Treasures from the Cantina: Collecting Scum & Villainy!

By Gus Lopez
Bith
The Mos Eisley Cantina was one of George Lucas’ most ground-breaking visions in the 1977 release of Star Wars. This seedy bar of outlaws was a nod to the saloon scenes from Westerns, but populated with a wide range of alien species to set it in a galaxy far, far away. The cantina scenes were originally shot at Elstree Studios outside of London, but Lucas was dissatisfied with the original shoot and the limited range of characters, so the cantina was reshot in Los Angeles in early 1977; footage from both shoots was seamlessly combined in the version we see onscreen.

Many of the masks used in the cantina came from other productions, and creature makers Stuart Freeborn’s and Rick Baker’s teams added many aliens to the mix. Because of the extreme time pressure to complete the cantina scenes, many of the alien masks were one-of-a-kind and incredibly detailed, requiring many days of work to build from scratch, yet dropping the standard production practice of creating backup masks.

Snakehead

Surprisingly, quite of few of the original cantina masks still exist today and have made it into the hands of collectors. Most are in great condition despite being made of materials (like foam and latex) that decompose with age. But the one-of-a-kind nature of the cantina shoot makes collecting original cantina pieces exceptionally difficult.

Famed animator Phil Tippett was hired to help create the Star Wars cantina creatures on a rushed schedule. Several years ago, Tippett sold a few of his cantina pieces at a Profiles in History auction. My favorite piece from the Tippett collection is the Dice Ibegon (or Snake Head) puppet. The Snake Head character was actually not a mask but a large hand puppet. As a puppet, it could achieve the desired scale relative to other characters and have goo oozing from its mouth through tubes.

Yamnose

One of other cantina pieces kept by Tippett was the M’iiyoom Onith mask (also known as Nightlily or Yam Nose). Her character is seated next to Feltipern Trevagg (Gotal) at the same table. The Yam Nose mask has many details such as pimples and round disks on the surface, green eyes, horns, hair along the surface of the mask, and a long nose used to sip drinks. Although I was disappointed to miss out on the Dice Ibegon and M’iiyoom Onith screen-used pieces at auction, I was able to purchase them from a fellow collector years later. That serves as a great reminder of the important role that friends play in helping out fellow collectors.

Skullhead

Seated on the other side of the table next to Feltipern Trevagg is Elis Helrot (aka Skull Head). Helrot was another Rick Baker mask for the Los Angeles reshoot based on a Ralph McQuarrie’s design for the species. Star Wars fans touring Rancho Obi-Wan can see Steve’s Elis Helrot mask on display in one of the cases near the front of the museum.

Duros

Rancho Obi-Wan also has another production-made cantina mask on display, one of the Duros aliens. A pair of Duros characters are seen chatting away at the cantina at another table. The Duros species appears in other Star Wars stories such as the bounty hunter Cad Bane from the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

Greedo Hand

Other cantina pieces to surface include alien hands such as this Rodian hand which was made of a simple rubber glove with elongated fingers and suction cups at the end. This simple design served its purpose in close-up shots of Greedo reaching for his blaster. For the Star Wars prequels, Rodian characters had much more elaborate detail in their prop hands. Another cantina character with a prominent hand is Kabe, the short rat-like creature seen reaching for a drink at the bar. The piece shown here is Kabe’s left hand with fingernails and lots of hair. These examples are just small selection of the masks and props from the Star Wars cantina that are now sitting in private collections, preserved by collectors who showcase these timeless pieces.


Gus Lopez, a preeminent Star Wars collector, created The Star Wars Collectors Archive in 1994, the first Star Wars collecting site on the Internet and a virtual museum of the rarest and most unusual Star Wars collectibles. Gus is a frequent speaker at conventions and has led the collecting track for every Star Wars Celebration convention. He has co-authored four books: Gus and Duncan’s Comprehensive Guide to Star Wars Collectibles, Gus and Duncan’s Guide to Star Wars Prototypes, Gus and Duncan’s Guide to Star Wars Cast & Crew Items, and Star Wars: Year by Year.

I Lost My Chewie

By Stephane Faucourt

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I was 5 years old in 1977, a bit too young (especially at that time) to see Star Wars in theaters – but like many 5-year-old boys, I was instantly hooked. When the toys hit the market I became the luckiest kid on earth when my parents bought me the complete set of 12 four-inch-tall action figures at the nearby superstore. Among these original figures, Chewbacca was my favorite – not because I had a preference for his role in the movie, but for the toy itself.

The Chewbacca action figure was quite different. He was taller than the other figures, very well detailed, had a neat weapon, and had the cool name “Chiktabba” or “Chiquetaba” (literally “Chew Tobacco” in French). At some point during 1980, my Chewie must have fallen out of the bag I kept my figures in, because I couldn’t find him anywhere. I was so disappointed that when my uncle asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I told him the only thing I wanted was Chewbacca – yes, just a single small action figure for my birthday.

