Monday, July 25, 2011

New Documentary About Star Wars Toys!

So... I mentioned that I've got some big news, and now it's finally time to share it.

I'm currently in production on a documentary called Plastic Galaxy: The Story of Star Wars Toys. It is, as the title suggests, a movie about... Star Wars toys!

The film will explore the history and pop cultural impact of the action figures, play sets, space ships, and props that we all know and love -- all through conversations with fellow collectors, former Kenner and Hasbro employees, toy experts, and more. And, of course, there'll be a lot of cool toys!

The film will be released on DVD in August, 2012, at Celebration VI -- it'll also be available for purchase through many brick-and-mortar stores and through an online shop. Besides the film itself, I plan on including all sorts of extras... but for now, I'm keeping them secret!

Check out the teaser trailer!

For more information and updates, you can check out Plastic Galaxy's official web site, You can also follow us on Twitter (@Plastic_Galaxy) and friend us on Facebook. If we can get this telepathy thing to work, you can follow us with you mind, too.

And for those who like to keep things within the blogger community, we've got another blog set up that you can follow: We'll try to update it every time we update the main news feed on the official site, but just in case, you might want to check both every once in a while.

So that's it -- that's why both this site and the Attic of Astounding Artifacts have kind of dried up of late. I've been extremely busy with the film -- and I anticipate many more months of work ahead of me. But it'll be worth it... I hope!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Original Death Star Panel (ca. 1975/1976-ish)

So... long time, no blog. Sorry! I've been having a really busy couple of months, but trust me, it's been worth it. I'll be making a doozy of an announcement in about a week, and hopefully you'll all be as excited by what I've got to say as I am. But enough rumor and innuendo... I've got something cool to show you!

This is an original, production-used panel from the Death Star. Yep, an actual piece of the shooting model from Star Wars. (None of that "A New Hope" junk for me -- the first will always be, simply, Star Wars.) It was part of the model used for long-range shots, where detail wasn't as important. Larger panels appeared in the close ups of the Death Star, while a large, spherical model was used for the really wide shots.

This came, via a dealer, from the collection of Richard Edlund, the Chief Special Effects Photographer for the film. Talk about provenance! It's 3 x 3 inches, and made from a rigid foam. It's painted grey, with a kind of rough texture to it.

As a huge -- huge! -- Star Wars nerd, owning a piece of the original Death Star model is a dream come true. It's an iconic part of the film, an instantly recognizable symbol of science-fiction bad-assery. And now, this tiny square is one of the crown jewels of my collection. I'm positively over the moon about this. ("That's no moon, Doc. It's a space station!")

Okay, back to my secret lair. Stay tuned for a killer, killer announcement.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Blog Profile: "Star Wars Action Figures Doing What They Do Best."

© Star Wars Action Figures Doing What They Do Best (link)

Star Wars collector Pete R. -- who goes by the name "ratherchildish" on forums like Rebel Scum and The Imperial Gunnery -- had a problem. He lived with his wife in a one bedroom apartment that was so small, he could only display his growing collection of vintage action figures one or two at a time. His solution was to start photographing his toys so that, as he says, he could at least enjoy them on his computer monitor. "I wouldn't have to leave my desk or incite an interior design battle with my wife," he explained via email.

Eventually, the photos became the basis of what I consider to be one of the best toy porn web sites in the galaxy: Star Wars Action Figures Doing What They Do Best ( A long title for a blog, but worth the effort to remember!

Pete, 40, photographs his Star Wars figures and vehicles against the kind of hand-made, bits-and-pieces sets that you might have built as a kid. Carefully lit and cropped, these mini vignettes beautifully showcase the toys, while at the same time conveying the playful spirit behind them. 

After drooling over his photos, I decided to send Pete some questions about his art, his collecting, and the movie that started it all.

GALACTIC AWESOME: Talk to me a little about how you create your art. Where do your concepts begin?

PETE: The concept for a photo can come from so many scattered directions. Sometimes I'll just be rifling through my loose collection and see an old favorite I haven't focused on in a while. Sometimes I'll find some object that strikes me as a cool background or surface that I want to see in a shot. In the pass year, my loose vehicle collection has stepped up dramatically, so the role of those toys has really taken prominence in where hew setups are heading.

