Millennium Falcon – the Greatest Toy Ever

“You’ve never heard of the Millennium Falcon? It’s the ship that made the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs.”

Was it Christmas 1980 or 1981? Whichever it was, it was the best Christmas present ever. After months and months of making a pretend Millennium Falcon out of cardboard tissue boxes, I was suddenly the owner of an actual Falcon. Han Solo’s super fast, hunk of junk smuggler’s freighter was mine, to recreate all the fun of the films.

The Millennium Falcon was the coolest space ship ever. The ship was a central part of the action in Star Wars, almost a character in itself – unreliable, temperamental, heroic. It was the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy and full of surprises – as was the toy.

We already had an X-Wing for Luke, a TIE fighter and landspeeder to play out our memories of the movie scenes (remember: no VCR in those days, kids!). But the Falcon seemed unattainable – surely Kenner/Palitoy wouldn’t be able to make a ship that big, to fit the figures inside?

And then they did. And I got one for Christmas: it was straight out the box, built up and stickers put on by my Dad, and I was ready to go. I still remember that morning now, after weeks of anticipation, hoping that I’d be lucky enough to be rewarded with this toy on the big day.

Kenner (or Palitoy, the UK manufacturer, in my case) delivered a toy that had all the magic of the film. Yes, you could put figures inside it: Han and Chewie could fit in the cockpit. There was a laser gun turret to shoot enemy fighters. A holo chess table to play (“It’s not wise to upset a Wookiee.”). A remote for lightsaber practice and a hidden smuggling compartment to hide from the Empire. It made a buzzing laser gun sound and had retractable landing gear.

The ship looked fantastic on the outside, lots of random detail just like the model in the film. This Millennium Falcon was a toy, but it appeared so accurate it might have been an actual prop from Industrial Light and Magic. That’s how I felt about it, anyway.

Photos here are of my original Millennium Falcon, still with all parts and in the box, which I gratefully received that Christmas morning. After years of play, it’s still all there: a little beat up, a little dirty – just like the “real” thing. As a kid, I liked to make it look more authentic with a good layer of dust and some discolouration: not sure that was a good idea, now.

But what a toy! Literally hours and hours of play value, recreating scenes or imagining my own sequels. An absolute joy.

It was great fun digging out this old piece of junk. I had a blast taking the photos, hope you enjoy them. And remember: “She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts, kid.”

Part 2 soon!

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!

In Memoriam – Carrie Fisher

carrie-f

Carrie Fisher

21.10.1956 – 27.12.2016

It is with great sadness that I write this blog post, regarding the passing of Carrie Fisher.  Carrie was a great actress, writer and producer and had an immense impact on my life.

Carrie Fisher was from Hollywood royalty, and had a very successful and creative career both in front and behind the camera.  Without neglecting her many achievements, there was one role that outshone all the others.

Of course, Carrie Fisher was particularly famous for playing Princess Leia in the original Star Wars movies.  Anyone who knows me will know that I have been obsessed with Star Wars since I was five years old, so to lose someone who has been part of my life for so long has been heartbreaking.

The importance of the Leia character cannot be overstated.  The Princess was no stereotypical damsel in distress – rather she was fiesty, confident and in control.  She held a position of authority as a leader in the Rebel Alliance and was at the forefront of all the decision making and events.  She was tough and skilled (ever see her miss with a blaster?) – but also showed compassion and humour.

All of those qualities were massively important and showed me – and other boys of my generation and since – that women could be strong, dynamic and powerful leaders.  Leia was a role model for a generation, not just male or female.

Princess Leia was adored by women the world over and rightly so – she showed the girls that she could be just as brave and heroic as the guys.  She was intelligent and committed and she stood up for what she believed in.

This character was embodied perfectly by Carrie Fisher.  Carrie knew she was part of a big boys club and had fun with it.  In doing do, she created a figure in popular culture who will be admired and respected for generations to come.  Carrie was not without her demons – she would fight them constantly through out her life – but this tenacity was embodied in her portrayal of the Princess at the centre of the galaxy, fighting for a better life.

It’s very disheartening to note that I began my writing in 2016 with two memorial pieces for personal heroes who passed away.  It looks like my last blog of the year will be about another.

So let’s remember what Carrie Fisher – and Princess Leia – represented to so many.  Courage, faith in your beliefs, and the desire to make things better.  Those are qualities that we will all do well to take with us into the future.

