Gus Lopez, Renowned Star Wars Collector, Talks Disney and Galaxy's Edgeby Todd King, contributing writer
"Collectors, at some level, are fans of Star Wars. They love it so much they want to take a piece of it home in some sense and can do so through collectables."
Both Star Wars and its merchandise have been hand-in-hand since the beginning. As kids, we wanted the toys at home to play out our own adventures; we wanted the cards to trade and collect; we wanted anything that was related to the movie, even Pez candy and bubble bath. For many of us, it wasn't necessarily about the act of collecting at the time, but about having an action figure or playset to continue the good feelings the movie gave us.
As adults, we look back and see how we were attached to those items that brought us joy and part of us wants to hold on to those playful times. For some of us, we've become collectors, for varied reasons, but most commonly because it's fun and we're fans.
In the realm of Star Wars collecting, Gus Lopez is one of the biggest names. Not only does he have an immense collection that parallels Steve Sansweet's Rancho Obi-Wan, but Gus also created the very first Star Wars collecting website on the Internet. The Star Wars Collectors Archive currently has over 77,000 records of Star Wars items from all over the world in over 60 different categories and it continues to grow. But before he applied his computer skills to building the collection database, Gus began what would become this collection, as a fan of the original movie back in 1977, when he obtained some trading cards and later, some Kenner action figures. But it wasn't until the early '90s, when he set out to complete his childhood set of action figures, that his interest in collecting truly took root.
"Around 1991 I started to get back into it and by then I was old enough and could afford to get things—I had my own buget to get these things. That's when I got active again. It started small with loose action figures, the ones I didn't have as a kid, and very quickly filled that out. Then I set out to get the vehicles. Then the boxed toys."
His collection of the vintage toys only opened up his interest into other Star Wars merchandise and related materials. Gus found that as he was adding more items to his collection, the more diverse the items became. It wasn't just toys anymore.
"That was a pivotal change to my collecting habits. It exposed me to the fact that different kids collected different things. It exposed me to a lot of different tastes. Someone might have had a collection of masks, another might have had a collection of ceramics, or posters. I thought, 'This is kind of cool.' As a kid I didn’t have these but it really broadened my tastes."
One of the more unique tastes in Lopez's collection is his broad assortment of breakfast cereal boxes that either include a Star Wars promotion or are directly a Star Wars product.
These cereal boxes are certainly the largest of its kind and includes boxes such as 1978 General Mills Cheerios with a 9-by-15-inch Star Wars poster inside the box, and others, like a 2018 Apple Cinnamon Cheerios advertising the Solo Blu-Ray with a crossword puzzle. These boxes span the years of Star Wars and chronicle a special look at how movie tie-ins promoted the movies throughout the decades. Should you explore this collection on the Archive, you will notice that the cereal boxes originate from all over the world. In order to continue expanding this distinctive collection, Lopez gets help from other collectors he has befriended over time.
"I have basically 200 to 300 contacts around the world in over 100 countries who try to get the new cereal promotions that come out with the movies. I mobilize that network every time there's a new promotion and I'll be doing that again as the new films come out."
You might be wondering what happens to all the cereal in these cereal boxes. Gus said he doesn't keep any of the food at all. He explained that people who collect food packaging will almost always dispose of the food to avoid attracting bugs and mice. In fact, he usually flattens out the cereal boxes to maximize space in his collection. But what about unopened trading card packs that still have bubble gum in them? Gus says he just leaves them in the packaging—likely because they don't take up much space, and don't attract bugs.
With Disney at the helm of Lucasfilm, new films as well as new TV series (like Star Wars: Resistance that just premiered on October 7, and the upcoming Mandalorian announced by director Jon Favreau) will keep Lopez and other collectors occupied and ready for some time. There's also the matter of Galaxy's Edge opening in Disneyland and Walt Disney World next year. Disney parks are rife with exclusive merchandise and movie tie-in items that many collectors will seek out.
We've seen hints of some of the unique gift shop items that may be available when the park opens. Will Gus Lopez be picking up any of this stuff? "I'll probably pick up a few things here and there. I already picked up a Galaxy's Edge T-shirt at D23 so I've already started making progress!"
Although he will certainly be collecting more pieces from Black Spire Outpost in the park, he is also interested in how other collectors might take the opportunity the land presents. As he discovered throughout his time collecting, there are different ways to approach collecting—and it is about the tastes and interests of the collector.