Once I know what I want to shoot, I spend some time putting together the staging area. This involves first figuring out what kind of camera angle I'm going for and how that dictates what I need in terms of background, risers, and lighting. Once I have solid staging down, I start to assemble the figures -- trying out different combinations of postures and head turns, maybe even peering into the camera lens to see how the composition is shaping up. Next I start to position lighting for the figures and the background.

From there comes some really important work. First, finding the right crop is critical. I typically want to crop as closely as I can so that the action figures can really be shown off as large as possible, but it's always important to balance subject with negative space and background. 

© Star Wars Action Figures Doing What They Do Best (link)

Your lighting is excellent, and it helps breathe life into your scenes. It's one area that many collectors who want to photograph their toys run into trouble. Can you talk a bit about your technique?

Rest assured, I know nothing about photography or lighting. It really has been a process of trial and error to get good results. I try to have a supply of little clip-on LED lights from the 99-cents store on hand. Those are excellent for focused lighting and they tend to be very easily positioned. I also have a 99-cent flashlight, and a weird lamp from ikea that I use as more of a flood. Those incandescent bulbs are always aggressively orange while the LED's are blue. The combination of these colors in the same shot often work to my advantage, so long as the colors can be kept discrete. It's often handy to have ways to block off the lights so that their beams don't bleed onto areas I don't want them. 

Also plastic toys don't always respond well to bright lights and can look too shiny. I find that lighting from the sides is frequently a quick road to remedy problems like that and help create dramatic moods.

Tell me a little bit about your history with these toys. I know from reading your blog that you received an X-Wing as a kid.

Yeah, I received the X-Wing at holiday time in late 1978. As an 8-year old boy and big Star Wars fanatic, that was a really potent event for me. That toy was and remains one of the all-time greatest. 

The Star Wars action figures were in general a very explosive connection for me straight out of the gate. I'd been bowled over seeing the film on my birthday in 1977 and quickly began accumulating trading cards, posters, soundtrack album, etc. When the figures came out the following Spring it was just nails in the coffin! I also credit Fisher Price's Adventure People for priming me on the joys of 4" figures. That was the line I'd been playing with and loving up to the point that the SW toys came out. 

What really comes to mind is playing outside with the toys in summer. I grew up in suburban Milwaukee, and I recall very lush hot summers just spending hours and hours outside having so much fun. I think my little pals in the neighborhood and I would float action figures down the nearby creek to our endless amusement. I can smell that humid summer Milwaukee air even now. When it was too hot we'd go in my parents basement, cooling off in the damp air and playing with the figures in near darkness. I can smell that musty basement even now!

© Star Wars Action Figures Doing What They Do Best (link)

And now you've got SW figures again. How long have you been collecting since getting back into these toys? And what brought you back to them in the first place?

I kicked the Star Wars collecting habit in 1982. I didn't begin re-collecting anything as an adult until I treated myself to a lot of "First 21" SW figures around my birthday in September, 2008. Just a nostalgic itch I'd been curious to scratch for quite some time. I had no idea it would lead as far as it has.

Really, what I like most about them now is just that very palpable feeling they give me of connecting back to my childhood. It's better than any drug or therapy that I can imagine. 

I also find myself really energized by the engineering of the vintage vehicles. In the past year I've taken more than a few X-wings and Tie-Fighters apart. It's a joy to see how the engineers at Kenner thought to create the mechanics of the vehicles and even more of a joy to bring them back to life when they've been ravaged by time and neglect.

Seeing Star Wars in '77 was obviously a transformative experience for you. How do you feel about the movies today? 

Love 'em. Star Wars is still hands down my favorite. I actually have a lot of issues with Empire Strikes Back. That film disappointed me as a kid in 1980 and to this day I find myself bewildered at a lot of choices that were made. Return of the Jedi I think is totally solid material… the poor Ewoks get a bad rap! On the other hand the prequel movies aren't on my radar. I saw each of them in the theatre and promptly forgot them all. Oh well.

© Star Wars Action Figures Doing What They Do Best (link)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Brazilian R2-D2 & C-3PO Figures (Glasslite, 1985)

Star Wars toys were produced all over the world, and by a number of sub licensees. Two of my favorite foreign figures were C-3PO and R2-D2 as rendered by the Brazilian company Glasslite (pronounced Glass-Leet).

