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.

Millennium Falcon – Part 2

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.

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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!

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?!

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 1

By the power of Grayskull!

Masters of the Universe exploded into popular culture – and my young, impressionable mind – to become one of the greatest toy lines of all time.  The characters and mythology of Eternia – built through toys, comics and an unforgettable cartoon series – has become a classic of popular culture.

The genesis of these toys has been documented elsewhere: I can thoroughly recommend the excellent documentary “The Power of Grayskull”, which you can watch on Netflix.

So here, I’ll take the opportunity to reminisce about the MOTU toys that I have in my collection – most of which have been with me since they were first released.

Prepare for full on, raw and dirty NERD MODE.

Let’s make things a little easier, and focus on just one selection of MOTU figures for now – the Heroic Warriors.

It all began with my purchase of the lead character: He-Man.  He looked so cool, very detailed for the time and a totally new size and type of design.  I was a dedicated Star Wars collector as a kid, so decided I’d buy just one MOTU figure, and that would be He-Man, of course.

But things never work out that way, and the main man would soon be followed by many friends and enemies.

The He-Man figure shown here is my original from the early eighties, complete with weapons (axe not shown) and in pretty good nick.

I never got any of the toy lines vehicles or playsets.  But I did buy He-Man’s trusty comrade, Battle Cat.  My young mind was blown by a hero who rode around on a giant green tiger!

The Battle Cat in the picture is not my original.  That one mysteriously went AWOL whilst these toys were stored in my parents’ loft.  This is a decent replacement that I picked up on eBay for an affordable price.

There are still no suspects for the theft of my original toy(s), other than the blokes who fitted some flooring in their loft a few years back.  Bastards.

Anyway, I mentioned He-Man’s buddies – and in the next pic you can see some of the earliest heroic figures to join He-Man’s quest.  Here we have Man-At-Arms, another original and complete.

There’s also Teela, who is complete though I forgot to photo her with accessories.  Teela was actually my sisters figure, who has found a home in my collection (sorry, Sian).

The next photo of Heroic Warriors includes Man-E-Faces, Ram Man, Zodac and Orko.

Zodac was the earliest release of these, though I only bought him recently (2019) at a Comic Con.  To be honest, I thought I already had him.  Zodac is only in fair condition; he’s a bit grubby and has no weapon.

I loved Man-E-Faces as soon as I saw him – a mild mannered actor, he was cursed by Skeletor to become a monster or robot at random.  Or something like that, anyway.  Turning the button on his head revolved Man-E-Faces to one of the three less desirable versions of himself.  Great character with loads of playability!  Bought him when he came out.

Ram Man was very familiar to viewers of the cartoon as he appeared regularly.  Portrayed as a non-PC in the modern age dimwit, he never the less had power as well as comedy value.  The figure came with a spring loaded leg feature to enable Ram Man to become a human battering ram.  Another I’ve owned since the dawn of time.

Orko was a figure I picked up much later, only a few years ago.  As the comedy side kick of He-man, and one of the major recurring characters in the cartoon, Orko was a necessary purchase – but one I didn’t get round to back in the eighties.

Finally, the remaining heroic characters in my collection are all ones I’ve purchased in later years – Moss Man, Sy-Klone, Fisto and Buzz Off.  I picked them up cheap and added them to my collection.

Whilst Buzz Off and Fisto are decent figures, Moss Man takes the Mattel staple of re-using existing parts to a new low: he’s just Beast Man painted green and given a furry flock effect.

There is one more pic: I couldn’t forget Prince Adam, could I?  My Adam figure was bought in more modern times, I never had him as a kid.  Unfortunately he’s missing his attractive waistcoat, but never mind – you can’t really re-enact the MOTU cartoon without this guy, can you?

Plus, removing Battle Cat’s armour gives us his fearless friend, Cringer!

Not a bad collection of Heroic Warriors – though the biggest gap is Stratos, who I thought I actually owned till I did a stock take recently.  I’ll keep an eye out for him…

I still love these toys, and they’re still played with – my daughter and I have been known to have a battle or two.

Next time, I’ll share pictures of the Evil Warriors – including everyone’s favourite skull faced villain, Skeletor!

Smurfs

How did the Smurf fascination begin?  I remember being a little kid in the late 70s and everyone in my class loving the “The Smurf Song” by Father Abraham and the Smurfs.  We were little and I guess we thought they were cute.

Then a couple of years later, on a family holiday in West Wales, I got one of the promotional Smurf figures from a petrol station.  It was the artist smurf.  I chose him because, even though he was a painter, I liked art.

I may have never bought another Smurf at all, after that first one, except that he got chewed up by our dog.  So I went to buy a replacement but couldn’t find the same one, and bought another.  So the collection began…

Smurfs became another one of the toys that would get played with, amongst me and my friends.  Some of the other kids had smurfs too, so we could put them all together and create little stories.  I have loads of fond memories of playing with them, outdoors on warm summer days.

