Welcome everyone to the tenth edition of VSWC Blog Full-Length Collector Interviews! It’s been a while since we published our last full length one, featuring Bobby Sharp, but we are making up for it with the introduction of one of the hobby’s greatest collectors (if not the greatest) – that’s right, Gus Lopez is joining us! I’ve chatted to Gus at the last few Celebrations and he graciously promised to appear on the blog. This is our tenth full length interview and I’ve always planned to keep this special number reserved for Gus, because not only did he start theswca.com over twenty years ago but he is also one of the hobby’s true nice guys. I don’t think I need to introduce him further as we all know him, but I will say that you are missing out if you don’t check out theswca.com at least once a week…
Okay here we go. I’m so excited!
1: Hi Gus and thank you so much for agreeing to this interview! It’s an honour to have you on. I have to ask straight off the bat – how many of your friends have taken selfies with your Slave Leia outfit?
GUS: The list of friends who’ve taken Slave Leia selfies continues to grow. Every time we have a party, people line up for photos next to the costume. When I received the costume, I asked some friends if they could come over to help me put it inside the plexiglass case. I thought maybe 3-4 friends might stop by, but 20 friends showed up! While we were setting it up and before Leia was put into the plexi case, whenever I stepped out of the room, my friends secretly took photos with the costumed mannequin. Of course, I found out later when all these photos appeared on Facebook. Fortunately, that’s the only time the costume has been out of the case since I’ve owned it.
2: Seriously though, I know you’re a pretty socio-politically engaged guy, so I have to ask your view on something I’m really conflicted about it. My Facebook profile picture shows me with a Slave Leia cosplayer so obviously I’m a huge fan, but the outfit is pretty damn revealing and the ‘slave’ connotations are very strong. I know there is a huge debate about the outfit, with some saying it is sexist (I think even Carrie Fisher was against it at some point) but others saying it was an important part of her character arc (she strangles Jabba with the slave chain in the end). Where do you stand?
GUS: I think cosplayers should be able to wear whatever they want. The moment any of us start telling anyone what costumes they should or should not wear, I think everyone loses. The Slave Leia symbolism is powerful in Star Wars. On one level, yes, the costume represents the objectification of Leia by an amoral crime lord. But as we all know, it’s in that outfit that Leia strangles Jabba with the very chains he used to bind her. I’d say that’s pretty badass!
3: You’re not wrong… So before we get to the inevitable Star Wars questions, I’m sure our readers would like to learn a little about you. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your family? Where do you guys live currently and what do you do when you’re not collecting Star Wars vintage?
GUS: I live in Seattle, Washington with my wife, Pam. My education and career background is in computer science and engineering. I have a bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. in computer science. I work at Amazon where I run the Amazon Restaurants business and have been with Amazon for over 18 years. In my spare time I travel, run, and take photos, all of which I do badly.
Gus’ home in Seattle, which he has aptly named ‘Bobacabana.’
4: I’ve seen your travel snaps and trust me, you don’t take bad photos…So how did you get into Amazon? Through your computer science study? When I think of someone working at Amazon, I have that famous Google office atmosphere in my head – snooker tables, hammocks, mini-golf etc. Is it anything similar to Google then?
GUS: My background and experience is in computer science, software engineering, and distributed systems. After working at another local startup in the Seattle area, I interviewed with Amazon, which was also based in Seattle. Amazon had just launched Books and Music (the only retail categories they offered at time). It’s been an amazing 18 1/2 years there and continues to be a thrilling place to work.
Amazon does not have the mini golf, hammocks, massage tables, private chefs, etc. that has become cliché at many other tech companies. People do decorate their offices and desks at Amazon, and we encourage and celebrate people’s unique interests and passions.
My personal view (not my employer’s since I don’t speak for them) is that those tech company employer-funded playgrounds are ridiculous. It’s a workplace. If you really want a room filled with plastic balls, build one in your house. In my opinion, a company spending money on that junk may reflect on their responsibility with costs or being prone to manipulative techniques to encourage younger employees to stay in the office until all hours. I think it’s really dumb, and in the future people will make fun of that aspect of some tech company cultures.
5: So did you actually grow up in Seattle?
