'Holy cow, we found an X-Wing.' Bidding starts at $400,000.

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'Holy cow, we found an X-Wing.' Bidding starts at $400,000.
After a Hollywood visual effects artist died last year, friends found a rare model of the Rebel Alliance starfighter from the original “Star Wars” movie in his garage.

by Michael Levenson

NEW YORK, NY.- When Greg Jein, an Oscar-nominated visual effects artist, died last year at age 76, he left behind thousands of props, miniatures, costumes and other possessions in two houses, two garages and two storage units in Los Angeles.

Among his many belongings, he had a lace hairpiece worn by William Shatner as Captain Kirk in the original “Star Trek” television series; a nearly 7-foot-long Martian rocket ship from the 1952 movie serial “Zombies of the Stratosphere,” featuring a young Leonard Nimoy; and Batman’s yellow utility belt from the 1960s television show, starring Adam West.

Going through the collection after Jein died in May 2022 “was like a treasure hunt because Greg knew where things were, but it was not organized,” said his cousin, Jerry Chang. “As you moved a stack of books away, you’d go, ‘Oh, my god, I recognize that!’”

But there was one particular item that no one knew he had until one Saturday last November, when four of Jein’s friends decided to help his family empty one of his garages.

The first box they opened was filled with Bubble Wrap. The next had more packing materials. The third felt heavier, said Gene Kozicki, a visual effects historian and archivist who worked with Jein on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” in the 1990s.

Kozicki opened the box, dug into some packing peanuts, and “the nose of an X-wing revealed itself.”

Kozicki knew immediately that it was one of the X-wing models that had been filmed up close for the climactic battle scene in the original 1977 “Star Wars” movie, when the Rebel Alliance blows up the Death Star.

“It was like, ‘Holy cow, we found an X-wing, a real, honest-to-goodness X-wing,’” Kozicki said. “We were carrying on like kids on Christmas.”

Chang, 75, who was also sorting through his cousin’s belongings that day, witnessed the celebration over the spaceship.

“I saw four guys in their 50s jumping up and down, and they had their phones out, and they were taking pictures from every angle,” Chang said.

“They said, ‘Do you know where this came from?’” Chang added. “And I said, ‘No idea.’”

The X-wing had been built by Industrial Light & Magic, the special effects studio founded by George Lucas. But people in the visual effects industry had not seen it in decades, Kozicki said.

“There were lots of rumors about what happened to it, but rumors are rumors until you actually find it,” he said. “And here it was, sitting in front of us.”

On Oct. 14 and 15, Heritage Auctions plans to sell the model, along with more than 550 other props, costumes and items from Jein’s collection. Bidding on the X-wing begins at $400,000. A similar model X-wing sold last year for nearly $2.4 million.

Heritage Auctions said the model was used in scenes involving X-wings flown by three pilots in the fictional Alliance. The characters’ call signs were Red Leader, Red Two and Luke Skywalker’s own Red Five.

Unlike simpler props that were made to be blown up, the X-wing was one of four versions known as “hero” models crafted with motorized wings, fiber-optic lights and other features for close-up shots, the auction house said, adding that the piece “represents the pinnacle of ‘Star Wars’ artifacts to ever reach the market.”

Chang and Kozicki said they did not know how Jein came to acquire it.

Jein had spent a lifetime collecting, beginning with baseball cards and comic books and moving on to movie scripts and memorabilia from films and television shows, many of which he acquired by trading with industry professionals.

His favorite piece in his collection was a miniature double-decker bus with rubber tires from the 1943 Laurel and Hardy comedy “The Dancing Masters.” Jein was amazed by how realistic it looked on screen, Chang said.

Even as a boy, Jein would study reference books to ensure he chose the correct color of paint for the model soldiers, tanks and warships he assembled, Chang said.

“He was always very particular that his items were as authentic as possible,” Chang said.

That attention to detail served Jein well in Hollywood.

As a visual effects artist, he was nominated for an Academy Award in 1978 for his work on Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

Jein led the team that built the model of the alien “mother ship” that appears in the film. The piece is now in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum.

In 1980, Jein was nominated for another Academy Award in visual effects for his work on Spielberg’s “1941,” which was filmed using model tanks, buildings and a runaway Ferris wheel.

As movie miniatures gave way in recent decades to digital special effects, “Greg realized this stuff was an art form, and the people who made them were artists,” Kozicki said.

Kozicki said he hoped that a museum would buy the X-wing and some of the other props from Jein’s collection.

Even if they don’t end up on public display, “just the fact that people will be buying this stuff leads me to believe his stuff will be cared for, and there will be a chance to see these items again,” Kozicki said. “People will enjoy and respect it and will hopefully think of all the people who made all this stuff.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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