Interview by Adam May

Lisa Stevens is a supercollector. She has a massive collection featuring über-rare pieces that the average collector isn't likely to ever touch, let alone own. She's also the founder of two successful companies catering to sci-fi/fantasy fans. To top it all off, she's the President of the Official Star Wars Fan Club. We're not making this up, someone actually lives such a life, and she sat down recently to talk with GalacticHunter about the long, strange trip from average fan to her role as President of the Fan Club.

How does it feel going from a fan to being a publisher of Star Wars Insider and the President of the Fan Club?

It’s really pretty cool. I brought the Fan Club to Wizards of the Coast when I was the Star Wars brand manager there. I did it once, and then did it again when we moved the Fan Club over to Paizo.

What are some of the perks you get being the President of the Fan Club? I bet you’re going to say ‘meeting George’ [Lucas].

You know, I’ve never met George.

Really?

Not yet, hopefully someday. I sat right next to him in the Skywalker Ranch cafeteria once, his back to me and my back to him. I’ve seen him in the hallway, too. So, I’ve seen him a few times, but I haven’t actually been introduced to him yet.

I think some of the best perks of being President of the Fan Club are getting some advance information about the movies that are coming up, and about some of the cool items that the licensees are doing. Having people from Lucasfilm come and ask for your opinion—having some input into where Star Wars goes—is probably the biggest perk as a fan. I’m probably one voice among many, but they’re taking the time to listen. Being organically involved with Star Wars, through the articles we run in the Insider, exclusive items we sell through the Fan Club. We’re working to rebuild the Fan Club into an exciting, vibrant organization—that’s cool, too.

And . . . there are perks that are actually part of the job, like reading the script way before the movie comes out.

So simply being a part of it is the biggest bonus?

Yeah, and we’re a pretty big part. Lucasfilm takes the Fan Club really seriously. It’s really important to them. And we’re all working to make the Fan Club better and better all the time.

Tell us about the process involved in acquiring the publishing rights of Insider? You’re an accomplished businesswoman, co-founded a successful company, and are very respected in your field. What made you decide to take on the Insider?

 
I was one of the founders of Wizards of the Coast. I left [the company] in 2000, but maintained some really strong ties there. I told Johnny Wilson, who was running the publishing department, that if Hasbro ever decided to sell that department to give me a call. I knew that management of the Official Fan Club would be part of that deal. I’m also a huge DUNGEONS & DRAGONS fan, and I have been for years. They also had the official DUNGEONS & DRAGONS magazines, and that was a really nice perk of the job. (Paizo publishes DRAGON®, DUNGEON®, and POLYHEDRON® magazines as well as Star Wars® Insider.)

Just about a little over a year ago, Johnny called me up and told me that Wizards had asked him if he would be interested in buying that part of the publishing department. We decided to go for it, and at that point we had a lot of work to do. It took us about six months to get everything done. We had to get approvals from Wizards of the Coast and get Lucasfilm to agree to it, too. Lucasfilm holds the Fan Club in high regard, and we had to prove to them that we could run it. The Fan Club is one their crown jewels, and they don’t want to give it away to just anybody. So, it took some convincing.

As a matter of fact, here’s a funny story. I did my last presentation to Lucasfilm on the day Attack of the Clones opened. On opening day I was out with friends in Las Vegas, went to the midnight showing, went to my hotel and packed, then headed to the airport. I went to The Ranch that day and gave my final presentation for Lucasfilm for final approval. I figured that might’ve been my final test to see if I was willing to miss opening day for Attack of the Clones to give a presentation for them.

Our readers are a little confused and somewhat concerned with the current state of the Fan Club.

What part of the Fan Club?

As we understand it, there are two separate entities that now carry the “Fan Club” badge. One is the Fan Club membership you offer through the Insider, and the other is the Jawa Trader/online store managed by Wizards of the Coast. Correct?

Correct.

Are there any plans to consolidate them in the near future? Do you plan on acquiring the rights to the online store eventually?

It’s too early to comment on that. The store is a separate thing, and we have no input on it. Whatever happens to the store will be up to Lucasfilm.

Paizo has offered some enhancements with the Insider Fan Club memberships, such as the membership kits, which are receiving a tremendous response. If you were to do more with the online store, expanding the membership kits, what would you plan on doing differently to add more value to the membership?

That’s a good question. Obviously it’s an ever-growing idea. We’re trying to come up with interesting things, and we’ll sell them as we get permission from Lucasfilm. Currently, we’re offering the awesome IMAX posters and vinyl banners for sale. To order the posters, fans can go to http://www.paizopublishing.com/imax.shtml

The banners, which are an exclusive item for our subscribers, can be ordered at http://www.paizo.com/banner.shtml.

We have an exclusive item we’ll be selling to members real soon. It’s going to be announced at the end of March on StarWars.com, Paizo.com, and inside the next Insider magazine. Be sure to watch for it!

We’re looking at more cool items that we can do to give the Fan Club more exclusive merchandise. We’re trying to get some perks for Fan Club members at conventions and events. Nothing I can report right now, but we’re working on it.

