From Starlog to Star Wars, Jordan Hembrough spent the last few decades immersed in fandoms on all fronts. The owner of Hollywood Heroes Gallery in Westwood, New Jersey, Hembrough maintains an ever-changing inventory of vintage and modern toys and collectibles, evolving with the industry as consumer tastes and desires change.
He hit the national stage as “The Toy Hunter,” traveling the country in search of elusive toys for celebrity clients over the course of three seasons on the Travel Channel. While the series lives on in reruns worldwide, Hembrough still travels in search of something bigger—making connections between people and toys, and finding stories that continue to inspire.
Like many kids of a certain age, Hembrough was inspired by George Lucas’ original Star Wars back in 1977—a first step into a larger world that went far beyond the film, and one that would include more products and spin-offs than anyone could have imagined at the time. From action figures and vehicles in the Kenner Star Wars collection, to bedding, food, and housewares—fans could buy anything with the Star Wars name on it, and it was all collectible.
Hembrough’s passion for The Force eventually led to his career and, decades later, it has come full circle.
Last fall, Hembrough worked with Lucasfilm as host and producer of the new digital series Our Star Wars Stories. The show took an intimate look into the personal lives of individual Star Wars fans and their families, showing how the franchise continues to inspire. A five-person crew trekked across the U.S., shooting the first five-episode season in just 11 days.
Pop Insider: Our Star Wars Stories really touched a lot of people. What’s the outlook for season two?
Jordan Hembrough: We had an incredible time producing the first season, and it was very well received by fans. Everyone is on board for another season, and we all want to do one. It’s just figuring out timing and logistics right now.
PI: How has collecting changed over the past five years?
JH: I think what we are seeing now is that people are more open to items being collectibles. It’s not a term that many people don’t understand anymore. Toy companies have done such an incredible job with their marketing of “collect them all!” that even people not regularly engaged in the collectible market are actively seeking out complete sets of toys or figures.
Furthermore, collectible toys, statues, and replica props have started to enter the zeitgeist of television. Shows like The Big Bang Theory regularly showcase main characters talking about high-end collectibles and the demand for them … so it’s not surprising that it will creep into the lives of casual viewers. I actually had a couple in my gallery the other day looking at some high-end Star Wars statues from Sideshow, and one of them commented, “That’s like the one on The Big Bang Theory in the comic shop.”
PI: As the marketplace changes, what trends are you seeing in collectibles for this year?
JH: I have a lot of people asking me for vintage Star Wars toys and vintage Marvel collectibles. As we lead up to Star Wars: Episode IX, and Avengers: Endgame, I think people are starting to realize that many of the characters they grew up with will not be around. People are asking me to complete sets of original Kenner Star Wars figures for them, and I’ve seen a rise in demand for Captain America and Iron Man collectibles.This trend is always expected when it comes to a new movie opening, but with Star Wars specifically, Lucasfilm has said this marks the end of the Skywalker Saga storyline—so it’s a rather unique circumstance. For the short term, I expect this trend to continue.
PI: With retro toys continuing to remain special, are there any modern toy lines that have the potential to be as exciting for collectors 30 to 40 years from now as the toys of the ‘70s and ‘80s are today?
JH: While they may not be specifically toys, I do like the stuff Hot Toys is doing. The quality of the product is just so amazing with regard to detail. People are displaying these in their homes and offices, and I expect some of the rarer pieces to become highly valuable in the future. The same can be said with many of the Premium Format statues from Sideshow Toys. I have seen those jump in value, and they are simply stunning. I have three of them in my office.
PI: Beyond the high-end pieces, have you identified any particular items from recent kid-focused lines that could become highly sought-after in the years ahead?
JH: The demand for the larger LEGO sets increased. LEGO has a really unique and timeless anchor in the market, and their toys have just gotten better with time. The really cool thing about LEGO is that they have added so much detail to their building sets (Hogwarts Castle, Millennium Falcon) while keeping their basic play pattern the same. They are building blocks, pure and simple. Yet, they have evolved this concept over time by adding characters and increased play value to their sets.
PI: After all the decades and countless miles, what excites you most about keeping the hunt alive? Do you find that it gets harder as time goes on?
JH: You know, it’s funny; 2019 will mark my 33rd year as a toy dealer. I have traveled all over the world and sold tens of thousands of toys. The hunt for rare items always remains the same—it’s always tough. The main thing that has changed over the past five or so years is the way I interact with my customers. For me personally, it’s no longer about the price attached to the rare toy … it’s the story that goes along with it. I love hearing how people acquired a certain item, or why they are selling. There have been some incredible people that have come into my life all because of a toy, and I always want to speak to them and hear their story.
This article was originally published in the Pop Insider’s Winter 2019 Issue No. 2, click here to read more!