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THE WORLD'S BIGGEST 'STAR WARS' FANS: Meet 17 people who have devoted their lives to the series

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Bob Iannaccone Advanced Light Weaponry Light Sabers Star Wars Fans

When "Star Wars" first premiered in theaters over thirty years ago, moviegoers everywhere were instantly captivated by the opening crawl inviting fans to travel to a galaxy far, far away.

With the release of "The Force Awakens" December 18, Tech Insider sought out fans across the globe who don't just love "Star Wars," they live for it. From collectors and artists, trivia buffs to fan-community leaders, these are some of the greatest lovers of "Star Wars" in the world.

Omar Al-Bahiti has the largest "Star Wars" collection outside of the Europe and the US.

Living in Dubai, Omar Al-Bahiti reigns as one of the most well-known "Star Wars" fans in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) due to the popularity of his extensive collection. Professionally, Al-Bahiti is a 44-year-old marketing consultant, but he's been collecting "Star Wars" merchandise since he was a kid. He was about 6 when "Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope" premiered. Since there weren't as many movie theaters nearby, he waited until a a bootleg VHS copy came his way and was instantly hooked.

The number of items Al-Bahiti acquired reaches well into the hundreds, with rooms in his house filled with books, action figures, vehicles, games, artwork, lightsabers, props, costumes, and more. "I also have more stuff in my climate-controlled warehouse," Al-Bahiti told Tech Insider. "[That's] where I keep all the toys from the '80s, and there are some items in my parents' house in Turkey."

Al-Bahiti hasn't formally cataloged each item so there's no official confirmation he has the largest outside of Europe and the US — but from the looks of it, he smokes the competition. "There are some collectors [in the Middle East] who do collect 'Star Wars'" but none that I know of that are as big," he said.

Today, Al-Bahiti is the commanding officer of the UAE's 501st Legion Outpost — a "Star Wars" fan group known for professional costuming and community outreach. Their group is small right now with six members, but they work to raise donations and awareness for various charities whenever possible. "With the premier of 'The Force Awakens' and more films on the way, I’m hopeful our small team here grows and makes a big impact on the fan base in the region," Al-Bahiti said.



Bill McBride is the largest collector of Darth Vader memorabilia.

McBride was 6 when he saw "A New Hope" in theaters, and he was immediately drawn to Vader. At the time, he had already begun collecting items like baseball cards, so it was a natural segue into keeping toys and other merchandise. His admiration for the character has led to owning the largest collection of Darth Vader and Sith-related merchandise and artwork, according to the World Record Academy

"For all the six movies we’ve seen combined, [the saga] is basically the story of the rise and fall of Darth Vader," Bill McBride told TI. 

At 44, McBride has been formally collecting for the last 25 years. The items range from Campbell's soup cans to original visual storyboards used in production for "Empire Strikes Back." 

But McBride doesn't go for literally everything available — there's a qualitative aspect to his collection. "I tend to bond with the most historically significant pieces," he said. A particular standout item took nearly 17 years to acquire. "One of the original prototype Darth Vaders," he said. "[It's] a pre-production piece that ended up being used in almost all of the early original catalog photography."

When he's not adding to his collection, McBride spends his time writing and volunteering for German Shepherd breed rescues in the Washington, D.C. area. He's currently working on a coffee-table book based around photos of items in his collection.  



Ian Martin creates intricate "Star Wars" replicas like a working Holochess table.

Being a self-employed web application developer and a "Star Wars" fan can have its perks. For 28-year-old Ian Martin, it means hours spent in his garage building replica costumes and props from scratch.

In 2010, Martin was one of the few known fans with a functional C-3PO suit. It earned him an invitation to stand onstage in costume with Mark Hamill as the actor accepted the Jules Verne 'Legendaire' Award, celebrating movie stars who encourage the spirit of adventure. Martin also met George Lucas himself a few months later. "Needless to say, it was a very awesome reward for all the work I had put into the suit," Martin told TI. The C-3PO suit took just over a year to complete.

His latest creation is a full-sized Dejarik (or "Holochess") table. Fans will recognize the game from 1977's "A New Hope," when Chewbacca and R2-D2 memorably go head-t0-head in the holographic game. Martin programmed a life-size table to play the game with built-in LED screens and sound effects. The table includes handmade statues of all the creature playing pieces, but Martin is also developing an augmented reality program along with another developer.

The game will have small disks representing each monster, and with the help of either a phone app or a virtual reality headset, players will be able to watch animated 3D images of the creatures come to life as they battle. He hopes to have the application completed by April 2016. You can follow his YouTube channel for video updates.



See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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