Tom Spina is always looking for new ways to bring Star Wars into your home and life.
Spina took a passion for original movie memorabilia and created a thriving business that offers sculptures, movie-prop restoration, custom mannequins, and displays that are worthy of a museum. His new company Regal Robot has become a go-to resource for highly themed, high-quality furniture, art, and decor that brings Star Wars home in new and exciting ways.
Remember the Han Solo in carbonite desk that took the Internet by storm? Yep, that was Spina, who came to furniture design through rubber monsters (as a prop maker). Today, with both Regal Robot and Tom Spina Designs (which is the restoration and conservation arm of his business), he and his team of incredibly skilled artists have the ability to take your wildest dreams and craft them into reality.
The Han Solo desk was the spark that inspired a full line of official Star Wars-themed furniture and décor, which are now available on their site. In addition to their product line, they’ve also launched the Regal Robot Custom Studio, which is breaking ground and setting precedent with their ability to do one-off and custom pieces for individual clients. When you approach Regal Robot with your idea, you’re not going to the store and picking something off the shelf. You’re going to the manufacturer with your idea and getting a team of industry professionals to build whatever your dream piece might be.
For Spina, though, the work is all an extension of loving things — like Star Wars, movies, monsters, and all the stuff he grew up with — and wanting to make cool stuff. But that “cool stuff” still must have function and bring something cool to your home and life. Something that makes you feel immersed in and part of the movies and characters you love. Like a dewback loveseat. Of course.
Spina has essentially built a dream factory with Regal Robot. It’s a place where his own dreams have come true and where the driving purpose as a company is to help others turn their imaginations into reality.
StarWars.com had a chance to chat with Spina about this work and how he helped Star Wars make the leap from screen to furniture and décor.
StarWars.com: The Han Solo in carbonite desk is kind of what put you on the map, so to speak. In retrospect, do you think you were prepared for the response it got?
Tom Spina: Absolutely not. At the time, our site was getting roughly 600 or 700 hits a week. Then we got a call from our service provider that they needed to increase our bandwidth because we had 3.5 million hits that week.
StarWars.com: Wow! How long had you been around by that point?
Tom Spina: That version of the site had been around for a few years. It was not a ton of time. We had a great reputation within the prop-collecting community. We had already put ourselves on the map as a great resource for restoring original movie props and for over-the-top work on props and costumes.
And that was our niche. That’s what other people really weren’t offering on a bigger scale. It timed really well with an expansion in people collecting original movie props — stuff that always felt unattainable growing up. But now, here was this opportunity to own something that was in Star Wars or was in one of your favorite movies. And here we were to say, “You need an Arnold Schwarzenegger-sized mannequin, and you can’t just buy that at the mannequin store. So we’ll make it.” Or you had this Ugnaught from The Empire Strikes Back that was deteriorated, and we can fix it.
We developed a lot of new techniques and used a lot of old-school techniques in new ways and kind of reinvented the idea of restoration and conversation with a real specific focus on old foam latex and old movie props.
That’s all sort of an aside, but that was the main crux of our site for a long time. Then we had a Grammy Award-winning musician [Mark Hall] ask us to make him a cool desk that he could then auction for charity, and he brought up the idea of doing something Star Wars. We went through a whole bunch of different ideas and designs with him and when the idea of Han Solo in carbonite came up, we mocked it up and immediately went, “Well, that’s cool! We have to make that.”
StarWars.com: Even if this isn’t what you want, we’re still making this anyway.
Tom Spina: Right! We’ll make whatever you want, but we’re still making this.
So, we put it on the site, and I expected it to resonate with some people because it resonated with us, and we’re fans at heart. I expected a few people on the replica prop forums to say, “Hey, good job,” and I’d go home happy.
And then we just started getting more and more email. Then it was on every blog and all over the place. This was 2007, which was really before Facebook and Twitter and stuff. It was just blogs, and everybody picked it up. But years later, we’re still getting email every week about that desk.
StarWars.com: How did the popularity of that specific design lead to what you would become as a company? You’ve carved out a niche for yourselves by taking high-concept ideas and translating them into something completely different.
Tom Spina: Yeah, functional art. Furniture art. Where you take the sensibility and skill set of an effects artist or a prop maker and merge that with the function of a really “normal” everyday home item, like a desk, a table, or a chair.
