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!

Star Wars Figures – the Next Wave

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

Actually, it was just a few months ago that I wrote a blog about my collection of original Star Wars figures.  Last time I looked at the initial run of 12 figures; this time here’s a piece about the next wave to come along.

I hadn’t managed to collect all of the first twelve before the next batch of figures were released (sadly, this would be a recurring situation in my figure collecting).

After the phenomenal success of the first toys in the Star Wars line, additional figures were introduced to provide fanatics like me with further material for our mini universe.  This development would introduce hours more fun recreating classic scenes from the movie, or indeed inventing your own.

 

Most exciting was the introduction of four creatures from the Mos Eisley cantina – always my favourite scene from all of the movies.  Although in those pre-home video days, I can remember having trouble recalling where some of these characters actually appeared…

Greedo – who was sometimes referred to as “Green Greedo” on some card backs (I always found that a bit daft) was easily recognisable.  Scouring my Star Wars story book revealed an image of Hammerhead, and repeated rewinds when the video finally materialised revealed Snaggletooth too.  Though this was a real challenge when watching the cropped for television version.

Walrus Man was a bit of a mystery, however.  Who was this strange, orange swimsuit wearing individual?  It wasn’t until years later that the chief suspect was confirmed, he was supposed to be the cantina bully who picked on Luke (later named Ponda Baba).

The detail of these aliens was variable – Greedo was, and still is, awesome.  Hammerhead and Snag were also very cool.  Walrus Man, on the other hand… 

No matter, I was a sucker then for obscure alien characters and I probably always will be!

I can clearly remember that the first figure that I got from this set was R5-D4.  He was from the Toy and Hobby shop in Chester.  The last one was Power Droid, who took me ages to find.  I think that figure finally turned up on a family trip to Skegness around 1982.

Death Star Droid was another nice replication, though repeated video viewings revealed that this silver version of the droid was seen on the Jawa Sandcrawler; a shiny black version appeared on the battle station.

Luke in his X-Wing Pilot outfit was the first time a character was re-released in a new outfit.  A great figure, I collected a few over the years to be additional Rebel pilots.  Like a lot of fans, my original Luke X-Wing was often recast as Wedge.

The great thing about this wave of figures was that it added minor character to my collection.  This went a small way towards recreating the world of Star Wars, with its hugely imaginative population of droids and creatures.  Populating my own mini scenes from the film was a major reason I kept collecting.

Finally, I must mention Blue Snaggletooth.  For those not n the know, the blue variation of this character was the first version produced and included in a US Sears exclusive set.  The toy manufacturer, Kenner, had scant resources to refer to (no lower body reference) and so produced a regular height figure, with kitsch silver space boots.  Lucasfilm then decreed that Snag was short and had hairy feet, so the version produced for the mass market was somewhat different.

To my knowledge, the blue variant was never released in the UK; I was unaware that this toy even existed till I started collecting again in the mid 90s.  I found this version in a comic shop in Rhyl, and after some soul searching, spent my savings and snapped him up for £90.  This is the most I have ever spent on a Star Wars figure, even the ultra rare toys were fortuitously bought for a couple of quid whilst still in the shops, years earlier.

I’m so, so glad I got him though!

A nice coincidence: the red Snaggletooth, always a favourite, was bought from a toy shop in Rhyl around 1979.  His blue cousin came from the same town twenty years later.

Never, ever, underestimate the wonder of Rhyl.

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

Wales Comic Con Strikes Back – part 1

Wales Comic Con

Saturday 23rd April to Sunday 24th April 2016

Glyndwr University, Wrexham

It was time for another fun family day out in Wrexham, for Wales Comic Con.  Time to charge up the landspeeder and head over for more sci-fi shenanigans at Glyndwr University

Following on from the success of last year’s events, Wales Comic Con is now spread over a whole weekend.  This was a good move, as there seemed to be less crowds this year  – without losing any of the welcoming spirit.

We headed over on the Sunday, and though the weather wasn’t as amazing as this time last year, it still managed to remain fairly decent.  No matter, there were plenty of things to see and do, both inside and out, at the Con.

