When you hear about Sonoma County in California, you probably think of rolling hills and wineries. You’ll find an abundance of both of those things, but if you look harder you’ll also find the unexpected. Like the world’s largest private collection of Star Wars memorabilia. You read that right. Steve Sansweet’s Rancho Obi-Wan is over 9,000 square feet and chock-full of every Star Wars collectible you can imagine. I’m still trying to wrap my head around everything I saw on my visit earlier this month. And guess what? Visiting Rancho is not an unobtainable dream. Now you can explore the collection for yourself.
Jump to a galaxy far, far away after the break.
Like all collections, Sansweet’s trove of treasure started with one item. He was working at the Wall Street Journal and a colleague received a promotional book about an upcoming movie called Star Wars. It ended up in the trash, but Sansweet rescued it later that day. It was all downhill from there. Before moving to northern California for his new position with Lucasfilm, he added on two stories to his home in Los Angeles for his Star Wars collection. When he moved his belongings north, the moving company told him it was their second largest residential move.
Sansweet found just the right place for his collection in Sonoma County; a former chicken ranch had the potential and space. The building that houses the collection used to be a chicken coop and a place where cabinets were manufactured. It took an investment of time, money, and sweat to transform the barn into a place where Sansweet could safely store and display his collection—but the results were definitely worth the effort.
Today, his collection is estimated to contain over 200,000 items. At last count, around 90,000 of them have been cataloged into a database. Seeing that number of Star Wars items with your own eyes is quite an experience. The tour starts with Sansweet’s office and moves into the library and the ephemera collection. Every book that has ever been published about Star Wars is here. The library includes tomes in multiple languages and even braille. Flat files contain movie posters, stickers, prints, promotional material, and so much more. One of my favorite treasures in this room were sketches of Boba Fett by Joe Johnston.
The tour continues into the main area of the museum. I won’t give away when the big reveals happen, but Sansweet and his collection manager, Anne Neumann, have set the museum up so that the collection unfolds like a story. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, the next amazing section is revealed with perfect dramatic flair. Upon entering this area, you’re greeted by the Modal Nodes (purchased from the Las Vegas FAO Schwarz) and a Darth Vader wearing a costume that’s pieced together mostly from bits used in the films. You’ll see a Bantha piñata, a life-size Boba Fett, Kenner action figures, a chocolate Jar-Jar Binks head, play sets, items from the actual films, bootleg toys, jewelry, school supplies, and so much more. There’s even an 18 and over wall (no pictures of that, sorry).
By this point, your brain is happily spinning with thoughts of Luke Skywalker and cuddly tauntauns. You still have many wonders ahead of you though. Picture an entire game room filled with Star Wars slots, arcade games, and pinball machines. And you’re allowed to actually play them! The dejarik table might draw you away or maybe the original art and dozens of fan made items will catch your attention. I’d love to go back just to spend an afternoon in that section of the museum.
In my excitement over some shiny object, I think I actually interrupted Steve with audible squeals. I probably did so more than once. Fortunately, he gets it and understands. Seeing the reactions to his collection is rewarding for him. It’s lucky for us that he wants to share his love for the Star Wars universe. It’s contagious. Though you may leave Rancho with a desire to buy more collectibles, I can guarantee you’ll leave with a smile and feelings of extreme giddiness.
Now, for the best part. People assume that you can only visit this bright center of the universe if you have some secret, special pass. Not anymore. Rancho Obi-Wan has recently been made a non-profit museum. It’s not open to the general public at all times, however, you can arrange an appointment for a private tour of the collection. Sansweet himself will walk you through the museum, tell you stories about his collection, and answer questions. He will understand if you are so excited that you are speechless, and he doesn’t mind flailing either – just don’t do it near breakables. If you love Star Wars and you can manage the cost of taking the tour ($200 for a 2-person pass), do it. Visiting Rancho is a day you will never forget.
If you can’t make it to Rancho, consider getting Steve Sansweet’s book Star Wars: 1,000 Collectibles: Memorabilia and Stories from a Galaxy Far, Far Away. It showcases many highlights from the collection and will give you a taste of what it’s like to see everything in person.
See many more photos of wacky collectibles at Rancho Obi-Wan here.