But yeah, you’re right. I would say it’s a pretty straight line from that first desk to where we are now. We started doing aliens for commercials that Lucasfilm recommended us for, restoration with the Lucasfilm archives, and events for the Star Wars online team. We found ourselves at Lucasfilm a lot.
StarWars.com: Which is not a bad problem to have.
Tom Spina: No, not at all. “Oh no, I have to go to the archives again. Oh no!” Said no one ever.
StarWars.com: Your company motto is “wouldn’t it be cool if…,” which — let’s be honest — is how most great ideas are born. Is that something you still stand by? Are staff meetings just a group of you sitting around spitballing cool ideas?
Tom Spina: Oh yeah. It’s not even that it happens in any sort of structured fashion. It just happens. [Sculptor] Rich Riley is famous for this. His best “wouldn’t it be cool if…?” moments come at the very end of a project when we think that we’re done with it. Then he suggests something that would be very costly to change, but we have to do it because he’s right. It would be cool.
It happens organically, though. We have a ton of projects that are in various stages of development for Regal Robot right now, and every single one of them was the result of someone saying, “Wouldn’t it be cool if blank was turned into blank.”
And that’s a reason to go to work every day.
StarWars.com: That being said, I’m curious what the most outrageous or complicated commission you’ve received has been?
Tom Spina: This probably pushes toward the Tom Spina Designs side of things, but I would say the restoration work seems like the biggest uphill battles. I say seems because at the beginning of any restoration project, it’s always a long phase of planning, cleaning, and carefully figuring out where the puzzle pieces go, so to speak. But there’s a crest to that hill. Once the pieces start going together, every project gets its own momentum and creative energy. Then all of a sudden, you’re snowballing down that hill and sooner rather than later, the piece that you were staring at is now staring at you.
This happened with the Ugnaughts, and it happened with the original Muftak. He was in real need, both inside and out, when it got here. He was covered in years of dust from having been in Rick Baker’s shop for so long. When we got him here, we shampooed him…twice. We vacuumed him. We did all of this work to restore that thing, and at the end of it, there he is! He came to us in a heap and left proud.
StarWars.com: I have to say that I’m kind of in love with your dewback loveseat. How did that come about?
Tom Spina: [Laughs] So, Rich Riley said, “You know what’d be cool? If we turned a dewback into a sofa.”
StarWars.com: Of course it would!
Tom Spina: Exactly! That’s the exact response I had. Of course it would! And it was that simple. I knew Stephen Lane of The Prop Store of London had a casting of the original head from the guy [Fred Pearl] who made the dewback for the first movie. And it’s one of the coolest things you’ll ever see in your life.
So we talked to Stephen and were able to 3D scan that head and then translate that to a milled piece of foam, which we called the dewback marshmallow (because it was just the shape, not the details). Then Rich went in by hand and carved in all the scales and everything else.
And there were certainly challenges there. We had to figure out what to do with his legs and tail and where we were going to fit people. The design evolved, and we eventually figured it out and were even able to incorporate Tatooine rocks and cup holders!
StarWars.com: With an unlimited budget, what’s your dream project?
Tom Spina: Ooh! I’ve probably already done it. Okay, so for me, as a kid, opening up the Star Wars Storybook before I even got to see the movie, I turned to the two-page spread of the cantina, and that was the die that was struck for my life. It was instantly struck. You had all these aliens in there. The band. And Muftak. And the Duros, which scared the heck out of me.
At that point, I had been making paper bag masks and whatever else a little kid does. But that was when I started to say, “Who made this? How does this exist?”
And we’ve gotten to create most of those aliens over the last few years for things like Super Bowl commercials, toy commercials, the last two Celebrations. To me, those are the dream projects –when we get to re-create, really faithfully down to the warts and wrinkles, these characters that I grew up loving.
StarWars.com: That’s beautiful. Most people don’t ever get to work on a dream project much less see several to fruition.
Tom Spina: Totally. I feel so lucky. And what all of that has led to is just above and beyond what I could have ever expected.
Jamie is a publishing/book nerd who makes a living by wrangling words together into some sense of coherence. He’s also a contributor to GeekDad and runs The Roarbots, where he focuses on awesome geeky stuff that happens to be kid-friendly. On top of that, he cohosts The Great Big Beautiful Podcast, which celebrates geek culture by talking to people who create it. With two little ones and a vast Star Wars collection at home, he’s done the unthinkable: allowed them full access to most of his treasure from the past 30 years, opening and playing with whatever they want (pre-1983 items excluded).