NEW ALBANY, IN (WAVE) - It's been hard to escape the buzz for the new Star Wars movie. It's the most anticipated film release in a long time, and one Indiana archaeologist is a part of that storied franchise's history.
David West Reynolds of New Albany helped create some of the iconic images seen on the big screen by millions of fans over the years. He said it's a journey even a Jedi might not have been able to predict.
"Professionally, it wasn't quite what I might have designed," Reynolds said.
It was a light-saber design at Scribner Junior High School that started Reynolds' remarkable trip. The young Star Wars fan loved to imagine the technology behind the fantasy. So, years later when he earned his doctorate in classical archeology, Reynolds decided he would aim his first dig at finding the real-life relics.
"As an archaeologist who had been trained to find things in the desert, I thought maybe I could find planet Tatooine," Reynolds said.
Turned out Tatooine was actually Tunisia, the North African country where George Lucas shot the scenes for the famous home of Luke Skywalker. Reynolds studied landscapes in the movie, compared them to maps, then went in search of old movie props Lucas and his crew left behind, buried in the sand.
He came away with "artifacts" that die-hard fans could only dream of, such as a piece of the cantina door R2D2 and C3PO hid behind, as well as a part of the sand creature bones C3PO stumbled past in the desert.
West wrote an article about his expedition for a fan magazine. And it caught the eye of George Lucas and his team. So when it was time to return to Tunisia to film the second series of Star Wars movies, Lucas' top producer, Rick McCallum, knew exactly who to call.
"And he suddenly found out that there was an archaeologist who knew where all of these lost filming locations were," Reynolds said. "And I was the only person in the world who knew at that time. So he called me up, hired me as a location scout, and off we went to North Africa."
It led to a full-time job at Skywalker Ranch in California, where Reynolds would work as a marketing and creative consultant for the next nine years. He advised on the next two films, the Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones.
Reynolds also wrote a series of Star Wars reference books, all of which were bestsellers. He used science to explain how all those cool Star Wars gadgets would work if they were real.
"But we did work really hard to try and make all of the systems that we created consistent and believable within the rules that applied within that world," Reynolds said.
Now, he's been asked by the New Albany Library to create an exhibit from his time at Skywalker Ranch, in advance of the new movie, The Force Awakens. The display includes his favorite mementos, like parts of models used to create some of the series' most famous scenes.
"This is the tower gun," Reynolds said, holding the three-inch model, which is placed in front of a photo of the battle sequence from the movie where it was used.
There are also a number of other old photos, including one of his unconventional Smithsonian "debut," a moment that came not as he imagined it. Instead, Reynolds appeared at the Smithsonian, dressed as Boba Fett, during a special event with the Skywalker team.
As for what his one-of-a-kind collection is worth, Reynolds said he doesn't care.
"I didn't go to North Africa and get lost in the Sahara for money," Reynolds said. "I did that because the film meant something to me and the experience meant something to me."
It's a force that drives him and millions of other die-hard Star Wars fans worldwide.
Reynolds was later hired to do a similar archaeological dig to find artifacts from the Old Indiana Jones movies, but he said licensing issues prevented him from ever publishing the results of what he found.