Interview: Superfan Gus Lopez discusses his rare collection of Star Wars memorabilia

Star Wars collector Gus Lopez. Photo courtesy of Gus Lopez.
Star Wars collector Gus Lopez. Photo courtesy of Gus Lopez. /

Probably no other film franchise in history has more merchandise and collectibles associated with it than Star Wars. And Star Wars collecting has become a competitive hobby all on its own. Especially for Gus Lopez, a longtime Amazon employee and the founder of The Star Wars Collectors Archive, the first website dedicated to collecting Star Wars memorabilia. Gus’ passion for Star Wars began when he saw A New Hope in 1977 as a child, and that love has fueled his fascination for all things Star Wars for the last four decades.

His collection, which fills every room in his house, is made up of thousands of rare and one-of-a-kind pieces of Star Wars memorabilia, including artwork, vintage toys, props and costumes, and much more. He’s traveled all over the world, including places where filming of the movies has taken place, to find unique pieces to add to his collection.

The Star Wars Collectors Archive serves as a virtual bridge between collectors around the world, showcasing some of the largest collections of Star Wars memorabilia. Dork Side of the Force had the opportunity to interview Gus via email and ask about his collection and his experience as a longtime Star Wars fan. Read on below to learn about Gus’ favorite pieces, where he’s traveled to find pieces, and what he hopes for in the future for Star Wars fans and for his collection.

Gus Lopez at the premiere of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Photo courtesy of Gus Lopez.
Gus Lopez at the premiere of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Photo courtesy of Gus Lopez. /

Interview with Star Wars collector Gus Lopez

Dork Side of the Force: Your love for Star Wars obviously drives your commitment to collecting items associated with the franchise, but what drew you to Star Wars in the first place? 

Gus Lopez: It’s hard to point to one thing, but Star Wars just hit me at a visceral level when I first saw it in 1977 and my life has not been the same since. Star Wars changed the whole landscape of filmmaking. That first ground-breaking movie was unlike anything anyone had ever seen before and presented such a rich universe with different planets, aliens, robots, spaceships, and characters for further adventures and lots of things to collect!

Can you share a story about your favorite piece of Star Wars memorabilia?

It’s hard to pick a single favorite, but the Death Star model from the first movie is one of them. I acquired it 22 years ago from fellow Star Wars fans Todd Franklin, Pat Franklin, and Tim Williams, who had saved it from being lost forever. After Star Wars finished production, the studio discarded many props and models that they held in a rented storage facility in California. They made the decision to throw out everything, but one of the employees had the foresight to keep the Death Star model. Years later, he shipped it to his mother in Missouri to sell at her antique store. Todd, who lived in the area, drove by the shop and thought, “That looks like the original Death Star!” He studied it, and after several days of researching it, he realized it was in fact the original model, so he went back to the shop to buy it. Unfortunately, it got sold to a local music shop before he returned.

Model Death Star on Display. Photo courtesy of Gus Lopez.
Model Death Star on Display. Photo courtesy of Gus Lopez. /

Years later, Todd, Pat, and Tim were discussing the Death Star and had heard that the music shop had gone out of business. They went down there to see if they could find it and when they arrived, they saw that everything at the store had been liquidated except the Death Star, which was being used as a trash can. Todd, Tim, and Pat bought the Death Star and owned it for many years. These guys saved it from destruction! I told them that if they ever decided to sell the Death Star to please let me know, but never thought that would ever happen. They contacted me a while later and were interested in selling, so I flew out there to close the deal and ship it to Seattle where I still have it.

What lengths have you had to go to collect some of your rarer pieces of memorabilia? What are some of those rarer pieces, and what makes them rare? 

I’ve traveled to most of the Star Wars filming locations in places like Tunisia, which I’ve visited four times, Guatemala, Norway, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Bolivia, and Iceland. My favorite Star Wars destination was in Tunisia, where they filmed for the planet Tatooine, which is featured in several of the movies. On some of my trips, I was able to secure film props such as the Krayt Dragon skeleton from Star Wars: A New Hope and moisture vaporators and Mos Espa doors from The Phantom Menace. Back in the day, I frequently traveled to Cincinnati, headquarters for Kenner Toys (now part of Hasbro), to meet and become friends with Kenner employees who worked on the original Star Wars toy line. Through them, I was able to get my hands on rare, one-of-a-kind prototypes and action figures that never made it onto shelves, which were cool additions to my collection.

Vintage Carded Star Wars Figures. Photo courtesy of Gus Lopez.
Vintage Carded Star Wars Figures. Photo courtesy of Gus Lopez. /

How do you like to spend Star Wars week, including May the 4th, every year?  

Every year is different, but one of my favorite things to do during the week of May the Fourth is re-watch Star Wars films and documentaries. I always watch Disney+ with my Fire TV Stick 4K, which recently added great Star Wars content such as the Ewoks animated series, LEGO Star Wars episodes, and the Boba Fett animated short from the Star Wars Holiday Special. Sometimes on May the Fourth, I have fans over to our house for a private tour and party. I also have collectibles in display cases with smart lighting throughout the house, which are connected to my Amazon Echo Dot. As I enter various rooms, I say “Alexa, turn on the lightsabers” or “Alexa, turn on the costume displays,” and my display cases’ lights turn on! It’s a fun way to get in the spirit of exploring the collection.

Which era of Star Wars storytelling is your favorite and why? 

I like all of the Star Wars movies and many of the shows and other content, but as someone who grew up with the original trilogy, there is nothing that will ever replace those first films.

Empire Strikes Back Cast and Crew jackets. Photo courtesy of Gus Lopez.
Empire Strikes Back Cast and Crew jackets. Photo courtesy of Gus Lopez. /
Carrie Fisher’s Costume from Return of the Jedi. Photo courtesy of Gus Lopez.
Carrie Fisher’s Costume from Return of the Jedi. Photo courtesy of Gus Lopez. /

Is there a piece of memorabilia you’ve been wanting for a while that you haven’t been able to land on yet? 

There are actually quite a few pieces I’ve been searching for such as the General Mills Star Wars cereal boxes from Canada from 1978, the R2-D2 ceramic tankard created by Jim Rumph in limited numbers, or the prototype Rebel Blockade Runner vehicle that was designed by Kenner in the mid-1980s that may or may not still exist. There are lots of others. That’s what keeps this really exciting for me, because the thrill of the hunt never ends.

What do you hope your collection will do for other Star Wars fans? 

I hope Star Wars fans get the same thing out of it that I do: seeing others’ collections — inspiration. Even though I have seen a lot of Star Wars memorabilia over the years, I am still often struck by the vastness of the hobby and the different perspectives that each collector brings to it, frequently giving me ideas of new things to collect or new ways to present these items.

What’s in store for your collection in the future? 

It’s hard to say what I plan to do in the future, but I am still actively acquiring new items. For instance, just this past weekend, I bid in an auction for one-of-a-kind drawings by Bob Mackie of costumes he designed for the Star Wars Holiday Special in 1978. Although I loan pieces out to museums from time to time, I hope to someday have my entire collection on public display in a museum so that it is more accessible to fans.

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To see more from Gus Lopez, you can follow him on Instagram, and don’t forget to check out The Star Wars Collectors Archive!