The Dynamic Duo of droids share sculpts with two of Kenner's figures: C-3PO with Removable Limbs, and the Power of the Force era R2-D2 with Pop Up Lightsaber. However, they received completely new paint jobs. Gone is 3PO's shiny chrome, and instead he's given a subdued gold paint job. R2 exchanged his shiny chrome dome for plain silver paint. Glasslite also made his large "eye" sensor red instead of blue, and gave him a bit of blue paint on the sides of his feet. Interestingly, these last two changes mimic the paint design found on the version of R2 produced for the line of figures accompanying the Droids cartoon -- and Glasslite made one of these, too!

R2-D2, where are you? (Three versions, from left) Droids cartoon; Power of the Force; Glasslite

While the Glasslite figures aren't absolutely rare, they can be tough to find in nice condition. They're also highly desirable, and as a result, they can get kind of pricey. I managed to get the 3PO without too much trouble. Someone from Rebel Scum had one listed on eBay, and I ended up winning it for a decent price. No fuss, no muss. R2 was another matter.

When I first began collecting Star Wars figures, I focused solely on droids. One of my early goals was to get all the variations of the Kenner R2 -- the original, the Sensorscope R2, the Pop Up Lightsaber R2, the Droids cartoon R2, the three-legged R2 that was sold with the Kenner Droid Factory playset, and the Glasslite R2. They all share the same basic design, but with significant tweaks.

I found most of them in fairly short order. The Glasslite R2, however, proved particularly difficult to find.

I'll admit it, I was being picky. I wanted one in decent condition, and I wanted it to be loose -- I don't really collect carded figures, and I refuse to open a vintage, carded toy. But for some reason, most of the Glasslite R2s I saw were mint on card. And the few nice loose ones I did find were -- gasp, shudder, groan -- AFA graded and sealed up inside acrylic mausoleums (and costing twice what they were worth because of it). So months turned into more than a year as I searched and searched... to no avail.

But recently, I ended up catching a lucky break when I stumbled upon an eBay auction for a carded example with a twist: Some previous owner had cut a small "trap door" into the top of the card's bubble, and it was easy to slip the figure in or out, depending on how the collector wanted to display it. Perfect!

R2 trapped in his card! Note that Glasslite used the same card for every figure, applying a sticker with the character's name to denote which was being sold. And, of course, they'd use different size bubbles.

A trap door! Freedom!

Or maybe he's invisible! The force can be a powerful weapon against the weak minded...

The Glasslite cardback. Again, this was used from figure to figure.

So now I've got my Glasslite 3PO and R2, and I've also got my run of vintage R2 variations. It's fun achieving a collecting goal, you know? There's a feeling of satisfaction that comes from placing some long sought after piece on your toy shelf.

(Top, from left) Original R2; Sensorscope R2; POTF R2 w/Pop Up Lightsaber. (Bottom, from left) Droid Factory R2; Droids cartoon R2; Glasslite R2.

Of course... it's not long before the hunt begins again...

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Power Droids 20-back Proof Card (Kenner, 1979)

You're looking at one of the pride and joys of my Star Wars collection. While the Power Droid figure is just what it appears to be, the card itself is something special. It's called a proof, and it's a rare piece of pre-production material used by Kenner to make sure everything was okay with the toy's packaging. Once approved, production on the cards could begin. They're really cool, and on top of it all, only a handful exist.

A lot of collectors go after any and all proofs, but I'm pretty picky -- I only want them if they're for my favorite characters. And yes, despite his limited role in the film, I'm a huge fan of the Power Droid. Or as he's known to his friends and agent, "Gonk." Not only does he appear in all three films -- stretching himself as an actor, he takes on a variety of roles, including torture victim in Jabba's palace -- but he's also one of the cooler looking action figures. He's weird and boxy and totally believable as a mechanical thing, and his legs make a satisfying clicking noise. A clicking noise! (Yeah, I'm easily entertained.)

I had a Power Droid figure as a kid, so there's also a strong, strong feeling of nostalgia connected to the toy. From the moment I started collecting Star Wars figures, he was a droid I was looking for. (Bad pun alert!)

