Star Hustlers

Sir Alec Guinness has won two Oscars, one for best actor and the other honorary, and has been nominated for four more. Queen Elizabeth knighted him in 1959. A remarkable career; a distinguished actor. And, now, for just $275, you can have a sixteen-inch ceramic cookie jar in the shape of Alec Guinness's head.

Technically, it's not Guinness's bust but that of his most famous character, Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, a film for which the actor received one of those Oscar nominations. What does Sir Alec think of his ceramic doppelgänger? "He's a little embarrassed by the whole thing," says Dan Madsen, whose company, Fantastic Media, home of the official Star Wars fan club, sells the jars along with other Star Wars merchandise. "He's not crazy about his image being on cookie jars."

But Madsen can't keep the Obi-Wan containers in stock. In fact, he can't keep much of anything relating to Star Wars on his warehouse shelves these days. Ever since the Star Wars trilogy was re-released to theaters in digitally enhanced "special editions" in 1997, Fantastic Media has been traveling in hyperdrive.

The company's extraterrestrial excursions aren't limited to Star Wars. Until recently, the business was fueled by Star Trek and all its related paraphernalia. When President Bill Clinton wanted a pair of Star Trek boxer shorts, for example, secretary Betty Currie contacted Madsen. (Fortunately, Madsen was spared from having to testify before Ken Starr's grand jury on the subject of Clinton's underwear.)

But what's a mere president of the United States compared to the emperor of a galaxy far, far away? At the end of April, Fantastic Media will stage the second official Star Wars convention in the film franchise's history, a three-day "celebration" at the Denver Air and Space Museum of anything and everything connected to the movie series--including sneak-preview clips from the new release set for May 21, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, the first of three films that tell the story of young Anakin Skywalker, who grows up to become Darth Vader. The star-studded event promises to attract every Star Wars fan in the galaxy. And Madsen, now 37, may be the biggest fan out there.

For a long time, Dan Madsen wasn't the biggest anything. But he sure stood out.

A rare bone disorder stunted Madsen's growth, making him a favorite target of taunts, stares and pranks from other kids when he was growing up in Aurora. He had some friends and loving parents, but he was different and couldn't forget it. Today he stands just 4-foot-2.

And for all the prejudice Madsen faced in the outside world, he didn't always get a break at home, either. Every day when he came home from junior high, he'd find his older brother, a high-school linebacker, plopped down in front of the family's TV set, staring at the Star Trek reruns that aired at 4 p.m. Star Trek--gag! Madsen was no fan of Captain Kirk and his space-faring crew.

"I hated it," Madsen recalls. "It made me angry when he'd watch it. I just hated it." But then, like a photon blast, a single Star Trek episode changed his mind--and his life. "I don't know what got into my mind, but I decided to sit down and watch it with him. Maybe it's fate--I don't know."

The episode was the classic "Plato's Stepchildren," with guest Michael Dunn, a character actor and little person like Madsen. But the show didn't use Dunn as a human sight gag. Instead he portrayed Alexander, a little person living among a race of Greek-god-like creatures who possessed special powers and used the powerless Alexander as their slave.

"When Kirk and Spock came to this planet, they saw how obnoxious and arrogant and disgusting they'd become, and they looked at this little Alexander, and he was this humble, really unique individual," Madsen recalls. "In this one scene, he sits next to Captain Kirk and he asks, 'Are there any people like me where you come from?' And Captain Kirk looks at him and says, 'Where I come from, size, shape or color makes no difference.' And that just dawned on me. I said to myself: They're talking about a world where no one would judge me because I'm short. They would just accept me for who I am."

At the end of the episode, Alexander beamed up to the Enterprise with Kirk and Spock and they took him away. "And," Madsen says, "I beamed up myself."

Not just on the Starship Enterprise, either. In 1977, after seeing Star Wars in the theater, Madsen hopped on board George Lucas's fantasy, going so far as to plaster Star Wars posters over the Star Trek pictures that covered his bedroom walls. Deep down, though, he was still a Trekkie at heart.

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Chris LaMorte

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