GUS: No. I was born in Havana, Cuba. Our family moved to the USA when I was 3 and grew up in Summit, New Jersey, a suburb of New York City. After college, I moved out west to Seattle to go to graduate school, and stayed in the area ever since. I met Pam while we were both in grad school at University of Washington. It’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world, surrounded by two mountain ranges, lakes, and ocean. Once I moved here, it was impossible to leave because every other place would be a letdown.
6: What was it like growing up there?
GUS: My hometown, Summit, is probably similar to many suburban towns in the US. I went to the local public schools, could walk/bike anywhere around town, and had small mom and pop stores selling Star Wars comics, magazines, cards, and toys. In some ways, Summit was a really amazing town because it was a diverse cross section of incomes, races, and ethnic groups, in an area where that is not the norm since many other New Jersey towns at the time were homogenous.
7: Have you ever been back to Havana? I’ve heard it’s a stunning place to visit.
GUS: No. I am eager to go back sometime soon. I’ve seen many East Bloc countries before and during their transition to democracies and it was amazing to experience that before those places transformed from communism. I would like to visit Cuba again before that happens. Because of their isolation, there are some really unique things in Cuba like colonial architecture that is still standing and 1950s automobiles everywhere. But Cuba is long overdue to become prosperous and free as they once were.
8: What are your interests other than Star Wars?
GUS: I love to travel, and I’ve been all over the world and have visited many countries. But my favorite place to travel is the United States, which has some of the most amazing places to see. There’s really no other country like it with ice fields in Alaska, active volcanoes in the Northwest, the grandeur of the Grand Canyon, the deserts of the Southwest, lava flows in Hawaii, and huge populations of wildlife in places like Yellowstone and Denali. I’ve been to all 59 US National Parks, so in some ways, my collecting passion has crossed with my interest in visiting scenic places since I appear to be a completest with National Parks too. While traveling, I also like to take photos of all things wildlife, mountains, waterfalls, Northern Lights, icebergs, lava, reefs, etc.
I also run. I’ve run in over 30 marathons and a countless number of half marathons. In fact, I’m a big fan of the runDisney races at the Disneyland and Walt Disney World theme parks, and have run in all the Star Wars themed races (5Ks, 10Ks, and Half Marathons) that they’ve done since they started three years ago.
Star Wars keeps me busy, so I don’t collect much else. I do have a small shrine to the Beatles, and have some really cool Beatle collectibles such as vintage cereal boxes from the US and UK, Ringo’s personally owned psychedelic posters of his bandmates, and Ringo’s personal platinum record award for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I also have a small collection of Evel Knievel toys in sealed boxes. As a kid I was really into Evel Knievel and on some level he represents a kitschy aspect of Americana. Only in America could a guy who jumps stuff on a motorcycle could become globally famous as a superstar. It’s one of the things I admire about this country—many Americans are non-conformist, creative, innovative, and independent.
Some of Gus’ favourite travel photos:
9: Wow Gus that is inspiring! All 59 National Parks! I really don’t know where you find the time to also collect Star Wars….So if you had to give up Star Wars or travelling, what would you choose?
GUS: I’ve gotten very efficient in my time management on collecting, and I do combine collecting with my travel. It’s simple: I would give up Star Wars before I’d give up travel. You only live once, and for me, seeing the world is part of having an interesting and fulfilling life with many memorable experiences. I love Star Wars collecting, but at the end of the day it’s just stuff.
10: I’ve met you briefly at the last few Celebrations and you honestly come across as one of the nicest guys in the hobby. I know you’re also a member of the Seattle SW Collectors Club (SARLACC) and I’ve actually interviewed a couple of your colleagues (Jake Stevens and Amy Sjoberg), who I’ve also met in person. They also seem incredibly happy, friendly and easygoing. So what the hell is going on at SARLACC? Is it a cult? How is it possible for you guys to all be so nice? Something smells fishy…
GUS: SARLACC is one of my proudest creations. I formed the group in 1994, and it was the first Star Wars collecting club in the United States. Some of the principles I applied to creating SARLACC are common ones I’ve applied to other communities I’ve formed (the Star Wars collecting newsgroups, the Star Wars Collectors Archive website, and the Celebration Collecting Track) based on few rules and no hierarchy—all to maximize people’s passion and creative potential and minimize politics and drama that plague many social groups. SARLACC is a great bunch of friends with many varied interests. We do lots of things together and have had quite a few shared adventures. We do vet people before they can join SARLACC, not in an obnoxious elitist way, but basically we want to see that they are friendly and nice. We’ve had an active membership since I started the group 23 years ago. In the early days, I had to do a lot of work to remind people about meetings, but in the past two decades it has been self sustaining with members taking turns to host meetings in their homes. We have about a one year backlog to host meetings as there are so many members willing to host other collectors in their home. SARLACC has no rules, no leaders, and no dues. That’s the secret to our success—it’s just plain anarchy.
