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A Jedi in Aberdeen

Sucher & Sons are a Rebel Alliance

DON SUCHER: He's got the ink to prove his passion. Photo credit: Christian Carvajal

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For some guys it was guitar chords and epic weekends at Bumbershoot. For others it was the crack of a line drive into deep center field. My childhood cultural milestone was George Lucas's 1977 rocket opera, Star Wars. I was 9 years old that long summer, the perfect age to sympathize with a farm boy (on a planet of deserts, no less) who dreamed of racing away from galactic hinterlands at point five past lightspeed. My love of Star Wars inspired a life in the theater and years in the film and TV business. I grew up and moved on, of course, but some cherished loves never fade.

My wife and I rented a cottage near Ocean Shores the week after our wedding. On our journey through Aberdeen, I spotted a sign in familiar block lettering that read, "STAR WARS SHOP. Sucher & Sons." Come again? Somehow, I knew nothing about this oddly specific emporium; more surprisingly, my wife did. Sorry, babe, I said immediately, but our honeymoon will have to wait a few minutes. I expected a handful of books, toys and DVDs on a few dusty old shelves. What I got blew my mind.

Don Sucher, lifelong resident of Aberdeen, was 34 when he first saw that iconic Star Destroyer. "I'm sitting in the theater, and of course the movie blew me away," he recalls. "I thought, ‘This is the greatest movie I've ever seen, but I'm too old to have fun.'" Sucher's interest in the Holy Trilogy lay fallow for 17 years while he did responsible grown-up things like hold a job and raise two sons, Nicholas and Koby. "In 1994, they were 7 and 11, and Lucas started it all up again."

I remember that time fondly. A Lucasfilm renaissance preceded the Special Editions (1997) and prequels (1999-2005), just in time to catch the dawning of myriad online fan communities. Until that moment, we fans had no idea how many millions of us there were around the world. As for Sucher & Sons, "The three of us started to go out and collect every night. I rented a little building next door to where we worked, so we could keep an eye on our collection. It was supposed to be for three months. At the end of the summer, we were having a great time, so we kept it up on weekends." He shrugs. "We never got around to closing."

It's as simple as this, really: Sucher & Sons stocks your childhood.

I mean it. The store has everything Star Wars, and plenty besides. Widescreen laserdiscs? Sure. Out of print books? How ‘bout all of ‘em?  Every hammerheaded 3 ¾" action figure you ever owned? Oh, please, give Sucher a challenge. He sells hundreds of figures, both on and off the card. While you're wishing, why not ask for a plastic Millennium Falcon the size of a picnic table? Look up, young Padawan. Behold a Corellian pirate freighter that looks like it could blast its way out of Mos Eisley. The Star Wars Shop boasts an inventory that rivals the archives at Skywalker Ranch, stocking everything from T-shirts to Darth Vader bobbleheads to full sets of Topps Star Wars bubble gum cards. Sucher and his store positively gleam with the light side of the Force.

Splinter of the Mind's Eye

Don Sucher saw the original Star Wars, later dubbed Episode IV: A New Hope, "about a dozen" times in the theater. "It was playing next door to where I worked, so it was pretty easy to see it." After that, he says, "I taped the movies off of Showtime on VHS, and every once in a while I'd take ‘em off a shelf and watch ‘em. It kept my interest up." He didn't collect Star Wars memorabilia at all, and his neighbors probably thought he'd be the last guy in the world who might open a shop devoted to a glorified kids' movie. But soon, even his skin would proclaim his interest in the saga - or, more precisely, in a certain 5-foot-1-inch, bipolar, recovering alcoholic and cokehound.

The first thing a visitor sees as he or she approaches the Star Wars Shop is a life-size mannequin of Carrie Fisher, aka Princess Leia Organa, in what is easily the most popular sex slave costume ever devised. "She was my favorite character from way back. ... About a year after we opened ... a guy walks into the store. He's a Star Wars guy, and he had tattoos all over his body. He did portrait (tattoos), so we traded $200 worth of Star Wars stuff ... I drove up to Olympia with a picture of (Fisher) in her slave outfit. He tattooed her on my arm that night." Talking to Don Sucher, one hears over and over again the story of a sharp businessman trading toys for goods and services. Apparently Star Wars is a coveted commodity.

Sucher bares his left arm proudly. "He did a fantastic job. I used it as kind of a promotional story. ... Then four years ago, I decided to come to the 30-year celebration in Los Angeles, and when I got there, I found out Carrie was gonna be there signing autographs. So I waited in line for two hours to talk to her. It was worth it. When I got up to the counter, I wanted her to autograph my tattoo. ... She said it was cool and she let me take pictures. ... Then she showed me her tattoo. Of course, it wasn't of me."  Sucher was desperate to preserve Fisher's felt-tip ink signature. "I wandered around Los Angeles with my sleeve unbuttoned ... I found a (tattoo parlor) about 30 miles out of town. The (artist) had just had a cancellation, and he was a Star Wars fan, and he said, ‘I can tattoo in that signature in about half an hour.'... Now I don't have to worry about it rubbing off." Sucher grins. "I traded him $80 in action figures. Boba Fett was one of the figures he wanted."

Rogue Leader

Sucher bumped into another celebrity years ago, albeit pre-fame. "I worked at Goldberg's Furniture in town for about 25 years," he says. Enter Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic, the boys who would be Nirvana. "Kids would come in wanting summer jobs moving furniture. Kurt and Krist came in, so we hired ‘em. To the best of my recollection, Kurt lasted only one day, and Krist lasted two or three. I guess moving hide-a-beds wasn't their cup of tea. It probably made them really want to play (music)." Cobain was a common enough sight in Aberdeen in the mid-‘80s. "My kids went to the same high school, and they had the same art teacher."