When that day finally came my uncle brought me a large wrapped package which I knew right away was too big for an action figure. I was quite confused when I tore the gift paper off and found a 12-inch scale Chewbacca action figure doll. It wasn’t what I had asked for, but my uncle had found this Chewbacca, a much better gift than a tiny action figure! Although I never really played with it, I’ve grown quite fond of this large Chewie, which has remained in my collection ever since.

Oh, and I did manage to get a replacement small Chewie action figure, too.

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Even though I’ve been collecting for nearly two decades and don’t consider myself a “Chewbacca focus collector,” this action figure always meant something special. Each time I had to make a choice when buying a particular figure in its original packaging, I always picked Chewbacca when possible. As a result, I’ve been able to assemble various Chewbacca action figures over the years, representing different lines sold in various countries. It’s a great character which was available in many different packaging styles, with some challenging variants too.

“I chose Chewbacca when I was asked to sponsor a pewter medallion for Celebration Europe in 2007, where I also printed up reproductions of French Chewbacca packaging samples and a rare French diorama.”
“I chose Chewbacca when I was asked to sponsor a pewter medallion for Celebration Europe in 2007, where I also printed up reproductions of French Chewbacca packaging samples and a rare French diorama.”

Stephane Faucourt grew up in France in the 1970s and was part of the first generation of Star Wars fans. In the mid-1990s, he started to collect vintage Star Wars related toys and other merchandise that was marketed in France and across Europe between 1978 and 1986. In 2006, he wrote and published his first book, From Meccano to Trilogo, about the action figure toys released in France from 1978 to 1986. This was followed by La French Touch in 2013, which showcases Star Wars press coverage, merchandising and advertising from France during the original trilogy era.

Happy Life Day—For the 36th Time; Now Go Out and Collect Something!

By Pete Vilmur

Yep! We’re giving a shout-out to the sadly misguided Star Wars Holiday Special. Why? Because as fans of all things Star Wars, we think every aspect of that faraway galaxy is worthy of some love, even if that means tough love. And with the Holiday Special turning 36 today, we thought it deserved a bit of charitable coverage, seeing as how it’s responsible for one more holiday on the Star Wars calendar: Life Day, a sort of saga analog to a combination of Thanksgiving and Christmas.

For those who have never seen the Star Wars Holiday Special, it was a two-hour variety show that many feel suffered from over-extended scenes, kitschy dialog, and cheesy special effects. Airing just once on the night of November 17, 1978, it definitely had a few wince-worthy moments: Wookiee grandpa “Itchy” fawning over the seductive crooning of singer Diahann Carol; a sappy Han Solo getting all mushy over Chewbacca’s wife and kid; and the chef-d’oeuvre, Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia singing “The Life Day Song” to the strains of the Star Wars theme.

But there’s something to love about the Star Wars Holiday Special too. First, there’s the nostalgia factor for Star Wars old-schoolers, we 40-somethings who grew up on a steady diet of ’70s TV can’t help but get a little sentimental for this low-calorie version of Star Wars made at a time when television programming was much more conservative than it is today. It was also the only dose of new Star Wars we’d had in over a year, ever since The Making of Star Wars documentary had aired the previous September. There was a really nifty cartoon segment in the middle of the show, too, which reunited the original movie cast as voice actors and introduced Boba Fett for the first time to the masses. To most, this short segment remains the show’s only redeeming virtue.

But even the Holiday Special produced some collectible items that have found their way to Rancho Obi-Wan. Here are a dozen of our favorites.

Custom Wookiee Family Plush in Life Day Robes
Ace customizer Amy Sjoberg of Seattle made this Wookiee Family in a Basket for a silent auction a couple of years ago. Who could resist Chewie, his father Itchy, wife Malla and son Lumpy so beautifully decked out in their Life Day finest? Not Steve!

The Press Kit
Since press kits were traditionally reserved for members of the media, they can be tougher to find than collectibles offered to the public at large. The Holiday Special press kit is a particularly difficult find as Star Wars press kits go, packed with production info, black and white stills, and a nifty mini poster printed on shiny Mylar stock.

The Actual Script
Steve doesn’t even remember where and when he got this copy of one of the original scripts with different color pages (indicating changes and additions), but here’s the cover (4th and final draft) and the beginning of Carrie Fisher’s song.

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Starlog Magazine
Starlog‘s February 1979 issue featured the first—and only—cover story on the Holiday Special. Bea Arthur as cantina bartender Ackmena poses among a motley crew of aliens old and new reunited for the special. The handful of color photos within are pretty rare (many of them couldn’t even be found in the Lucasfilm Archives), but not nearly as rare as the positive review published alongside them.