We’d like to do more things that get fans together. We’ve talked in the past about doing Fan Club events in various cities where we could bring a Star Wars celebrity, have a dinner, and do a “meet and greet.” They do it really successfully in Germany with the German Fan Club. We’re always looking for new ideas to make things better. We have a message board on StarWars.com. We have very active people who answer questions, usually on the same day. It’s a great way to interact and get your questions answered. You can give your thoughts on the Insider, and what kind of merchandise you want to see.

Since a huge number of the Fan Club's membership are active Star Wars action figure collectors, will we see the Fan Club working more actively with Hasbro to bring fans more exclusive and sought after action figures?

We want to keep working with Hasbro, and with Lucasfilm, on this. If and when we settle on something we’ll get the word out!

Many planned Fan Club exclusives, such as the Troop Builder sets, 12” Jedi Council, and the Star Tours figures, were diverted to other retailers. Why did the Fan Club pass on these items? Will they be eventually offered through the Fan Club at some point in the future?

I don’t think they’ll be offered in the future because they’ve already been allocated to other retailers. The timing just wasn’t right. By the time we [the new management] got involved Hasbro had already offered them to other retailers. We decided that we could be one of many, or just pass on it and let others take them on. Whenever you make a business transition, even though we kept all the staff, there’s still a transition. It takes time for things to work their way to the new management.

If you were to choose any action figure toy related item to be a Fan Club exclusive, which one will it be?

Oh, I know what you’re asking. The problem is that anything I say…

It’s already on the exclusive list?

Yeah, I probably shouldn’t answer that. (Laughs.) One thing… I mean, there’s nothing like this in the works, but I wish there was. I’d really like to see a really, really cool Death Star playset.

You, me, and everybody else.

Vic (Wertz, Lisa’s partner) and I acquired some plans that we got for a really cool Death Star playset that they were thinking about in the mid-90’s when they re-launched the line. It’s so cool. You see these kids playing with it in the picture. There’s this one kid standing up, and the thing comes up past his waist. It was just this huge piece. It was reminiscent of the [Palitoy] cardboard vintage one, but it was bigger and taller. It was so cool.

You wrote an excellent article last year for Gus Lopez’s site about un-produced Kenner items that were considered for the tail end of the vintage line. Would you like to see any of them produced for the modern line?

Some have been already. There was an Imperial Sentinel from the Expanded Universe line. Of course the Clone Troopers got made, a little differently, but some of that stuff has been made. Some of it was really silly, though.

Since Topps’ Galaxy Collector ceased publication, there has been a void of printed collectible news. Besides Steve Sansweet’s excellent Scouting the Galaxy Q&A already in place, are there any plans to expand the collectible scope for the Insider?

Yes! In fact, we have collectible coverage in the issue that’s at the printer right now. It’s the 20th anniversary of Jedi, so we have a really cool retrospective by Pete Vilmur on "Revenge of the Jedi" collectibles. We have some other pieces coming up, and later this year we’re having an issue that’s more focused on collecting. We’re working with Hasbro, LEGO, and the other licensees to get more information on new stuff.

We’ve received some positive feedback on the current direction and content of the Insider, especially the inclusion of the fan focused Bantha Tracks. How do you plan on further enhancing and distinguishing the Insider from the rest? Do you have any concerns as to the viability of printed fan publications?

I don’t think so. Star Wars is such a strong franchise. We’re trying to give people articles that they’re going to want to keep as a reference. We’re moving more and more away from the news aspect, and more toward features and the really interesting stuff that’s hard to find elsewhere. We’re always working with Lucasfilm to find really exclusive stuff that isn’t going to go on StarWars.com and not end up on a DVD’s extra features. We’re always trying to work with them to keep things relevant.

With Bantha Tracks, we’re trying to focus on the fans behind Star Wars. Because the fans are so much a part of the Star Wars experience. I think there’s something about printed media that has an air of legitimacy. If you’re a collector and Rebelscum or GalacticHunter does a profile on you, it’s cool, but if Bantha Tracks does a profile on you, that’s there forever.

Fans loved the Empire Strikes Back 20th anniversary issue of the Insider. Any plans to give the same treatment for Return of the Jedi’s 20th anniversary?

Yes, it’s at the printer right now. It really does a really nice job covering Jedi. There are a lot of interesting tidbits and facts. I think a lot of people will find something they don’t know.

In hierarchal order, how would you personally rank each of the Star Wars films so far?

A New Hope
The Empire Strikes Back
Attack of the Clones
Return of the Jedi
The Phantom Menace

Why is A New Hope your favorite?

A New Hope is the first one I ever saw, and it’s still my favorite. I love the feel of it. Whenever I see it, it makes me want to jump up and dance or something. For me it’s a happy movie. It’s a great hero movie.

Besides your business accomplishments, many in the fan community know you as a “supercollector”. Tell us a little bit about your history with Star Wars collecting and what your “focus areas” are.

