Steve Sansweet 2nd Anniversary Interview – Part 2

As part of our 2nd Birthday present to you, we interviewed Steve Sansweet – Author, Super Collector, Director of Content Management and Head of Fan Relations at Lucasfilm. 

As promised here’s the second part of our interview with Steve Sansweet where we discuss his new book entitled Star Wars: A Thousand Collectables – Memorabilia and Stories from a Galaxy Far, Far Away and also talk about Celebration V, the Clone Wars, collecting and much more besides…

JN: So, you’ve just finished another book, can you tell us a little bit about that one?

SS: It’s coming out in October, it’s called Star Wars: A Thousand Collectables – Memorabilia and Stories from a Galaxy Far, Far Away.  So the Stories part is what makes this book different from most books about collectables and Star Wars collectables, or any collectables for that matter.  It was written with a collaborator, my collection manager Anne Neumann.  She’s been working with me for about three years and she took about three quarters of the photos that are in the book and she came up with a wonderful customised File Maker Database that enabled us to really organise the book and the photos.  And I don’t know how I would have managed without it, it’s made a huge difference putting it all together and flow.

JN: So it’s finished and gone to print?

SS: No, it’s not quite gone to print.  We’ve just finished the first go round of proofs and there’ll be one more go round that encompass a number of updates and changes and things of that nature.  So it’s coming close.  It’s published by Abrams Books and according to Amazon at least, it’s publication date is October 1st.

JN: Will it be published in the UK by Titan or by another publisher

SS: Abrams has the worldwide rights and frankly I have not asked them about an international publisher.  It’s a trade paperback and it’s about 560-570 pages.  Unlike the progression of my books up until now, it doesn’t weigh more than the last one.

JN: I think you’re going to have to go an awfully long way to surpass the weight of the new 3-volume encyclopaedia!

SS: [laughs] The next version of the encyclopaedia will have to be on a microdot.  I don’t know if I ever want to face that again.  It was a daunting task.

JN: So are the items you’ve chosen for the new book, are they your favourites

SS: It would be too strong a word to say that everything in the book is one of my favourites, but I’ve gone through the collection and picked out items that I think are either very cool and representative or very stupid or strange but a lot of things have stories attached to them.  So in a small way it’s a way to give a virtual tour in print of Rancho Obi-Wan for people who will never be able to pay a visit.

JN: So you aren’t going to open it up for everyone then?

SS: Well, I can’t open it to the public because of local zoning.  It can never be opened to the public where it is.  I do give some tours every now and again.  I have contributed a lot of tours to local and regional charitable organisations.  They auction them off and they’ve made some nice money by doing that, and that makes me feel really great. 

JN: That’s a really nice idea.  So how did you narrow it down and choose those 1,000 pieces?

SS: You know Anne and I walked through the collection and we just sort or looked and picked the obvious things first and then we went back and said we don’t have this kind of thing and we just filled in the gaps.  It’s certainly not a book like Tomart’s or Gus and Duncan’s Price Guide with 50,000 photos and 75,000 entries and that’s not what it’s meant to be.  It’s meant to be a very ecliptic look at one persons collection but by being ecliptic and specific its sort of very broad too because it talks about the nature of the collector and the nature of collecting and why Star Wars in particular and then a choice of things often based on the stories behind them or about them.

JN: Does it include anything from an Action Figure to a t-shirt and everything in between?

SS: You got it… It includes every category.  I arbitrarily split it into about six different kinds of categories and then sort of went from there.  We looked at things and argued as to why we’d put that into a specific category because some things could switch between categories although most of it fits pretty well. You know there are common things and one-of-a-king things, it’s no secret that I love fan made items because they really show the passion as well as the skill of the fans and so there’s a bunch of one-of-a-kind fan made items in there. There’s a bunch of unlicensed items that just show the breadth and depth of Star Wars impact on the pop culture, some silly and some interesting.  So it’s not a look at just Star Wars toy, and just very few posters because I did that in 2005 with Pete Vilmur and there’s a few that I didn’t have when we did that book.  It’s a little bit of this and a little bit of that with lots of stories.

