Death Star Playset

On a recent Saturday afternoon, I spent some fantastic quality time with my nine year old daughter.  Together we enjoyed playing with Star Wars figures, in this case some of those from my vintage collection.

I also dug out my Death Star playset, and we set about playing scenes from the film.

Or at least I did, she was more interested in making her own stories up.  Why won’t anyone sensibly recreate the movie with me?  Ever?!  Ah well, at least she had fun.

Now, your Highness, we will discuss the location of hidden Rebel Base…

Perhaps she would respond to an alternative form of persuasion?

All of my Star Wars toy collection means a lot to me, but there are a few items I have that I’m really proud of – and stoked to own.  This Death Star Playset is one of the outstanding pieces in the collection.

It’s made from cardboard sections that slot together, creating a number of rooms in which to recreate scenes from the film.  Rescue Princess Leia and escape via the garbage chute?  No problem.  Have Han Solo chase a squad of stormtroopers into a dead end?  Easily accomplished.

It was bought second hand – along with a few other playsets – back in the early 80s, when I was about 10.  Someone advertised them for sale in the local paper, and my Dad bought them for me.  I was very happy as I’d wanted this playset (and the others) for a long time.  I think the lot cost about £20 at the time, which is a pretty good price.

The Death Star on it’s own is probably worth a lot more than that now.  Although it’s not in mint condition – the box is pretty beaten up (always was) and there are a few tears here and there, as you can see in the photos.  In the USA, they had a plastic Death Star, and this Palitoy UK cardboard version is quite sought after over there.

It was fantastic fun, bringing back a lot of great memories.  I enjoyed setting the figures up and recreating little scenes from the film. The cell block fight and the trash compactor were great, in particular.

Recreating mini versions of the film with my figures was always a major goal for me – still is!  With this playset that aim became much more attainable.  When I was a kid, I only had two stormtroopers and one Death Squad Commander, so my Death Star looked a little empty.  Over the years I’ve added a few troops to the collection (very cheaply) and now the whole set up looks much more impressive.

The main reason I’d dug the Death Star out was to place my new “retro style” Grand Moff Tarkin figure in there.  I got him for Christmas along with the Escape the Death Star board game.  Tarkin was never made for the action figure line originally, and he was a glaring absence when trying to recreate the movie.

However, I didn’t realise that my new Tarkin was sealed on a card inside the board game box.  I didn’t dare open him.  So the Death Star is still not quite finished.

Should I have just opened Tarkin anyway?!

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!

MCM Birmingham Comic Con 2017 – Part 1

NEC Birmingham

18/19 November 2017

And yes, it’s a long awaited return to the fantastic Comic Con that is MCM Birmingham!  Held every March and November at the NEC, this event is huge – and one of my favourites.  All Comic Cons are fun, but MCM Birmingham has a feel and flavour all of it’s own.

Part of that reputation is down to the pure spectacle of size.  The events halls in the NEC that house this function are truly huge – like aircraft hangers.  They seem big enough to hold the S.H.I.E.L.D. Heli-carrier, never mind an Avengers quinjet.

But the main reason that MCM Birmingham is so much fun is the people – specifically, the amazing, talented cosplayers that travel from far and wide to show their genius costumes.

Whether it’s little kids in store-bought superhero outfits or full fledged cosplay supremos spending months perfecting their craft, the whole extravaganza is awesome.

When you add in the myriad replica film props, models and paraphernalia, it all adds up to a thrilling day out.

The scale of this event seems to ramp up every time I visit it.  There a vast number of stalls, as previous, selling all manner of items.  This years hot pieces appeared to be pocket watches (want) and Funko Pops.

I resisted the joy of Funkos for a long time.  Now I wish I hadn’t, as I’ve missed several that I would’ve loved.  I started collecting them earlier this year, have a few cool ones, and want so many more.  Funko Pops seemed to be everywhere at this years Comic Con.  Which makes me happy.

