Darth Maul bicycles. Queen Amidala helmet and kneepads. A glue stick shaped like R2D2.

Conceivably, a young kid could surround himself with nothing but "Star Wars," from Galactic Bubble Bath to the whirling, battery-powered, movie character lollipops ("Dueling action!" the package declares).

Most of the people buying collectibles related to "Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace," which opens today, passed childhood a few years back, however.

"Mostly adults," says Elaine Castillo of Albany's Toys R Us, nodding to the display stacked halfway to the ceiling with action figures, LEGO sets, top spaceships and other "Phantom Menace" paraphernalia. "Males between 25 and 35."

Across the nation, the "Menace" buying frenzy began at midnight May 3, the day the first new toys went on sale. People scooped up action figures by the dozens. They bought posters and puzzles in sets of two and three. Stores still can't keep in stock the biggest sellers, such as the figure of bad guy Darth Maul.

But will they really be worth anything in the long run?

Tickle Me Elmo, anyone?

Most collectors aren't worried. They say toys like Tickle Me Elmo or its followup, Furby, are one-hit wonders when compared to the collective consciousness of "Star Wars."

"It's pretty much a legend," Castillo says with a shrug. "It brings back their childhood, I guess."

Jason Waggoner, 27, of Salem is so convinced of the power of the Force that he buys his "Star Wars" toys in groups of three: one to sell in about five years, one to sell in about 15 years and one to either keep or pass on to his children.

Although he's been a serious collector for just over a year, he's amassed more than $15,000 in merchandise. That includes the R2D2 phone in his kitchen, the commemorative Darth Vader light saber (signed by James Earl Jones) and the 325 action figures lining his wall (all in their original packaging and covered with protective plastic).

He sticks to mint-condition items, mostly action figures and Hasbro toys, although he boasts a few promotional pieces such as a copy of the first trailer for "The Phantom Menace."

When friends see his collection, they think Waggoner is "really eccentric," he says with a wry grin. "(They say) 'Why do you spend all your money on that stuff? I'd rather spend all my money on clothes or beer or stuff.'

"They won't think that when the day comes that I cash in on some of it," he says.

Waggoner doesn't think "Phantom Menace" toys will be worth nearly as much in the long run as some of his collectibles from the release of the "Special Edition" trilogy. But he figures they'll at least retain their original value plus appreciate somewhat. It's hard to keep up with the wealth of material out there, Waggoner admits — and there's still two more movies coming.

"Of course, I have to get a bigger room," he says.

The newest "Star Wars" movie is separating many collectors into two camps: those who are jumping into the new stuff and those who swear by the originals, says Erick Kountz, manager of Pop Culture, a Salem store that sells collectible toys.

"The new is a great jumping-on point. They don't have to do the catch-up," he says. "It's actually created some dividing lines between collectors."

Nick Barnes, 20, of Lebanon is one of the people who prefers the 1970s- and '80s-era collectibles from the original "Star Wars" trilogy.

Although technically he's longer collecting at all, Barnes says he really doesn't have much interest in the new stuff. He bought a few of the newer action figures, but "they didn't really mean much to me, so I sold them."

Barnes' personal collection includes several original ships — the Millennium Falcon, an X-wing, a Y-wing and a TIE fighter are among them — and playsets ranging from Yoda's home to the Ewok tree city.

Among his rarer pieces are a figure of Anakin Skywalker as an old man, which he obtained through cereal box tops.

All have been opened and played with and thus wouldn't be worth as much on the open market, but to Barnes, they're treasures nonetheless.

"I've thought about selling them, but I don't think I ever would," he says. "You'd have to offer me an awful lot."

Had Barnes kept his toys in their original packaging, they'd be worth thousands to collectors today, Kountz says.

For instance, he says, a 1970s Darth Vader action figure in mint condition might be worth about $30, on average. In it original package, the price jumps to $285.

"The other (older) stuff has been so collectible simply because no one knew to keep them around," Kountz says. "They came from an era when people actually opened them and played with them. Now people say, 'Oh, I'll save them and pay for my kid's education.'"

The fact that people now think in terms of saving probably means the items won't be worth as much, he adds, because everyone will have multiple sets of the good stuff.

That won't stop people from collecting, Kountz says — and anyone with an old set of "Star Wars" toys in the attic still might find they're worth a few bucks, played with or not.

Hobby shops, catalogs, online sites and magazines such as "White's Guide" or "Toy Fair" are all resources for getting appraisals, Kountz says.

"The one thing we always stress to people: Truth is, unless this stuff was kept in its original packaging, it's not worth what people think it is," he says.

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