There is an entire room in Gus Lopez’s home in Seattle, Washington, that is devoted to his Star Wars cereal collection, but Lopez still doesn’t have enough space. “The room holds maybe two to three hundred of them,” Lopez said, but he has about 1,700 boxes of Star Wars cereal in total. “The vast majority of them, about 1,500 of them, I have [flat] in about half a dozen big boxes.”
Needless to say, Lopez’s collection is comprehensive. It’s actually the largest collection of Star Wars-related cereal in the world. He has boxes of Lucky Charms, Trix, Cocoa Puffs, Booberry, Frankenberry, Count Chocula, even Crazy Cow, all of which came with their own Star Wars promotions. He also has actual Star Wars-branded cereal like C-3PO’s, which was released in 1984 and only stayed in production for about a year. The collection spans continents, with boxes sourced from Australia to Canada and nearly everywhere in between, yet it’s still only a fraction of Lopez’s collection of Star Wars memorabilia.
Lopez is a long-time Star Wars collector, beginning in 1977 with trading cards, stickers, and toys, and he also runs the Star Wars Collector's Archive. These days, he’s most interested in finding “what’s really, really difficult to collect,” and that’s the theme that ties his whole collection together, most of which is displayed in his Seattle home, which he calls the Bobacabana. Lopez’s collection spans from screen-used movie props, including the original Death Star model used in Star Wars: A New Hope; prototypes from the toy line; and, of course, cereal boxes, because these are the Star Wars artifacts that are among the hardest to find.
It was actually the toys and trading cards found with cereal that got Lopez interested in building up this niche. “I thought the Star Wars promotions would be a really cool things to collect. I don’t seem them very often,” he explained. And at the time when he started ramping up his collecting, in the mid-1990s, there weren’t many Star Wars-related cereals–maybe about fifty different varieties by Lopez’s count–so getting them all seemed like an achievable, albeit long-term, goal.
But as with most quests, the reality has been much more complicated than the initial conceit. Over twenty years later, Lopez does have most of the original fifty in his collection, but there are several boxes that he hasn’t been able to track down. “In the late 1970s, they did seven different Star Wars cereal boxes in Canada,” explained Lopez. “I have found two of them, and I don’t know anyone else anywhere who owns any of them. They may be the only two of the seven that exist, but I have of the seven and I have not been able to find the other five.”
Collecting Star Wars cereal boxes became even more complicated in the late 1990s with the release of Episode I: The Phantom Menace and the new trilogy. The amount of Star Wars memorabilia exploded, including food items, and now, “Cereal is a global phenomenon,” said Lopez, even joking that, “They’ve done so many food promotions that at this point, you can name a type of food” and there’s a Star Wars version of it.
Because of the international scale, and the broad licensing system in place, it’s virtually impossible to track what promotions are out there and where. “I’d say for a vast majority of the cereals I find, I’m just doing first-hand research to find out where they release the stuff,” said Lopez. Plus, time isn’t on the collector’s side. “When a cereal promotion comes out, you have about a one, maybe two, month window of time when it’s on the shelves, and then it’s gone.” That’s meant Lopez has been forced to ramp up his cereal collecting in a big way since, “My goal is to get every size, every variation, every single combination.”
One of the main ways Lopez sources new boxes of cereal is from buddies and other Star Wars aficionados around the world. “I have built this network over the years of people that, when there’s a Star Wars promotion, I reach out the them, and they’re all over the world. So for Episode VII, which came out six months ago, I had over 300 people worldwide looking for me.” That got tricker with this newest movie, since there were Star Wars cereal to be found from Pakistan to South Africa, places that didn’t have promotions before, but Lopez leveraged his network to make it work.
The collaborative nature of the collecting community doesn’t mean competition doesn’t rear its head every once in awhile. One of the original cereal boxes Lopez is missing is the first Australian Star Wars cereal box: Weeties with a poster offer on the back. “I know two people who have them, but I don’t have them,” he explained. “So that’s one that I’ve just been looking out for.”
Constant vigilance is key to accumulating a full collection, since Lopez never knows where cereal boxes will pop up. It’s also not unheard of for him to travel great distances to get his hands on memorabilia. He’s been to Tunisia to visit the set of Tatooine and salvage used movie props, after all, and Lopez often finds cereals during his own travels. He recalled a trip to Iceland when, “My car broke down. There was no cell phone coverage or anything like that, so I had to walk for miles to the nearest town, and it was starting to snow as I walked.” He finally found a convenience store, several miles from his broken down car, and walked into the store, “And they have cereal, and I’m like, ‘Oh, my God! They have Star Wars cereal!’ I’ve totally forgotten my car’s broken down in the middle of Iceland because there’s Star Wars cereal.” He purchased several boxes and then figured out what to do with his car.
Though collecting is a hobby Lopez takes seriously, he still has fun with it, once even helping to set up a Star Wars cereal-eating contest at a party by donating several boxes of sealed, thirty-year-old C-3PO’s cereal. “It was the funniest thing. These five guys were wolfing down this cereal… and there were hundred of people watching this, and people were so shocked that, wow, no one got sick.” Lopez even tasted some of it himself: “I was surprised by how not bad it was. Like, it was stale, but it tasted like stale cereal.”
The cereal might be stale, but collecting “stays fresh because there’s new promotions coming out for new movies. I got hundreds of new boxes for Episode VII, and then, there are vintage ones that I still do come across once in awhile.” Though there might be no such thing as luck, it’s that sense of chance that keeps Lopez motivated, but like any good mission, the only thing Lopez can do is keep going. After all, in cereal box collecting, as in life: "Do or do not. There is no try."