MCM Birmingham Comic Con – Part 1

NEC Birmingham

19/20 November 2016 

It’s been a couple of years since the gang made a trip to Birmingham NEC for Comic Con.  Not that we didn’t want to, other stuff just got in the way, sadly.  November 2016 however would see us return to Comic Con for all the usual fun and games.

Right from the off, the number of cosplayers seemed to be even higher than previous.  There were all kinds of characters on view, and plenty of them, from every franchgise you could think of.

The most popular costume this year was undoubtedly (and unsurprisingly) Harley Quinn.  Harley has always been a regular sight at conventions such as this whenever I’ve visited.  Following the success of the Suicide Squad movie, there were dozens of Harleys, of all types, everywhere.  Not to do any of the cosplayers a disservice – they all looked fantastic, whether they were original comic book or Margot Robbie inspired.

I tried to take as many photos as possible of the amazing costumes.  Everyone had obviously gone to great trouble to create outfits that were well made and accurate.

Unfortunately I couldn’t get photos of everyone, some people just slipped by and I missed them!

Plus, as always, I appear to have had a slight technical issue – resulting in several photos that would have been very cool not turning out at all.  My apologies to Storm and Walking Dead Daryl (amongst many others) – both of whom had awesome costumes, but my poor skills resulted in terrible pics!

The stalls were full of incredible paraphernalia as always.  So tempting, but regrettably I’m not made of money.  I saw dozens of very cool items, picked up a couple of things, left loads more.  I’m still missing not buying the Elvira Funko Pop…

My Star Wars collecting has retired these days.  I’m now only picking up (affordable) figures from the Original Trilogy; as I’m up to date with all that stuff there wasn’t anything to concern me.

Still, I had a good look around and thoroughly enjoyed scavenging for groovy collectables!

All in all it was another great day at the NEC.  Always spectacular, a great atmosphere and loads to see.  Looking forward to returning in March for more of the same!

Wales Comic Con Strikes Back – part 2

Wales Comic Con

Saturday 23rd April to Sunday 24th April 2016

Glyndwr University, Wrexham

OK – so as I mentioned last time, I ended up with quite a few photos from Wales Comic Con.  Far too many for just one blog post.  So here’s part 2, featuring the remainder of pictures that I took.

Not much in the way of text this time – most of it was covered in the previous instalment.  Scroll down if you want to check that out.

So here you go – the second part of our adventures at Wales Comic Con in Wrexham…  IMG_20160424_134905083 IMG_20160424_134951100

At last November’s Wales Comic Con, my trusty Canon camera suffered a sudden, unexpected demise.  As a result, my recent photos have been taken on a little digital snappy camera and my phone.  Not ideal.  Now I don’t claim to be a great photographer, but a good camera has helped cover much of my inexperience.  I hope you can forgive some of these less than awesome pics and enjoy some of the fun of the day.

My thanks again to anyone who allowed me to take their photo at Wales Comic Con.  It’s really appreciated, and I hope you like the results.

Wales Comic Con was a real success yet again, in my opinion.  An enjoyable welcoming atmosphere, with very friendly guests.  I shared my last post on social media and the feedback was resoundingly positive, which was great.

So thanks again to all I encountered at Comic Con.  Your warmth and positivity made this event a fantastic experience!

The Wales Comic Con website is here.

Sci Fi Weekender 2016 – part 2

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Cosplay winner!

Star Wars Spin Off Movies – part 2

Way back at the start of 2015, I wrote an article speculating about the content of new Star Wars films.  Not Episode VII, which we know is just a few short months away.  Rather, I was intrigued by the “spin off” movies that would focus on characters and events within the Star Wars galaxy, but not directly within the continuity of the major films.

Of course we now know that these “spin offs” will be called Star Wars Anthology movies.  The first film we will see is “Rogue One”, directed by Gareth Edwards (Monsters, Godzilla) and centred on the adventures of resistance fighters, stealing the plans for the first Death Star.

There are also plans for a Han Solo movie, telling of his early exploits before the events of Episode IV.  Those of you who read my original blog on this topic may remember that a solo Solo movie was considered back then.

So with that earlier success in mind, here are a few more ideas for Star Wars stand alone movies I would like to see:

Rogue Squadron

I’m assuming that “Rogue One” will not be related to legendary rebel pilots Rogue Squadron.  A film exploring the adventures of Wedge Antilles and comrades would therefore be pretty cool.  It would need to be set around the time of the original trilogy, tying into events as the Rebel Alliance fight against the Galactic Empire.  No thoughts on a new Wedge yet, but I’m working on it.

