ST. LOUIS, Mo. – The Death Star model used in the blockbuster 1977 Star Wars film A New Hope was used as a trashcan in Missouri during the 1990s. A series of very fortunate events helped keep the iconic item out of the dump.
Gus Lopez has been collecting rare Star Wars memorabilia for decades and now writes occasionally for Starwars.com. He says that his story about how the original Death Star prop was found near the Lake of the Ozarks is his top conversation piece.
Many of the set pieces and models used in the original movie were stored in a facility in 1977. The studio decided that they no longer wanted to pay rent and many of the items were to be thrown away.
Todd Franklin says that he was working at a local TV station near the Lake of the Ozarks after graduating from high school. He was a cameraman on a series about local businesses when they went to the antique shop.
A large gray ball in the store looked familiar to the Star Wars fan. He knew a little about movie production and suspected that it may be the Death Star prop. But, how did it end up in the middle of Missouri?
That night he played the Death Star scenes on his VCR over and over and his suspicions grew. He went back to the antique shop the next day to talk to the store owners.
They told him that they owned a storage facility in California and some movie studios used it for storage. Filmmakers were told to pick up their items or they would be discarded after they decided to shut the facility down. Luckily the movers saved many of the Star Wars items.
Franklin says that he tried to buy the Death Star but did not have enough money at the time. He says that he called Lucasfilm to confirm that the Death Star model was in Missouri. They told him it was destroyed while making the movie.
The antique store owners then sold the item to the owner of a country and western music show called Star World. It eventually closed in 1993 and Franklin, still convinced that this was the actual movie prop, arranged a meeting to buy it.
Lopez says that when Franklin and his friends got there the shop had been liquidated. The Death Star sat in the corner and was being used as a trash can with rubbish inserted through the hole from the missing radar dish. He paid for it and strapped it to the back of a pickup truck to take home.
A look at the details revealed that this was probably the real deal. Thousands of tiny windows were scratched into the paint of the painstaking. They glowed when lit from the inside to reveal a miniature city on the surface of the sphere.
It was amazing. The friends thought it was too much of a piece of film history to sit in a Missouri home. It needed to go back home.
The group contacted Lucasfilm again to see if they were interested in the 1977 Death Star and negotiated on a price but never reached an agreement. The story of the Death Star’s discovery in flyover country became the stuff of legend on websites like the Star Wars Collector’s Archive.
The owner of that website asked Franklin and his friends if they would like to sell it in 1999. Gus Lopez was interested in buying it. He flew to Osage Beach, Missouri to make a deal.
Lopez was living with his wife in a two-bedroom apartment in Seattle. He bought the item in Missouri and had it shipped back. The only problem was that they had nowhere to put it. They eventually moved into a larger home and now have it proudly on display.
The Death Star went on loan to the EMP Museum in Seattle for five years. It has also gone through an extensive restoration. You can see images of it here.