The SARLAAC crew…
11: I’m sure you’ve been asked this question a million times but what is your first Star Wars memory?
GUS: My first memories of Star Wars were from the television commercials in early May 1977, before the movie’s release. Star Wars only opened in 32 theaters nationwide on May 25, 1977, and I happened to live in one of the few areas of the country with multiple theaters showing the movie. I vividly remember and was struck by Chewbacca and C-3PO in that early commercial (I thought 3PO was a bad guy). I was also blown away by the imagery of Luke and Leia swinging across the chasm. I saw the film later that summer and my life has never been the same since.
12: That’s pretty cool. Most people’s first memories are the movies themselves and not the commercials. Do you actually remember what commercials they were?
GUS: It was the standard television commercial they had running in the US that mentions heroes, villains, and aliens from a thousand worlds. But I remember there was so much imagery unlike anything else that it was impossible to absorb everything going on or even have a sense of the story. It was really word of mouth that got me to rush to the theater to see it.
13: At what age did you start collecting Star Wars?
GUS: As a kid, I attempted to buy every Star Wars thing I could find, and I still have every single Star Wars item from 1977 on. But I didn’t really start serious collecting until I was 27. Like many other collectors, I started with the loose action figures. My original goal was to complete my set of figures from childhood. After about a month, I managed to complete the set, and quickly moved onto other things like carded figures and boxed toys.
Gus’ childhood SW collection
14: So what was the trigger to start collecting at that age?
GUS: Prior to Star Wars, I had collected other things. As a kid I was into baseball cards, coins, and action figures. In fact, even at an early age I was fairly advanced at this, tracking down dealers who had trading cards from prior decades and having my parents drive me to shows to buy items. But then Star Wars came out and I applied all those learnings and experience to this newly discovered interest.
In one of the panels at this past Celebration, I went into a bit more detail about how I started and grew as a collector, in case anyone is interested in hearing more about it:
15: When and why did you establish theswca.com and who else was involved in the beginning?
GUS: I started the Star Wars Collectors Archive in 1994. It was the first website on the Internet about Star Wars collecting. The original concept was just to have a place to share cool photos of obscure items between friends. As we expanded the content, it became clear that the Archive was generating a lot of interest. I lot of other collectors contributed since the early days like Pete Vilmur, John Wooten, Duncan Jenkins, Chris Georgoulias, Ron Salvatore, Chris Nichols, Isaac Lew, John Alvarez, Tommy Garvey, Stephane Faucourt, Steve Danley, Skye Paine, Mike Mensinger, James Gallo, and Todd Chamberlain. There are also hundreds of collectors who have submitted entries to share their discoveries and amazing items in their collections.
16: Were you connecting with other collectors before the arrival of the internet?
GUS: No, my only option at the time was connecting with local friends who were also buying Star Wars items. My first access to the Internet was in 1983 at Bell Labs and MIT via ARPANET, NSFNET, and USENET. There was a Star Wars newsgroup on USENET in 1983 that was short-lived and mostly discussed Return of the Jedi. Not a whole lot of chatter about collectibles, and it would take years before the Star Wars newsgroups would emerge in the early 1990s.
17: I know you were at the first Celebration but what was your involvement there? Is that where the Collecting Track started?
