Star Wars Figures – Empire Strikes Back Part 2

Welcome to the second part of my reminiscences of my old Star Wars figures. This time, we’ll complete the rest of the Empire Strikes Back waves that came out in the early 1980s. A little less words maybe, a few more photos.

Last time we looked at the first wave of Empire figures, plus an early arrival (Boba Fett) and a late comer (Yoda). Whereas the figure selection for the first movie was never exhaustive (we could’ve done with more, to be honest) – the remaining Empire waves would deliver a bundle of key characters as well as some background oddballs, to pad out your playing experience.

The first wave gave us a classic Leia, this time in Hoth Outift. Again, the figure shown here is my excellent condition version, which I bought myself at the end of the line’s run, to replace my sister’s slightly beat-up one.

Next was Han Solo (Bespin Outfit), hands down my favourite Han figure. This guy saw a lot of play. Great sculpt, holds his blaster well, just awesome. The only negatives are that his trousers are too light in colour, and they packed him with the wrong gun.

The Rebel Commander was a welcome addition – you can never have too many troops! Lots of detail, but the blaster he came with is pretty lame. The Medical droid, 21B, was also a very detailed figure. I loved the transparent torso. Sadly, I lost his medical tool/needle thing years ago, so I should replace that.

A couple of Bespin characters next: the Ugnaught, who is exactly the type of minor character I have to own! He comes with a soft goods apron, presumably to add more value a la cloaked Jawa. And lastly, Lobot – a really cool looking guy who I’d have liked to see get more screen time.

Finally, with this wave, we got an Imperial officer! Named Imperial Commander on the card, this late-to-the party figure would have to double up for every Imperial officer in all three films – including Tarkin (don’t get me started on that thorny issue) – despite the black, not olive outift. So better get as many as you can! I have two; there’s a slight difference you’ll see in the pics below: one has no hair (I assume this is a paint app production error, or some one scraped it off – not a genuine variation).

At this point, the biggest toy around – biggest in size literally, but also in impact and desirability – was the AT-AT. I couldn’t believe that a toy would be made of this huge vehicle. Of course Kenner did, and thus I needed at least one, preferably two AT-AT drivers.

Last from this wave, another cool bounty hunter: Dengar. The first mail away figure I ever sent off for (Palitoy waved it’s proof of purchase nonsense this time), he took months to arrive. As in, literally months. Palitoy were swamped with requests, but one magical day, after ages spent in anticipation, a clean white box with Dengar inside arrived in the post. What a wondrous day that was…

Let’s start the next wave with the droids: C-3PO with Removable Limbs and R2-D2 with sensorscope. I wasn’t really expecting these figures as a kid. C-3PO was kind of cool as he came with a bag you could put him in, on Chewbacca’s back – though Chewie could never stand unassisted with the extra weight. R2’s new feature was interesting, though this version could never take the place of the very first R2 figure, my first and most loved Star Wars figure of all.

Luke in Hoth Outfit was a much needed alternate look, ideal to place on your Tauntaun toy. However, he came packed with that weird gun instead of the obviously more preferable (and accurate) blue lightsaber. The black Bespin Guard was an instant troop builder and a nice early nod to diversity. Twin Pod Cloud Car pilot was definitely a cool design, but he’s less “blink and you’ll miss him” and more “was he even in the film”? This figure was a necessity so someone could pilot the vehicle, I guess. I’ve lost his communicator sadly, this extra accessory was actually a good feature.

To finish the Empire figures, the “bad guys” from this wave. AT-AT Commander (or General Veers, if you knew your SW trivia) was another handy addition to the mighty AT-AT toy. And at last, a TIE Fighter Pilot, so stormtroopers could be relieved of their flying duties. You’ll notice here that the TIE Pilot isn’t holding his gun, I just couldn’t get him to grasp it for longer than two seconds. Interesting side note: my TIE Pilot had a nice fruity smell when I first opened him, which remained for years. Must’ve been the paint – anyone else have the same experience? Unfortunately, that smell has long disappeared now.

The last two bounty hunters shown here were two of my favourite action figures in the line so far: 4-LOM and Zuckuss. Both were really detailed and despite limited screen time, they were amazingly cool. Awesome weapons too – two of the best guns in the entire line. This adherence to showcasing the myriad background characters is exactly what I loved about Star Wars figures: I could scene build and create whole little worlds. “Which is 4-LOM and which is Zuckuss?” you may ask. The answer’s on the card name lozenge, that’s all I’m saying.

There we have it: all of the action figures from The Empire Strikes Back. The line was particularly strong at this time, with improvements in the sculpts and some great character choices, not to mention a masterful piece of cinema inspiring it all. This really was a magical time in mine – and many others’ – childhoods.

