Dubai’s Star Wars mega-fan may have biggest collection in Middle East
By day, the mild-mannered Omar Al Bahiti works a fairly typical marketing job in Dubai, lives in a fairly typical villa in Jumeirah Village Triangle and has fairly typical barbecues with his family and friends. Beneath his fairly typical exterior, however, lurks a collector of epic proportions.
Al Bahiti’s villa is a veritable museum of Star Wars memorabilia. Terrifyingly, he tells me he has only around 30 per cent of his total collection on display — the rest is in storage spread between Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and in what seems a conservative estimate, puts the total value at more than US$300,000 (Dh1.1 million). He has been collecting the items since he was a child, from the outset keeping anything he acquired in its original packaging.
“Even if I did take something out, I’d do so really carefully and put it straight back in again after,” he says. “We’d go on trips to Europe and all I’d want to do was collect more Star Wars toys.”
Al Bahiti, who is also garrison commander of the UAE outpost of the Star Wars uber-fan imperial costuming group The 501st Legion, claims to possess the largest collection of Star Wars memorabilia outside the United States and Europe, and he kindly invited us round to see it.
1 Stormtrooper blaster
This perhaps is the only item in Al Bahiti’s collection that has almost led to his arrest. Travelling through Istanbul Airport, Al Bahiti mentioned to security that he had a collectable item in his hand luggage, but was waved through. Unfortunately when the outline of the blaster showed up on the X-ray, the security staff were less understanding. After meeting half of the Turkish army and police force, Al Bahiti was eventually cleared to travel and escorted to the plane under armed guard. As a final punchline, when boarding the plane, Al Bahiti was asked for his passport by his escorts. He says: “You should have seen the guy’s face. It was post-911, and I was travelling on a Saudi passport.”
2 Imperial TIE fighter pilot
A fairly typical domestic scene at Al Bahiti’s house sees him chilling on the sofa with his friends — an imperial TIE fighter pilot and a Stormtrooper. The Stormtrooper is Al Bahiti’s own outfit that he uses when “trooping” with his 501st legion friends. The outfits have to be meticulously inspected and approved for authenticity by the legion before members are accepted. The TIE fighter pilot came from a convention Al Bahiti attended. He says: “The model was actually assembled at the convention and there was no box for it, so at the end of the convention I just had to take the complete model and put it in the passenger seat of my car. You should have seen the looks I was getting in traffic with my co-pilot next to me. It’s actually based on a Stormtrooper helmet with the pipes and extra parts built around it. Eventually I’ll have the imperial insignia put on it, too, and use it as an outfit, but I’m waiting to make sure I do it right — you can only do it once.”
Who needs a maid when your villa comes with its own mechadroid? Al Bahiti’s R2 unit is currently static and speaks courtesy of an inbuilt iPod featuring samples of the droid’s trademark squeaks and bleeps. However, inspired by the British droid builders Lee Towersey and Oliver Steeples, who have been taken on to build a complete working model for the new movie, Al Bahiti hopes to use a selection of turntables, motors and servos to bring his own model completely to life. Al Bahiti’s unit was built by Stormtrooper designer Andrew Ainsworth for this year’s Comic Con Middle East in March. Al Bahiti says: “I said to Ainsworth: ‘Look, there is no way that’s going home with you. I’ll save you the shipping cost!’”
4 Painting by Ralph McQuarrie
One of the more understated parts of Al Bahiti’s collection, but also one of the most valuable. This is an original painting of the very first scene from the first film, Star Wars: A New Hope, by Ralph McQuarrie. McQuarrie was the conceptual designer behind the original trilogy and created characters including Darth Vader, R2D2 and Chewbacca. McQuarrie, who died in 2012, also designed characters for the likes of Battlestar Galactica and ET; this is one of only two of his original paintings of this particular scene.
No Star Wars collection would be complete without a lightsaber, and Al Bahiti has several. His collection includes replicas of the weapons used by all the main Jedi and Sith characters in the six films to date by manufacturer Master Replicas. The lightsabers are remarkably authentic, and mimic the unforgettable sound made by the ones in the films. Master Replicas was wound down following its takeover by Corgi a few years ago, so this is another part of Al Bahiti’s collection that is getting rarer by the day.
Published: May 18, 2014 04:00 AM