GUS: Yes, I started the Star Wars Celebration Collecting Track at the first Celebration in Denver in 1999, and it has continued to be a big part of Celebration ever since. Just a couple of weeks before the start of Celebration I, I asked Steve Sansweet what Lucasfilm was planning for collectors at Celebration. He said nothing was planned yet and asked me if I wanted to put something together for collectors. It seemed crazy to try to arrange something with only a couple of weeks notice, but I decided to go for it! I scrambled to assemble a lineup of panelists and make all the arrangements. We were set up outside and had a small tent and there were no official announcements or communication that this was going on. I contacted several other collectors who brought items to show in person at the event. We gave our presentations to a small audience that was waiting outside in the rain, many of them waiting in line to get into other panels at Celebration I. It was fun, and I realized we had something we could build on.
The Collecting Track has come a long way since Celebration I. I have continued to lead the Collecting Track at all Star Wars Celebrations including all 8 Celebrations in the US and the Celebration events in the UK, Japan, and Germany. In addition to high quality panels and presentations, we also offer patch/pin/swag trading events, contests/awards, daily newsletters, giveaways, meet and greets, swap meets, collector displays, social media, and many opportunities to meet other collectors. There are a lot of people who make the Collecting Track a success each time!
At Celebration III, I thought it would be cool to have giveaways for every attendee at every panel of the Collecting Track. We made up a trading card set (a different card for each panel) based on different presentations at Celebration III. We also gave out animation cells from the Ewoks cartoon that Lucasfilm had offered to us to give to attendees. These giveaways were well received, and we continued this tradition ever since. This is probably one of the earliest, if not the first, examples of Star Wars collector swag, which has now become a massive thing at Celebration.
18: Great story Gus. I love the Collecting Track and it pretty much makes up about 90 percent of my Celebration experiences. So thank you and everyone else involved for everything you guys do there. Any chance you’d remember what panels were on at the first Celebration?
GUS: I could probably dig out the program from the first Collecting Track but going off memory, we covered things like customized action figures, prototypes, and creating collecting clubs. Since we were outside and didn’t have any way to project onto a screen, the format was entirely discussion panels and items that people brought to show at the panels. Almost all the panels had multiple panelists since everything was oriented around discussion and questions.
Gus introducing Steve Sansweet in Orlando.
Celebration Orlando Panel
Celebration 4 panelists
19: How does someone volunteer to assist at the Collecting Track?
GUS: Several months prior to each Celebration, we usually make a call for participation and multiple announcements to find out who’s interested in becoming a volunteer. I select the panels, and do a formal call for panels. The process can be very selective, for example at Celebration Orlando 2017, I accepted 28% of the panel proposals that had been submitted. We try to rotate topics and try new things each time.
The volunteers run the operations once we’re on the ground at the event. Tony Damata has led that area on my team and he usually reaches out to collectors and fans to see who is interested in volunteering. That is also very selective since we get many more people interested than volunteer positions.
20: I know you receive a lot of swag at Celebrations but what is your most memorable?
GUS: Darren Mcaleese’s General Madine beard in Kenner retro vintage packaging has to be one of the craziest swag items ever but also one of my favorites!
21: I love the Star Tots that you guys give out after attending a panel at the Collecting Track. Whose idea were they initially?
GUS: It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where the idea started since it involved multiple iterations of various ideas. In early 2011 on a trip in Canada with some other collectors I recall discussing future Collecting Track giveaway ideas with Alyssa Loney, Ron Salvatore, Elling Haug, and Chris Georgoulias. We were brainstorming various Collecting Track giveaway ideas, some of which we’ve used. We talked about carded figure ideas such as carded Kenner Micro figures, Yupi figures, vintage style action figures, and Star Tots, all with the idea of continuing the line beyond the concepts that Kenner had. In June 2011, Chris and I discussed various figure-based giveaways in over email. Originally we wanted to do 3D figures just like the Kenner Star Tots, but there are some challenges in producing painted 3D figures. Chris came up with the idea of flat metal figures since those would be easier to make.
Then I pitched that idea and backup idea to Lucasfilm for Celebration VI Collecting Track giveaways. Initially, we decided to go with the backup idea, but at the last minute ran into issues preventing that from happening. Fortunately, we had also pitched Star Tots and after a lot of hard work and much scrambling by the team, we were able to produce them in time for Celebration.
22: Each Tot is sponsored by a collector but how does someone become a sponsor?
