Step into Indian expat Ketan Shah’s five-bedroom villa and be prepared to be transported to a galaxy far, far away.
Tucked in the quiet Umm Suqeim district in Dubai, the villa features a private museum with a jaw-dropping collection of TIE fighters, lightsabers, blasters, Millennium Falcons and R2D2s ― enough to stage an assault on the Death Star.
Mr Shah's stockpile includes more than 400 models and souvenirs and Lego collections.
A curious and compulsive collector since the age of 8, the Gujarati businessman also owns 60,000 comic books, 800 caps and lapel pins, discarded cigar and chewing gum wrappers, old plane tickets ― and much more.
He reckons he's spent about $500,000 on the collection over the decades. It could be worth millions of dollars if ever sold.
“I have been collecting things for more than 50 years. It started as a hobby. Now it is my passion,” Mr Shah, 60, told The National.
Retired and living alone in Dubai, with his two grown-up children in the US, collecting is his full-time job and passion.
He kept his collection "strictly private" until he invited The National to document it.
"I share it with my friends. It is my world. I find joy here,” said Mr Shah, who is the son of the late Bharat Bhai Shah, a businessman and influential Indian community leader in Dubai.
When you step in to his main collection room, the space opera heroes of George Lucas stare at you from every angle.
“This is my favourite place. I can feel the fight between the good and the evil,” said Mr Shah, who has watched every Star Wars movie “at least a hundred times".
Mr Shah has also inked his love for Star Wars on his body, with tattoos on his biceps, arms, and calves.
“There are many more coming,” he said with a smile.
He said he became hooked Star Wars after watching the first movie which was released in 1977.
“I loved the movies so much that I started collecting the soft toys, and now I have around 55 Funko Pops. I also have around 500 Star Wars caps, T-shirts, neck ties, socks, pyjamas and even masks that I was wearing during the peak of Covid-19.”
Mr Shah also has a dozen miniatures of Star Wars characters such as Darth Vader, Master Yoda, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi made of Swarovski crystals. Each costs anything between $200 and $800.
“I found them in a showroom in New York and I could not take my eyes off them," he said.
"Now I am eyeing a Millennium Falcon made of crystals and precious stones that costs around $15,000. That is beyond my budget now.”
He believes his Lego collection could be one of the biggest any collector has. “What you see here is only 20 per cent of what I have. I have not assembled it due to space constraints,” he said.
Hobby turned into passion
Mr Shah said his love of collecting started with comic books such as Indrajal and Amar Chitra Katha (Indian comic series based on epics such as mythology).
“I never had enough pocket money to buy a lot of them, of course. So I used to comb through old book stalls and also ask friends and relatives for old comic books.
“Sometimes, I would find a few dozen lying covered in dust on a roadside bookshop, and that would make my day. I have the entire collection of Tintin, Commando, Indrajal and Amar Chitra Katha, Archies, Richie Rich and Phantom. Some of my subscriptions are still on and I get eight to 10 copies a month.”
After moving to the UAE in 1983 to join his father’s business, Mr Shah said he zealously pursued his hobby despite his busy work life and family.
Business travels and e-commerce helped him to expand his collection, he said. “Wherever I travel, I look for interesting things. The internet also makes it easy as one can always find things online.
“My children are also big cheerleaders of my hobby and they always bring me stuff when they visit me in Dubai."
So, how much does he spend on his hobby? “It is an expensive hobby,” Mr Shah said. “But once a collector, you cannot count the penny. You do it because you love it.”
Opening a museum in Dubai
Mr Shah said he had no idea what to do with his possessions as his collection grows.
“Though I am living alone, I am keeping this villa to store my collection. I painstakingly take care of each and every item I have. For example, I individually wrap the comic books in acid-free paper to preserve them for a long period of time. I also have a list where all the items I have are numbered.”
He said he was open to the idea of opening a museum or a themed cafe so that people can enjoy his collection.
“If someone approaches me with a brilliant idea, I am open to it," he said. "But I am not actively pursuing anybody. The only thing that I chase now is maybe more Star Wars souvenirs.”