"I’m sure [Disney is] going to have merchandise that is exclusive to [Galaxy's Edge]. Collecting, in general, has lots of different focuses and genres. There are people who just collect the vintage stuff, some that are collecting movie merchandise, some focus on a single character. I think a lot fans are very excited about being able to immerse themselves in this new park, especially when they add on the hotel experience—that will bring it to a whole new level where you can immerse yourself in a complete Star Wars universe. There will be some segment of collectors that will love it. There are collectors out there who collect the Disney park stuff, I’m sure they’re very excited."
Having grown up on the East Coast, Gus Lopez is no stranger to Disney parks, visiting Walt Disney World several times as a youngster even before the first Star Wars movie came out. He went to Disneyland as a graduate student often, when he lived near the West Coast. He was there when Star Tours took its first guests on a runaway shuttle intended for Endor.
"I thought it was awesome—an interesting way to immerse yourself in the Star Wars universe in a simulated ship. It got better when they did the update with random journeys and updated visuals. I just recently went to Disneyland Paris and did [Star Tours] a few times there."
Other than just collecting Star Wars merchandise, Lopez has a goal to visit all the Disney theme parks around the world and already plans to visit Disneyland Shanghai over the coming holidays. He plans to ride Star Tours wherever it is, and is happy that it has been a mainstay for a long while. "It [Star Tours] obviously has been a successful ride since it's been around for several decades and is still there—it's not like Mr. Toad's that got removed from Orlando. It's now a staple in Disney Parks."
As for merchandise inspired by Star Tours, Lopez was particularly taken with the themed posters found at the attraction. "I have some of the posters from the different planets in the style as a tourist advertisements like, 'Visit Hoth,' the snow planet as a winter destination or for skiing!"
We know coming soon there will be more than just Star Tours for fans of the saga to visit. Galaxy's Edge will have two rides available when it opens. Lopez plans to be there as soon as it opens and hopes it won't be too hard to get in (don't we all hope that?). "I'm excited about it, obviously. I’m surprised that for a world as large as it is (14 acres) that they only have two rides! I was expecting them to have more. It seems they have room for growth. Pandora, the Land of Avatar, is pretty small but it has two rides. I’m sure they’re setting the bar high for the Star Wars rides." I agree there could be more rides coming in the future and I would think the land and its size is planned out for additions.
Riding Star Wars rides isn't the only reason Gus Lopez visits Disney parks. He is an avid runner and participates in as many runDisney events as he can, such as the 5K (3.1 miles), 10K (6.2 miles) and half marathon (13.1 miles). Gus has even participated in what some people consider the crown jewel of runDisney: the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend's Dopey Challenge, which involves completing four races over a four-day weekend (5K, 10K, half marathon, and marathon) for a total of 48.6 miles. While enjoying themed runs like Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy, he particularly likes the Star Wars themed runs, of course. In fact, he has not missed a single Star Wars runDisney event.
In his ongoing adventures in collecting and running and visiting Disney parks, what's next? In the realm of collecting, there is always the hunt for the new and unique:
"For vintage stuff I pick up a few things through the year—vintage toys, particularly toy prototypes from the vintage line (stuff that was never made/released)—finding sutff from people who worked on the toyline at Kenner—that's continual. I'm looking for more cast and crew items—things that people used/had while working on the film like shirts and jackets, then also cereal boxes! As they do new movies there are new cast and crew items so I find people who worked on the films who have the T-shirts and the caps and all that stuff from the production so I try to get some of those."
Gus Lopez may have one of the most extensive Star Wars collections in the world but he also shares his knowledge and passion with all fans, collectors and otherwise. He's written columns for Star Wars Insider magazine and several blog posts for StarWars.com. On top of that, he attended every Star Wars Celebration event, as well as organized the collectors' tracks of panels and presentations for all previous Celebration events. He's already starting planning the collectors' track for next year's Celebration in Chicago, which will include around 20 collectors' panels over the days of the convention.
As you discover from Gus Lopez, collecting isn't just about getting all the things or showing off what you have—it's about finding that corner of fandom that interests you, that you connect with. It is about finding value in your life. The objects you collect certainly have a value on the trading market, but it's just as much (or more) about the value they bring to you personally and what meaning the pieces bring to you.
I may not have much of a collection of anything yet, but I've started getting Star Wars magazines. It seems I like reading about theories of the Star Wars universe and about peoples' takes on the movies and their own experiences and interests in the films. We'll see if it grows to be anything substantial but I'll enjoy the stories as I go.
What are your interests in collecting as it relates to Star Wars or Disney?
Special thanks to Gus Lopez for this interview and for sharing his joy in Star Wars and the fun it continues to give us.
For a glimpse into his collection, here's a special on Gus Lopez from 2001:
Gus Lopez Star Wars Collection + Interview A&E 2001.