If you’re roaming the Sonoma hills in search of the greatest Star Wars collection in the world, you won’t find telling indicators like a makeshift Death Star looming over the horizon or a couple of Mandalorians standing sentry at a gate.
From the street, Rancho Obi-Wan closely resembles the chicken farm it was until the 1970s. But now, instead of 20,000 hens squawking inside the sprawling, whitewashed former henhouse, you’ll find the original door from the Mos Eisley cantina where Luke Skywalker met Han Solo, Darth Vader’s ominous-looking black leather codpiece, and about 400,000 other Star Wars collectibles, including props, toys, art, documents, and fan-made creations.
Steve Sansweet—the museum’s founder, president, and chair—made his first significant acquisition in early 1977, some months before the initial film’s release. Then a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, he eyed with envy a Star Wars advertising brochure for theater managers on a colleague’s desk. Fortunately, the colleague tossed it in the trash, and Sansweet fished it out. “It was my very first act of dumpster diving for Star Wars material,” says Sansweet. “It wouldn’t be the last.”
During the ensuing years, Sansweet would add a couple of stories under his house in Los Angeles to accommodate his burgeoning holdings. In 1996, he resigned his post as the Wall Street Journal ’s L.A. bureau chief to take a job at Lucasfilm Ltd., George Lucas’s production company. He and his collection resettled up north, and he’d serve for several years as Lucasfilm’s director of content and fan relations.
In the fall of 2011, Sansweet filed for nonprofit status to launch his museum. Before the pandemic, Rancho Obi-Wan was open to group tours—rich in anecdote and guided by its founder and his squad of meticulously trained docents. While in-person visits have been suspended, Sansweet has started a monthly virtual-tour subscription to bring the Rancho experience into the Star Wars fan’s socially distant space.
IF YOU GO, MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU
• Contact museum for street address
• Currently offering virtual tours only
• Sonoma, California
This mannequin was cast from the same molds used to create the 900-year-old Force whisperer for his Empire Strikes Back debut. Sansweet acknowledges that this Yoda was “not authorized.” How exactly did the artisans come by the molds? “No comment.”
1976 STARKILLER BANNER
This flag flew at Comic-Con the year before the first film’s release to drum up excitement among sci-fi fans. Its lean typography would yield to a fatter, more fluid design. Starkiller, the warrior in the triangle, would eventually morph into Luke Skywalker.
Sansweet admits he lacked the intestinal fortitude to sample Heinz Star Wars pasta bits in tomato sauce. His tasting notes on C-3PO’s cereal: “Sort of like Cheerios—but drier. ‘Corrugated cardboard’ is a good way to put it.”
QUI-GON JINN’S EARTHLY REMAINS
Sansweet was on the set of Episode 1: The Phantom Menace the day the effigy of Liam Neeson’s dead Jedi master was set ablaze. He rescued these charred scraps of the warrior’s boot and cape.
It took Sansweet and his crew over 500 person-hours to box up the bedroom of a young Star Wars fanatic from 1984 and re-create it at the museum. Note the strangely cuddly Jawa staring yellow-eyed from the top bunk.
GALAXY IN EMBRYO
After completing a draft of Star Wars in 1975, Lucas hired artist Ralph McQuarrie to conceptualize some of the battle scenes. These sketches are on loan from McQuarrie’s estate.
The museum boasts several examples of this mail-order Boba Fett action figure—the rarest prize in the Star Wars collecting realm. Its spring-loaded missile was identified as a choking hazard early on, so not a single one made it to the post office. This past summer, one of these collectibles surfaced on eBay for a “buy it now” price of $225,000.
THE 20TH CENTURY SPACE OPERA
Sansweet and artist Robert Xavier Burden stand beside the largest known Star Wars painting ever made. Fifteen feet across by eight feet tall, Burden’s masterwork depicts 150 Star Wars toys. Fittingly, missile-launching Boba Fett appears dead center, against a gauzy landscape inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
While working for Lucasfilm, Sansweet judged a piñata-making contest at a fan convention in Mexico City. This brown, candy-ready reimagining of the bushy beast of Tatooine took first prize.
GARY THE ACTION FIGURE
In Carrie Fisher’s later years, her French bulldog, Gary, was always at her side to alleviate the symptoms of her bipolar disorder. A Star Wars fan with an artistic bent created this tribute to the adorable service animal that had aided her.
JUNKET BALL CAP
Fisher was supposed to wear this hat for a Hong Kong press junket to promote The Empire Strikes Back. The actor was a no-show—thus sparing herself the indignity of being photographed in arguably the most preposterous-looking headgear in Star Wars history.
STACKABLE HERO & VILLAINS
FAO Schwarz originally priced these life-size limited-edition Darth Vader and Boba Fett Lego sculptures at $10,000 apiece. Sansweet scooped them up at an 80 percent discount as the retailer slid toward insolvency. A friend located the Lego R2-D2—once part of the window display at FAO Schwarz Orlando—on Craigslist.
CELESTIAL JAZZ CATS
A full-scale animatronic replica of the Mos Eisley cantina house band, this combo used to shred it nonstop at FAO Schwarz’s Las Vegas store. Sansweet acquired the group at auction after the luxury toy merchant went bankrupt.