GUS: Yes, it costs tens of thousands of dollars to fund the Collecting Track giveaways. The Celebration III giveaways were completely funded by the Collector Track budget (which is modest). So for Celebration IV, I had an idea that maybe we could do even more impressive giveaways if we could get additional funds via sponsorship. The concept was that if we could get individuals to sponsor individual items, we could raise the funds to do something major. So I ran the idea by Lucasfilm and they were supportive of it and gave us permission to put the sponsors’ names on the pewter medallions we gave out at Celebration IV. So we’ve used that sponsorship model ever since.
A shot of the large sized tots that sponsors receive (thanks to ‘Ke We’ for the photo).
23: So do you approach potential sponsors or can someone approach you or your team?
GUS: We usually keep a waiting list of interested sponsors. There are many more people who want to sponsor than slots available, so unfortunately, we need to turn some people away. But we keep in touch with people for next time. Sponsorship is not cheap and has been running about $2000 per sponsor in recent years. But we are super grateful for the sponsors to enable us to do these giveaways.
24: What do you think of people flipping Tots?
GUS: Once we give them away, people can do whatever they want with their Star Tots. Sponsors get some Star Tot sets, but they aren’t allowed to sell them until after Celebration. Many people do sell them, which I think is fine as it gives others the chance to buy ones they missed.
25: Let’s move on to some questions about vintage collecting and social networking. Where would collectors find you online most of the time? Forums? Facebook? Twitter?
GUS: I post daily to Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook about Star Wars collecting and interact with many collectors, particularly on Facebook. I started this thing in November 2016 of posting a “Daily Grail” each and every day. I’ve kept it up since then and can continue doing this for quite a while longer. One of the things I find when people visit our house is that they are frequently overwhelmed by the sheer amount of rare and one-of-a-kind items on display. People end up missing lots of interesting stuff. So I thought it would be cool to drip feed cool items each day to start a conversation about individual pieces.
I do participate in Facebook group discussions from time to time but there are so many groups and daily threads and I have a super busy career that I don’t post as often as I used to. I also attend many conventions every year such as Celebration, San Diego Comicon, and Emerald City Comicon. I do tons of local events with collectors in my area as well. I’m fairly easy to reach since I even show my email address on the Star Wars Collectors Archive.
26: What do you think is the best platform for connecting with other collectors online?
GUS: There is no question that Facebook has taken over as the central place for collectors to interact online. There are lots of great Facebook groups devoted to different areas of Star Wars collecting. The Rebelscum forums are also the classic venue for collectors to meet, but as a lot of discussion has shifted to Facebook, it’s more a secondary forum these days, which is unfortunate because I love Rebelscum. There are many other sites with interesting forums like Imperial Gunnery and Star Wars Forum UK but those also appear to be waning as the discussions move to Facebook. Facebook has 2 billion active monthly users. We just can’t repel firepower of that magnitude.
27: We recently hosted a roundtable discussion with the owners/moderators of the four English speaking vintage Star Wars forums (Roundtable) What do you think the future holds for forums?
GUS: I believe it’s all going to Facebook. Facebook has live streaming, great posting features from simple feedback to long responses, moderator tools, and more. But social media is constantly changing. In the past two decades we saw the Star Wars community on the Internet start with newsgroups, move to web-based forums, and now on to Facebook. And I’m sure it will change again in the near future.
28: Do you get caught up in the endless online debates about u-grades, reproductions etc?
GUS: Not really. I do have viewpoints on those topics but don’t think there’s a whole lot of depth to those debates so generally don’t join in on them.
Regarding U-grades… I think loose figure collecting is wonderful. That’s how I got started. I still have my first set of loose figures from when I was a kid, and I ramped on Star Wars collecting by collecting loose figures. But U-grades are not loose figure collecting. It’s a process of destroying vintage Kenner (or affiliate) Star Wars toy packaging to put the toy in AFA packaging forever where you can never access the toy. It’s not a loose figure—it’s a packaged figure but instead of Kenner, it’s AFA. You can’t even touch it. Also the “U” for uncirculated is ridiculous in toy collecting. The term “uncirculated” comes from coin collecting where coins enter circulation as they’re exchanged. Toys are bought by kids and have already been touched by hands of a worker in a factory—there’s no notion of “circulation” like currency. Finally, if I’m going to collect something that is sealed in a package, I’d much rather have vintage Kenner packaging than AFA packaging. U-grades are just stupid.