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Jefferson Starship
The Jefferson Starship song performed during the special, Light the Sky on Fire, was released as a single in 1978, with a tout about the Holiday Special printed on the sleeve. The single’s B-side song, Hyperdrive, wasn’t performed, but almost certainly borrowed its title from the Star Wars galaxy.

Wookiee Storybook
The Wookiee Storybook, published in 1979, utilizes the characters and setting of the Holiday Special, and introduces a new plot. Lumpy descends into Kashyyyk’s “Nother World” on the forest floor, ultimately requiring a rescue by papa Chewie. Noteworthy are the illustrations of the Wookiee household, which are clearly informed by the special’s unique set design, some of it by Ralph McQuarrie.

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Snaggletooth
Here’s one we bet you didn’t know about: a Star Wars Holiday Special action figure?! Well, from a certain point of view. Snaggletooth (who was renamed Zutton) was in A New Hope, but his mug shot depicted on the original 1979 cardback was actually shot on the set of Ackmena’s cantina from the Holiday Special. Even a 2001 release of Zutton featured a cardback photo from the Holiday Special, with figure detailing clearly derived from his appearance on the show.

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Fett Action Figure
The first formal Star Wars Holiday Special action figure was a Hasbro “Animated Debut Boba Fett” in 2007, which included Fett’s signature color scheme from the show as well as a variation on his Amban Phase-Pulse Blaster.

Character Key
Fett’s first major public reveal, which occurred in the short animated segment of the Holiday Special was immortalized in an Acme Archives Character Key showcasing the bounty hunter as he first appeared.

Bobble Fett
Funko gave the Holiday Special Fettster his own bobble, decked out in the colors from the show’s animated segment.

Fett Pin
This cool Holiday Special Fett pin was a charity offering limited to 1,000. The Washington Monument doubling as Fett’s backpack calls out the DC Metro Area Star Wars Collecting Club, which organized the benefit.

Topps Cards
The late, lamented StarWarsShop offered an exclusive set of 11 exclusive Holiday Special trading cards, one of which was inserted with each order. It may have been free, but it wasn’t easy putting together a full set!

A version of this blog appeared a long time ago in a…. No, actually it appeared on the official website, starwars.com.


Pete Vilmur, a director of Rancho Obi-Wan, is a writer in Lucasfilm’s publicity department. Before that he worked for nine years for Lucas Digital Media, where as senior editor he created content for Lucasfilm’s websites, blogs and social networks. Pete co-authored two books with Steve Sansweet – The Star Wars Poster Book and The Star Wars Vault – and a third with Ryder Windham, The Complete Vader. He has long collected Star Wars posters and ephemera. Pete lives in Petaluma with his wife Teri and their two children.

The Strange 1982 GE Star Wars Competition Down Under

By Pete Vilmur

Poster for GE/Kenner Australia contest
Poster for GE/Kenner Australia contest

While 1982 was an off-year for Star Wars movie releases, worldwide promotions were touting the airing of the original Star Wars on television as well as the upcoming Revenge of the Jedi (before its famous name change).

One 1982 promotion that’s come to be known more for its poster than the contest it was part of was a General Electric Star Wars competition in Australia. The poster is notorious for being somewhat misleading; it’s undated and appears to be promoting Star Wars “The Movie” but shows a photo from The Empire Strikes Back. To add to the confusion, the original Kenner logo with the classic Hildebrandt Bros. Luke and Leia art appears in the lower left, suggesting some kind of Kenner tie-in; that detail has long piqued the interest of Star Wars toy collectors.

Until I came across a paperwork lot in a recent auction, I was pretty much in the dark about the details of this promotion. I knew it was a contest promoting the first Australian televised release of Star Wars, but didn’t realize how, well, bizarre some of the contest specifics were.

How many what?
How many what?

Take the rules, for example. Entries required answers to a set of questions starting with Star Wars ones like: “Which planet is Princess Leia from?”

No sweat. Alderaan.

Next: “Name the droid who speaks English in the Star Wars movie.”

C-3PO. All too easy.

But then: “How many times a week does Continental Airlines fly from Sydney to the USA?”

Wait. Huh?

And: “How many refrigerators are there in the General Electric No Frost range?”

Seriously?

“What is the largest capacity refrigerator in the General Electric range?”

Google please? Sorry, 1982.

Granted, the contest form was likely planted on a showroom floor full of GE appliances, but still!

Then there are the prizes: The Grand Prize was an all-expense paid trip for four to the premiere of Return of the Jedi in the U.S., followed by second prizes of Kenner toys and playsets (hence the logo and art from Kenner, which partnered with the GE brand licensee on the promotion). That sounds about right for a Star Wars competition.

Thanks but we’d rather have the trip or the toys!
Thanks but we’d rather have the trip or the toys!