I was surprised how many of these figures I could actually remember buying, and from which now long-gone small toy shops around the country I found them (there was no Toys’R’Us in those days). I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief nostalgia trip, maybe we’ll meet again soon for the next chapter…

Bonus photos:

  • Leia and Hoth troops
  • General Veers – prepare you men for ground assault!
  • Arrival at Bespin
  • Bounty Hunters! We don’t need that scum.

Star Wars Figures – The Empire Strikes Back

1980: by the time the Star Wars sequel was due to appear in the cinema, I was excited and more than ready for it. We’d waited three years, endured numerous playground rumours (“Luke and Darth Vader will have a lightsaber fight!”), but we knew that it wasn’t going to be called “Star Wars 2“.

It was going to be called “The Empire Strikes Back“. I was seven years old and had no idea what that could mean.

I was the first kid in my class to get to see the movie (I’d been the last for the first film, despite being forced to utilise relentless pester power). Of course, Empire was amazing, though not as good as the first: there was no cantina scene or similar. I do remember my Dad whispering to me “Did you just hear what he said?!” after Vader’s revelation. Mind blown! But let’s concentrate on the toys…

Over the previous couple of years, Star Wars toys had to compete with other toy lines for my attention (Action Man, Dinky and Corgi cars, etc etc) – but by 1980, I was pretty much laser focussed on Star Wars figures as my main priority.

Which Empire figure did I pick up first? It may have been Lando, as I thought he was cool and he was a major new character who hadn’t been created in plastic before. My original Lando is pictured, though I replaced the vinyl cape with a repro version recently. Note he’s not the white eyes/teeth version, which I thought I had as a variation somewhere in my collection, but apparently not when I rummaged through for these photos. So that’s one I may track down in the future.

Or maybe Luke was first, in his Bespin Fatigues. This figure is one of my favourites, in an outfit that became his new standard Rebel uniform. This was probably thanks to the great run of Marvel Star Wars comics between Empire and Jedi, where Luke wore it all the time. As a result, this Luke Skywalker went on many missions, though I sadly lost his yellow lightsaber. One to replace.

My sister bought the original Leia figures. This was cool by me as I was bizarrely self conscious of buying a girl figure. Or maybe it was because I figured out that I could still use my sister’s figures, and use my own money to buy a different character (two for the price of one, ha!). My sister didn’t look after her figures as well as I did mine, so I replaced all of her well worn toys with my own when the line came to an end in 1985 and I could pick them up cheap. Here’s my excellent quality Leia in Bespin Gown.

I was never a big fan of the Han Solo (Hoth Outfit) figure, with his hood up he could be anyone. So I didn’t pick that figure up till much later. Cool holster feature though.

Also pictured are the Hoth Rebel Soldier and the first Bespin guard, complete with snazzy moustache.

Boba Fett? I was never a fan, really. Overrated character who did very little in Empire or Jedi. I just never got the cult of Fett. My lack of enthusiasm probably dates back to when he was offered as a mail away. Palitoy required proofs of purchase for several figures, which I obviously didn’t have – so I couldn’t send off for him. So maybe it’s just sour grapes. Eventually, I warmed to Fett, but if i ever hear one more person say how this figure is really rare, I’ll go space loco.

Fett wasn’t technically a part of this wave, he predated it – but here he is anyway for completeness sake. Also pictured are the Snowtrooper (complete with vinyl “skirt”) and two way cooler bounty hunters: IG-88 and Bossk. Both are nicely sculpted figures with loads of details, and cool accessories.

Yoda

Finally, one figure which I believe was held back from the rest of the first wave to avoid spoilers: Yoda. I picked this guy up as soon as I saw him. He’s tiny, but features some nice accessories to increase value for money. Unfortunately, his gimer stick is long gone and will need to be replaced.

I think that’s enough on this wave (of sorts) for now: this will have to be a two-parter. We’ll reconvene with the rest of the figures from The Empire Strikes Back soon.

Bonus photos:

  • Luke carrying Yoda in the backpack from the Survival Kit mail away.
  • Is this a variation? Hoth Rebel Soldiers with different chest insignia.
  • Original vs replacement Leia Organa (Bespin Gown), showing turtle neck variation.

The Best of 2021

That title seems like a bit of misnomer, doesn’t it? “The Best of 2021“. Following the unprecedented nonsense of 2020, last year we were all anticipating returning to normal, or as close as possible. Small victories were made during that time, but here we are again: a pandemic that seems to loom ever worse; the threat of lockdown and restrictions still a possibility; working from home if you can; vaccination after vaccination; and the same bumbling charlatans in charge of it all.

