The Force of collectibles is with Yuma couple

4/17/2013 12:15 AM
By Associated Press

YUMA, Ariz. (AP) — Although some 30 years have elapsed since the first "Star Wars" movie was filmed near Yuma, two longtime residents remember the occasion well. Their voluminous photo album of pictures taken of the actors and the site are a part of their memorabilia to which one room in their home is devoted.

Chris and Al Jones used to visit the Imperial Sand Dunes regularly when their kids were young.

"I went out there all the time," Al said, "but one time they had guards out there."

The guards tried to prevent his entering the area, but Al told them, "This is government land. You can't keep me from driving out here."

Skirting the guards on his four-wheel-drive vehicle, he went on and came across "this Englishman," who turned out to be one of the stars, Anthony Daniels, known for his role as the droid, C-3PO.

After Al learned who the actor was, he and his family made frequent trips to the sand dunes to the Star Wars set (or as close as they could get to the fenced-off area), where they spent quite a bit of time talking not only with Daniels, but also with Mark Hamill - Luke Skywalker in the movie.

"He had nice conversations with us," said Chris about Hamill. "He had a little boy. He would talk to us about his kids. He was really a nice fellow. We have fond memories of it."

They also have pictures of Billy Dee Williams, who first played as Lando Calrissian in "The Empire Strikes Back," autographing one of the kids' "Holly Hobby" books.

"Everybody had a stand-in," Chris said. "One had a tattoo, and one didn't. So you had to know which one it was to know you were looking at the real actor. The one who played Chewbacca was pigeon-toed," she added, but she said that his stuntman was not.

Movie fans from California, one of whom had license plates "R2D2," also came to watch the filming. The Joneses swapped photos with some of them, and the photo opportunities were many. Al recalled when he had ample time to get a good shot of the droid stuntman from "Return of the Jedi."

"The droid gets knocked off the starship," Al said about that scene. "The poor stuntman had to fall off a structure that was at least 20 feet high over and over again."

"The whole structure (the movie set) was big enough that semi-trucks could park underneath it," said Chris. "I don't think people realize how big it really was."

By contrast, the room that houses the Jones' Star Wars memorabilia is a small bedroom, formerly occupied by their son, Dean, who had affixed the Star Wars posters to the ceiling. Now they adorn the walls, along with other items that look like paintings.

Not all of the items are paintings, though. One that resembles an artist's painting, for instance, is actually a folded apron with stitched appliques of Yoda, a Star Trooper, Darth Vader and Boba Fett. Beneath it on the wall is a framed silk-screened shirt, folded and encased in glass, which looks more like a painting.

In contrast to its black background, a powder blue Darth Vader head overshadows the sepia-toned imprint of Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker in the right foreground.

"It was from a former student who picked it out especially for me because it was an older picture on it, and the shirt has a worn and faded look," Chris said of the silk-screened shirt. "He wanted it to look more vintage."

Additional kitchen-related memorabilia include "Star Wars" cookie cutters, pancake molds, and two large spatulas — one of Darth Vader, the other of a Stormtrooper. Besides the posters on every wall, one of the first things to attract the eye is the plastic replica of the robotic AT-AT (All-Terrain Attack Transport) that stands 18 inches tall on top of a trunk to the left of the door.

On top of the nearby chest of drawers lies a Parker Brothers board game of Wicket the Ewok dubbed as a "food gathering adventure game" from "Return of the Jedi." Anchored near the ceiling and spanning the east wall just above the closet doors are contemporary glass shelves full of many of the toys and other Star Wars memorabilia that their son had played with as a youngster.

Chris said that her favorite is the Landspeeder, a rust-colored, boat-like toy "because it bounces and seems very realistic."

A bust-style Darth Vader stares menacingly from his northwest corner near the window. To the viewer, it is not apparent that the inside of this character houses compartments filled with small action toys from the movie series. Appropriately, to the right of the window is a bust-style golden replica of the popular droid C-3PO.

