Rancho Card Box Mystery: Solved!

By Pete Vilmur

Mystery card box

Because I live just across town from Rancho Obi-Wan, I’ve had lots of opportunities to examine the collection over the years, taking mental notes of many pieces I’d love to own. One section that’s always commanded my attention is the “cast and crew” display case, which holds rare paperweights, pens, belt buckles and other gifts given to Lucasfilm employees and crewmembers since 1976. But one piece that has always mystified me—and Steve—is a beige-colored velveteen box with an embossed logo from The Empire Strikes Back.

The fashion model cards

I finally asked Steve to take it out of the case so I could have a closer look. The box, about the size of a deck of playing cards, has several press photos from Empire and…1980s fashion models? Steve said it came directly from producer Gary Kurtz, but had no other details. Why would models be mixed in with scenes from Empire?

However, there was one card image that seemed vaguely familiar, a clumsy illustration of George Lucas sketched above his name in “space-crawl” script. I’d seen that someplace before, but where? Heading home to my own collection, I rifled through my magazine collection looking for the Lucas illustration. Finding nothing in the U.S. magazines, I pulled out my international Empire-era magazines until…PAYDIRT! An obscure (and bizarre) Canadian magazine/newspaper called United Star featured the image of Lucas and…fashion models!

The magazine and the cards

I remembered picking up the issue because of the impressive number of lengthy cast and crew interviews from an Empire press junket in 1980, quite a feat for the little-known (and short-lived) Canadian quarterly. Taking the magazine back to Rancho, Steve and I were able to match up every one of the models on the cards; they appeared in ads in the magazine. Why someone felt the need to include them in what was apparently a gift to insiders remains a mystery.

The set found on eBay

To my amazement, I found one of the card sets on eBay a couple months later, with some added pieces that further clarified what the set was for. This one had a silver label on the front, identifying it as a gift commemorating the premiere issue of United Star. Inside were two more inserts featuring the United Star logo, but sadly… no fashion models. We surmised that Steve’s was a sample sent to Kurtz for approval, who likely asked that the ad cards be removed. Still, the box, photos, and inserts make for a gem of a set, even if a flush of fashionistas wasn’t in the cards.

Pete Vilmur, a director of Rancho Obi-Wan, is Director of Public Relations for Fine Art—Sculpture at Academy of Art University in San Francisco, where he reports to department director Lawrence Noble, sculptor of Lucasfilm’s iconic Yoda statue. Star Wars fans know him for his nine years working for Lucas Digital Media, where as senior editor he created content for Lucasfilm’s websites, blogs and social networks. Pete co-authored two books with Steve Sansweet – The Star Wars Poster Book and The Star Wars Vault – and a third with Ryder Windham, The Complete Vader. He has long collected Star Wars posters and ephemera. Pete lives in Petaluma with his wife Teri and their two children.

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