Spokane ‘Star Wars’ superfans prep for ‘Rogue One’ release

December 16, 2016 GMT

Now in his 40s, “Star Wars” superfan Tim Arnold remembers the moment he was introduced to villain Darth Vader on the big screen.

Arnold’s grandpa took the 4-year-old to a breakfast of pancakes at McDonald’s, then on to the theater to see the first movie in the blockbuster franchise.

“I literally remember every second of that experience,” Arnold said, inside Jedi Alliance, the toy emporium and arcade he runs with his brother, Tyler, as his hand rested on a re-creation of the villain’s melted helmet.

“Darth Vader came on screen, and I puked in his lap,” he said of his grandfather. “From that moment on, this was my favorite ‘Star Wars’ character.”

Audiences will be re-introduced to the iconic villain, voiced by a raspy James Earl Jones, in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” releasing in theaters this weekend. For brothers Tyler and Tim Arnold, as well as fellow sci-fi geek Josh Scott, who owns Time Bomb Collectibles in Spokane’s Garland neighborhood, the series’ return to the era of the original trilogy will be a nostalgia-fueled thrill.

“I’m not nervous going into this one,” said Tyler Arnold, whose collection of franchise figurines dating from 1977 comprises a bulk of Jedi Alliance’s toy museum. “This is what we grew up with. The stormtroopers look like they’re supposed to. Darth Vader looks like he’s supposed to.”

The brothers both began collecting the figures in their adulthood, but Tim Arnold said he abandoned the hobby around the time of the release of “The Phantom Menace” in 1999. He traded his collectibles to his brother for a 1957 Ford Fairlane hot rod, he said.

Still, Tim Arnold speaks about the collection with the reverence of a padawan to his Jedi master. The figures were produced by Kenner, a subsidiary of the cereal-maker General Mills, who expanded the line with the release of each successive film in the original trilogy. In all, more than 100 figures were produced between 1977 and 1985, selling for a little less than $2 apiece.

“What’s so crazy, to me, is if you look on them in the upper left-hand corner, they have a little area where the retail store would write the price,” Arnold said. “These are pre-UPC. As of January 1st, these things are 40 years old.”

Tyler Arnold, soured by his unmet expectations for “The Phantom Menace,” has focused on the original trilogy merchandise. He said he’s not interested in collecting toys from the latest series of movies, either, because they aren’t as rare and played-with as the collectibles of yesteryear.

“They’re a bad investment,” Tyler Arnold said. “The new stuff’s not really going through a destruction phase. As kids, we broke this old stuff.”

Scott, owner of Time Bomb, focused on G.I. Joe toys rather than “Star Wars” merchandise as a kid in the 1980s. Still, his shop contains a shelf with some of the original 1977 figures, most of them outside the pristine packaging of the Arnolds collection.

Scott said he saw an uptick in interest for his old figures, and the more recent Hasbro line of collectibles from the 1990s, after the release of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” last year and is hoping for a similar bump following the “Rogue One” premiere.

“I’m hoping that on Thursday, and after, it hypes it back up again, especially because it’s a prequel to the first movie,” said Scott, who had tickets to a Thursday night showing of the new movie.

Though not a collector himself, Scott said he seeks out rarities at local auctions and sales, eventually scoring a Yak-Man, one of the toughest-to-find Kenner toys. Released in 1985 at the end of the line’s production, the toy – which bore a striking resemblance to Joe Camel, the mascot for Camel cigarettes – was available only in Canada and Europe, never the United States.

“They didn’t want kids smoking, so yeah,” Scott said. “I got one of those in on a trade from a dude. They’re spendy. It sold pretty quick, though.”

Tim Arnold said he’ll wait a few days before buying a ticket to the new movie. The renewed interest in all things “Star Wars” is what excites him most.

“Personally, I’m probably more excited for ‘Episode VIII,’ ” Arnold said, referring to the sequel to “The Force Awakens” planned for release this time next year. “I’m very excited for ‘Rogue One’ as well, but just from the standpoint that it’s more gas in the tank for ‘Star Wars.’ ”