Participants at the 2018 Imperial Commissary Convention pose at the Ag Expo center in Franklin. // Photo courtesy of Imperial Commissary
By MATT BLOIS
A group of Star Wars fans, led by Nolensville resident Michael Havens, are planning the second iteration of a convention featuring collectible toys, including some that are worth more than a new car.
Havens is an avid collector of Star Wars toys. He manages a Facebook group called The Imperial Commissary for buying and selling Star Wars toys. Currently the group has more than 20,000 members.
He used to travel around the world to sci-fi conventions to meet up with other collectors, but got frustrated because local conventions didn’t attract other toy collectors.
Last year, he started his own convention to solve that problem. He hosted The Imperial Commissary Convention at the Ag Expo Center in Franklin last September. About 1,700 people came to the event in 2018, and he expects many more to attend this year.
The convention is part commerce and part entertainment. There will be vendors selling high-end, vintage Star Wars toys. But Havens also has booked actors from the Star Wars movies who will meet fans and sign autographs.
That group includes two Boba Fetts (Mark Anthony Austin played the adult Boba Fett in the original trilogy, while Daniel Logan played the child Boba Fett in episode two), several storm troopers and puppeteers who portrayed Star Wars aliens.
In addition to the Storm Troopers, there will be live music, a video game tournament and talks from authors.
“I love vintage collecting. I wanted to bring vintage toys to Nashville, Tennessee. I want to make a convention that is not a corporate monster that just takes every penny out of the fans’ pockets,” he said. “I want to make something nice that I will enjoy. Once it’s built I’ll finally have the (convention) I always wanted in Nashville.”
That means a coke won’t cost $8. The conference doesn’t take a portion of guest stars’ autograph fees, and non-commercial sci-fi clubs can get free space to exhibit at the conference.
Havens set out to create a conference that Star Wars fans would love, but he also described the conference as a magnet for some of the world’s most high-end toy vendors.
“The plane ticket doesn’t matter when you’re trying to get a $100,000 piece. You just need a location to meet,” he said. “You can think of it as a beacon. It is a full-scale convention … but it’s this beacon and meeting point where these people can come from all over the world and they know who’s going to be there.”
To create the kind of convention that will attract high-dollar items, Havens needs to attract regular people in addition to collectors. That’s what makes a high profile sci-fi convention.
“You need the regular people who want to see two dudes duking it out with a light saber in a tournament,” he said.
Yes, the convention will have dudes duking it out with light sabers.
Havens estimated that vendors sold millions of dollars worth of merchandise at the two-day convention last year. Vendors with tables at the convention site will offer vintage toys worth a few hundred dollars, but Havens said the big purchases happen in private.
A collector with a valuable toy — such as the Obi Wan Kenobi action figure with a double telescoping light saber — will advertise the sale. They will meet up with an interested buyer somewhere private, like a hotel close to the conference. That way buyers can inspect the toy and make sure it’s authentic.
Havens said someone purchased an Obi Wan action figure for more than $130,000 during the convention last year. The rare toy was discontinued after the telescoping light saber kept breaking.
Another collector purchased a Boba Fett action figure with a rocket launcher for more than $80,000. The Boba Fett toy never made it to mass production because the spring-loaded rocket launcher was deemed too dangerous for children.
According to research by the investment bank Barclays, despite the high value of collectibles people rarely invest in things like wine, stamp or coin collections purely for financial reasons, and toys are no exception.
Havens said collectors are willing to pay these kinds of prices for the nostalgia. Many collectors grew up with the original trilogy and remember playing with the toys.
“You will walk though the (convention). If you don’t say at least five times, I used to have that when I was a kid. You didn’t grow up in America,” he said. “That kind of nostalgia is what we want and what we come for.”
The second Imperial Commissary Convention is scheduled for September 13-15 in Franklin.