JN: Is your action figure in there?  The one that Nick McCarthy made for you

SS: There is a bunch of Nick McCarthy things in the book – a whole bunch.

JN: There’s one book that fans would really like to see updated and that’s the Action Figure Archive that you did in the late 90’s, is that something you’d consider doing or is indeed in the works?

SS: It’s something that we’ve had some preliminary talks about.  I’m not in a rush to get to that book, I really do need to take a break.  We’re very aware of the fans desire to get that book updated and I’d only do it if we could do it complete that would cover everything from the beginning to as far up-to-date as we could at the time.  One of the things I’ve been thinking about however, the initial book and the series of six Japanese books that have been done include a lot of stuff beyond action figures.  They include almost everything in the Hasbro/Kenner line such as lightsabers, playsets, vehicles and monsters and I’m thinking you know maybe everybody is really focused on the action figures and you could have a book that kind of just focused on the action figures alone like we did with the first book but really just do action figures including those exclusives that came with playsets and vehicles.  I think that might make it a much more doable kind of book.  Action figures are really the heart of Star Wars collections and Star Wars collectability and even the newbies their holy grail is to complete the collation of 12 backs and so it’s certainly the thing, you know there are people that just collect the posters or others that just buy and read the books, but for somebody that considers themselves a Star Wars collector the action figures are normally at the heart of it or the beginnings and then it normally broadens out from there.

JN: Well my current collection started with a vintage Ewok and grew from there and now occupies three rooms on my house, my to my wife’s despair…

SS: Oh yeah, as I say whether you have a closet or a 5,000 sq foot converted chicken barn there’s never enough room!

JN: Are we ever going to see you as an official Star Wars figure on the shelves?

SS: I think people would see it and get scared.  My fate would be that of Gargan, I’d just be sitting there on the pegs for a year!  I have no great ego need for it, you know I have those wonderful figures that people have made of me.  There’s one of the more recent ones of me as an Ewok at Celebration IV and it’s just great and I appreciate that and I got my head scanned by Gentle Giant and I’m happy to just be one of.

JN: So this year is the 10th Anniversary of LEGO Star Wars and they seem to be going all out to celebrate that with exclusive sets and giveaways.  It’s also the 10th Anniversary of Episode I – what are we going to see to mark that?

SS: I think right now we’re seeing with a start of a ten year celebration going back to back to Celebration I.  The current issue of Insider celebrates Episode I with a wonderful, wonderful interview with Ahmed Best who I love, he’s just the greatest guy and addresses all the criticism and how do you feel kind of stuff – it’s just a superb interview and sets everything up.  There were a number of older vocal fans that hated Jar Jar and there were a huge numbers of younger fans that loved Jar Jar and some older fans too.  I mean it was a really mixed bag, you always hear the whiners and haters as they’re the ones who tend to post and the people that loved him tend not to post.

JN: He was a great character that was needed in the film and helped the story to progress…

SS: Well it just shows you that George certainly hasn’t given up on the character as he appears very much in the Clone Wars as his old goofy self.  He hasn’t got to be the State Representative yet that we see in Episode III but he’s definitely there.

JN: Will we see a Special Edition or Blu-Ray release of Episode I this year

SS: Well this year no, we have no plans for any releases of DVD’s of the films this year.  It’s certainly something that we’ve been looking into and continue to look at you know if I were a guessing man then I guess we’ll see at set of all the Star Wars films on Blu-Ray – it’s a matter of timing, it’s a matter of making decisions as to what bonus material to include and getting things up to the quality they need to be for Blu-Ray.  It’s more than likely to happen sometime in the next several years, as far as when and as far as what it’s too early to say.

JN: Do you think George will go back and tinker with the films at all.

