Thursday, June 28, 2018

Limelight Interview #7: Dark Side of Collecting - Bill McBride

Pete writes:

 When it comes to collecting Vintage Star Wars there never seems to be a dull moment, and needless to say the last few years have been unique unto themselves. New movies via the sale of Lucasfilm to Disney have lead to a renewed interest in the franchise and ultimately an up-swing when it comes to all things from a galaxy far, far away.  

With the renewed interest in the franchise we’ve seen the same revival in collecting, and in a few cases collectors too. One collector in particular has been the subject of many news segments and interviews. He currently holds the world record for the one thing that has him high on so many radars: a 6 foot 5 inch guy in a black costume.  

For those of you that are lost at this point, let me introduce the collector: the Dark Lord of the Sith of the Star Wars collecting world Bill McBride. Bill is a long time collector and contributor to the hobby. From being one of the first “focus collectors” to his contributions to web forums and the Star Wars Collectors Archive, it’s hard to imagine this hobby without Bill.   

In addition to his many contributions and general love for the Hobby, Bill is a stand-up guy in so many other ways.   He’s a former Marine, and graduate of Virginia Military Institute, needless to say his service didn’t stop there.  In addition to helping other collectors, and serving his country, he’s very involved in making his community a better place, donating time to Animal Shelters and general philanthropic efforts throughout the community.   

Needless to say I was excited to have the chance to chat with Bill and learn more about all things Darth Vader in hobby.


FP: Bill, thanks for taking the time to talk to me about your epic collection and story. I think there’s only one place for us to start and that’s the character itself. He’s the subject of many stories in the Star Wars universe, but so little is known about him. His image is instantly recognizable all over the world, so what is it that makes Boba Fett the best Star Wars villain?

McBride: Ha...

FP: In all seriousness though, why Vader?

McBride: It’s the nuts and bolts of the character, the world class talent that went into building the character. Ralph McQuarrie, he needs to be big and imposing, we need an imposing character like a bodybuilder that can act and there comes David Prowse, we can’t have that accent we need a deeper voice, in walks James Earl Jones...superlative off the chart character. It shows how amazing the character actually is.

Some people say it’s weird how you like the villain, but in the real aspect of the character he was the antagonist but he’s really transcended the atypical villain. He’s instantly recognizable, and although he’s imposing, kids love him.

As a kid I claimed Vader from an early age. Vader was the one I left at home. I wasn’t going to subject my Vader figure to the savagery of the other kids. I didn’t want him strapped to a bottle   

FP: What was your earliest memory of Star Wars?

McBride: Going to the store was the first collecting memory. We lived in the country and I remember going into town and seeing him on the peg hook. I instantly gravitated towards that figure.

FP: So how did you get into collecting?

McBride: My father was a bit of a collector. I loved Star Wars and I loved the character and wanted to learn more about him, who he was, what was his backstory, etc.

FP: So did you remain a collector through your life or was there a down period between your childhood and adulthood?

McBride: As a young adult, I thought it was a great opportunity to collect and get back into it. Out of high school I went to an academy (VMI) and then onto the Marine Corps. Having a hobby is something that always interested me.

I don’t really recall any watershed moment where I was full throttle ahead, I was just doing what I liked. I just had more free-time, I went to more shows and that’s when I spent more time on the hobby.

At the time there wasn’t such a thing as a “focus collector” like there is today. It was a simple ideology: Vader was the only thing that interested me. If I had two 12 backs in my hand and one was Luke and one was Vader, I would take Vader no matter what.  

Doing my homework and my research, one thing that helped me was focusing on stuff that I didn’t see; the rare stuff that I never got to touch in person, so I sought these things out. 


Vader is so universal that there are literally tens of thousands of items bearing his resemblance. Here we’ll dig into some of Bill’s specific tastes and personal favorites across his massive collection.

FP: So what are your favorite action figure related pieces?  

McBride: Prototype -- Prototypes always win out over production pieces. 4” has been a big area of focus and always has been, even from the early days. Even in the early days when I knew it was out there and I was trying to find it every chance I’d get. 4” Vader stuff has always been really tough to find, there’s not much out there. There’s only a few samples, EPs, and hardcopies. My test shot is the only one that I’ve ever seen. There’s maybe 6 internal prototypes, which isn’t many at all.

My test shot came directly from Kenner employees and sources, a few pieces came from The Earth in Cincinnati. One of the coolest things I’ve ever seen was at The Earth. Darren [Murrer] let me look at some stuff in the back room and he pulled out the Star Wars vinyl case and it was full of hardcopies. Anyone that has pre-production more than likely can trace some of their prototypes back to The Earth.

FP: What are your personal favorites in the pre-production area?

McBride: Personally favorites: 15” hardcopy, first shot, ESB box flat, Toy Fair 15” sample for the ESB release (regular figure but it’s boxed up in an ESB box). The challenge with flats and trying to find them is that early on they were used to re-box the items. A lot of them went up in price because of that. The thing that is really cool about these is their aesthetic charm.

