- Victoria Webb
- THE FORCE BE WITH HIM Steve Sansweet shows a Day of the Dead knockoff of Han and Leia to a visiting school group.
You have taken your first step into a larger world.—Ben Kenobi
Anaheim has Disneyland. San Diego has Legoland. And Petaluma has "Lucasland." Well, sort of. To be more precise, it has Rancho Obi-Wan (ROW), Steve Sansweet's huge collection of Star Wars memorabilia housed in a converted 9,000-square-foot barn on his two-acre ranch.
Where some 20,000 chickens once roosted, over 300,000 items are now on rotating display, making Sansweet's Star Wars collection officially the largest in the world. With the creation of Rancho Obi-Wan, a 501c3 nonprofit museum, Sansweet's famous collection is open for tours to members and the occasional larger event, like this weekend's "World Record Night."
For 26 years, Sansweet was a well-respected, award-winning journalist (nine of them as Los Angeles bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal). Months before seeing Star Wars in 1977, he caught the bug.
"In early '77, a fellow reporter at the Journal got a promotional brochure from 20th Century Fox touting the upcoming film," Sansweet recalls. "He flipped through it and threw it away. I waited until he left for the day, then I fished it out of his wastebasket."
And Sansweet was hooked.
"I didn't plan on collecting over 300,000 items—it just sort of happened," he says. "I always had the collecting gene when I was a kid—baseball cards, matchbook covers—and I always loved science-fiction and fantasy. But when I saw Star Wars at a screening on the Fox lot, it blew my mind.
"Star Wars is the most significant worldwide pop-cultural phenomenon in the past 50 years," he says. "George Lucas' saga changed my life, and all for the better."
The original trilogy's force was so strong, Sansweet decided to take mythologist Joseph Campbell's advice, "Follow your bliss." So in 1996, he packed it in at the Journal, gathered his collectibles from his three-level L.A. home and five rented storage units, and unpacked in Petaluma to become director of content management and head of fan relations for Lucasfilm. Since then, he has acted as a "Star Wars ambassador," making public appearances at conventions around the world (the most recent this summer in Essen, Germany), written 16 Star Wars books and co-hosted no less than 27 themed shows on QVC in the 1990s.
"I've often been the only person from Lucasfilm who fans can personally meet and chat with on a fan-to-fan basis," Sansweet explains.
In 2011, Sansweet retired from Lucasfilm, although he remains a consultant for the company. In October 2012, staff from Guinness World Records visited ROW and confirmed what most insiders had already known: that Sansweet is owner of "the largest collection of Star Wars memorabilia." The 2014 Guinness book was released in mid-September.
"People assume that I'm a millionaire," says Sansweet, "or that I get everything for free from licensees, but that's not true. Most of my collection has been bought and paid for out of my own pocket, and I'm struggling to get my credit card debt down just like everybody else. Some of the items in my collection are made by fans that show their passion for the saga as well as their skill. And those are among my favorite items."