Lando Calrissian

One thing that currently troubles me about Episode VII is the total lack of Lando Calrissian.  The other major players are present and correct (except Denis Lawson/Wedge, but more fool him), so where’s Lando?  I’d love to see how the biggest scoundrel in the galaxy managed to “acquire” Cloud City.  Think Oceans Eleven style heist movie maybe?  But who to play Lando…

Mace Windu

Surely Samuel L Jackson would be up for his own stand alone movie, starring the enigmatic but under used master Jedi?  Hell, make it into a Clone Wars movie and get Ewan McGregor in as Obi Wan too.  This one HAS to happen – we saw hardly any Clone Wars on film.  Tarantino to direct.

Jabba the Hutt

Why not dive head first into the seedy Star Wars underworld with a film about intergalactic crime lord Jabba the Hutt?  Intrigue and menace would be the order of the day, with the big old slug up to loads of nefarious exploits to maintain his criminal empire.  Scorsese to direct; Robert De Niro as the voice of Jabba; Ray Liotta as Bib Fortuna and Joe Pesci as Salacious Crumb (obviously).

Admiral Ackbar

Just how did Ackbar get to command the Rebel Fleet, what are his experiences and motivations?  This could explore the struggle against the Empire from another angle, and also show how the Rebel Alliance developed to topple it.  You can guess the tagline.

Any more ideas for Star Wars Anthology movies?  Who should direct or star in them?  Leave a comment below if you have a suggestion…

You can read Star Wars Spin Off Movies – part 1 here.

Star Wars Spin Off Movies – part 1

2015 is a big year.  Audiences around the world will get to see Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.  Something I honestly never thought I’d see – a continuation of the Star Wars saga.

There is another disturbance in the Force, however – the prospect of new, stand alone, spin off movies set in a galaxy far, far away.  These films are to feature characters from this rich universe,but who they will be at the moment is a mystery.  Will they be minor characters or well known favourites?

There are various rumours about who the projects will concentrate on, of course.  I’ve decided to add to the swirling speculation and anticipation with some thoughts who I would like to see appearing in their own Star Wars movie.

Let’s start with some of the obvious choices.

Boba Fett

To be honest, I’ve never been a huge fan of Boba Fett.  He’s only in the films for a few minutes, and doesn’t do a great deal  I always thought the pre-Empire buzz about this new character was a bit of a let down, so I never got the cult of Fett.  He does have one of the coolest looking ships in the Saga, however.

Regardless of my ambivalence to the character, Boba Fett would be a great choice for a stand-alone movie.  He’s got a ready made, massive fan base – and it would be an ideal opportunity to flesh him out and show exactly why Fett is the top bounty hunter in the galaxy.  His mercenary buddies from the Executor bridge in Episode V could also make welcome cameo appearances.

Just one thing – the film would need to be set during the Original Trilogy.  Why?  Because Fett dies in Return of the Jedi.  That’s right – he died, and HE DOESN’T COME BACK.  Clear?

Plus I love the Original Trilogy and it would be great to explore more of this time.  Let’s see Boba Fett in action, as one of the bad guys (because he is a baddie, face facts) causing trouble for the Rebel Alliance.

Han Solo and Chewbacca

The Corellian space pirate and his Wookiee pal have featured in their own series of novels years ago.  Their popularity makes them a great choice for a spin off film.  Again, this should be around the time of the Original Trilogy, maybe prior to Episode IV; or between that instalment and Empire.  What exactly happened to the reward Solo got for his part in the rescue of Princess Leia? MF1

The problem with a film of this type is casting a young Han Solo – whoever got the gig would have their work cut out for them playing Harrison Ford.  That’s not to say that it can’t be done – River Phoenix did a fantastic job of impersonating Ford in the third Indiana Jones movie!

What would be really scary though is recasting such an iconic character as Han Solo could be a stepping stone to that horror that none of us want.  That’s right – a “reboot”/remake of the original film.

May the Force protect us from that ever happening…

Palpatine

How did Palpatine become a Dark Lord of the Sith?  How did he weasel his way into the role of Senator of Naboo?  Just exactly what was he capable of, and what did he do to attain such power?

The early years of the Emperor to be could be a really fascinating story, full of Jedi Knights, Sith Lords and galactic intrigue.  Betrayal, deceit, evil plots, darkness on a massive scale.  Sign up Peter Jackson for this one now.

That’s all for now, though I will return to this subject soon, with more potential spin-off movie ideas.

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.