There were also loads of interesting guests to meet, though due to budgetary issues I didn’t get any autographs this time.  In particular, I wanted to add the signature of Pauline Peart, who appeared in The Satanic Rites of Dracula, to my Hammer Glamour book.

Never mind, hopefully we’ll cross paths again.

We arrived early at the event, having early bird tickets.  This allowed us early entry, and it was a little quieter to begin with.

It was also a bit quieter on the Cosplay front till later that morning.  I guess that makes sense; if you’re a cosplay afficianado, you’re more likely to be perfecting your stunning costume rather than getting in line early doors.

 

So it was a bit slow on the photo front at first, things soon got going though!  There were costumed characters of every possible description literally all over the place by midday.  I got some great pictures of as many as I could – you can see the results on this page.

As I always state, I’m by no means a professional photographer.  Luckily the camera seemed to be on form on this day (not sure I was) so I captured some pretty good images.

The results are to the credit of the cosplay enthusiasts however, not any photographic skills on my part.  My thanks to everyone of you that posed graciously for me, I hope these photos do some justice to your creative skills.  All of you were friendly and enthusiastic, my respect to you all.

And with that, we’ll conclude part 1 of this MCM Birmingham blog.  Part 2 soon – with more photos – plus anything else I can remember about the day!

Star Wars Figures – the First 12

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Star Wars Figures – the First 12

I’m lucky to be old enough to have seen the first Star Wars film – Episode IV: A New Hope as it’s now known – back when it was first released.  I was five years old and the film was a sensation with everyone I knew in school.  It’s very hard to explain just how big a deal Star Wars was to us back then: absolutely everyone was captivated by it, and I was no exception.

Back then, we were a good few years away from video players and there was no way to view the film repeatedly.  There were stories of teenagers who saw the film twenty times at the cinema, but that wasn’t going to work for a tiny kid my age.

So other than the Marvel UK comic, the only way to relive the movie that I loved was with Kenner Star Wars figures. img_5012

I can remember first seeing the toys and being fascinated by them.  They looked really cool – we’d never really had action figures of this size, and straight out of a movie, like this before.  I was desperate to get R2-D2.  Just R2, if I couldn’t get any of the others.

After a long while I managed to persuade my parents to buy me an R2-D2 toy.  I can still recall seeing the figure, on the card, in the shop window.  There was a cycle and toy shop on the high street in Connah’s Quay in those days, known to us as the Bike Stores, which was the place to get your fix of 1970’s toy goodness. img_5013

So I got R2 and I was set.  Except it didn’t stop there.  I started collecting all the figures, and as many of the spaceships and playsets as I could, over the years.  Star Wars figures became an obsession that I still have today.

I can still remember how and when I acquired these toys, for the most part.  I remember R2 was first, I chose him as he was my favourite character.  Then I got Chewbacca from the same shop some time later, and eventually Luke from a shop in Flint.

Photos here are of the first twelve figures released from the film.  In the UK, they were all produced by Palitoy, rather than Kenner. And yes, I had them all on cards and opened them up to play with them.  Most of the figures on these photos are the original ones I collected in the late 70’s to early 80’s.  Some are replacements I bought around twenty years ago, so I could have better quality examples in my collection.

Unfortunately, my first R2-D2 figure got a bit wrecked.  There was a story in the aforementioned comic about the heroes being trapped on a water world.  So I took them all in the bath with me.  The detail on R2 was made from a paper sticker, which surprisingly (to five year old me) came off.  Luckily my friend Brendan later gave me his R2 and C3PO, shown here.  I repaired my R2 with a home made sticker, and gave this one a different colour so he could be a different droid.

Luke is a replacement I picked up in the late 90’s.  I bought Leia as the line was coming to an end in the mid 80’s, to replace my sisters battered version, so I’d have a good quality figure of my own.

Chewie still looks pretty good, and I still have his bowcaster all these years later.  There are two versions of Han Solo shown.  The “big head” version is mine from the late 70’s, the small head I picked up years later so I would have the variation.  The big head is my favourite of the two!

