Inside Rancho Obi-Wan’s 2nd Annual Gala, Part 1: Calm Before the Storm

Mark Newbold and I had the pleasure of attending the 2nd Annual Gala at Rancho Obi-Wan on September 20, but more than that we went for eight days, arriving on the 16th from the UK before the Gala to lend a hand and help get things ready for the big day. In the first installment of a two-part article, Mark and I will look at the Gala together — I begin with the run up to the Gala and all the preparations that go on behind the scenes and Mark talks through the event itself (coming soon to StarWars.com).

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The Annual Gala at Rancho Obi-Wan, which holds the world’s largest collection of Star Wars memorabilia, is needed to help raise much needed funds for the not-for-profit museum which is owned by Steve Sansweet. It’s important to reiterate that none of the money raised goes towards buying collectibles — that all comes out of Steve’s own pocket, via donations or contributions.

Before the Gala gets underway, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done behind the scenes to ensure that everything runs smoothly on the day. That list is drawn up with Steve along with the manager and vice president of Rancho Obi-Wan, Anne Neumann.

Anne Neumann came to Rancho Obi-Wan over eight years ago to embark on a six month project of cataloging the collection. She’s since married and lives with her husband Stew Levy in a purpose build flat under the Library of the museum — quite literally, the pole holding up the library extends into their kitchen! Since her arrival, she’s cataloged over 92,000 unique items (and many duplicates, too) but there’s still around 400,000 other items left to add to the database. Anne is a formidable force, pun intended, and whatever she sets her heart on achieving she does so with the utmost professionalism and precision.

ROW_Gala2_2014_20With days to go before the Gala other volunteers also come to help at the Rancho to ensure everything on the list is completed in time. This includes numbering and laying out all of the donated items for both the live and silent auctions, setting reserve prices and printing out the sheets for every item with description and starting prices. Every person attending is given a unique ID which is used for bidding in both auctions, it’s printed on their name badges too and this is placed with their badge in a box ready for each guest’s arrival.

A party at Rancho Obi-Wan wouldn’t be complete without food and drink and food tasting is done a few days before when a new flavor of cupcake is delivered for all to taste (it was lime and coconut and got the thumbs up from all, it was delicious). The caterers were contacted to ensure everything was in place and this year the new function room is to be used.  The new room is also the home of Jabba the Hutt with Salacious Crumb and time was spent setting up a wireless camera system so whoever is controlling Jabba can see what’s going on in the room; Jabba was to be the place for official photos for all guests and last minute shopping ensured we found the right rug/throw for people to sit whilst posing for their photo. A new Jar Jar in carbonite piece was finished, using lots of glue, and maneuvered into place ready for the big night. New smaller, more intimate, round tables were delivered and set up, and the room is almost ready to go. For those that need to smoke, a dedicated smoking area was also set up.

Whilst this is all going on, the balloon pop and bean bag toss games are set up in the museum along with their respective prizes — this means moving various items including R2-T2 and the huge Bantha safely into temporary locations to ensure there’s enough room for people to access the games.

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New sponsor signs are added to the shelves where appropriate and a few final things are hung in the art gallery and Steve’s office, which becomes the VIP room for the evening (after a good clean, too). The stormtrooper mannequin gets new gloves and the Mayor of Star Wars suit is put on a display for the first time. The new big reveal for the night is covered so it can be unveiled to all during the opening ceremony at 5:01 p.m.  A final hoover and dust is done throughout the museum along with a final walkthrough to ensure everything is in the right place, nothing has fallen over, and everything is displayed properly — a new fan made Episode VII Han Solo 3¾” figure (Han Solo is wearing a leg cast) is propped up for everybody to see.

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All the goodie bags for each guest and volunteer are prepared along with a detailed explanation written by Steve of what’s in this year’s bag. This isn’t as simple as you may have thought, as each person’s goodie bag contains a correctly-sized T-shirt for reach person.

By the end of Friday, everything is in place and Rancho Obi-Wan is ready to welcome all. The volunteers will arrive first from 11 a.m. and the first guests will arrive at 4 p.m. With this in mind there’s a volunteer walk though at 3 p.m. to ensure that everybody knows what they’re doing and the timing for the event.

Being a volunteer and helping out at the world’s largest Star Wars museum is an amazing experience. Being able to play in Steve’s sandbox for a few days is truly magical and with new experiences and finds on every visit I can’t wait for their next trip back to Rancho Obi-Wan and a galaxy, far far away. Huge thanks to Steve, Bob, Anne, and Stew for hosting Mark and I and we look forward to next year.

The 3rd Annual Gala at Rancho Obi-Wan is taking place on October 24, 2015, and has been dubbed Galaween (a great suggestion by Mark that was taken up by Steve and Anne) — tickets are on-sale now and it’s sure to be an amazing event you won’t want to miss.

Don’t miss Mark’s article that discusses the Gala in detail coming soon!

James Burns co-owns and runs Jedi News (with Mark Newbold), the largest English speaking Star Wars fan site in Europe, is the co-host of the UK-centricRadio 1138 podcast and is a regular contributor to Star Wars Insider. You can also listen to James as part of the monthly Curto Burns Collectors Cast, discussing all the latest Star Wars collecting news with co-host Dan Curto and fellow StarWars.com blogger Steve Sansweet.

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