Friends in the Force

May 19, 2005|by JULIE E. GREENE

Barry Shoemaker and Sheldon Akers are bound by the Force, the force of George Lucas' storytelling and the merchandise empire spawned by his space cowboy stories.

The friends' collections of "Star Wars" collectibles is almost mythic in size, but it wasn't that alone that made them co-winners of The Herald-Mail's contest to find the biggest "Star Wars" fan in the Tri-State area.

Their love for the good-versus-evil movies and merchandise has fueled a lasting friendship that has included road trips to "Star Wars" conventions and each having memorabilia that numbers into the thousands.


For winning the contest, the friends will receive $50. Actually, Akers will get the money because Shoemaker owes him $25 for some merchandise - a Droid Factory.

Akers, 34, of Berkeley Springs, W.Va., said he was a bit leery at first when Shoemaker entered them in the contest, thinking they should let someone younger win it.

A number of youngsters and several adults entered the contest, which had no age limit.

First-generation-fan Keith Leaman of Smithsburg wrote how he didn't "believe knowing every tidbit of trivia about Lucas' space opera defines 'the biggest fan.'"

"The important thing here are the eternal truths of 'Star Wars.' Good versus evil. That a ragtag group of rebels is going up against 'the ultimate power in the universe,'" Leaman wrote.

Other entrants included a father and a son who both entered the contest, a mother who wrote how the movies provided her a retreat during a painful time in her youth, and several youngsters who wrote about their favorite characters.

The contest attracted 21 entries, but, in the end, there was no denying the power of friendship.

Shoemaker, 31, of Great Cacapon, W.Va., said he and Akers talk about more than "Star Wars" - family, friends, work; but the movies led to their friendship.

They met at a pool shortly after "Return of the Jedi" had been released in 1983, when Shoemaker was about 9 and Akers was about 12. Shoemaker had brought "Star Wars" trading cards and the two talked about the movies, becoming friends, Akers said.

They reconnected after high school when Shoemaker said his interest was rekindled in collecting "Star Wars" memorabilia.

They have encouraged one another's efforts to collect memorabilia, often trading pieces or helping each other find certain items.

Shoemaker's collection includes an early 1980s arcade game which the player sits inside, a life-size R2-D2 Pepsi cooler, a cardboard cutout of Mace Windu, a large Toys "R" Us promotional Naboo fighter from "The Phantom Menace," and numerous action figures and vehicles. He has sold some of his extra pieces.

Both men want to have showrooms in their homes to display their collections.

Shoemaker's favorites are the action figures that he played with as a child. Akers' most cherished collectible is the original "Star Wars" movie poster.

Their trips have included conventions where they met "Star Wars" actors such as Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett) and David Prowse (Darth Vader).

Around 1997 the pair took a long drive with Akers' wife, Christal, in her Dodge Shadow to a Pennsylvania auction house selling one man's '70s and '80s collectibles, including a lot of unopened "Star Wars" items.

"There was only a handful of people there. Barry and I ended up buying like 80 percent of the stuff," Akers said. By the time the dealers could look up an item's worth in the price guide, the pair had bought it, he said.

"We piled the car to the roof. We could barely move in the car the three- to four-hour drive home. It was hilarious. That was a good time," Akers recalled.

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