Meet the couple whose expertise in "Star Wars" collectibles make them big stars in the sci-fi galaxy.
The last time Marjorie Carvalho checked her iPhone, she was mayor of the Springfield, Ill., Toys R Us — despite the fact that she and her husband, Arnie, do not have children and no plans to change that.
“The first eight years of our relationship, we didn’t even have dogs,” said Marjorie, who now owns two Chihuahuas (with obvious hesitation).
And being dubbed mayor — or the person who has “checked in” the most — of Toys R Us on Foursquare, an electronic application that allows its users to digitally broadcast on Facebook and Twitter where they are shopping, eating, sleeping, visiting, etc., is as appropriate a title as it was just a few years ago when Marjorie and Arnie were camped outside the store waiting for a midnight sale of items to add to a collection that would make the Smithsonian jealous.
The Carvalhos of Pawnee, Ill., are passionate and ambitious fans of the “Star Wars” movies — making sometimes weekly trips to Toys R Us to buy more items inspired by the films, and scouring the Internet for new pieces to bring to their finished basement-turned-shrine.
Their devotion to producer/director George Lucas’ film franchise has earned them a trip to this year’s Star Wars Celebration V — an official convention for “Star Wars” enthusiasts, merchandise vendors and former stars of the films — as presenters.
Arnie and Marjorie, who attended the last celebration in 2007, were asked to speak at this year’s convention not solely because of their wall-to-wall-to-wall-to-wall collection — though at an estimated value of $50,000 to $100,000, it helped — but because the couple has garnered a national and sometimes international following online.
Through their podcast on collecting, “Star Wars Action News,” the Carvalhos estimate they have about 40,000 listeners nationwide each week, while their movie review podcast “Now Playing” has about 100,000.
During the celebration, which began Thursday in Orlando, Fla., the Carvalhos served on panels. Discussion topics included collecting podcasts, how a celebration-goer can survive an often-exhausting four-day convention, a look back at a 1981 NPR broadcast of 13 episodes of “Star Wars” stories, and what it’s like for Marjorie to be married to a collector of Arnie’s rank.
“I wanted to call it ‘The Real Housewives of Collecting,’” she said.
Serious about fun
So what is it like to be married to Arnie?
Well, Arnie was a finalist in 2005 for television show “Access Hollywood’s” search for the nation’s biggest “Star Wars” fan. He has a Rebel Alliance tattoo. The license plate on a Chrysler Sebring in the Carvalhos’ garage reads “Sith 74.”
But Marjorie is hardly putting up with the collecting — she is just as much of a fan as Arnie. In fact, the two couldn’t say who is a bigger fan and felt no need to make it a competition.
“I enable you,” Marjorie said to Arnie as he reflected on his tenure as an avid collector.
When the couple met about 10 years ago, when both were students at University of Illinois Springfield, Arnie tried to hide from Marjorie what he was blowing most of his paychecks on every couple of weeks.
“The first time she came over, I had to hide everything,” the computer programmer said. Everything — except a roughly 7-foot replica of the famous scene in “The Empire Strikes Back” when Han Solo is frozen in Carbonite just after Princess Leia professes her love — the first item Arnie bought in 1992 for his collection that was not a toy.
“I couldn’t really hide that in a closet,” he said.
But Marjorie wasn’t scared off. In fact, Arnie discovered she, too, had been a big “Star Wars” fan for years.
“I thought, ‘I knew we’d get along fine,’” Marjorie said.
And they did, eventually getting married, incorporating their shared “Star Wars” interest in the ceremony. The pastor was dressed as Darth Maul from “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.” Arnie was dressed as Luke Skywalker in “Return of the Jedi,” and Marjorie wore modified Princess Leia garb.
The groom’s cake was shaped like Han Solo’s spaceship, the Millennium Falcon — only slightly less detailed than the $3,000 replica spaceship signed by actor Harrison Ford that sits in the couple’s basement along with about 14 light sabers, an entire room wallpapered with toy figurines, trivia games, Pez dispensers, two Yoda statues, an arcade game, countless collectors’ figures and their wedding invitation signed by “Star Wars” stars such as Carrie Fisher (Leia).
Before the convention even began, the couple had already made good on their plan to add to their lot. In an e-mail sent last Wednesday, Arnie said among the keychains, programs and postcards, he and Marjorie bought a couple favorites: A Medicom "super deformed"-concept Boba Fett vinyl figurine -- one of just 250 -- that depicts Boba Fett as he was imagined before the costume was made for the films; and a stuffed wampa with a detachable arm. Using red Velcro to simulate the freshly chopped-off arm, the toy -- Marjorie's favorite purchase -- depicts a scene where a wampa's arm is severed in "The Empire Strikes Back."
"The wampa does have an adorable face," Arnie wrote.
The couple’s collector podcast and website details the pains and joys of hunting to complete the never-ending collection and is broadcast out of a basement office, with his and hers “Star Wars” military flags hanging near a window with — you guessed it — “Star Wars”-themed blinds.
Molly Beck can be reached at 217-788-1526.