By STEVE GRAD
—Autograph July 2009
In 1977, the Force entered our lives with the release of Star Wars. Iconic creator George Lucas introduced the world to an entire new frontier of screen characters. Some were heroes, some were villains. The heroes traditionally belonged to the Rebels, most villains belonged to the Empire. We learned about Luke Skywalker, his moisture evaporators, and Jabba the Hutt, with his penchant for eating small green creatures. In the process, we fell in love with a fantasy world of characters that to this day captivate our imagination.
I’m no different than the average Star Wars fan. My obsession began in 1977 with the release of Star Wars. As a six-year-old boy, I saw the first movie, collected the toys and patiently waited for the next movie to come to my local theater. In 1980 it was The Empire Strikes Back, followed in 1983 by Return of the Jedi. While I never admitted to anyone that I actually played with the toys, as a young boy with “Star Wars” in his eyes, I did. By the time my collecting instincts kicked in, I wanted to elevate my game to a higher level. Being obsessed with autographs, the next logical step was obvious—collecting Star Wars-related autographs!
I got my chance, in 1992, with an opportunity to get one of the biggest heroes of the Star Wars trilogy, Han Solo. Harrison Ford was in Chicago for an extended stay to film The Fugitive. That year marked the beginning and over the last 17 years, I have been extremely diligent in building one of the best collections in the world.
In a series of six articles, every other month, I’ll show you how I built my collection and how you, too, can build a world class Star Wars collection. The first three articles will focus on who we collect and why—the importance of the characters within the Star Wars universe. We’ll discuss the heroes, villains, aliens and oddballs, as well as the behind-the-scene artists you can collect. The last three articles will explore what you can collect—focusing on posters, photos and action figures.
Collecting the Core
Collecting Star Wars has been made fairly easy by show promoters and companies that do signings with the actors from the films. Your first task should be deciding on a focus. Start small and aim for the core—the main cast of the first film: Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) and Kenny Baker (R2-D2).
Before 1995, these actors were hard to get. But after 1995, with the advent of the Men Behind the Mask tours the actors started to become more accessible to fans, and for the last 14 years many of the main cast have made convention appearances throughout the world.
Harrison Ford is the exception. The genuine article could cost upwards of $600, depending on what you want signed. In 2008, Ford did the first of several signings for a company with a Lucasfilm license. Periodically, they sell signed images of him.
My best recommendation is to start getting a cast photo signed and be patient. Mark Hamill will make the occasional show appearance, and companies like Wattographs (www.wattographs.com) usually will accommodate fans’ requests for signatures. Getting the rest of the cast, with the exception of Ford, is relatively easy—with Carrie Fisher and Peter Mayhew frequently appearing at shows throughout the world. Kenny Baker can be a little more difficult to nail down and, due to health problems, is limited to doing shows in his native UK. He does, however, offer information on his website, www.kennybaker.co.uk, on how to obtain his signature through the mail. Anthony Daniels, who gets a bad rap from time to time because of his disdain for the other cast members, is actually quite a nice guy in person. He also is great with kids and fans alike. He makes two to four show appearances a year and is reasonably priced.
There you go! Now comes the really tough part.
What to Collect Next?
Once you collect the original core, you have to decide what direction you want to go next. Thanks to George Lucas, there are many options for collectors. He created an entire universe of aliens, bounty hunters, masked villains and cuddly Ewoks. Deciding on the focus for your collection can be painful for the diehard Star Wars fan—you want them all! In the end, I couldn’t resist. In spite of the time and expense I knew I’d be facing, I decided to collect the autograph of every actor, actress and behind the scene person involved in the making of every Star Wars movie.
Alec Guinness was as important to Star Wars as Han Solo. The Academy Award winning actor portrayed Obi Wan Kenobi, or Ben Kenobi, in the original trilogy. His biggest part was in A New Hope. He was killed off, but came back as a ghost image in Empire and Jedi. Guinness died in 2000 and as the years pass, his will continue to be one of the most important and significant signatures in Star Wars collecting.
His autograph is relatively easy to locate, but finding his signature on the right piece is very difficult. Standard publicity photos from Star Wars films are fairly easy to find and typically run in the $250-400 range. Action scenes go for significantly more and finding an image signed by Guinness from Empire or Jedi is literally impossible.
Speaking of impossible, finding Guinness’ signature on an action figure or poster can prove quite the challenge. While he signed those items, they were not frequently sent to him and are very rare. Guinness was a good mail signer for most of his life, but wasn’t a fan of the Star Wars universe and declined at times to sign Star Wars items.