Although the guests weren’t of particular interest to me personally, it was nice to see a good amount of celebs in attendance.  The celeb who I was most thrilled to see was none other than Justin Lee Collins, who I didn’t know was there.  Most of the females in the vicinity seemed to be very taken with Jason “Aquaman” Momoa…

The amount of merchandise on sale appeared to be greater than previous, which was a bonus.  We splashed out on a few items, namely a cuddly Harley Quinn doll, a Walking Dead mug and some (delicious) peanut butter fudge.

The highlight, as ever, were the Cosplayers – dressed as all manner of characters from every facet of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror that you could imagine.  Yet again, the ingenuity and creativity on display was astonishing.  I took load of photos, which you can see here.  Despite my best camera having gone to the great Jessops in the sky, they mostly turned out OK.

So a big thank you to everyone who posed for a photo.  Everyone was very friendly and happy to be photographed – they were all super stars!

Speaking of Cosplay, my daughter Eloise was dressed as Princess Leia again and looked fantastic!  Quite a few people commented how great she looked, and asked for her photo!

This was also the first time I tentatively dipped my toes in the water of costuming at an event also.  After having been chided by various people at Sci Fi Weekender for not dressing as Tony Stark, I decided to give it a go.  I wore the same Black Sabbath that Tony wears in the film, and relied on my beard for the rest.  It was OK and a couple of people knew who I was supposed to be.  No one asked for my picture though…

I should also say that the staff seemed to be very helpful and efficient also.

All in all a grand day out for the Platinum Al family.  Looking forward to more later in the year!

The Wales Comic Con website is here.

It turns out that I have loads of half decent photos from Wales Comic Con.  Stay tuned for part 2 soon!

Star Wars Day – X-Wing Fighter Photos

Happy Star Wars Day!

It’s the 4th of May, and to celebrate Star Wars Day I thought I’d share with you some photos of something from my toy collection.  I’ve been collecting Star ars figures since I was five years old (a very long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away).  So it’s about time I featured some of those toys at the Virtual Hot Tub.  And what better time than now?

We have here a fairly recent item, Hasbro’s X-Wing Fighter released in 2013.  This was an exclusive for Toys R Us stores, luckily we got it in the UK too.  Any fan can tell straight away that this is actually Biggs Darklighter’s ship that he flew in the Battle of Yavin.  Biggs was Luke Skywalker’s childhood friend from Tatooine, though the assualt on the Death Star in Episode IV would be his last mission.

This item was release when Hasbro were re-visiting the classic packaging desing from the 70’s/80’s with their Vintage line.  It nicely mimics the original box artwork, but is updated with new shots.

The ship itself is a joy.  Nicely recreated in plastic, with loads of detail and nice features.  The wings open into attack position; the landing gear deploys and hides away nicely; and there’s even a hidden proton torpedo for if you get close enough to the exhaust port.  This X-Wing is larger than the original toy from years gone by, and more accurate in scale.

My absolute favourite feature of this ship is in the cockpit.  Yes, the targeting computer pulls forward and into position for the pilot to use the view finder!  Awesome.

Also shown here is the Biggs Darklighter action figure from the 2013 Black Series.  He’s a nice sculpt, though as I already owned a previous (very good) rendition of this figure I nearly didn’t buy him.  I’m glad I did – the older version doesn’t fit in the X-Wing cockpit, but this newer one does.  Removable helmet too!

To finish things off, I added R2-Q2 – the droid who flew with Biggs in the Death Star attack.  There’s a handy slot behind the cockpit for rhis R2 unit to fit into.  R2-Q2 is from the 2006 Astromech Droid Pack Series 1.  He’s had a long wait for his ride to show up.

I waited a while to pick this ship up, and eventually the price came down in TRU.  It would have been worth paying full whack for though.

Enjoy Star Wars Day everybody.  May the Force be with you!

Star Wars Episode VII – Why I’m not thrilled about the sequels

Those of you who know me well, will know that I am a fan of Star Wars.  Just ever so slightly.  Oh alright then, I’ve been completely obsessed with that galaxy far, far away since I was five years old.  You may be surprised that this is my first Star Wars themed blog post on the Virtual Hot Tub, infact.  However, you may be more surprised about my feelings for the new Star Wars sequels.

