A short time ago, on a chicken ranch not so far away, Lucasfilm's biggest in-house Star Wars fan began to turn his private collection of Star Wars stuff into a nonprofit museum.
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His name was Steve Sansweet, a former Wall Street Journal reporter whose life was changed forever when he saw a press preview of the original Star Wars -- now known as Episode IV -- in May 1977. An inveterate collector of robot toys, baseball cards and swizzle sticks, Sansweet soon channeled all of his passion into corralling as many Star Wars-related items as he could.
After writing the first edition of the Star Wars Encyclopedia, Sansweet was offered a job at Lucasfilm as Director of Content Management and Head of Fan Relations in 1996. He organized the first annual global gathering of the faithful, known as Celebration, in 1999. By the time Sansweet stepped down from his full-time role in 2011, George Lucas himself had dubbed Sansweet "the ultimate fan."
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It's not hard to see why; Sansweet's collection contains much that even Lucas doesn't own. It's a riotous melange of bootleg merchandise, fan-built labors of love, movie-set memorabilia (Sansweet rushed in to get the remnants of Qui-Gon Jinn after the Jedi master's corpose was burned in Phantom Menace, to take one small example) and just about every commercial Star Wars item known to man, woman and (especially) children.
Sansweet bought a former chicken ranch in Petaluma, Calif., a short drive from Skywalker Ranch. Its long barn was perfect for housing his increasingly unwieldy collection. At first, he would just show friends around -- but fans were clamoring to get in, and it was expensive to maintain.
"I made the plunge and decided to invest a good deal of my money," Sansweet says. "It would be not just a warehouse for my stuff, but a real look at Star Wars through the prism of merchandising." Two good friends, Anne Neumann and Consetta Parker, helped convince him to form a nonprofit and now help him run it.
Rancho Obi-Wan officially opened its doors in 2011; its staff of three is constantly tweaking and adding new components to what has become a three-hour tour. (Yes, a three-hour tour.) It isn't cheap, or easy to book -- tours start at $200 for two people, and Sansweet only does a handful a week -- but it is eminently customizable.
"It's not just a place to walk through, it's about sharing my stories," he says. "The human stories: 'I was really lucky to get that item, but boy, I really screwed up with that one at that price'. It's always different depending on who it is; what their level of Star Wars is; whether there are kids along."
Sansweet gave Mashable the works: a full tour of the library containing just about every piece of printed material and poster relating to the franchise, and an extended look at the museum itself.
Check out our gallery above -- one of the largest we've ever done -- for some of our highlights and the stories behind them. (It was a tough choice to keep the number as low as 98; we were reluctant to leave 200 pictures on the cutting room floor.)
To book a tour or become a member of the nascent nonprofit, head over to Ranchoobiwan.org.
And if you get a chance to go, check out the shack out back, next to Yoda Trail and Jedi Way. Why is the tumbledown thing out there? Because a true fan never throws away his cardboard backs.
This story originally published on Mashable here.