Wooden shelving on the west wall displays other items of interest, some in their original packaging: kits for making stained-glass figures and a wand that is still in demonstration mode. Other items include computer games from the whole "Star Wars" series that Al spotted on Yuma's Craigslist.

"Some high school kid was selling them," Al said. "I called him. I went out to the Foothills, and he met me at the door."

Al said when the young owner saw "this old guy," he gave him a peculiar look. "I said, 'It's for my wife!'"

"That was even worse" Chris said, laughing.

"And I said, 'I'll take them,'" Al continued. "I gave him his 27 bucks, and he was thrilled. I spent more in gas than I spent on them."

The collection of memorabilia has grown over the years, having begun some 30 years ago when the Jones' kids collected the toys to play with. Because they were used for play, the toy collection is mostly of sentimental rather than monetary value. The toys were put away after the kids outgrew them or left home, but were later found when the Joneses were cleaning out a lot of things. Rather than discard the memorabilia, they decided to house it in Dean's former room.

"Most of the posters, we got from theaters," Chris explained. "We would request them after the movies went out of the theaters." One poster came from KAWC radio station. The Joneses used to listen to the series on the radio. "We recorded some of them, and the kids would listen to them when we would go on trips," Al added.

Another poster has signatures of many of the cast, including Alec Guinness ("Star Wars" character Obi-Wan Kenobi), about whom Al said, "He was so cool."

Al explained that although signatures appear authentic, the poster is a replica. They are able to compare signatures since they have some of the stars' personal autographs.

Shelves accommodate many of the smaller items as well as a larger replica of the Han Solo spaceship, the Millennium Falcon, into which little action figures can be placed. "He sits in the seat and then shoots at the bad guys," Al said, adding that the toy makes noise when it has batteries.

Other small toys also make noise — the Darth Vader voice changer that is still in its original box, for instance. The movie series made the toys especially appealing to youngsters.

"Back then, it was just the kind of thing we could let our kids watch, and it wasn't a bad thing for them to watch," Chris said. "It had the good guys versus the bad guys, and most of the time the good guys won. It didn't have offensive language. It kind of dealt with some things that were dark, but it wasn't like nowadays with the things that are on TV."

Not uncommonly, kids nowadays are surprised to learn that an older group of fans are attracted to the "Star Wars" series. Chris, a fourth-grade teacher at Alice Byrne Elementary school, says that because of her age, her students give her some strange looks when they learn that she has a room devoted to "Star Wars." They whisper among themselves about her age after she tells them. Despite the generation gap, students have also helped her add to her collection when they learn of her interest.

"This year, the student council brought me a shirt from a leadership conference they went to," Chris said, "and they picked a shirt with a Star Wars logo" that they gave to her. "After 30 years, the students chose this for their theme. I think it's kind of cool."

Her interest in space does not end with the Star Wars episodes, though.

In a unit on rockets that Chris teaches, one student tried his rocket expertise to propel a small plastic replica of the robot R2-D2 into space, but scarcely had it gotten off the ground when it crashed. Now in her collection, R2-D2 is held together with rubber bands.

The Joneses' son, Dean, while on a student grant at the University of Arizona, said he really didn't think that the Star Wars experiences influenced him to work at the university's Lunar Planetary Laboratories. He helped on the HiRise Project (high resolution imaging science experiment), a program that helped produce high-resolution photos of Mars. Consequently, in the Jones' "Star Wars" memorabilia room are also real planet Mars photos, the largest of which is 27 by 40 inches.

Recalling the times that she and Al spent with Dean and their daughter, Anne — whether it was related to Star Wars or other activities — Chris said , "It was kind of fun because it was Yuma" where the filming occurred.

"It was just good times. We enjoyed our kids, we played with them and did things with them."

As to the appeal of the movie series, she added, "I think it is kind of a universal thing because nowadays the kids still like it. It kind of spans the years. But it's not a bad thing for your kids to watch. We like the characters — like Yoda. How can you not like a thing that is 800 years old?"


Information from: The Sun,

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