Standing inside his back yard chicken coop-turned memorabilia museum, Steve Sansweet cues up perhaps the most recognizable movie score in history: a full-throated orchestral rendition that conjures up images of space battles in a galaxy far, far away.
Then, with a dramatic flourish, he opens a door on to a vault the size of a Toys R Us sales floor, with shelf upon shelf of one manâ€™s obsessive personal grail: the collection of the worldâ€™s most voracious Star Wars collector.
â€œOhhhhhhhhhhh!â€ the group gasps in unison.
And Sansweet beams.
A 70-year-old former newspaper reporter, he steps back to steep in the reaction of 16 fans on a guided tour of his museum that includes several life-sized Darth Vaders, Princess Leia statues, shaggy Chewbacca heads and R2-D2 robots. There are also goofy games, stuffed dolls, action figures, pre-production prototypes and shameless knockoffs of the wildly popular sci-fi adventure films.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the seventh installment in the Hollywood franchise, opened in December, threatening to knock the globe off its axis; the blockbuster broke the billion-dollar mark within 12 days, a record. One comedian termed the opening the biggest sequel since the New Testament.
Soon, Hillary Clinton beckoned voters with a Star Wars slogan; a Las Vegas billboard ad for an accident attorney whose phone number ends in 4-4-4-4 quipped â€œMay the 4s be with youâ€; and a New York man, in anticipation of the film, legally changed his name to Darth Vader.
But nobody, it seems, rivals Sansweetâ€™s quirky preoccupation with all things Star Wars. Since 1977, he has accumulated at least 350,000 franchise artifacts, stored inside a 9,000-square-foot warehouse he calls Rancho Obi-Wan, located on an idyllic country lane just outside this northern California town.
Heâ€™s also written 18 Star Wars books and is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as owning the worldâ€™s largest collection of Star Wars paraphernalia.
So whatâ€™s with this intergalactic obsession?
â€œSome people have a collecting gene,â€ Sansweet said. â€œI started as a boy with baseball cards and comic books. And I have always loved science fiction.â€
One day in 1977, while working as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, Sansweet found a full-color pamphlet for the first Star Wars film in a trash can. When no one was looking, he said, he went dumpster-diving, starting him down the path.
The film, conceived during a fractious era of the Vietnam war and Watergate hearings, became an escapist fable for a generation of frustrated Americans, he said.
â€œStar Wars just blew me away,â€ he said. â€œI was 31 and that movie reawakened the kid in me. And itâ€™s kept me young ever since.â€
Twenty years later, Sansweet went to work as the head of fan relations for Lucasfilm, helping to launch worldwide conventions and giving him access to a seemingly endless universe of Star Wars-related booty.
For years, he stored his collection on this converted chicken farm located 30 minutes from director George Lucasâ€™s Skywalker Ranch, offering tours to friends and family. In 2010, he founded a nonprofit museum and has refurbished a series of barns to offer his hours-long tours to charities and school groups.
Now the release of the latest Star Wars film has prompted legions of fans to seek out his twice-weekly tours, which cost $60 for adults.
On a recent afternoon, the curious include Rob Pester, an amateur Star Wars collector from Texas who brought along his wife, Margaret, and two daughters. Joining him is friend Jeff Kumfer, who wears a sweatshirt bearing an image of the robot BB-8 and the words â€œThis is how I roll.â€
The geek factor here is nearly off the charts. The two men, both in their 40s, keep their cameras clicking and recorders rolling. Theyâ€™re almost giddy in the lair of Big Daddy himself, the father of all Star Wars collectors. Theyâ€™ve both read Sansweetâ€™s original collectorâ€™s book, which Pester calls â€œthe bibleâ€.
â€œI began collecting to re-create the film I first saw as a child,â€ Pester says. â€œNow that Iâ€™m an adult with kids of my own, it brings back a simpler time in life.â€
His wife, Margaret, however, doesnâ€™t get it. During much of the three-hour tour, she stands in the background, scrolling through Facebook on her phone.
â€œKnow how much I love my husband?â€ she asks in whisper. â€œTodayâ€™s my birthday. And we are here.â€
Sansweetâ€™s delivery is filled with jovial storytelling, a Carl Sagan-like sense of wonderment peppered with revelations such as that the character Chewbacca was inspired by Lucasâ€™s dog Indiana and that the director got the idea for the Millennium Falcon while pondering a burger he ate for lunch.
Sansweet seems like he was once one of those kids who tried to amaze his friends with magic tricks.
Now he has an audience where he wants them, especially with stories like the one about the European firm that unsuccessfully sought to license Yoda-themed toilet paper with the words â€œWipe out the dark sideâ€. He shows a Star Wars novel written in Braille and knockoffs from around the world, including the awkwardly named, Turkish-made action figure called Stars War.
He displays handmade items fans have sent him as gifts; a Japanese-made Roomba robot vacuum cleaner designed to resemble R2-D2 and a doll thatâ€™s a cross between Darth Vader and Goofy.
â€œIs that Donald Trump?â€ Pester quips.
â€œThereâ€™ll be no political commentary on this tour,â€ Sansweet smiles.
Through it all, he offers a bemused sense of his own collecting foibles, relating a supposedly oft-said phrase on the Star Wars movie sets: â€œShould we burn this or see if Steve wants it?â€
He introduces the charred remains of a Qui-Gon Jinn costume he collected from the sand after a shoot. â€œThis one is one of my proudest acquisitions yet,â€ he says, â€œor my stupidest.â€
Pointing to a painting that includes George Lucas sitting between his beloved robots R2-D2 and C3PO, he says, â€œI can now curse this man who has inspired me to spend all the money I have on this stuff.â€ He pauses, as though catching himself: â€œNo, I wouldnâ€™t do it if I didnâ€™t like it.â€
Still, at times it feels like a tour of Imelda Marcosâ€™s shoe closet. Thereâ€™s the cast worn by a stuntman who injured his leg during a shoot, signed by Star Wars actors with quips like â€œPlastered again?â€ and â€œBreak a leg!â€
At one point, he shows off a Chinese knockoff, a white Stormtrooper windup baby.
â€œWho would buy that?â€ asks a wide-eyed girl.
â€œUm,â€ Sansweet stammers, â€œme, obviously.â€
Correction: our original photo caption and standfirst identified Margaret Pester as the wife of Steve Sansweet, but she is actually Rob Pesterâ€™s wife.