Of course, there was the Hanna-Barbera cartoon too, which kept interest rolling along. 

Over time, I picked up more smurfs to add to the collection.  On holidays, sometimes a souvenir would be a Star Wars figure; other times a smurf or a comic book.  I remember my Gran always used to buy my sister and I a smurf when we went shopping with her.

Occasionally, I’ll find a character that I don’t already have at a toy collector fair or Comic Con.  Maybe even a carboot sale.  It’s still fun to find a new one to add to the collection.

I think the attraction of smurfs was the variety; like may other things I’ve collected, it’s fun to have a diverse collection of different characters.  I used to draw designs for my own Smurfs when I was a kid, too – just the same way as I designed my own superheroes.

Anyway, you can see here most of my collection (and some of my sister’s that I have for “safe keeping”).  Some of the classic characters, like Papa Smurf, Smurfette, Brainy – even Gargamel and his cat, Azrael.

Some of my favourites are the Clown, which is really detailed.  Plus of course the Skateboarder, which I’m really proud of.  I bought him before I’d ever stepped on a skateboard, so I have a real fondness for that one.

There’s loads of others out there, and I’d really love a smurf house for them.  Or several houses, to make a smurf village!  Unlikely that’ll ever happen.

That “Smurf Song” found it’s way into my burgeoning vinyl collection a while ago.  I did eventually replace the artist smurf, too.  Still got my first one, though, mangled and chewed up though he may be.

Dedicated to my great childhood friend Brendan O’Neil, who inspired my imagination all those years ago.  RIP.

Micronauts

Micronauts were originally cool Japanese toys that were picked up in the USA and then in the UK too, where they were marketed by Airfix.  A fantastically designed selection of sci-fi toys in the late seventies, Micronauts were endlessly playable and very cool.

There seemed to be loads of different variations, all intriguing and very desirable.  The premise was that the toys were interchangeable; they could be built and re-built into numerous designs.  In this way Micronauts toys inspired imaginations and creativity.

The first Micronaut toy I ever had was a Time Traveller, who was the basic start off figure.  I later found out that there dozens of similar characters – such as Space Glider and Acroyear – that were also available.

At times it seems as though the Micronaut toys were infinite in number, though I don’t remember that much being available in toy stores.

As a keen Star Wars fan, my collecting was focused on the Kenner line of action figures back in those days.  However Star Wars would help consolidate my fascination with Micronauts, too.

Mobile Exploration Lab – note Time Traveller figure

Marvel comics in the US picked up the Micronauts property and started creating stories featuring characters based on the toys.

In turn, this series started to appear as a back up strip in the weekly black and white Star Wars reprint comic, published by Marvel UK.  With engaging stories by Bill Mantlo and wonderful art courtesy of Michael Golden, I was instantly smitten with these tiny heroes.  The Micronauts became an instant comic favourite, and soon I’d manage to pick up the American colour comics when and where I could.

The unique idea with Marvel’s Micronauts was that when they emerged from their home, the Microverse, onto Earth, they were still only small.  The team of heroes are, in a novel twist, the size of action figures.  They interact with numerous Marvel superhero characters in their fight against the evil Baron Karza.

Unfortunately Marvel no longer have the property rights, so we’re unlikely to see the Micronauts appear in a movie.  Which is a shame – they would be awesome as guest stars in Guardians of the Galaxy.

Maybe, with Disney’s financial backing, that could change.  Some characters were derived specifically by Marvel, rather than the toy line, so there’s some possibility there…

Enjoy my (limited) collection of Micronauts toys.  For more information on all things Micronauts, check out this site.

Tat Trek Update #7: Dancing King

Let me begin this blog post by stating that I am a big fan of Elvis Presley.  Despite the fact that this particular piece of paraphernalia appears in the Tat section at Platinum Al’s Virtual Hot Tub, please be under no misapprehension that this is a slight on the King of Rock’n’Roll.

So what have we this time in the collection de tat? 

ITEM: “Dancing King” Solar Powered figurine

Description: a small solar powered figure, labelled as the “Dancing King”, but we all know it’s Elvis.

Cost: £1.50 (currently retailing approx. £2.99 in Rhyl)

Bought: Connah’s Quay car boot sale

Reason for buying: It’s Elvis!

The Dancing King is a small Elvis like figurine, who shakes/dances when powered by sunlight.  It’s not exactly Elvis the Pelvis, but it is a pretty cool little wiggle.

I already had a solar powered dancing Hula Girl, who sits on my car dashboard, when I discovered this little trophy.  I bought one for a friend for a Christmas present last year, whilst in tat haven of Rhyl.  I then decided I needed one too.

Luckily, I found this fella in a car boot sale earlier this year.  He was snapped up immediately.

I decided to post this piece today, on the 40th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death, as a tribute to the great man.  Yes, it’s fun, but no offence meant.  Elvis rules.

RIP Elvis Presley 

08.01.1935 – 16.08.1977