But then there are the “consolation” prizes: dishwashers, clothes washers, blenders, heaters, refrigerators, TVs, toasters, clock radios, shavers, and vacuum cleaners. That brings me to the gem in my recent paperwork purchase, a letter from GE announcing the great success of its Star Wars competition and the awarding of one VX20 Sadie Vacuum Cleaner (or perhaps the less-plucky VB66 – it’s not clear) to provide “continued enjoyment in years to come.” Indeed!

Sure, there were those 1,000 Star Wars poster prizes to commemorate the contest, but frankly I’d prefer framing the vacuum cleaner letter. How often can one proudly display a Star Wars contest prize that literally… sucked?

This GE Sadie vacuum cleaner resembles a certain astromech, don’t you think?
This GE Sadie vacuum cleaner resembles a certain astromech, don’t you think?

Pete Vilmur, a director of Rancho Obi-Wan, is Director of Public Relations for Fine Art—Sculpture at Academy of Art University in San Francisco, where he reports to department director Lawrence Noble, sculptor of Lucasfilm’s iconic Yoda statue. Star Wars fans know him for his nine years working for Lucas Digital Media, where as senior editor he created content for Lucasfilm’s websites, blogs and social networks. Pete co-authored two books with Steve Sansweet – The Star Wars Poster Book and The Star Wars Vault – and a third with Ryder Windham, The Complete Vader. He has long collected Star Wars posters and ephemera. Pete lives in Petaluma with his wife Teri and their two children.

The Many Lives of C-3PO’s and its Premiums

By Gus Lopez

Kellogg’s released C-3PO’s cereal in the U.S. and Canada in 1984, the first-ever Star Wars-branded cereal. During its relatively brief life, there were character masks on the back of each box to cut out, sticker-covered trading cards, and something that seemed pretty far out even for Star Wars.

C-3PO’s box with Rebel Rocket promotion
C-3PO’s box with Rebel Rocket promotion

One of the first premiums available in specially-marked boxes was the “Rebel Rocket,” a plastic rocket that you launched with air pressure. The Rebel Rocket came with decals to decorate it with familiar Star Wars designs. Since there are few rockets or missiles in the original Star Wars trilogy, the premium seemed odd to say the least. Certainly it was cheap, and probably remade from very old molds.

The rocket!
The rocket!

It turns out this wasn’t the last appearance of the Rebel Rocket. Ad Pac, a company that specialized in producing food premiums, reissued the Rebel Rocket in 1989 in General Mill’s Lucky Charms cereal, this time re-branded as “Lucky’s Magic Rocket” and available in four colors: pink, yellow, green, and orange. Similar to the Rebel Rocket premium, kids could decorate it with different decals such as Lucky jumping for joy at the marshmallow goodness of Lucky Charms cereal. In 1991, Ad Pac rereleased the rocket for Dairy Queen as “Marshmallow Moose’s Rocket” and “Butterscotch Beaver’s Rocket,” again with different decals to recreate the adventures of Butterscotch Beaver’s rocket trip.

Lucky’s Magic Rocket?
Lucky’s Magic Rocket?

Even C-3PO’s cereal itself was recycled by Kellogg’s. The company decided in 1987 that the nutritional properties and taste of C-3PO’s could be sold as the food of choice for Ironman triathletes in a new cereal, “Pro Grain.” Like its predecessor, it wasn’t available in stores for long. It consisted of the same honey, wheat, oat, and corn infinity-shaped cereal as C-3PO’s. Pro Grain even “goes up to 11” with the extra push of 11 “essential” vitamins and minerals, one more vitamin than C-3PO’s. Unfortunately for Kellogg’s, triathletes didn’t adopt Pro Grain as their choice for “Ironman food.”

Fans of C-3PO’s cereal may be interested to hear that a group of truly crazed Star Wars collectors held a C-3PO’s eating contest at a party at Star Wars Celebration VI, opening a sealed box of C-3PO’s. I can’t say what possessed these folks to try 28 year old cereal, but following the contest over 20 party guests tasted vintage C-3PO’s with no casualties…and it tasted about the same as it did in 1984. But kids, please don’t try this at home!

The Celebration VI party challenge
The Celebration VI party challenge

Gus Lopez, a preeminent Star Wars collector, created The Star Wars Collectors Archive in 1994, the first Star Wars collecting site on the Internet and a virtual museum of the rarest and most unusual Star Wars collectibles. Gus is a frequent speaker at conventions and has led the collecting track for every Star Wars Celebration convention. He has co-authored four books: Gus and Duncan’s Comprehensive Guide to Star Wars Collectibles, Gus and Duncan’s Guide to Star Wars Prototypes, Gus and Duncan’s Guide to Star Wars Cast & Crew Items, and Star Wars: Year by Year.