Hopefully it will all get better. It can’t get much worse (at least in terms of the virus, the post apocalyptic hell of Brexit is still to be reckoned with).

During 2021, Platinum Al’s Virtual Hot Tub still aimed to entertain and inform. Sometimes we made it, sometimes we ballsed it up. But much of the blog content shone through regardless.

In the spirit of sharing success – and smiling in the face of adversity – here are the blog posts from 2021 that were most successful, in terms of views.

10. The Halloween Horror Fest Don’t Die

Halloween Horror Fest was another October highlight this year; this review featured The Dead Don’t Die and Hammer’s The Mummy.

9. Platinum Al’s Top 10 Rock & Metal Albums of 2020

My other gig is writing reviews for Ever Metal – many of my reviews cropped up on this 2020 album list of favourites.

8. The Plague of Halloween Horror Fest

The last mini horror mvie reviews of 2021 featured The Plague of the Zombies and The Crow.

7. Bucket of Halloween Horror Fest

Another Hammer classic, with this review of The Gorgon.

6. Ryuko Interview

Published back in January 2021, this interview with alt rock band Ryuko at last years Pentre Fest originally appeared on Ever Metal, before it graced the Virtual Hot Tub.

5. Sci-Fi Weekender – Back to the Future

SFW was sadly destroyed like Alderaan due to the pandemic – but I dug up a few unseen pics from previous years to ease the pain.

4. Liverpool Comic Con 2021

As the year progressed and we appeared to be making a tentative return to events, I filed this report from Comic Con in Liverpool.

3. How Do Fossils Form? by Eloise Jones

The third most popular blog of the year was written by my super talented daughter. I might just hand the whole thing over to her…

2. Hawarden Limerick

A silly limerick about a local village, it proved popular for some bizarre reason.

And the number one, most popular blog of the year was…

  1. Millennium Falcon – The Greatest Toy Ever

Photos and memories of my vintage Star Wars Millennium Falcon toy, I think this blog is a justified winner! A fantastic toy and something I’m very proud of.

With a lack of events again in 2021, it’s no surprise that other blog subjects rose to prominence. Maybe the escapism of movie and toy reviews appealed to our audience this troublesome year.

We don’t know what will happen in 2022. Fingers crossed, the future looks brighter. But rest assured, Platinum Al’s Virtual Hot Tub will be here for you. If you need a friend, or just some heavy metal reviews and photos of old toys, we’re never far away.

Millennium Falcon – the Greatest Toy Ever

“You’ve never heard of the Millennium Falcon? It’s the ship that made the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs.”

Was it Christmas 1980 or 1981? Whichever it was, it was the best Christmas present ever. After months and months of making a pretend Millennium Falcon out of cardboard tissue boxes, I was suddenly the owner of an actual Falcon. Han Solo’s super fast, hunk of junk smuggler’s freighter was mine, to recreate all the fun of the films.

The Millennium Falcon was the coolest space ship ever. The ship was a central part of the action in Star Wars, almost a character in itself – unreliable, temperamental, heroic. It was the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy and full of surprises – as was the toy.

We already had an X-Wing for Luke, a TIE fighter and landspeeder to play out our memories of the movie scenes (remember: no VCR in those days, kids!). But the Falcon seemed unattainable – surely Kenner/Palitoy wouldn’t be able to make a ship that big, to fit the figures inside?

And then they did. And I got one for Christmas: it was straight out the box, built up and stickers put on by my Dad, and I was ready to go. I still remember that morning now, after weeks of anticipation, hoping that I’d be lucky enough to be rewarded with this toy on the big day.

Kenner (or Palitoy, the UK manufacturer, in my case) delivered a toy that had all the magic of the film. Yes, you could put figures inside it: Han and Chewie could fit in the cockpit. There was a laser gun turret to shoot enemy fighters. A holo chess table to play (“It’s not wise to upset a Wookiee.”). A remote for lightsaber practice and a hidden smuggling compartment to hide from the Empire. It made a buzzing laser gun sound and had retractable landing gear.

The ship looked fantastic on the outside, lots of random detail just like the model in the film. This Millennium Falcon was a toy, but it appeared so accurate it might have been an actual prop from Industrial Light and Magic. That’s how I felt about it, anyway.

Photos here are of my original Millennium Falcon, still with all parts and in the box, which I gratefully received that Christmas morning. After years of play, it’s still all there: a little beat up, a little dirty – just like the “real” thing. As a kid, I liked to make it look more authentic with a good layer of dust and some discolouration: not sure that was a good idea, now.