SS: I would never presume to predict what George will or won’t do, never.

JN: Next year we’ve got another anniversary, the 30th of Empire…

SS: [Sarcastically] I hadn’t even remembered, thank you for reminding me…

JN: Is there any major plans yet to be announced to celebrate that one?

SS: Nothing to be announced… certainly we would like to have a Celebration in the US sometime next year and we are working toward that goal but there are many things to be resolved and we are busy working on that and as soon as we have something to announce and hopefully that will be in the next several months we’ll announce it.  We know the fans want a Celebration next year and we would like to have a Celebration next year.  We’ve got a lot of things happening, it’s not just Empire Strikes Back, we’ll have completed the third season of the Clone Wars and we’ll be ready to go into the third season of Clone Wars.  We’ll also be closer to the beginning of production of the live-action TV series and who knows what else as well.

JN: And George is busy working on Red Tails right now…

SS: That’s not really a Star Wars thing – there are currently no distribution plans and George just wants to get the movie made and then we’ll go shopping it, that’s still an unknown…  There’s a lot of life in this baby, Star Wars is still the number 1 licensed boys brand in the world, if you’re talking about a single licensed brand Star Wars , 4 years after the last live action movie is still number 1 and that’s pretty damned amazing.

JN:  In the UK for the 1st quarter, it’s been in position 1 or 2 every month…

SS: I think parents are going back to a brand that they’re comfortable with and the kids are watching Clone Wars with a passion.  When I go to the toy store to buy my stuff I invariably see families standing in front of the Star Wars stuff and the kids are talking excitedly and the Dad is saying “Don’t you need an Obi-Wan for your collection?”… “Oh Dad, I got that two weeks ago!”  It’s great and this cross generational appreciation of Star Wars and fandom and that’s what we saw at Celebration IV and especially at Celebration Europe in London where we saw families coming out to enjoy Star Wars together, parents pulling the kids along or kids pulling the parents along and everybody was having fun and it was never more apparent than that Sunday at Celebration Europe.

JN: Well hopefully we won’t have to wait too long for something to happen again in London, will we?

SS: Hopefully…

JN: What was your reaction to Season 1 of Clone Wars?

SS: I loved it, it seems to me that the guys have really stepped up to the plate and as the season progressed the episodes just got better and better, they knew the characters better, the animation was better.  They were able because of their ability and their learning curve to squeeze more background and characters and its really an evolving thing.  I’ve seen a couple of sneaks of episodes from next season and I think it’s just going to blow people away, the quality of the stories, the acting and the look; I just saw a couple of weeks ago an episode that will run later in the season and just looking at the vista’s my jaw dropped, I just looking at the screen and saying it’s just beautiful – when do you say that about animation and then the explosions happen and the damn droids just barrel in there and ruin the beauty.  Then the adrenalin starts going up, some of it very dark and little spooky and scary and then the commercial brake come and then what happens… the episodes just keep getting better and better.  I loved Season 1 and I’m very excited about Season 2!

JN: Can you sneak us out some Season 2 episodes…

SS: No! [laughs]

JN: I had to ask…

SS: I think you’ll see as we go through the summer there’ll be some fun things, some hints and some sneaks and we’re working on both.

JN: Over here we see it on Sky without adverts and we get to see it without breaks.  It’s now recently started on Cartoon Network, with adverts, and LEGO are sponsoring it and LEGO are doing some great animation at the beginning and end of each episode.

SS: It’s great that everybody is having fun with this.  One thing that was very clear around 1999 was that everybody here and in Adult fandom was taking Star Wars far too seriously.  At that point we all said to ourselves we’ve got to lighten up and we need to give fans permission to lighten up too, the stories are serious but their movies and they’re meant to have fun with, the licensees said “we can do that?” and we said “yeah, yeah have some fun with it” and that’s been great to see.  It’s airing now in over 160 countries and that’s amazing, translated into over 30 languages and we’re hearing from outposts all over the world where we never thought there were Star Wars fans.  We get organisations like the 501st and all of a sudden they have three new outposts in places I’ve never even heard of and it’s working its way throughout the whole system.