I’m also not a fan of repros. I think they’re completely unnecessary as there’s plenty of vintage items to go around. The big problem with repros is that people are constantly fooled by them. Even if the people who created them in the first place had the best intentions, they tend to get out and passed off as originals. It’s hard to put that genie back in the bottle though, so I think the best thing people can do is educate other collectors by making it clear how profoundly lame it is to collect repros and U-grades. None of the advanced collectors I know really bother with them.
29: Does the Inner Circle exist and are you its overlord?
GUS: As you can tell, I’m not a big fan of hierarchies in the collecting community. But let’s just say that if an Inner Circle did exist and if that Inner Circle was created by me, it would certainly not have an overlord ruling it. I guess I didn’t really answer your question. Or did I?
30: Well answered Gus. That’s exactly how I would expect the overlord of the Inner Circle to deflect the question…On to a few questions about your collecting habits now. Firstly, what do you collect?
GUS: If there’s a theme to my collection, I enjoy collecting items that are challenging to find. For me, it doesn’t have to be super valuable, but I love the novelty and thrill of the hunt that comes from finding previously undiscovered items. So I collect in several categories: Star Wars food items (especially cereal boxes), record awards, cast and crew items, original art, vintage toys, toy prototypes, store displays, school yearbooks of the cast, and screen-used movie props and costumes. In each of those categories I have an extensive collection, and in some of them I may have the largest collection in the world in that specialty. Who knows?
Okay brace yourselves for a few photos of Gus’ collection!
31: Gus that is just mindblowing! Do you get many requests from collectors to visit your collection?
GUS: I get requests for tours all the time. I do private tours quite frequently, usually for out of town guests who are in the area. We also throw parties a couple of parties a year. Of course, we’re not equipped to be open to the public, and I wouldn’t risk that, but if I know a collector or they are friends of someone I know, I usually find time to show them around.
32: What was your most recent purchase?
GUS: I just recently picked up some amazing original artwork by Ralph McQuarrie for various concepts he drew and painted for Star Wars cast and crew t-shirts, belt buckles, and Christmas cards. It really doesn’t get any better than one-of-a-kind Ralph McQuarrie artwork!
33: Is there still something you’re looking for?
GUS: Tons of things. In each of my areas of specialty, I have a list of holy grails I’m after. For instance, in toy prototypes I would like to find mockups of the Blockade Runner, White Witch, and Micro Collection Torture Chamber box. For store displays, I’d like to find the Early Bird pole display. For crew items, there’s an early ILM X-Wing t-shirt I’m after along with the 1999 Lucas Learning, 1999 Lucas Arts, and 2005 JAK Films Star Wars-themed Christmas cards. For cereal boxes, my holy grails are the Canadian General Mills sticker offer boxes from 1978 and the Weeties cereal box from Australia. For movie props, I would like to find an original trilogy screen-used lightsaber and various helmets such as the TIE Pilot, AT-AT Driver, and Rebel pilot. I would pay a lot for any of these items. So it never ends…
34: Do you still sell vintage at all?
GUS: If I pick up duplicates of something I will sell it. But I don’t sell very much.
35: What’s your favourite vintage piece?
GUS: It’s impossible to pick a favorite. Really, how do you choose between the unproduced 12” action figures, the Death Star model, Luke Skywalker’s belt, the complete set up unproduced Droids and Ewoks, Rocket Firing Boba Fett, the Sandcrawler toy wood pattern, Tusken Raider mask from A New Hope, the Bacta Chamber playset, or the Slave Leia outfit?
A selection of Gus’ favorite pieces.
36: Have you ever stood in front of your collection and doubted your desire to continue collecting?
GUS: Not really. I still love it and continue to keep it fresh and novel. I do sometimes say to myself that I will eventually have to stop since I won’t be able to continue finding pieces that match what I’ve found before. But then I find more and more items that set the bar higher. So I continue.
37: Do you think you have to be wealthy to start collecting vintage these days?
GUS: No. I think it’s a myth that you need to have lots of money to collect vintage. I have heard many collectors who spend thousands a year on the latest, newest toys saying they don’t collect vintage because they can’t afford it. That’s so wrong! Obviously these collectors could afford to collect vintage if they didn’t have to buy each of the latest toys on the shelves. Vintage Star Wars is finite and thousands of dollars can buy a lot of cool vintage stuff. Sure, it’s not as easy and convenient as walking into Walmart every week to get the latest toy, but the hunt is part of the fun.
