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!

Liverpool Comic Con – Part 2

Liverpool Comic Con

Friday 8th March – Sunday 10th March 2019

Exhibition Centre Liverpool

 

Welcome back to my over view of Liverpool Comic Con.  Last time, I shared photos of some of the amazing Cosplay outfits to be seen at the event.  This time, I thought I’d share some pics of the eye-popping props on display.

The selection of display items at this convention was another selling point, with plenty to view.

Star of the show was a full scale X-Wing Fighter, which dominated the exhibition hall on entry.  It was spectacular: the size and detail both being extremely impressive.  Even though, as I stated previously, it was a Disney Star Wars ship and not the version from the classic trilogy, it was pretty cool.

Just imagine how ace it would’ve been if it was a full scale Incom T-65  X-Wing Fighter, as flown by Luke in Episode IV?!  If only.

There were several vehicles from film and TV also, including BA’s van from The A-Team and KITT from Knight Rider.  Both awesome.

I’ve seen a Back to the Future DeLorean before, but it’s always a treat.  This one was, of course, tricked out with other props from the film too – like Marty’s hover board.

In addition to vehicles, I also saw costumes from Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century – two Glen A Larson classics from my childhood.  I was pretty stoked to witness these first hand, being a huge fan of both television programmes.

Not to mention there was a ton of Star Wars costumes, helmets and gadgets that I didn’t get round to photographing.  I did take a pic of my all time hero R2 D2 though (and one of Johnny 5 from Short Circuit, another star of the day).

I assume all the props I saw were reproductions rather than actual items used in filming (I could be wrong).  However it was still a thrill to see them.  If only I could’ve actually sat in the vehicles…

Visit the Liverpool Comic Con Website here.

Sci Fi Weekender 2018 – Part 1

Sci Fi Weekender 23th – 24th March 2018

Hafan Y Mor Holiday Park, Pwllheli

2017 saw my intrepid crew and I sucked into a black hole, from which we were very lucky to escape.  Following numerous trials and tribulations within the void, we emerged eventually into a bizarre parallel dimension.  This strange new plane was warped beyond any fathomable reason; the UK was no longer in Europe and Donald Trump was President.

I know – unbelievable, right?  I was expecting apes to be in charge maybe, but not Trump.

Utilising all the skill and resource we could muster, we managed to reverse thrusters and reset our course for Pwllheli, North Wales, for Sci Fi Weekender.  The crew had missed one event, but in 2018 we would return.

The engines groaned and strained, but we were back on track.  We arrived at our destination and set up camp in our static exploration cabin.

Scouts across the galaxy had informed us that this was the ninth cycle of Sci Fi Weekender.  SFW9 would be full of the usual entertainments: VIP signings; Q&A panels; cosplay; films; games; live music and other acts.

Throw in a few decidedly lethal Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters and there would, indeed, be exceptional joviality.

Alas, many VIP guests had apparently missed their trasport shuttles to reach us.  Caught in the same black hole as we had been, perhaps?  This was a bit of a blow, as I was particularly looking forward to hearing from Hugh Quarshie of Highlander (and others) fame.

Never mind, “There can be only one” – and that guest was the deviilishly delectable Emily Booth, actress and Horror Channel star.  Ms Booth’s Q&A was the first event I witnessed of the weekend and she was great.  Although the interview amounted to just a run through of her IMDB credits, Emily came across very well as both a cult star and confirmed fan.  I even asked a question myself, which is a SFW first for me!

The interview did get a bit saucy at times, but the audience was well warned in advance what to expect.  To be honest, I’d love to see much more of Emily Booth’s talents.  By which I mean, of course, more of the various movies she has starred in.  Of course.

It was then time to lurk about and peruse the merchandise stalls.  There were many more this year than I’ve seen previously.  Excellent news for me, bad news for my galactic credit balance.  I did get some rad stuff though.

This was also a great time to start taking some photos.  Armed with three cameras this year (!), I took quite a few pictures but as always missed so many great cosplayers.  There were dozens that I glimpsed briefly but lost in the crowd, never to be seen again.

It was like when I watched the Cantina scene in Star Wars when I was a kid, before we had a VHS player (yes, I’m THAT old).  An amazing creation was spotted only briefly, to be replaced by yet another, and I had no rewind function.

As you can probably imagine, Friday evening was somewhat of a blur.  I do remember a couple of things that must be mentioned though.

Professor Elemental was an absolute joy to behold, as always.  The Prof dropped tongue twisting chap-hop rhymes over DJ Nick Maxwell’s funky beats.  He expertly rallied the troops and took us on a tea stained tour of the British Empire.  It was brilliantly engaging stuff, with the Professor uniting all the tribes of geekdom in a pulsating party of steampunk excitement.

Darth Elvis & the Imperials performed what I consider the best set I’ve seen them deliver, despite it being cut short.  There were favourites old and new, including “Burning Sith” and a raging cover of the Beastie Boys classic, “Sabotage” – reworked in honour of Kylo Ren.  I was down the front for a fair part of the set and I loved every second.

This band never get old.  May they live as long as Master Yoda and forever be as musically talented at Max Rebo.  Sheer fun from beginning to end!

The evening ended with some spectacular Cosplay Karaoke, which I would’ve loved to have a go of!  No idea who the winner was, all the entrants were winners in my eyes!

Day one at SFW9 was truly stellar.  My only complaint was too much Welsh bashing from several presenters over the course of events.  In this day and age that’s a bit poor.

However Sci Fi Weekender is a success because of the people.  The camaraderie amongst attendees is the true strength, regardless of what VIP interview guests are there or not.  It’s a real pleasure to catch up with old faces – and meet some new ones – in a friendly, welcoming environment like this.

That’ll do for Part One.  Beam me up!

In Part 2: we lose a red shirt, and more pics.  Stay tuned!

Star Wars Figures – the First 12

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Star Wars Figures – the First 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sci Fi Weekender 2016 – part 2

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Phoenix

Sci Fi Weekender 17th – 20th March 2016

Hafan Y Mor Holiday Park, Pwllheli

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not such a good thing going home Sunday…

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

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

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

The Sci Fi Weekender site is here.

The HRH Prog site is here.

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

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Cosplay winner!

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.