JN: You’re known as the biggest Star Wars collector in the world and us collectors like to help each other out.  Is there anything at the moment that particularly evading you or are you pretty much set.

SS: No, I’m never set.  You know the last time I answered a question like this on my holy grail, I think I’ve told you this story before, the price shot up from $130 to $2000.  Again, I love fan made stuff and people have been wonderful to me, sending me things.  I love the items that the fan groups like the 501st or Rebel Legion make, the patches that are only sold internally or the challenge coins, it’s always exciting when I get an envelope and I see the kind of artistry and how it’s been carried out.  So it’s more those kind of things.

Sure, there’s a sense that’s been put out and its only available in the UK, or it’s in France or Czechoslovakia and I’ve managed to put together a gang of folks around the world that buy stuff for me and send it on to me.  I can’t say that that there’s on particular item at the moment that I’m pining for.  There’s a lot of things I’m trying to complete my collection on like the Topps Star Wars Galaxy 4 Shaped Artist Cards Die Cut and I’ve been buying some from UK dealers on eBay.  So I always have something that I look back on and say “oh my goodness I’m still missing four pieces from Master Replicas or I don’t have all of the Kubricks” and I then sort of go on a buying spree and fill in the items that I want.  It’s sometimes the items that I didn’t know existed like brand new items, you know I don’t work in licensing so I don’t get to see every item that’s going to come to come out and I see sometimes see something think “hey that’s cool, I didn’t know that existed” but that’s also part of the fun too.

I wish I could say that I have this one object I’ve being looking for, you know I did that once before I was looking for some silly made in China Darth Vader electronic darts board which was only available in France for some reason and the guys at the French magazine couldn’t find it for me, it was like a year after it had come out and we wrote something in the magazine and somebody far from Paris found it in their local store for me and I paid him back and that was great to get.

JN:  Is there anything you don’t collect?  For example, there’s loads of repack figures – I understand why Hasbro do it, so for example there’s always a Vader on the shelves etc – but I’ve set myself a rule that unless the figure changed in some way, such as a difference in paint job change or the addition of cloth goods etc then I won’t touch it now – I just don’t have the room.

SS: Well the Hasbro stuff is unusual, you know I can’t keep track of it all so I have a standing order with Entertainment Earth and so that anything in the toy area that Hasbro produces I buy every case of actions figures they get in stock and one of every vehicle and Battle Pack and all that kind of stuff, I still collect all that kind of stuff.  Obviously there’s a lot of high end art pieces out there, both Giclee’s on canvas’s and bronze’s large and small, first of all there’s an issue of space and secondly if you have a collectible that’s $699 or $18,000 in the case of a bronze Vader as magnificent as they may be you can’t buy they all, you have to pick and choose. 

I cannot afford to buy everything, as we’ve dispelled in the past people don’t just give me things, I have to go out and find them and buy them and  everybody has a limited income, I’m not a millionaire – I was a working journalist and now I’m a working marketing guy at Lucasfilm and I have lots of other life expenses.  I spend a large part of my income on Star Wars collectibles but it’s not endless, there are things I wish I could afford but I have to pass on.

JN: What’s your favourite current piece – I know it changes all the time?

SS: I’m very excited about this new stuff coming later summer out from Uncle Milton.  Pablo and I challenged each other with the Force Trainer on the stage at WonderCon and truth be told he was having some problems with the headset sort of bouncing around and mine, I concentrated really hard and the ball just shot up, after some initial hesitation and his he just couldn’t get to move because he wasn’t wholly connected and the Uncle Milton guy came over and put all the contacts on where they should have been on his head and the lights on this thing started to just go crazy and then just at the moment Pablo took the thing off and he said “I defer to the master” – It was great theatre but he sort of screwed himself.  Then we got a machine to test here a couple of weeks ago and this time Pablo did just fine.  It’s quite fun because you’ve always wanted to just control the Force and in a very real way you’re using your brain waves and nothing physical, it really does give you that sensation and I can’t wait to get one and play with it. 