I remember being sat at this very computer on that day in October 2012, when Disney announced it’s acquisition of Lucasfilm – and the planned seventh episode of the saga.  I was not impressed.

Not that Disney being the home of the saga bothered me.  At the end of the day, Star Wars is a kid’s film – and what better home for it than the House of Mouse?  I have no problem with that.

Final Episode

What bothers me is setting the new films after Return of the Jedi.  The sixth episode has been the final episode for a long time.  Sure, I wanted to see more films back in 1983, when I was a kid.  But as I’ve grown older, I’ve been happy with the conclusion of the series.  It’s an upbeat ending.  The Empire is defeated, the Alliance is victorious – peace and freedom from oppression is restored to the galaxy.  It’s exactly what the story needs, and it’s perfect in it’s intention (if not always it’s execution).

But if that’s not the end, then what’s next?  If the battle against evil goes on, then to some extent the sacrifices and hardships of the “middle” trilogy lose some of the potency.  Of course, in a real world, conflicts and rivalries continue.  But this isn’t the real world, it’s a fairy tale – a big, outer space fairy tale.  And there was no “Snow White 2” or “Revenge of the Wicked Step Mother” when that story arc came to an end.

EU-rrghh

I guess I’m most afraid of the horrors of the Star Wars Expanded Universe taking hold in the film versions.  I did read a lot of EU stories – novels and comics – before Episode I was released.  After that, I gave up on non-canon works as they often featured contradictions to what was appearing on screen, such as the origins of the Death Star.

Much worse than any slight inconsistencies, however, were some of the bafflingly bad concepts splurged onto the page by EU creators.  A criticism of the Star Wars EU is a topic for a whole blog post of it’s own – and I admit it’s not all bad.  I was never a huge fan of the Thrawn trilogy (too much of Zahn’s own creations with ridiculous names, not enough film characters), though other series were much worse.  The big problem I had with the EU though, was the lame device of bringing back the bad guys – Emperor Palpatine returns!  Boba Fett didn’t die!

Oh, come on.

I enjoyed many of the comics and the books set within the time frame of the original movies.  And I think this is where the big problem lies: all those brilliantly dastardly bad guys are dead.  How are they going to replace them?  One thing’s for sure – the new writers have a hell of a lot of work to do.  Let’s hope they steer clear of the EU for inspiration.  I don’t even want any sly nods to keep the fans happy.

New Talent

So talking of the new talent: is JJ Abrams up to the job? To be honest, I have never seen anything that the guy has done, so I can’t comment.  The good news is Lawrence Kasdan, who scripted Episodes V and VI, is back onboard. Thank God.  Why was he never involved in the Star Wars prequels?  Any help with answering that conundrum much appreciated.

Another interesting rumour (or more-than-rumour, these days) is the return of the original cast.  There’s been a huge amount of interest in the return of Hamill, Ford and Fisher to the saga.  I’m not sure about this either, sorry.  Baby Darth Vader in Episode I was hard enough to accept – do I really need to see a 65 year old Luke Skywalker?  I’m not sure about seeing my childhood heroes as old people.  I’d sooner they were timeless and forever as they were at the end of Jedi.

Who else will we see return?  R2-D2 will return, it has been reported.  So what about C3PO?  If we have Luke, Leia and Han, then surely we will need to have Chewie and Lando?  Please bring Chewie along, Lucasfilm – you can’t let him die in one of those awful books!

A New Hope

I don’t want to be totally negative about this new venture.  One thing that does excite me is the news of stand alone movies, possibly featuring lesser characters.  These stories could – and should – occur within the time frame (or immediately preceeding) of the earlier six films.  Again, Episode VI should be the end, but I’d love to see the early years of the Rebel Alliance.  That would be very cool.  More on this in another blog post…

Whatever adventures we experience with Episodes VII to IX, I want to be optimistic.  I’m a Star Wars fan, and I hope my fears above are wrong.  I have my doubts, though I would love them to be cast aside.  Will that happen?  In the words of one wise being: “Difficult to see.  Always in motion is the future.”

Let’s hope the Force is with us.