Steve Sansweet has probably one of the best and worst jobs related to the Star Wars empire (get it? empire?) -- he's the Director of Content Management at Lucasfilm, as well as the Head of Fan Relations. It's that second half of his title that we're a bit more interested in, and presents some of the more fun, and more strenuous parts of the job, I imagine. We caught up with Steve while he was in Los Angeles for something he really enjoys doing; meeting the Star Wars fans in person.
Today marks the 30th anniversary to the day that Stars Wars: A New Hope came out in theaters and sparked the big sci-fi revolution, and not coincidentally, the massive fan pleasing Star Wars Celebration IV is taking place at the Los Angeles Convention center from now through Monday. There's a lot going on, ranging from "An Hour With Carrie Fisher" (she won't be wearing that slave-girl outfit, we'll bet) to a massive amount of material from the Lucasfilm Archives on display, including some things "That haven't been unpacked for 30 years" according to Steve.
Getting to know the man behind / in front of the fans, Steve is the author of ten books about the Star Wars universe (soon to be eleven when his 'Inside the Star Wars Vault' is published) and he is a genuine Star Wars nut. He owns a staggering amount of Star Wars memorabilia (including one of the original Darth Vader costumes from The Empire Strikes Back), knows the films inside and out, and sports a George Lucas-esque salt and pepper beard. I asked him if Lucasfilm had a beard requirement policy, to which he replied, "Of course!"
I first asked Steve how he came to be involved with Star Wars, and he said "Well, it all started 30 years ago ... " at which point we almost imagine the story happening on a Star Wars opening credits-type crawl, in a galaxy far, far away. Steve was a longtime fan of the films, and of science fiction in general, and had been making his living as a journalist, covering things like ... movies. Wow, that sounds strangely familiar to me. Hmm. So either I'm going to be writing about films a long time, or running the Sam Raimi or Edgar Wright archives.
Given the fact that Steve had written a couple of books about Star Wars, Lucasfilm had initially contacted him back in the 1990s and asked him if he might know anyone that would be interested in traveling around and speaking to fans and showing them things from the archives. Luckily he did know someone, himself. He's since managed to turn what was meant to be a weekend job into an 11-year (and running) full-time gig. Which is pretty impressive, given the fact that he doesn't (to my knowledge) have Jedi mind-trick powers. Before long, he was the go-between guy serving as the conduit between Lucasfilm and the teeming masses of fans worldwide.
Star Wars fans have long been known as extremely vocal, especially once Lucas went back and started tinkering with the films and releasing the Special Editions. When people saw the modified Cantina scene where Greedo shot first, there was what can only be described as an uproar across the internet. Guess who gets to hear most of that "massive disturbance in the Force" first hand? Steve is admittedly a firm believer in the "Han shot first" scenario, and told us that George definitely listens to the fans. Where he initially said he wouldn't be releasing the original films in unaltered form on DVD, he finally caved to the pressure and changed his mind. Steve showed off some of the restored original footage at Comic-Con, and was there to hand out "Han Shoots First" buttons with the DVD release date on them.
While it might take a lot to please the fans movie-wise (where do you stand on the whole "the prequels are terrible" battle line?), Lucasfilm is really going over the top with Star Wars Celebration IV this weekend. The list of different activities is pretty massive, and there are a lot of fan-pleasing activities on the menu, including the sessions with the actors and crew memebers, costume contests, build your own Forest of Endor dioramas, book signings, photo opportunities, and new merchandise that will be available for purchase at a massive Star Wars store that is open 24 hours a day during the convention. It really is sensory overload for Star Wars fans, and they'll be wondering why they don't have these every year.
I asked him what he would really be looking forward to, and he said that he was mostly impressed with the dedication of the fans that he gets to see at these conventions. He's seen people in costumes (slave girl Leia is an extremely popular choice, and even has it's own website), people who decorate their cars (there is a Star Wars: Road Squadron at the convention), name their children, and even get iconic pieces of the Star Wars galaxy tattooed on their body. In fact, there's a tattoo contest going on this weekend, so you still have time to get that Ewok on your shoulder if you hurry.
Since Steve started out as a Star Wars fan, and now attends these as an official representative of Lucasfilm, he has one of the most unique perspectives from both sides of the velvet rope, and he couldn't be happier about it ... even if Lucas didn't announce any new Star Wars movies this week. He'd be content to talk to you about the subtle nuances in the matte paintings from Return of the Jedi for hours, and he really illustrates the old adage of "do what you love" in your career. There's no denying that Steve does that. Did we mention that he has one of the world's largest collections of Star Wars memorabilia? No doubt it'll be a bit larger once this event packs up.