But what a toy! Literally hours and hours of play value, recreating scenes or imagining my own sequels. An absolute joy.

It was great fun digging out this old piece of junk. I had a blast taking the photos, hope you enjoy them. And remember: “She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts, kid.”

Part 2 soon!

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

I can’t remember when I was first aware of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but as a big comic book reader in the 1980s it was kind of inevitable that we’d cross paths.  Cleverly playing with some popular comic tropes, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird created a pop culture phenomenon almost by accident.

I do remember the Ninja Turtles and their creators getting a shout out in the “thank you” list of the “Among the Living” album by thrash metal kings Anthrax.  The book seemed quirky and original, it’s popularity boosted with a reputation for genuinely great writing and art.

Next came the cartoon, a couple of years later.  This was the turtles tidied up for a younger audience and it became a massive hit.  I was about 17 at the time (!), but enjoyed watching the cartoon occasionally as a bit of tongue in cheek fun.  I was being ironic, honest.

The toys that were made at the time were very cool; for the era they seemed very well designed and super detailed.  I was far too old for the action figures, but secretly coveted them from afar.

Eventually I picked up the figure of my favourite turtle, Michaelangelo.  He must have been on sale somewhere post turtles craze,’cos this would’ve been in my student days and thus, extremely poor.  He was a perfect ironic, “look how wacky I am” student possession.

Sadly, Mikey disappeared – I know not where – and once again, I was completely turtle-less.

Until a couple of years ago, when taking my daughter on one of her last trips to Toys R Us, before it closed for good.  They had on sale re-issued turtles, exactly like the old versions I loved, and they were cheap (ish).

I replaced Michaelangelo there and then, and over the next few days was so eager to complete a collection of all four turtles that I returned to buy others.  With a little bit of toy spotting help from my old pal Adam, I was soon in business with a full team of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

At the moment, I only have the full group of Leonardo, Donatello, Michaelangelo and Raphael.  It would be great to have Splinter, Shredder and more one day, but I doubt they’ll turn up cheap.

The four turtles are great figures, nicely stylised and featuring great detail.  And awesome weapons.

All four are still Mint in Box.  How long can I resist the urge to release the guys from their blister pack prisons?  Surely one night I’ll have had a little bit too much to drink, and decide to tear that plastic from the backing card…

What do you think readers?  Should the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles stay in their boxes, or should I open them up?

The Greatest Carboot Sale Find… Ever

Carboot sales can be hit and miss, to say the least.  Not that I go very often – I’m certainly no bootsale buccaneer, sailing the seas of junk.  Every now and again, I pay a visit and keep my fingers crossed for a bargain.

So I was stoked to find something amazing on a recent excursion – something I’ve wanted for nearly forty years.

If you’ve read my previous post about my Smurf figurine collection, you will know that I’ve always wanted a Smurf house as well.  I’ve always had a dream of having a tiny Smurf village full of the little blue fellas.

And what do you know?  I found this house at a carboot sale recently, complete with seven figures, for a tenner.  I didn’t even haggle (not my strongest skill, anyway) – I just parted with the cash and embraced a lifelong ambition – to own a Smurf house.

Now bearing in mind that these houses are currently going for over £30 on Amazon, I think I got a good deal.  I could’ve been charged 50p for each Smurf (at least), never mind the house.  So I think this is a real bargain.

After all these years, I am finally the proud owner of my very own Smurf house, and I am very happy indeed.  This is, without doubt, the greatest carboot sale find ever.

Ewok Village Playset

I have a lot of Star Wars toys.  Not everything, but a lot of stuff.  Most of it was collected when the toys were originally released, back when I was a kid.  Luckily, I’ve kept them all, and since the late nineties I’ve sporadically added to the collection.

The Ewok Village Playset was a toy I never owned as a kid.  Released as part of the Return of the Jedi toy line, it’s a large and feature packed set that provides a perfect home for your cuddly-yet-vicious little Empire destroyers.

There’s a fire for roasting Han Solo; a net for capturing rebels; a throne for C-3PO; an elevator for lifting figures up – and a secret escape chute for them to escape down.  All of these neat play features and more; plus it makes a cool diorama for displaying your ROTJ action figures.

When I got into collecting Star Wars toys again in the late 90s, the Ewok Village was on my list of “wants”.  I tracked this example down to a toy shop in Manchester and picked it up for £60, if I remember correctly.

I don’t think that shop is still there now.  Or at least, I’ve not found it on subsequent visits.  It seems to have vanished mysteriously into thin air…

Although opened, this Ewok Village was complete in box, with all the bits packed inside in little baggies.  It’s easy to assemble – before long you can start to recreate some moments from the film.

