Nelson and Star Wars collection

John Nelson with some of his “Star Wars” memorabilia.

On Tuesday May 4 at noon, Susan Lanning, the director of the Audie Murphy American Cotton Museum, introduced the Lunch Break speaker, Greenville resident John Nelson.

The day and the subject matter melded nicely because Nelson happens to have an extraordinary collection of “Star Wars” memorabilia. So “May the 4th be with you!” was an appropriate greeting from a guy who has been compiling everything related to the original film (and its sequels) since it debuted in 1977 aka “A long time ago in a galaxy far away...”

Nelson’s “Star Wars” collection will remain on display at the museum through July. Six display cases are filled with action figures such as Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, R2-D2 and C-3PO, etc. in their original packages, and commemorative plates which feature the likenesses of characters Chewbacca, Han Solo and Jabba the Hutt and many others.

In addition to a “Star Wars Trivial Pursuit” game, the collectibles include X-Wing Fighters and the Millennium Falcon along with a M&Ms candy dispenser in a package with a candy fan. Nelson’s extensive array of “Star Wars” Hallmark ornaments (in the hundreds) light up and talk.

A Campbell Soup limited edition can features Darth Vader. Some of Nelson’s more unusual pieces include a lighted Christmas tree skirt, a pop-up book, the weird band from the cantina on Tattooine which actually plays music, and a glowing “Death Star” to put atop a Christmas tree.

One section of the display is devoted to Baby Yoda from the Disney channel hit “The Mandalorian.” The Baby Yoda pieces are borrowed from Hope Collins.

Nelson owns all of the “Star Wars” movies in DVD and other formats.

As a youngster, Nelson was just fascinated with anything that had to do with space.

“When I was nine, my neighbor Gerald Beene would sneak over to my house to ‘study,’” he said. “Actually we were watching ‘Star Trek’ on TV. Back then, I was already a collector; I saved S&H Green Stamps. They were sort of a prehistoric version of the points you get today on your credit cards. Greenville had a redemption center where you could trade books of stamps for various items.”

A few years later, his interest in space adventures was piqued by the release of the first space blockbuster.

“I went to the Texan Theater in downtown Greenville where I had to stand in a line for two blocks behind people waiting to buy tickets to ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,’” he said. “Then in 1969, I was glued to the television set watching the Apollo mission and then the moon landing.”

Nelson has been able to merge his sci-fi collection with another of his hobbies—philately (stamp collecting).

“I collect stamps also,” he said. “I’m so excited when stamps come out that have something to do with my collections.”

Periodically, the U.S. Post Office releases commemorative space stamps, and Nelson began collecting them when he was 13. After the Apollo Moon Landing, he purchased commemorative stamps at the Greenville post office, and then in 2019 he was also able to buy stamps commemorating the 50th anniversary of the moon landing

During his talk at the museum, Nelson showed the “Star Wars Android” postage stamps which he had purchased that morning so that he could have “first day of issue stamps” on May 4, 2021. He began collecting First Day Covers in 1976.

During his years at Greenville High School, Nelson worked at the Royal Drive-In.

“I had a car,” he said. “For my first big trip to Dallas on May 25,1977, I took my coworkers to watch ‘Star Wars.’ I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve seen that movie, in theaters, on VHS, DVD and Blu-Ray. I also have the 33 rpm LP album. I was hooked on ‘Star Wars’ the first time I saw it.”

For most “Star Wars” zealots, the addiction usually includes amassing quite a lot of “Star Trek” memorabilia.

“I admit to being a fan of both ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Star Trek,’” Nelson said. “The first ‘Star Trek’ movie debuted in 1979. I’ve always thanked ‘Star Wars’ because its success got Paramount to bring “Star Trek’ to the screen.

“I had my calendar marked for six months ahead when the ‘Star Trek’ movie was set to come out. That’s when I came out of the closet as a Trekkie!

“In 1987 when “Star Trek: the Next Generation” made its TV debut, I had a watch party and cookout at my house with a lot of nerd co-workers from E-Systems. Even a few non-nerds (and girls!) came to the party which was a big success!”

A few years ago, Nelson acquired a massive collection of ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Star Trek’ merchandise from a Houston woman’s estate.

“She was even more of a collector than I am,” he said. “Plus many of her pieces are autographed.”

When he and his brother Rick operated the Putter’s Paradise Miniature Golf Course and Batting Cages in Greenville, Nelson displayed his commemorative “Star Wars” plates and a large number of his action figures in their original boxes. He enjoys being able to exhibit his collections, but he admits that it’s difficult to keep track of all of the collections.

In addition to his space collectibles, he has also accumulated other collections—45 rpm records, science fiction books, crosses, metal signs and hundreds of lighthouse-themed items. After his mother’s death in 2013, he started collecting items with her name, “Joy.”

Nelson’s bucket list includes his fantasy dream trip, the “Star Wars”-“Star Trek” cruise. One such cruise is happening in 2222, but it is already sold out. He is planning to go in 2023.

Although his “Star Wars” inventory remains gigantic, he has amassed another even larger collection.

“I have acquired more ‘Star Trek’ stuff than ‘Star Wars’ stuff,” Nelson admitted. “I’d like to do an all ‘Star Trek’ exhibit at the museum sometime. ‘Star Trek’ is my number one collection.”

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