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[NEW YORK] "Star Wars" super fans snapped up some of the space film saga's rarest merchandise on the planet for more than US$500,000 at auction on Friday, Sotheby's announced in New York.
More than 600 items found new homes in the sale organized by Sotheby's and eBay - just days before the release of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," the seventh movie in arguably the world's biggest movie franchise.
The space epics have grossed billions of dollars at the box office worldwide since the first film came out in 1977 and spawned a pop culture phenomenon, drawing legions of hardcore fans.
All items in the auction came from the private collection of Japanese designer and creative entrepreneur Nigo, who started collecting toys and figures decades ago at just six years old.
The online auction netted combined sales of US$502,202, Sotheby's said.
The most expensive lot was a pristine, unopened packet of seven action figures from "The Empire Strikes Back" which fetched US$32,500 - three times the estimate.
Two complete sets of "Power of the Force" coins, which were available only by special request from the manufacturer Kenner, sold for US$27,500.
A Luke Skywalker doll, which hit the market in 1978 as a children's toy, sold for US$25,000, above its upper estimate of US$18,000.
Also never removed from the packaging, it is one of only 20 confirmed examples of the doll, Sotheby's said.
The figurine, with a rare two-piece telescoping lightsaber, was quickly withdrawn from the market "due to the propensity for the lightsaber to snap off," Sotheby's said.
There was also a strong market in helmets. A replica of a "Star Wars: A New Hope" Stormtrooper from 2007 fetched US$8,125, the auction house said.
Sotheby's consultant James Gallo says the results demonstrated the quality of Nigo's collection and the enduring appeal of the 'Star Wars' universe.
"We set a number of benchmark prices today, reflecting the strength of this market," he said.
Sotheby's, set up in 18th century London and best known for selling fine art masterpieces, called in Gallo to value the collection, which he spent a week and a half sorting through.
From the United States to Russia to China, the franchise has a fan base spanning generations. The films' psychology has even found its way onto university syllabuses.
"It's merchandised more than most," the Pennsylvania-based Gallo, who owns store Toy and Comics Heaven, told AFP last week.
"There isn't much that can compare." He said that "Star Wars" collectors would proudly display their hard-won memorabilia like anything else - and certainly would not snap open the packets and play with the dolls.
"It's up to each individual how they enjoy the items they have. It's just like anything else, whether it be fine art or sports collectibles," Gallo said.