In the world of Star Wars memorabilia and toy collecting, one of the rarest collectibles is said to be a 1979 prototype action figure: a Boba “Rockett” Fett that came with a spring-loaded backpack that fired a plastic missile. But it was never released. After a child choked on another toy with a similar missile, toy company Kenner scrapped the design — but not before several of these original figures had already been made.

Today, an enthusiastic Star Wars fan community buys, sells, and collects “Lucasian memorabilia,” often going to great lengths to track down rare items. When Zach Tann got a text in 2017 from a fellow collector, Carl Cunningham, about purchasing this coveted Rocket Fett, things began to get fishy.

At Popular Mechanics, Alexander Huls recounts one of the biggest scandals in Star Wars collecting history.

Tann was one purchase away from a unicorn. The offer was too good to pass up, and Tann paid Cunningham the asking price. “I’d been working my butt off for four years, and I felt like, finally, I found my guy that’s going to hook me up with a lot of great stuff,” Tann says. “This is what every collector dreams of.”

Cunningham was away in California at the time but promised he’d get Tann his collectible once he returned home. But a little over a week later, Tann’s phone vibrated with another notification, this time a Facebook message from a friend.

The message contained a screenshot of a post on the forum, a popular Star Wars collector website. Titled “My Proto Rocket Fett was Stolen,” the post received over 26,000 views and shocked the community. “Man this is horrible. I could just imagine the gut wrenching feeling, the pitfall in your stomach. Wow. That is messed up,” said one typical reply.

The Rebelscum post was written by prominent Star Wars collector Philip Wise, whose 20,000-item collection is a place of pilgrimage for many Star Wars collectors. Wise detailed how his Rocket Fett prototype had been taken sometime in the last two weeks from his private Star Wars museum, where it was prominently on display. He made a plea: “If anybody should hear anything about a Fett like this floating around, please contact me.”

Wise’s words punched Tann in the stomach. Cunningham couldn’t be the thief, right? It wasn’t his Rocket Fett, was it?

Read the story

Cheri has been an editor at Longreads since 2014. She's currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area.