From hard-bitten reporter to unabashed geek: A fan’s tale

Steve Sansweet | July 3, 2012

SW column May 1987 (c) Dow Jones & Co.

People often ask how I got involved with Lucasfilm. There are several answers, some less embarrassing than others.

In 1987, just a few months after I had become Los Angeles Bureau Chief of The Wall Street Journal, and well aware of the upcoming Star Wars 10th Anniversary, I proposed an editorial page column looking back at and assessing the amazing cultural phenomenon and Lucas’ career. I had never written for the edit page before, but the New York editors said yes. Then I—a fiercely independent, hard-bitten journalist who had once spent two years tracking down and reporting on multinational corporate bribery scandals—began fantasizing about my first visit to the fabled Skywalker Ranch and a chat with George Lucas. Oh, the cruelty of daydreams that dissipate as quickly as a cold front during an Orlando summer!

I placed a phone call to the always wonderful, perpetually pleasant head of Lucasfilm Public Relations, Lynne Hale. I explained my mission in detail and she said she’d put my request in to George. A common—and completely inaccurate—perception at the time was that George Lucas was almost hermit-like, hidden away at the fortress known as The Ranch. In fact, George has always been a regular guy who drives himself (and at the time, his kids) around town, goes out to eat, shops—and has never lived at Skywalker Ranch. Perhaps the media wasn’t at the top of his list of favorite institutions, but he at least tolerated us and was friendly with a number of top journalists.

Lynne called back in a couple of days. Yes, George would be happy to give me half an hour on the phone. Great! So I…wait, on the phone? Wouldn’t it be better if…Oh. OK. A phoner it is. Sigh. The interview went great, although George declined to be definitive about timing for any future Star Wars movies. When the column ran, Lynne called and said that everyone enjoyed it—everyone at The-Ranch-That-I-Still-Hadn’t-Seen.

Within a year I got my tour, courtesy of a friend from L.A. who had gone to work for a Lucasfilm division. I saw Lynne from a distance but couldn’t say hello because, even though I wasn’t working and it was a private visit, I was still a journalist and any such visits needed advance approval.

A few years later, the SWRN (the informal “Star Wars Rumor Network,” a precursor to the Internet), came up with a live one: Lucasfilm was thinking about doing a Star Wars collectibles price guide! I gathered my courage, called Lynne Hale, and she referred me to Lucy Wilson, who had just started up a Lucasfilm Publishing division. In my memory, the conversation went like this:

“I hear you’re doing a Star Wars Price Guide, but if anyone does that it should be me!”

“And who are you?”

It wasn’t like that, of course. Lucy was pleasant but businesslike (and has now been a friend for more than two decades), and told me that she already had a team for the price guide. But the more that we talked then, and in later face-to-face meetings, lots of ideas started to flow. And that eventually led to my first book with Lucasfilm—1992’s Star Wars: From Concept to Screen to Collectible—and my first meeting with George Lucas. But that’s another story!

Steve Sansweet is chief executive of Rancho Obi-Wan, a non-profit membership museum that houses the world’s largest private collection of Star Wars memorabilia. To find out about joining or taking a guided tour, visit www.ranchoobiwan.org.

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