The dog is shut inside the kitchen pantry scratching to get out, making the door thump steadily and unnervingly against the jam like a washing machine spinning out of tilt.
Darrell Schackel says his dog -- the actual size of which will remain unknown because it will be stuck in there for the duration of this visit -- will settle down. That it always acts this way when anyone new comes over. “Just needs to get to know you,” he says, waving a hand to ignore the barking, which breaks the otherwise hush of his two-story Ixonia farmhouse.
It’s late afternoon, about a week before Christmas 2016, and nothing is going to bother Schackel today. In just a couple of hours he’s leaving to go see “Rogue One,” the latest “Star Wars” movie.
Schackel is 54 years old. He’s a husband, a father and a bona fide science-fiction nut. And for the big night, Schackel has put on a “Star Wars” T-shirt. Granted, he has many “Star Wars” T-shirts and wears them all the time. But this is a particularly good one. It has a storm trooper weeping at a distant explosion. A caption reads: “I had friends on that Death Star.”
Before heading to the theater though, Schackel will allow a peek at his collection of “Star Wars” toys, rumored to be the biggest around. He motions to follow, leading the way to a closet in an upstairs bedroom, where there is a cat lying on a bed, sunk deep in a comforter. “Oh,” Schackel says, “I have four cats too.”
He begins to open the closet door but stops halfway, warning that the cats are off limits. “I’ve spent days picking up after them,” says Schackel, pointing accusingly at the one on the bed. The cat remains, like a deflated balloon, staring blankly at him.
He flips a switch and a single ceiling light bulb illuminates the inside, albeit dimly. The closet has a window but a flag bearing the Starship Enterprise covers it. “Well,” Schackel says, “here you are.” The walls -- all four of them with rows of shelves spanning their entirety -- are packed with neatly-arranged action figures from “Star Wars” and other sci-fi movies and TV series such as “Battle Star Galactica,” “Star Trek,” “Stargate,” and on and on.
“It all began,” Schackel says, “not long after my first daughter was born.”
This was 20 years ago. Incidentally, he later notes, his daughter’s birthday is Sept. 25, the exact day of the month when the first “Star Wars” was released in 1977. Schackel beams noting this, his pride apparent at the coincidence. With a new baby, he was finding himself at Toys “R” Us a lot. One day, Schackel noticed a bin of “Star Wars” X-wing fighters on sale for $2. “I bought them all,” he says.
His collecting, Schackel admits, is still a “little compulsive.” He blames it on an “addictive nature” that previously, as a younger man, entailed “more destructive habits.” The collecting became a therapeutic way to override those habits, he says, “a way to quiet my brain.”
Schackel’s latest toy arrived in the mail only yesterday. It’s a robot from “Virus,” a 1999 sci-fi thriller. He already has four of them. “It looks cool,” he says. “But, honestly, the movie sucked.”
As for “Rogue One,” Schackel heard it’s good. He even has gone store to store snatching up every commemorative Death Star (a new cast titanium, 4-inch diameter toy) that he could find. Currently, there are about 20 stacked against the wall. “It just makes me feel good having them all to myself,” he says.
Schackel doesn’t need to explain. Here, in this closet, in his own galaxy far, far away, he looks comforted. In here, it’s quiet. The dog downstairs, that once filled the house with noise, is now at rest.