I’m not really a collector of variations, but I’ve also got two different hair colour Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi figures on show here.

Finally, I didn’t have this many stormtroopers when I was a kid.  I could only dream about having a whole squad!  I’ve picked the others up occasionally over the years at carboot sales and so on.  You always need troops!

Thanks Brendan O’Neil for R2-D2 and C3PO, and hours of playing Star Wars figures. img_5020

Sci Fi Weekender 2016 – part 2

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Phoenix

Sci Fi Weekender 17th – 20th March 2016

Hafan Y Mor Holiday Park, Pwllheli

Day 2 at SFW, and again it’s all a blur.  I recall it was a lazy start to the day for me, breakfast and chilling in the caravan.  Kurt was feeling better, but Greeny was starting to suffer with the illness.  It would be mostly be another day of watching Star Trek, Big Bang Theory and Top Gear for those two.

Adam had got up early and made it to see a showing of a new independent film called Pandorica.  Classed as an action-horror, reports about the film were very enthusiastic.  The Q&A with Director and cast was my first event of the day – it was interesting although I’d not seen the film!  Definitely one to keep and eye out for: word of mouth was very positive.

The highlight of the afternoon was, undoubtedly, an appearance by the incomparable Brian Blessed.  Larger than life and twice as loud, Blessed’s sci-fi credentials are suitably top notch.  A life long fan of science fiction, as well in starring in numerous genre pieces – you may have heard of Flash Gordon – his enthusiasm was both apparent and infectious.

Professor Elemental hosted the Q&A with Brian Blessed, who wisely let the great man get on and tell his tales!  A solid job from the Professor – a daunting task well executed.

Blessed’s talk ranged from his acting work to his many explorations and mountaineering adventures.  His recollections of the Flash Gordon movie, and it’s well deserved appreciation by audiences the world over, were affectionately told.  An unmissable audience with a real living legend.

In the afternoon I took some photos and looked around the stalls again.  Unfortunately, this years SFW again clashed with MCM Memorabilia in Birmingham, so genre based merchandise was thin on the ground.  I picked up some cool Elvira cocktail glasses though!

A good feature this year was the retro gaming section, where numerous old consoles could be played for free.  This was very popular, and although I don’t play video games it meant I always knew where to find my crew if we split up.  They were always playing games…

Every year at SFW, the Cosplay final is something to behold.  There’s always a sense of excitement in the air, as the costumed competitors take the stage.  And every year, the audience and competitors are enthusiastic and good natured.  Everyone cheers for each other, and there’s a real sense of community.  It’s nice to witness all the attendees rooting for each other; even though there will always be favourites, there is no bitterness.

The costumes were exceptional, as you can see (hopefully) from the photos here.  Not everyone entered the competition, but there were so many great costumes whether they were entering or just dressing up for fun.  Massive respect to everyone.

I find it great fun spotting and naming the characters.  The variety and imagination on show is consistently astounding, not to mention the talent that goes into making the costumes.  So again, thanks to all the Cosplayers for letting me take your photos.  Too many of my pics didn’t work out.  I also missed far too may opportunities.  But I hope that the photos here capture some of the creativity I witnessed.

And I sincerely apologise for not dressing up!  I lost count of the number of people who chastised me (with good humour, of course) for not dressing as Tony Stark…

Anyway, there can only be one winner of the Cosplay final, and that was the Robot Overlord fellow.  I can’t remember the character’s name, but I swear it was truly incredible!

Later on in the evening, I zoomed over to the Prog Rock area to catch some music.  I was very happy to catch the Focus set; the song “Hocus Pocus” was an obvious highlight.  I only saw a couple of songs by Ian Anderson (of Jethro Tull fame) – though they were impressive – before heading back to the spaceport.

For the rest of the evening, my compadre, Ste and myself had a few beers and hung around with various SFW attendees.  We saw some old pals and met a few new ones.  I took more photos – including the now traditional “no photos” social media-proof shades pics.  And we managed to stay up partying till after 2 in the morning!

