That fabled galaxy far, far away is just down Interstate 4 in Orlando this weekend.
Star Wars Celebration V — the largest official tribute to George Lucas' Skywalker saga — runs Thursday through Sunday, expecting to lure thousands of fans to the Orange County Convention Center.
None more rabid than Steve Sansweet, whose title of Lucasfilm head of fan relations makes him something like Lucas' Admiral Ackbar. Sansweet has written 14 books about Star Wars, and lives on a converted California chicken ranch, dubbed Rancho Obi-Wan.
Sansweet stores a staggering array of Star Wars memorabilia there, which seemed a good place to begin a phone chat:
Is it true that you own the world's largest private collection of Star Wars memorabilia?
George has a couple more pieces than I do but as far as a private collection, yeah.
If you had a memorabilia showdown with George, what would be your knockout item?
I would never, ever get into a showdown with George. He has an entire archive filled with the most amazing things. I do have one of the six costumes made for Darth Vader to wear in The Empire Strikes Back, and I prize that very highly. I must say that anything like that, I got long before I became an employee of Lucasfilm.
Fans would cut off their right hands with light sabers to have your job. What is it like working for George Lucas?
George works at Skywalker Ranch and we work in San Francisco in a wonderful office complex he built. A lot of us don't get to see George that often but certainly his personality, his style and how he likes to do things permeate the company. Having someone who is visionary like that means a lot. It lets you know that you're in good hands, that things are developing in a creative way.
Does George usually attend Star Wars Celebrations?
He only attended one before because he's so busy. To get George to appear at one of these is a real win. It's a special thing for us to have him in Orlando.
And alongside Jon Stewart, who proved his Star Wars expertise when he interviewed George on The Daily Show.
They both had such a good time that we thought it would be fun to get them together again but live on stage. Fans get a chance to see Jon interview George — and you never know what he'll come up with — and we open the floodgates to questions from fans. We solicited questions online and got hundreds. Now it's a matter of going through them and having Jon pick the ones he'd like to ask.
There was recently a disturbance in the Force when David Prowse (Darth Vader's body) was barred from attending Celebration. What's that about?
It's an internal matter between Lucasfilm and Dave. … We really don't want to go into that anymore. (Prowse) does about 50 autograph shows a year, so I can't imagine that not being at one show is going to impact his fans. Certainly there will be a lot of evidence of Darth Vader at Star Wars Celebration V.
Which Star Wars Celebration event do you never miss?
I never get tired of watching the Jedi training of little kids. I've never seen anything either so funny or so amazingly emotional. I've seen little kids wearing their Jedi robes — and maybe they're a little frightened — leaning over the stage saying: "Mommy, I have to go to the bathroom."
On the other hand, you see some kids who are developmentally disabled; to watch them, and their parents' eyes when they get up there … it's just amazing, the emotion and intensity. One in particular a few years ago — watching the tears come down his parents' faces because he did such a great job. The applause, the smile on his face; there's very few experiences like that.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at tampabay.com/blogs/movies.