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 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet my friend Emu

Meet my friend Emu.  Not the easiest pal to have around; he can be a little temperamental, to say the least.  Sometimes friendly, just watch out for that beak to curl – it’s a sure sign that things are going to go downhill fast…

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.

Toy Cars from TV Shows

Cars were some of the earliest toys I ever had.  Small Matchbox, Dinky and Corgi cars; larger Dinky and Corgi too.  I had loads of them, many of them are still around in a giant plastic tub at my parents’ house.

Some of my favourite cars were the television and movie tie-ins; models that were based on the cars in my favourite programmes and films.  In some cases, these cars were more inspirational than the human characters.

Here are two cars that I have in my collection, neither of which date back to my childhood, however!  In fact, both are re-issued versions of 1970s classics that I always wanted but never owned.

First up is the fantastic Ford Gran Torino from Starsky and Hutch.  I Loved Starsky and Hutch when I was a nipper in the 70’s, and I always loved this car.  Such an iconic design; the white go-faster stripe flash down the side of the striking red vehicle.

I did have a smaller version of this car when I was a kid; hopefully it’s still around somewhere.  I’m really stoked to own this larger version though, with the mini Starsky and Hutch metal figures.  Starsky is even wearing his trademark cardigan!

Next up is another classic of late 1970’s TV – the General Lee from The Dukes of Hazzard.  This is the car that gave me lifelong love of Dodge Chargers.  The Confederate flag on the roof is anachronistic and awkward these days, but hey – they were simpler days.

The flag has dubious associations, but that car is COOL.  Plus it also has tiny little figures of Bo and Luke Duke with it.  No Daisy Duke though, sadly.

I never owned the General in any form when I was little, so this piece is really great to have, especially for a Charger fan like me.

Both of these cars are 1:36 scale models, re-issued by Corgi and just like the 1970’s toys I remember so well.

I’ve enjoyed this little drive down retro toy car lane; I think we’ll pay another visit with some more specimens soon.

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.