Happy New Year! And here we go, full throttle into 2023!
2022 was not an easy year for your old pal, Platinum Al. But the Virtual Hot Tub soldiered on regardless, never giving up despite the odds. NEVER SAY DIE. And in the end, the year 2022 was a successful one for this blog, with site views up approx. 2% on the year before.
Not a massive improvement, I’ll grant you – but I’ll take all the good news I can get. I certainly didn’t expect to finish the year with those stats, just the opposite.
So what were the most successful blog posts on the Virtual Hot tub in 2022? What articles brought in the hordes of avid readers? What did YOU want to read?
Here’s the traditional review of the Top 10 blog posts by number of views. In reverse order, countdown style, of course…
In the number one spot, a visit to Chester’s Comic Con! A summer afternoon, loads of merch and dozens of cool cosplayers made this article the most successful of the year!
Events back on the menu has, unsurprisingly, dominated the results this year. They were all great fun, and well worth the visit. In contrast to the results from last year, where events were (understandably) under represented.
It’s also gratifying to see some skateboards and toys being appreciated, too.
This year, we look to return to a “new normal” in our post pandemic world. But with a Cost of Living Crisis, Brexit still unleashing it’s mayhem, and the same gang of inept cowards and liars in charge, we still have plenty of obstacles ahead.
Never the less, we at Platinum Al’s Virtual Hot Tub remain vigilant – bringing you the best entertainment. Thanks for being with us in 2022. Stay tuned for ever more greatness in 2023!
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…
Leia and Hoth troops
General Veers – prepare you men for ground assault!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Following from my recent post featuring my original 1980 Millennium Falcon toy, here’s part two as promised – looking at the revived, reissued version from 1995…
Star Wars toys blasted back to life in the mid-90s, after a decade of inactivity. By that point, I had recently graduated from University and had landed a dream job – working in Toys R Us. It was a stop gap, but I’d always wanted to work in a toy shop. As it transpired, although being an underachiever and not exactly proud of it, I was perfectly situated for the start of the Star Wars toy revival.
Despite grave concerns about some of the new figures (“Why are they so muscular?!”), the new Power of the Force 2 line did feature a lot more detail than their original counterparts. Take, for instance, the new R2D2, who now had sculpted details (and a third leg) instead of just a sticker*.
When the new Millennium Falcon arrived, it was pretty much the same intricate outer that we’d seen with it’s predecessor, but now there was more detail than ever. For a start, the outer had a much better, random and faded darker colours to give it that authentic used-Universe look, and blue (rather than red) engine exhausts.
Inside, there was a more movie accurate background card in the cargo hold, and the holo chess table had a more faithful decal too.
Most of the old features were intact, such as the laser cannon seat and hidden compartment. The latest version was augmented by movie realistic electronic sound effects, rather than the “buzzer” on the old ship.
The only main issue – which I rediscovered whilst setting up these photos – was, the new macho man figures were just too bulky to fit in the cockpit. That’s why there’s no photo of Han and Chewie flying the piece of junk…
My old 1980 version will always be closest to my heart, but this one is still very cool. The POTF2 Falcon is a fantastic toy: a nice homage to both the previous and the movie versions, plus a big step in updating for the future.
Until, of course, we arrive at the Big Millennium Falcon in 2008. We’ll get to that one another time…
*Disclaimer: I don’t mean to be cruel to the original R2D2 figure, he was my first Star Wars figure and will always be my favourite!
“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.”
Well, that was a mad old year, wasn’t it? 2020 was more like a bizarre disaster movie than the regular fun ride that we’re used to. A pandemic made hermits of us all; working from home became the new normal for many and travel and events ceased to exist. A year from hell for most of us, though it’s far from over yet.
Here at Platinum Al’s Virtual Hot Tub, we’ve aimed to soldier on and bring you the very best in blogging entertainment. Be it music, skateboards, toys or tat, whatever nonsense I could investigate was delivered with all the expected wit and style.
As is customary at this time, let’s take a look back at the top ten most popular blog posts of last year. Calling it “The Best of 2020” seems somewhat incongruous, but let’s roll with it for traditions sake.
There was a distinct lack of live music in 2020 (Obviously), but quite a few album reviews for my old pals at Ever Metal. This review of Swedish doom metal band Firebreather’s album was the most read at the Virtual Hot Tub.
Yes, the most popular was this food blog, which benefitted from a genuine traditional recipe, and an idea to recreate a Greek holiday vibe with ingredients from the local supermarket.
As travel wasn’t happening this year for most of us, perhaps it’s no surprise that the Greek recipe blog came out on top. It was written as an ode to holidays and Mediterranean sunshine, something that wasn’t a possibility for many last year. I hope you found some nostalgic comfort from this post.
Usually my annual Top 10 has featured a load of comic con events – or similar – at the top of the list. Those events didn’t happen this year, so the Top 10 has a very different flavour. Who knows what 2021 will bring us?
Whatever the strange pan-dimensional cross flux of crazy brings us next, I’d like to thank you all for reading my blog. Please remember to pop by Platinum Al’s Virtual Hot Tub as soon as you can!
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.
The Princess? Shes here?
Where are you taking this… thing?
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.
Arent you a little short for a stormtrooper?
Im Luke Skywalker. Im here to rescue you!
Get in there, you big furry oaf!
Shut down all the garbage mashers on the detention level!
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.
Will somebody get this big walking carpet out of my way?
Were in the main hangar, across from the ship
Ive been waiting for you, Obi Wan
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?!
Several fighters have broken off from the main group…
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?
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.