A corner of Sucher's store is now a semiofficial shrine to Nirvana. "We set up the information center because nobody was doing anything in town much." Sucher's tribute gets visited by Nirvana fans from all over the world. Thus far, sadly, Courtney Love has yet to make an appearance.

Heir to the Empire

... which is not to say the shop has gone completely unnoticed by the entertainment industry. I asked if any cast or crew members of Star Wars ever made it through Aberdeen. No such luck, but Sucher's been visited by fans from the so-called Fighting 501st Legion of Stormtroopers, and "a few of the guys who designed the action figures." Cindy Williams, Shirley of Laverne & Shirley, visited with her family on the way to a gig in Vancouver. She made her first big impression, coincidentally, in American Graffiti, Lucas's precursor to Star Wars. "Her son was a (Star Wars) fan," Sucher remembers. "Her daughter was into Kurt Cobain."

"Dino Rossi dropped by," he continues. Rossi was the gubernatorial candidate who lost to Christine Gregoire twice in close races. "Apparently his boys are into Star Wars. I thought, ‘God, I know you. How do I know you?' He said, ‘Probably from my TV commercials.'"

Even the official Lucas empire is aware of Sucher's efforts. "When we first started, there was a magazine called The Star Wars Galaxy," Sucher says, referring to a now-defunct Topps publication. "I got the bright idea to send a bunch of pictures of our collection, which was very small then. ... Lo and behold, about two months later, a writer from the magazine called me and did an interview." That writer, Steve Sansweet, is himself a Star Wars fan; he owns the largest private collection in the world. After publishing numerous books about the saga, he was hired by Lucasfilm as director of content management and head of fan relations. "He did a nice little article on us. That was about the time we opened. ... I think he was just starting to work for Lucas then." Sucher and Sansweet have kept in touch ever since.

I ask Sucher whether he thinks one of the original cast or crew members will ever visit. "I try not to think about it," he admits, "because it's when you least expect it that somebody waltzes in."

Attack of the Clones

I pose the most loaded question one can ask an adult Star Wars fan: What'd you think of the prequels?

Sucher replies, "I went into them with the knowledge that there was no way Lucas could duplicate the magic, especially with our generation, so I expected about what we got. I know the younger generation really likes the new movies. ... Their attention span is different. Their thoughts are different. ... I wasn't disappointed. I think a lot of older people, that's how they feel." Both times I visited the store, prequel episodes played on one of several monitors, along with cut scenes from the Rebel Assault II video game, original trilogy DVD features and episodes of the short-lived Droids and Ewoks cartoon series.

"After watching (the prequels) a few thousand times in the store, they do tend to grow on you," Sucher laughs, "especially Watto the junkman. He's my favorite (Phantom Menace) character." Sucher quotes the motto of the faucet-beaked Toydarian:" ‘No money, no part. No deal!'" I ask him whether Watto is his favorite due to similar career choices. "Well," Sucher laughs, "not only that, but my nose is starting to look like his."

Do, or do not?

What does the future hold for Sucher & Sons? "As long as Lucas keeps stirring things up, I'll see if I can't leave it open. It's too much fun." The computer-animated Clone Wars series will soon enter its fourth season on Cartoon Network, and plans persist for an eventual live-action show. Those, plus Blu-Ray and 3D re-releases of the six Star Wars films, should keep fans on the hook for the foreseeable future. As for the Star Wars Shop, "It grows daily by leaps and bounds," Sucher says, "and word of mouth does wonders for the store. Two or three times a day people come in wanting to sell me things. ... I've often thought, ‘Gee, what would I do (if I closed)?' ‘Cause I'm retired, but I have fun doing what I love. ... It's really interesting and fun."

"I've got a guy who wants to buy the store," he admits. "He's been after me for eight years. But y'know, I don't think I could do it." After all, there's no guarantee the store would maintain its quality and magic under different management. "I've had some kids who prefer to come to my store over the Disney store." Disney does maintain its own Star Wars stores as part of the Star Tours attractions, but I can testify they have nothing on Sucher & Sons. He agrees. "Every store in the world has two or three Star Wars things that are the latest thing out, but if you're looking for anything else, unless you go on the Internet, I mean - where the hell do you go?"

Sucher can't decide whether he likes chatting with kids or adult fans more. Either way, he says, "They leave kicking up their heels and being happy. ... A lot of kids save up all summer and come in as kind of a yearly venture." He chortles. "They kinda get in a frenzy."

I ask Sucher whether there's still some Holy Grail item he craves. Without hesitation, he replies, "The original bikini that Carrie wore. ... I wanted the (replica ‘hologram') chess set, too, that came out in '96. There's only three or four in the world." But if he did find such items, you can bet they'd be on public display within minutes. "We're more of a ‘take (the toy) out, have fun playing with it' store. We like having people come in and regress to their childhoods."

After playing the interview, my recorder continues for a few seconds. It captures the sound of my wife calling from upstairs. "Good times?" she asks. She was never much of a Star Wars fan - the Muppets were her cup of kitsch - but even she counts herself a fan of Sucher's memory shop.

"I love that guy!" I exclaim as the recording ends.

You will, too. The Force is strong with Don Sucher. In the words of my own favorite Muppet, "Powerful Jedi is he. Powerful Jedi."

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