The Empire Strikes Back
Following Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back introduced us to actor Billy Dee Williams, who portrayed the handsome and sly Lando Calrissian. It also brought us Jedi Master Yoda, voiced by Frank Oz, long known for his work with the Muppets. Adding Williams to your collection shouldn’t be much of a problem; he’s been fairly accessible the last 10 years, appearing at several conventions annually. Frank Oz, on the other hand, is a little trickier. The man who brought Yoda to life with his voice and puppeteering can be difficult to track down. Through the years, Oz has been hit-or-miss at signing through the mail, and he hasn’t done an organized signing with the exception of a signed insert trading card. In person, Oz is quite nice about signing and during a trip to Hollywood in October of 2008 I was able to secure a good number of signatures. Oz inscribed almost all of them to me in order to prevent me from selling them.
Return of the Jedi
Return of the Jedi introduced us to the Ewoks. Furry, cuddly and annoying at times, the Ewoks were played by little people, children and stunt actors. Of the Ewok characters, Wicket was the most famous and was played by then-child actor Warwick Davis. An occasional signer at shows, Davis also is known as Professor Flitwick in Harry Potter. Another loveable character from Jedi is Admiral Ackbar, a squid-like character played by Tim Rose. Obtaining Rose’s signature in person is an easy task as he makes several show appearances a year.
In 1999, The Phantom Menace was released and was followed by Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. The core cast of these movies isn’t a pleasant experience to assemble. Natalie Portman, who played Queen Amidala, has signed a handful, and I literally mean a handful, of Star Wars-related items. She refuses most requests for autographs and if a Star Wars item is presented it’s a lost cause. Playing young Obi-Wan is Ewan McGregor. He’s never done a sit-down signing or lent his name to any signed insert cards, and is also very difficult to get. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet him several times, including this past May at Los Angeles International Airport, and while he was somewhat accommodating, his signature was nothing more than a scribble.
Before he goes to the dark side, Annakin Skywalker was one of the heroes. In Menace he was played by Jake Lloyd, and in Clones and Sith he was portrayed by Hayden Christensen. The young Anakin (Lloyd) is an infrequent show guest but does appear from time to time at conventions. Christensen has never done an official convention appearance but has signed for Official Pix and is very nice in person.
Rounding out the main cast from the prequel movies is Ahmed Best who portrayed Jar-Jar Binks and Samuel Jackson as Jedi Master Mace Windu. Getting Ahmed Best’s signature was a challenge for quite some time, but he recently did his first signing and there’s a good chance he will start to make show appearances. Jedi Mace Windu is a different story. A moody signer at best, Jackson is on and off in person, often complaining about people selling his autographs. He’s never done a convention and your best chance of getting him are in person or via a signing with a reputable company.
The Rebel Alliance Pilots
The Rebel Alliance would be nothing without its pilots. In Star Wars we were introduced to a large group of them. Their mission was vitally important: destroy the Death Star! Several of the actors have passed away, including Graham Ashley, William Hootkins and Jeremy Sinden. But a good number are still alive and some make appearances at conventions worldwide. The most famous pilot was Red 5, aka Luke Skywalker played by Mark Hamill. Others include Drewe Henley (Red Leader), Garrick Hagon (Biggs-Red 3), Jack Klaff (Red 4), Angus McInnes (Gold Leader) and Denis Lawson (Wedge). Getting the signatures of Hagon, Klaff and McInnes shouldn’t prove to be a problem; these three men make appearances at conventions.
Henley doesn’t make appearances at all and a current address can be tough to locate. If you are successful in finding him, he will usually sign his mail. Unfortunately for fans of Wedge, who appeared in the original trilogy films, Lawson is a very difficult signer. Several years ago he quit signing Star Wars-related items and does not make appearances at conventions. I have heard of only one collector who got him to sign a Star Wars poster, and that was several years ago.
The Empire Strikes Back featured several pilots including Christopher Malcolm (Zev), Ian Liston (gunner’s mate Wes Janson) and John Morton (Dak). Morton, who works for the government, rarely makes public appearances and is hit or miss through the mail. About two years ago Malcolm started doing some appearances and Liston has been a show regular for years.
In Jedi more rebel pilots were introduced, with the most notable and meaningful role played by Lawson. In the Phantom Menace, rebel pilots included Phil Brown, Christian Simpson, John Knoll, Clarence Smith and Benedict Taylor. While not common signatures, each has made show appearances.
Next up—the Dark Side!
After completing the first level, you could expand your collection to the Dark Side. In September, I’ll talk you through signing everyone’s favorite villain—Darth Vader. Stay tuned for villains, aliens and oddballs. There are countless autograph opportunities in the Star Wars universe. Being a fan is an unparalleled adventure and being an empassioned collector of Star Wars autographs and memorabilia is a force to be reckoned with!
See more of Steve’s collection at www.starwarsgrapher.com.