And that’s exactly what I wanted to do here, with this series of photos: showcase some of my figures from the original line, as they appear in the film.  I decided against doing a further photo session with more modern figures due to time!

There are two scenes recreated here.  Firstly, the Rebels held captive by the Ewoks, whilst 3PO sits on his wooden throne.  Han is held above the fire, about to make a tasty celebratory meal.  The others are gathered (not tethered to wooden poles as in the film, as nothing like that exists for these toys) as they attempt to persuade their way out of the situation.

Unfortunately, a figure of Leia in her Ewok robes was never made for the original line, so she’s not present.  Maybe I will have to create this again with the later figures after all, as that the Princess in that outfit was made later on.  But hey, I’m not aiming for 100% screen accuracy here, just the best I can with what I have available.

I love ensemble scenes using action figures, so another I wanted to recreate was the end of the film.  The Empire has been destroyed, the Galaxy is free: the Rebels celebrate their victory with their short, furry allies and all looks good for the future.

The ghosts of Obi-Wan, Yoda and Anakin are represented by their vintage figures, plus the main heroes are joined in their rejoicing with numerous members of the Rebel Alliance on Endor.

Ensemble scenes like this are my favourites in the movie, because it’s fun to spot random characters and details that were dropped into the film.  This is the sort of thing that creates the rich diversity of Star Wars, and what constantly intrigues me.  So, it’s nice to try to create something with toys that aims for as wide a scope.

So here are the two scenes: reasonably screen accurate, but not shackled to that original image.  I did the best I could, and it was great fun.

One big mistake?  Yes, I forgot to take a photo of the box the Ewok Village came in.  Never mind, you can Google that, should you need to.

May the Force be with you!

Masters of the Universe Toys – Part 2

Recently at Platinum Al’s Virtual Hot Tub, I shared some photos of my Masters of the Universe toys.  Last time, we looked at the Heroic Warriors – He-Man and his good guy buddies.  This time, it’s time for the Evil Warriors to take a bow…  Yes, Skeletor and his evil henchmen!

For some reason or other, I only had a few bad guys when I was a kid.  That’s a bit odd, as in many ways the evil dudes are better designed and possess more interesting features.

The collection began with He-Man’s arch nemesis, the one and only Skeletor.  You remember him from the cartoon, right?  I still have the action figure from when he was first released, complete with power sword and staff.  Skeletor is such a classic creation and a pretty rad figure.

Skeletor’s two original aides, Beast Man and Mer-Man, were never part of my collection first time around.  I’ve added them to the group over the years from Comic Cons and collector fairs.  Both are in nice but not mint condition – however they’re absolute must-haves for any gang of villainous Eternia marauders.

Two other bad guys I did have as a kid were Trap Jaw and Tri-Klops.  Both of these characters are really cool concepts with great play features.

Trap Jaw, as well as having his movable jaw, also came with three accessories to place in his arm socket – a hook, a pincer and a gun.  Sadly, only my gun accessory remains – the other two mysteriously disappeared.  I replaced the pincer with one purchased from  eBay, but the hook eludes me.  Awesome toy, regardless.

Tri-Klops I owned as kid, but like Battle Cat (see previous blog) and Trap Jaw’s weapons, he went AWOL.  Bloody loft insulation workers, I say.  A few years back I replaced him with a pretty good quality eBay purchase, complete with sword.  This figure has a revolving helmet, so Tri-Klops can “see” out of different eyes!

Up next is Evil-Lyn: despite being little more than a re-paint of the Teela figure, this wicked witch is actually an interesting character.  No staff with her, as Evil-Lyn is a 21st centruy purchase.

Following Evil-Lyn we have another trio of bad guys – Jitsu, Whiplash and Clawful.  None of these three are complete with weapons as they’re second hand purchases.  In fact, Jitsu is also lacking his chest armour.  Great figures though: Clawful in particular is an ingenious, gruesome design.

Finally, the last picture features a further frightful foursome: Two Bad, Leech, Spikor and Kobra Khan.  No weapons, but a fun bunch of motley misfits with some wacky play features.  Kobra Khan fires water from his head!  Leech sticks to stuff!  Spikor is Spiky!  And Two Bad can punch himself in the face!

A wonderful bunch of toys that bring back happy memories.  Hours of fun can still be had battling Skeletor and his lackeys against He-Man and the heroic warriors.

However, a big gap in my collection is Faker – the evil blue He-Man clone.  Another example of Mattel re-colouring existing models, but I want him badly.  Know where I can get one?  Please let me know!