop collector at that time. At one point, two of the three guys decided to sell it, and it was Gus’ first movie prop purchase.
He had it on display at Paul Allen’s EMP museum in Seattle for five years, but currently it is on display in his home. Interestingly, Brandon (who is currently working on a Ralph McQuarrie book) said that McQuarrie spent weeks painting it for production. Also, per Gus, you can easily screen match it via all of the pin lights and patterns which match up to what is seen in the film.
Tom Spina’s story started with replicas. He talked about sculpting things in his basement, using (“terrible”) clay bought at KB Toys.
The first mask he sculpted was the Skull Guy from the Cantina scene.
Fast forward, and the original, screen-used mask was gifted to him years later. So now he has the hand made mask he created in his youth displayed next to the one that was used in the film.
Tom has a great passion about any and everything to do with the cantina scene (see the immediately preceding article covering his other panel discussion, “Secrets of the Cantina”).
Tom also showed two photos – one contemporary and one from 1977 – that is an excellent example of screen-matching.
Tom closed his “story” by talking about all of the amazing people that he’s met through his participation in collecting and working in this field.
Funny enough, Tom was one of the very first people I met in collecting online, buying one of his replica busts of Grand Moff Tarkin.
As mentioned, Brandon Alinger used the opportunity to do his first public reveal and talk about his lightsaber used by Mark Hamill in Return of the Jedi.
Brandon showed me this prop in person years ago, and I can honestly say it is my favorite prop from any film that I’ve ever seen in person. It is an amazing piece of pop culture history, and the fact that it is a part of all three original trilogy films is amazing. I’ve made vague references to it in Original Prop Blog articles over the years, but have never been able to discuss it before as Brandon was not publicly talking about it until now. So I was really excited about Brandon’s plans to discuss this, and shot some video of this portion of the panel (not great quality, and I was shooting still with the same DSLR I was using to record video, as you’ll notice in viewing it).
Below is that video segment from this discussion panel:
As discussed by Brandon, the same piece was used by Sir Alec Gueniss as a fighting lightsaber in A New Hope, and as a dueling practice saber for The Empire Strikes Back.
Having spent time in the past to look at it and screencaptures, it exhibits some of the best screen-matching I’ve seen.
Below are photos I took during the presentation: