As a lifelong Star Wars fan, Tom Spina has built a career out of immersing himself in A Galaxy Far, Far Away and other out-of-this-world universes. His companies Tom Spina Designs and Regal Robot specialize in “creating custom statues, sculpture, mannequins, unique themed furniture and decor, and the restoration and display of film props and costumes” and designing “highly themed collectibles to bring what you love into your home and life in new and exciting ways.”
This week, Regal Robot revealed a new collection of decor inspired by props and insignia seen in the tremendously popular Disney+ live-action Star Wars series The Mandalorian, and I had the wonderful opportunity to speak with Mr. Spina over the phone from his headquarters on Long Island about these amazing new products and his fascinating history with Star Wars as a franchise.
Mike Celestino, Laughing Place: What was your personal relationship with Star Wars growing up?
Tom Spina, Regal Robot: Oh boy… it’s probably more of a relationship than I had with my own family. [laughs] I am an O.G. Star Wars fan. I am that original generation; I was five when that first movie came out. It changed everything at the time. I think it’s hard for folks now to get a handle on the way media was consumed back then. There’s so much out there right now, it’s almost impossible for something to take a hold like Star Wars did, where as then, if the Holiday Special was on, there were only three or four channels you had to choose from, and odds were you were watching that.
Star Wars took hold like nothing else, and as a kid who was into anything monster[-related] or even fantasy– there’s jawas and droids and cool creatures and there’s guys in masks and there’s the stormtrooper riding a dewback, which to me looked like a guy in a skull mask riding a dinosaur. “Oh my god, this is the greatest movie of all time!” I immediately loved the movie and loved the story. I was fascinated by that, but I immediately wanted to make Star Wars, and that was the thrust of so much of my childhood. Making masks, making costumes, making sets, making props… and it eventually became much more than just Star Wars stuff, but that was really the spark of me as a maker.
LP: How did Regal Robot get started as a company and how did you begin to land big licenses like Star Wars?
Spina: Regal grew out of my other company, which is Tom Spina Designs. There we’re doing a lot of work with original props that were used in the movies. We’ve restored things for collectors and archives, the Lucasfilm Archives, other museums, the Jim Henson Archives and stuff like that. [It’s] absolutely amazing work to get to do, this weird sort of job that I invented for myself. [laughs] And along the way, we had done theme park props and things, and we’re really into this idea of bringing some of that theme park-iness to people’s homes.
Years ago we made a Han Solo in Carbonite desk, and it went all over the place online. Every blog in the world had a write-up on it; it was bizarre to us. We knew it was kind of cool, but we just didn’t understand what was happening. It was one-of-a-kind, too, so it wasn’t even like we were selling them. That really got us noticed, and also I was friends with [Lucasfilm Story Group member] Pablo Hidalgo and some other folks that had gotten to work with Lucasfilm– [Rancho Obi-Wan founder] Steve Sansweet and some other guys– collectors and things like that.
I had been known since the 90s for making pretty accurate replica masks of the Cantina characters. That got us the jobs doing some commercials with Lucasfilm. We did a Super Bowl spot with them for Volkswagen where they recreated the whole Cantina and we did a whole bunch of the Original Trilogy aliens for that. That is sort of the impetus of Regal Robot, coming out of those two things– the idea of doing furniture as art and theming for people’s homes and then the connection of starting to do these commercials and working with Lucasfilm recreating aliens, building stuff for The Star Wars Show, helping them out at [Star Wars] Celebration… [it’s] this bizarre charmed life of dream gig after dream gig, pinching myself all the way, and having the great fortune of putting together a really really good crew of people that just make me look good all the time.
LP: Considering your connections with Lucasfilm, when did you first start to hear buzz about The Mandalorian and how did you know you wanted to create new items in conjunction with that series?
Spina: [We heard about it] pretty early on. They were definitely still in production. We were very lucky– my other company actually got to do a few things for the show. They would call us up a few weeks in advance of an episode looking for some bits, so that was cool. We did the [Kubaz] flute guy in the first episode, the ferryman, we got to do his mask, and then they used it again in one of the other episodes. [We also provided] the IG-88 heads in the bar and a bunch of other hand-prop stuff that we managed to either [create] or source from other friends who had cool molds. It’s just neat that the production cared enough to get all the details right. That was the first clue that I had that it was going to be amazing– just hearing the things they were asking for. [laughs]
Our rep at Lucasfilm [gave us] some early looks at stuff and then as soon as the show came out, that’s when we started pitching things to them to do. Licensing is a process, and I think people would be amazed how long the stuff that we just put up was really in the works, and how much effort goes on behind the scenes, even on smallish stuff. There’s just a process to it; it’s part of the business. We’re always chomping at the bit to get something out. “I can’t wait ‘til people can see this!” [Now] they can, and that’s cool.
LP: What would your message be to Star Wars fans who aren’t yet familiar with Regal Robot and the work that the company does?
Spina: Well, I think the simplest way to say it is just [that] we are fans. We love this stuff deeply, we have been a part of this universe from the beginning, and we’re also veteran effects people and artists that have lived a life of making amazing things and having all of these incredible opportunities and gotten to be so up close with these things that reflected light on the screens and made magic in our little eyes as [kids]. I feel so lucky that I have the chance to share what we’ve done over the years and turn it into stuff that people can put into their homes.
This written interview is only part of a 45-minute discussion between Tom Spina and Mike Celestino, the entirety of which will be featured on next week’s episode of the “Who’s the Bossk?” Star Wars podcast. Watch for it on Wednesday, March 25 right here at LaughingPlace.com.
Mike serves as Laughing Place’s lead Southern California reporter, Editorial Director for Star Wars content, and host of the weekly “Who’s the Bossk?” Star Wars podcast. He’s been fascinated by Disney theme parks and storytelling in general since a very young age and resides in Burbank, California with his beloved wife and cats.