38: Couple more questions and then we’re done. I know you’ve travelled the world visiting Star Wars locations, including those in Tunisia. My wife is Tunisian so I have to ask – what is your favourite location in Tunisia?
GUS: I’ve been to most of the Star Wars filming locations: Finse in Norway (Hoth), Tikal in Guatemala (Yavin), northern California (Endor), Death Valley (Tatooine), Caserta (Naboo), Lake Como (Naboo), Skellig Michael (Ahch-To), southern California (Tatooine), Sevilla in Spain (Naboo), Puzzlewood Forest (Takadona), Canary Wharf in London (Scarif), RAF Greenham Common (D’Qar), and of course, Tunisia (Tatooine). I’ve also been fortunate enough to visit Skywalker Ranch, Lucasfilm’s offices at the Presidio in San Francisco, Elstree Studios, and Pinewood Studios. In fact, I was on set for the filming of The Force Awakens and was blown away by what I saw. It was so cool to be on set and witness the filming of a Star Wars movie and see all the sets, costumes, props, and actors!
A couple of Gus’ favourite filming locations
Tunisia has so many amazing Star Wars locations: Obi-Wan’s house, the Cantina, and Mos Eisley on Djerba, Lars homestead interior in Matmata, Slave Quarters in Medenine and Ksar Hadada, Mos Espa in Chott el Gharsa, Lars homestead exterior in Chott al Jerid, Dune Sea at La Grand Dune near Nefta, and the canyon shots in the location near Sidi Bouhlel.
Matmata is probably my favorite location. To sit in the dining room of Luke’s house and have dinner is an experience every Star Wars fan should do once in their life. It’s chilling when you realize you’re eating a meal in the exact location where Luke, Lars, and Beru had dinner. You feel like you are in the Star Wars universe. You just have to bring your own blue milk.
Tunisian filming locations
39: Awesome photos! I’ve heard a lot of collectors now claim that the south of Tunisia has been “taken over by ISIS” (based on some very loose news reports) and that it’s too dangerous to visit the SW locations down there now. What’s your take?
GUS: Since Arab Spring, a lot of formerly stable countries in the region (like Tunisia) have gone through some turmoil. As typical in that region of the world, Tunisia was ruled by a strongman. Tunisia’s former ruler, Ben Ali, was a benevolent dictator and did many great things for Tunisia. He was educated in the US and France and tried to modernize Tunisia with programs like universal education and advancing the rights of women. He was very pro-west and promoted a secular government. Because of Tunisia’s stability, unique landscape, and strong tourism, it had become a favorite location for many motion pictures.
Arab Spring changed all of that. While there are some great pro democracy elements of those uprisings, unfortunately the instability was also seized by jihadists. Many news stories have reported that Tunisia is one of the top recruiting grounds for ISIS. There have been cases of tourists kidnapped in Tunisia. In the last couple of years, 57 tourists have been killed in two separate terrorist incidents in Tunis and Sousse committed by ISIS-aligned fanatics. Tourism is suffering in that country as a result, which makes things worse as Tunisians lose tourist dollars and see fewer westerners. ISIS itself is very small group, with estimates around 20,000-30,000 members worldwide, so they aren’t prevalent everywhere. The problem is that ISIS offers huge bounties for kidnapping westerners, which tempts many non-jihadists to kidnap people to transfer them them across borders for these bounties. While the overall risk is low in Tunisia, it’s not a risk I want to take right now. I know some Star Wars fans who have gone in recent years, but I’m holding off until the country stabilizes further.
I love Tunisia. It’s one of my favorite countries in the world: the scenery, Roman and Islamic architecture, friendly people, delicious food, wonderful climate, and of course the Star Wars filming locations, make it an absolutely amazing place to see. I will go back some day.
40: Okay our final question – will you sell me your Death Star model?
GUS: Not on your life! That little Death Star and I have been through a lot together.
I take back everything I said about you being a nice guy then! Well thanks so much for joining us Gus! It truly was a pleasure and above all an honour to have you on.