FP: Your toy collection is expansive to say the least, but I know your Vader run goes a lot further than that. What's the next biggest segment that you focus on today?

McBride: Props are very high on the list. I’ve been doing a bit of both screen used props and the Master Replicas/EFX stuff as well, even into Illusive Concepts.

When it comes to original props, they’re really challenging. Once you get into props you start to realize that it’s so much more complex, it’s everything (Paul Allen is a prop collector). You have to be more strategic, you have to have good resources and contacts. There is so much more research that goes with it. People like to screen match, and that takes time and effort. There’s not a lot of hand holding when it comes to props. There’s no one that does authentication. 

There are great resources and good people. You can ask them questions and there is a good market of dealers (PropStore for example). It’s fun. I think that it’s an adult realization of a childhood tie-in, as kids we wanted the toys to live the movies and as an adult it takes it to another level and we own pieces of Star Wars.

It’s so tough. Pieces are few and far between, but I have found a few original props. There’s nothing more iconic than Vader’s helmet. There’s a few pieces from the Original Trilogy, some from Revenge of the Sith, and even TV related, and theVader helmet from the George Lucas Super Live show.

FP: One piece that’s gotten to be really popular the last few years has been the Double Telescoping Lightsaber Darth Vader. Even loose examples go for $10K+. What are your thoughts on the DT Vader?

McBride: There’s a lot to the Double Telescoping Vader, as there were several versions. The main differences are just prototype to production...early samples that lead up to the final production piece. The first example is in Plastic Galaxy, it’s the one that you typically see up for sale.   

The earliest one was the mushroom tip which has a small piece at the end of the saber. They took two of the mushroom tips from the mold, instead of finishing them off and putting the discs together, they glued the two ends together and it ended up being like 4 inches long. The disc maybe was developed to give you better grip on the saber. The final design was the circle double telescoping saber.

FP: Given he’s been part of every film and toy release in the Original Trilogy, how many variations of carded Vaders are out there?

McBride: There’s over 100 variations that you could collect: foreign, (Toltoys, Clipper), back and front etc. It’s funny, people see the collection and they always ask what’s the difference. The figure never changed. It was always about the packaging.

FP: What’s your favorite cardback in the domestic release?

McBride: Power of the Force Vader. The coin the aesthetics, it comes together and is a very cool looking carded figure. Foreign: Empire Meccano. The logo changed and it's a rectangular carded figure.

FP: So when it comes to other pre-production pieces, what are some that stand out to you?

McBride: From a 2D perspective: Revenge of the Jedi mock-up card. It’s an unused Empire card, same as what they did for Luke X-Wing. Those came from a guy that worked for Kenner. At the end of the day my favorite is the POTF Cromalin -- just the best packaging design, the colors are so bright with the Cromalin... they’re stunning.

When it comes to 3D pieces my favorite piece is the Empire 15” boxed sample. Other pieces like the carrying cases are great too. I have a few stages of the case: dull gold, black with no COO and a white one. These are the rarer pieces. When it comes to the shiny gold chrome cases, there are about 100 out there. They were painted on top of black or dull gold cases and there are several variations in the group.


FP: What keeps you going after all these years?

McBride: I have fun with it, I’m really passionate about it, it makes me happy. The cool thing I’ve done with Vader is that I can take a break on one segment and then work on another segment. You can do anything: hats, shirts, buttons etc., and that’s the key to longevity in the hobby. It’s easy to stay true to your focus as there’s so much with Vader.

FP: What are some of your interests outside of collecting? 

McBride: I’m very active with my local shelters and spend a lot of time with German shepherd rescues specifically, as I have three shepherds. Working out lifting, I used to shoot competitively, long range high power specifically. Outside of that I stay active in the community from a philanthropic point of view.

FP: Does your Star Wars collection spill over into any other collectibles?

McBride: I’ve picked up a few other hobbies over the years. Watches and firearms are the main two. I’ll be taking over a Civil War artifact collection as well.

FP: I saw your presentation at C7. It was a fun event, but what stands out to me is the last picture you, Skye and that C-3PO guy Bill Cable posted of the three characters in Sunnyvale. If you lived in Sunnyvale who would you be?     

McBride: Julian -- he’s the built guy with a drink in his hand. Granted, I do have the occasional Ricky moment.

FP: Were you a fan of the man they call Vader (Leon White) of WCW/WWF fame?

McBride: Not really -- I was a huge fan of the WWE at one time.

FP: How have the last few years collecting been collecting wise? Have things changed for you since the resurgence of the brand?

McBride: Not really... still focused, didn’t expand.

FP: Closing up, you’ve done a lot of interviews because of the expansiveness and focus of your collection. What’s the most common question you get about your collection?

McBride: Most common, how much is your collection worth? Or what’s the most valuable item?

FP: Typical... we’ve all heard that question before, just maybe not from a reporter.

I want to thank Bill for his time and being open to us learning more about him and his collection.

Until next time...

Wampa Wampa,
"Fratastic" Pete

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