- Associated Press - Thursday, December 17, 2015

DEATSVILLE, Ala. — On the front door of the Deatsville home of Mike and Kelly Avallone, Yoda welcomes guests into the home.

It’s an unassuming start to the shrine to “Star Wars” fandom that is found inside.

Action figures, movie posters, autographs, cardboard cutouts and light-saber replicas are just a small sampling of what one could find at the home that Mike Avallone has called a “museum” of “Star Wars” collectibles. The products not only take up various spots in the house, but two rooms are dedicated entirely to the merchandise.

For Mike Avallone, the fascination began nearly 40 years ago with the theatrical release of “Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope.”

“The bug for me was in 1977,” Avallone said. “Just from seeing that movie I was hooked. My mom recently mentioned that she still remembers the drive-in that she took us to.”

After serving in the Air Force for 20 years, Avallone went back to his childhood by way of pursuing the collectibles.

“It started with the comics,” Avallone said. “I went on eBay and started finding different people selling 1-10 or 12-15 or whatever. Once I had the comics, it was a little bit of this, a little of that.”

He then points to the memorabilia that surrounds his walls. “Now you see what it has turned in to.”

His solo adventure became a duo effort when he, in his words, “corrupted” his wife Kelly.

“I think what did it for me was I didn’t know anything about ‘Star Wars’ conventions,” Kelly Avallone said. “Then we went to one in Indianapolis, and I was hooked right after.”

The conventions have continued to play a pivotal role in the lives of the Avallones. The couple will travel to South Carolina for the initial showing of “Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens” and will be joining friends they’ve met at previous conventions.

“We met them at a ‘Star Wars’ convention, and all of us have been friends ever since,” Kelly Avallone said. “We’ve met really great people and they’ve become great friends.”

Kelly Avallone was originally collecting Living Dead Dolls but sold them all to jump into her “Star Wars” obsession. Her favorite character, she says without hesitation, is Yoda.

“I always loved The Muppets growing up,” she said. “As soon as I saw Yoda, I was hooked.”

For Mike Avallone, a “flaw” in his collecting mindset is that he doesn’t have a favorite character.

“My downfall is that I like it all. That’s why it turns into a little bit of everything,” Mike Avallone said.

He even defends one of those most criticized characters in the entire series.

“I like Jar-Jar (Binks),” Mike Avallone said. “I don’t have any beef with Jar-Jar. He was the comic relief.”

In his collection, Mike Avallone has a piece that is Jar-Jar Binks frozen in carbonite, one of the jokier pieces in the house and a reference to Han Solo. However, a life-size replica of the scene with Han Solo in carbonite resides in the Avallone’s living room.

“That’s the prized possession,” Mike Avallone said, before explaining that the pursuit of it in an eBay auction was a birthday gift from his wife.

The love affair with “Star Wars” has been helped by other members of his family as Mike Avallone’s dad is currently building him a replica light-saber with two blades that come out from the sides, as seen in the footage from the upcoming movie.

As for why he is so into “Star Wars,” Mike Avallone has a simple answer.

“When I talk to people who say they’ve never seen the movie I joke with them and say, ‘Well I can’t talk to you anymore,’” he said. “Then I ask them “Do you like movies that have drama, sci-fi, fantasy, politics, religion, romance, comedy?’ It’s the only thing I know of that’s got something for everybody.”

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