Vic and I got started in 1995 with the re-release of the Star Wars action figures. At lunchtime, I was at Toys’R’Us scouting out games because I worked at Wizards of the Coast, a game publisher. I ran across the new Star Wars figures there. I bought a Boba Fett for Vic. He had told me how when he was a kid he had all the Star Wars action figures. His favorite was Boba Fett. That weekend we were running around, and we bought some more. Then we went to DragonCon down in Atlanta, and the next thing I know he was going for a complete set including all of the variations. Before you know it, we’re whole hog into the action figures, then we expanded into the Galoob stuff. Then eBay really opened up my horizons. That opened the gate, and I just went nuts. The cookie jar was open. I could buy stuff from Europe, Asia, and all over the world. That was huge. There’s not a thing we don’t collect: pens; pins; pieces of clothing; bedding; wallpaper; whatever it is, we buy it all. We have close to 30,000 items in our collection.

That said, there are areas we love to buy and focus on. As far as I know, I have the only complete set of Star Wars arcade games in the world. I have everything that has ever been done, including some really rare stuff. I finally got my holy grail this year, which was a pinball machine from Spain, by a company called Sonic.

The “bootleg”?

No, it was licensed. It was licensed through Atari, which had a license with Lucasfilm at the time.

I did not know that!

Not many people do. I really only knew it existed through one picture in a brochure. I hunted for a long time for this machine. Even the hardcore pinball collectors hadn’t seen one in years. We weren’t quite sure if it existed. And I finally found one. As far as I know, I have everything. I even have the German Star Wars slot machine that was actually licensed. We have all the original machines, pinballs. We have a whole section of our house dedicated to the arcade games.

What’s your personal favorite Kenner action figure toy collectible from the vintage line?

That would have to be Rocket Firing Boba Fett. Ever since I heard the story about the Rocket Firing Boba Fett, I was acutely fascinated by the toy. At first I wasn’t even sure it existed, but I’ve come to learn it does exist just in limited quantities. Vic and I have three of them. I also own the original piece of artwork for the toy packaging, too, where Boba Fett is bending over shooting his rocket up.

What about Hasbro’s modern line?

Do I have to pick just one thing? I love the Millennium Falcon. It’s one of my favorite Star Wars ships. I like the idea of the Queen’s Starship from Episode I with all the components and breakaway panels. I guess I like big stuff. I love the AT-AT. I love the Holiday set that they just did. I love the Trash Compactor [Screen Scene].

What’s your favorite collectible piece overall in your collection?

I have the original, or one of the original Greedo masks, the one that Paul Blake wore in Star Wars: A New Hope. There are actually two masks. This is the one that they used in the UK, when Blake was playing opposite Harrison Ford. Maria de Aragon played Greedo in pick-up shots in the U.S., and they used a different mask.

What are your collectible holy grails, and what’s the strangest piece in your collection?

No one’s asked me this question. Vic and I have been trying to put together a complete set of vintage Kenner hard copies [prototypes] for the action figure line. We have a lot of hard copies. From Empire through Power of the Force [vintage] we probably have ¾ of the hard copies. Star Wars has always been tough. Star Wars hardcopies, there are very few out there. I think I’ve only seen a couple in existence. Holy grail wise, I’d love to start seeing Star Wars hardcopies showing up. Kit-Bashed Boba Fett that would be a cool holy grail.

The strangest piece… I do have some bizarre stuff. I have the Star Tours barf bag. They had them for people who got sick on the ride.

 

Just for fun, if they were to real-scan your head to make into an action figure, what type of Star Wars character would it be?

Oh, a Jedi. I just love the Jedi, and I’ve always wanted to be a Jedi. I think it would be so cool to feel the Force and share a connection with all of these people. If the Jedi wouldn’t accept me, I’d be a bounty hunter.

Bounty Hunters hold a special place in our hearts at Galactic Hunter. If you play your cards right, who knows, you might just get in the next movie and get to be one.

You never know! I’ve got to work on getting an action figure since Steve Sansweet’s got one [of himself] already. [Editor’s Note: Gentle Giant made a special one-off figure of Stephen Sansweet for his collection. The figure is Sansweet’s head on a POTF2 Obi-Wan Kenobi body.]

Finally, what would you like to let our readers know about the Fan Club?

The Star Wars Fan Club is only going to be as strong as the people who are interested in it. If you’re a fan, and you’re interested in the continuation of Star Wars fandom beyond Episode III, it’s important for us to build a strong Club. We need to build a base where fans interact with other fans and enjoy the movies together. It’s all about sharing that experience. As we grow the Fan Club and continue down the line, we’re already looking beyond the next movie. What happens beyond that? It’s going to depend on the fans. We think the Star Wars Fan Club is going to be a great place for fans to continue sharing their experiences. We want to hear from the fans and get feedback. Post on the message board at StarWars.com or send e-mail. Go to the Paizo site, and you can contact us. We have polls about every issue of the Insider. We want to give people the type of Fan Club that they want. If we can keep that strong, I don’t see why Star Wars can’t be an exciting thing… forever.

For more details on how to subscribe to the Star Wars Insider or join the Official Fan Club, visit http://paizopublishing.com/swinsider.shtml.  

Special thanks to Mary Franklin of Paizo Publishing and Lucasfilm for their gracious assistance and cooperation.

 









 
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