Not such a good thing going home Sunday…

Still, another great time at Sci Fi Weekender.  And yes, Greeny and Kurt got better, thanks for asking.

If you were there, it was good to see you.  Hopefully we’ll see you next year.

And big thanks to Adam, who organised the whole thing for us!

The Sci Fi Weekender site is here.

The HRH Prog site is here.

PS: There are photos left unpublished, so there will be Bonus Scenes in a few weeks.  Be warned!

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Cosplay winner!

The Return of Wales Comic Con 2015

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Wales Comic Con – Sunday 29th November 2015

Glyndwr University, Wrexham

Back in April, my family and I attended the first Wales Comic Con of the year, held at Glyndwr University in Wrexham.  However just one day was not enough – November saw a second event in a similar vein.

So that meant star guests signing, merch for sale and dozens of cosplayers – all gathered together for a fun day.  Whatever you’re fan of, from the realms of film, television or comic books; be it sci-fi, fantasy, or other genre – there was something there for everyone.

At the previous event, we were lucky to have some stunning warm weather.  No such luck this time – the rain lashed down and the wind blew mercilessly.  Even for November, this weather wasn’t great.  No matter though, the atmosphere at the event was still every bit as sunny as previous.  Quite surprisingly, everyone’s spirits were high and there was still an air of excitement.

Comic Con was largely about Star Wars for my family, with my daughter Eloise dressed as Princess Leia in classic A New Hope style outfit.  She had a fantastic time having photos taken, and running after stormtroopers trying to shoot them (with a blaster from my collection!).  Meeting Chewbacca was also a highlight.

The costumes were varied and impressive – though due to the weather, lack of time and a technical fault my photos were limited.  Which was a shame as there were many more photos I’d have liked to take.

So another great event at Wrexham, and an excellent afternoon out.  We’ll definitely be back for more next time.

The Wales Comic Con website is here.

Wales Comic Con 2015

Wales Comic Con – 26th April 2015

Glyndwr University, Wrexham

It was an amazing sunny day Wales Comic Con.  The sun was shining and the atmosphere was a winner.  I took my family along to Glyndwr University in Wrexham for an afternoon of Sci-Fi, fantasy and comic books and we had a fantastic time.

As per other conventions I’ve covered at the Virtual Hot Tub, the event was a mix of guests signing and doing Q&As, merchandise for sale, displays and gaming.  A varied menu of entertainments brought out fans galore, and the area was filled with enthusiasts from all over.

No doubt the great weather helped, but there was a tremendously friendly and enthusiastic atmosphere at this event.  My little girl, Eloise, dressed as Anna from Frozen and had a wonderful experience meeting lots of other Disney Princesses.  It was the first time she’s been to an event like this, and I think Eloise is a convert for life.

The Cosplayers were numerous, and their costuming skills very talented.  There were superheroes, Star Wars characters, time travelling doctors – everything you can think of.  I took plenty of photos, as you can see here.  All were happy to have their photographs taken, for which I am very grateful.  So many missed opportunities though!

A real highlight of the day, fo me, was meeting Dath Vader himself – Dave Prowse.  A very amiable chap, I’ve never met Mr Prowse before though I have met several of his Star Wars co-stars.  I got a signed photo  and shook the man’s hand.  A real gent.

My only criticism of the event was that there was little merchandise that appealed to me.  But that’s a very subjective viewpoint and wouldn’t put me off Wales Comic Con in future.

The event appeared to be run very well.  The last time I went, the queues were so long that my buddies and me gave up and went home without getting in.  No problems this year, the convention was busy but with no apparent issues.

Wales Comic Con was awesome fun.  We all had a great day out and will definitely go again.  It’s handy it’s so close to home.  The real success here was that the event kept all of us enthralled, whether it was a four year old Princess or an old Jedi like me.  Top marks.

Wales Comic Con website is here.

Meeting Dave Prowse

Meeting Dave Prowse