In the way of collectibles I’m astonished by some of the sculpts of the Hasbro action figures which are just, just amazing.  Of course, you know, I love the stuff that Sideshow, Gentle Giant and now eFX are doing.  I can’t wait to see some of those lightsabers where you see the insides, and some of the helmets and there X-Wing fighter is just beautiful.  Sideshow’s pieces are amazing, from Gentle Giant I’m really looking forward to the full size monument of Rex which is a beautiful, beautiful piece that’s not overpriced and it’s a cool piece.  I think Sideshow did a really nice job on the new R2-D2 and C-3PO, I have the Don Post ones and you only have so much room so for now I’ve passed on those.

JN: Is there anything you’d like to see made that hasn’t been?

SS: Yeah, I’ll go back to the thing I’d really love to see made which is a 1:1 size version of the Dejarik Holochess board pieces from the Millenium Falcon and a table to put them on – I’d like to see them with joints so you could actually pose them, that’s been my fantasy for a long time and then a couple of years ago one of the guys from licensing come rushing in to tell me that “Sideshow are making it” – and the table was about as a big as a Kenner Power of the Force coin, it’s was very cool though and looked great but I’m talking about 1:1 scale.

JN: Couldn’t Hasbro bring out the figures and then a board for them to go on?

SS: You know, I’ve been talking this up to every licensee for years and everybody says that it sounds really cool but them they think it’s a really, really limited market and somebody just needs to figure out how to make it pay if they just made say 500 sets.  I can’t believe that people wouldn’t be excited enough to buy it…

JN: I think they would… somebody like Gentle Giant, Sideshow or somebody like that could do it.

SS: Somebody will do it eventually, I hope – I may just have to get somebody to custom build me one.

JN: Just to finish off, what’s your favourite film?

SS: I think I still defer to Empire, but I’ll tell you that Revenge of the Sith comes very close in my mind.  Both of those were just completely satisfying to me and they are continue to be in retrospect and repeat viewing.

JN: For me seeing Leia and Luke on the frigate with the droids just looking out into space leaves me in such awe and anticipation of what’s coming next and the events that have just happened.

SS: The first time I saw it I was really upset with that scene “I have to wait for years to find out what happens next” but I love that movie, it’s beautifully paced with lots of action, the vistas are amazing and the emotion that builds in Episode III leading to the scene when Ewan is practically in tears…

JN: Me too, “You were my Brother; you were the Chosen One…”

SS: That is just a wrenching scene and just puts that movie way up there for me.

JN: One final question, is there one thing that we’ve not talked about that you can exclusively reveal as to what’s going on in the Star Wars Universe in the next year?

SS: [Silence for a couple of minutes]… You know, I can’t think of anything (laughs) that is definitely going on in the Star Wars Universe.  There are lots of things in the planning stages and sometimes things don’t happen when you expect them to happen for good reason and they happen later or perhaps they just don’t happen at all – fans should know that we are active and very busy in marketing and licensing here and we’re working on lots of very cool things and I think there’s a brilliant future for Star Wars

JN: Thank you very much for your time…

SS: It’s always a pleasure!  Speak soon…

Steve Sansweet is the Director of Content Management and Head of Fan Relations at Lucasfilm . You can visit Rancho Obi-Wan here.

Steve Sansweet Interview Copyright 2009 Jedi News.  No part of this interview can be reproduced without prior written consent from Jedi News.

James is an active member of the Star Wars collecting community, and is the Brand Director for Jedi News. James is also the host of the Star Wars Collectors Cast, and co-host of RADIO 1138 on the Jedi News Network.