Why I Collect “Star Wars”
In 1978 my parents and I moved to the island nation of Sri Lanka, where my father, a prominent South Asia historian, would conduct research for nearly an entire year. I was six years old and already the biggest “Star Wars” fan on my block. I was one of those kids you heard about that saw the movie in theaters dozens and dozens of times. I ordered the early-bird kit of action figures and dressed as my favorite “Star Wars” characters for Halloween. In preparation for the move to a Third World country, my parents purchased enough “Star Wars” toys to get me through Christmas and my birthday — both of which would take place during our months away from the States.
I have only vague memories of what it was like to leave home for such a long trip. I understood that I would not see my neighborhood friends for a long time, and I knew I would be going to a different school for a while. Knowing that neither of these changes were permanent kept me from worrying, especially since a tropical adventure awaited me. My parents’ preparations for their six-year-old’s inevitable adjustment to a new life included the promise of a Myna bird after we settled in. I had always been denied a pet growing up, but soon I’d have one that would talk to me, and I do remember making plans to try to get him to make beeps and whistles just like R2-D2. Between the Myna bird, and their secret stash of “Star Wars” toys to be rationed out over the next year, my parents were covered.
Our family packed up the belongings for the trip in two large steamer trunks that would be sent by boat, while our suitcases carried just enough to get us by for the first few weeks. The only “Star Wars” toy I remember taking with me was a toy Han Solo blaster. I don’t remember picking it out or playing with it in Sri Lanka, but I have a vivid memory of being stopped going through security at Osaka airport because the toy gun showed up on x-ray and my parents had to unpack it to prove that it was just a toy.
Sri Lanka was a very different world, though my only lasting impressions of culture shock are of seeing actual thatch roofs and bamboo being used as construction scaffolding. I believe I adjusted very well, and settled in at the international school where I studied with diplomats’ kids and made my first trip to a tailor because the school required uniforms.
A few weeks after we arrived, I remember my father sitting me down to have a talk. Our trunks had arrived by ship, but when he and my mother went to pick up our belongings, one of the trunks was completely empty. My Dad uncomfortably explained that all my “Star Wars” toys had been stolen, along with the contents of that trunk. Also gone was the stash of other “Star Wars” stuff that would be presents for me during our time there. I was more confused than upset. I didn’t understand how someone got onto a boat and found their way to my family’s treasure trove of “Star Wars” goods, many of them unopened.
My only question was if there was anything at all left in the plundered trunk.
“Just a pair of shoes,” Dad replied.
I look back and wonder why I wasn’t devastated by this, but I think I was mostly overwhelmed by seeing my father so uncomfortable breaking the news to me. It was that first moment of realizing that your parents aren’t invincible.
Everything worked out fine, and living in Sri Lanka for nearly a year remains a formative experience. I learned to live without Western comforts like hamburgers, television, and yes, “Star Wars” toys. My imaginary galactic adventures gave way to real ones — riding an elephant, visiting tea plantations, traveling through monkey-filled jungles, learning to swim. I never got that Myna bird, though. Upon our return to the States, my extended family threw me a belated birthday party and my presents were all “Star Wars”-related.
I often tell this story of how Sri Lanka made me a “Star Wars” collector. When I do tell the story, though, I never make the obvious jokes about how we should have stowed our stuff in the Falcon’s secret cargo hold, or that bounty hunter Boba Fett should be dispatched to catch the thieves. Those few lost toys weren’t funny to me; they were a turning point. If those toys had arrived, maybe I would have become bored with them. The reality of them might have paled next to the actual adventures I was having in Sri Lanka. When I returned home, I might have put them in a box and forgotten about them. Instead, the fact that the toys weren’t there somehow made them more important. Subconsciously, I still feel the lack of them.
Losing those “Star Wars” toys, especially the ones I never got to open, permanently programmed a course in my navicomputer that made me a lifelong collector. It rewired me. I’m unable to stand in front of a near-complete display of vintage “Star Wars” action figures without counting them and determining which ones are missing. I once impressed a world-renowned collector with one of my treasured pieces; he almost fell out of his chair and exclaimed, “It was rumored to exist, but only in Australia!” I beamed for days. In fact, I’m beaming right now just writing about it.
So, thank you, unknown thieves, for giving me the pleasure of a life immersed in “Star Wars.” Without you, I might not have the largest collection of “Star Wars” bath items in the world.
Photos courtesy of the author. See more here!