So yeah, the Power Droid proof card was high on my list of wants, even though I was fairly certain the few that existed were locked up in other collections, never to be pried loose.

I'm guessing that by now, many of you are scratching your heads and wondering why it's a big deal. Fair enough -- I felt the same way when I first learned about proofs.

As I said, proofs were one of the final stages in producing the toys' packaging, and today are extremely rare. They were made in small batches for internal use only, and were always considered disposable. And of course, no one ever thought that years later anyone would care one way or the other about them. Consequently, by the time collectors started looking for these historic pieces of memorabilia, most were long since trashed. Out of all the proofs from the entire run of vintage Star Wars toys -- including Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Power of the Force, and a few other odds and ends -- some of the rarest today are from the first 21 figures.

Today, proof cards are collected for a number of reasons. The rarity, certainly -- c'mon, it's fun to own rare stuff -- but more importantly, their historic significance plays a huge role in why people like them. They help illustrate the process by which these toys we love so much eventually came into production. They peel back the curtain and give us insight into how Kenner -- and toy makers in general -- worked. They help answer questions that people who are obsessed with Star Wars toys like to know.

On top of everything else, proofs are a great way to collect some of the coolest toy art ever made! They're like mini posters, with no bubble residue, price sticker, or blemishes.

So how can you tell a proof card from a regular card? First, you'll notice that the bottom corners are square instead of rounded. Sometimes all four corners have sharp edges; regardless, all production cards have four rounded corners. Another tell-tale sign is the position of the peg hole, which on production cards is more to the right. Finally, proof cards are printed on thinner cardstock than production cards, and when you hold them both, you can immediately feel the difference. Of course, being preproduction pieces, some proofs differ in even greater ways from their final production examples -- these are even rarer and are highly sought after by collectors.

This is known as a 20-back proof card because it features 20 figures on the back -- the original 12 plus the eight new releases. Further, it's known as the "20-c" because it's the third version of the 20-back released by Kenner. This is denoted by first the Boba Fett offer on the front, and then by the full-on description of the rocket firing figure on the back.

Versions "d" and later lacked this description. As many collectors known, Kenner eventually released Boba Fett without the rocket firing mechanism after some kid choked on a Battle Star Galactica toy's missile. Once the decision was made, Kenner quickly covered up the mechanism's description with a plain black sticker (the "d" card) and then replaced it entirely with a new description of the toy (the "e" card onward). So the 20-c has an extra bit of historic significance that I think makes it super cool. (The "c" card was actually released, but it's tough to find today because Kenner pulled the plug on that version of Fett pretty quickly.)

I was pretty psyched to get this on my shelf, but it almost didn't happen. Mostly because I'm a dumbass.

A friend of mine and long-time Star Wars collector offered it to me. I really wanted it, but balked at the price. I hadn't quite made the leap into the deep end of the Star Wars pool, and my thought at the time was, "Heck, I could use that kind of money to buy a really nice vintage robot!" (For those who don't read my other blog -- Doc Atomic's Attic of Astounding Artifacts -- I also collect vintage robots and ray guns from the 1930s through the 1960s. Check 'em out!) After some soul searching (and bank account checking) I reluctantly told my friend I'd pass. Then I went to sleep.

I woke up the next morning in a panic. I'd had dreams about the proof all night long (yes, I dream about my collection...) and I realized I'd made a terrible mistake by turning it down. I'd never -- never -- have another chance at a 20-back Power Droid proof, and frankly, later proofs of the figure just didn't interest me -- I wanted his first appearance. So I desperately sent an email to my friend telling him that maybe I made a mistake, and if the proof was still available, I might be interested if there was some wiggle room on the price, or a payment plan, or something.

I know... I wasn't exactly in a position to haggle, but I figured it couldn't hurt.

He wrote back and said he'd already offered it to someone, but if that person turned it down he'd knock a few bills off the price and I could have it. I was on pins and needles the rest of the day... But then finally, that afternoon, I got an email from my friend saying the other guy had also passed and if I wanted it, the card was mine. I didn't make the same mistake twice, and said yes immediately.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Book Review: Collect All 21, by John Booth

Did you play with Star Wars toys as a kid? Do you have fond memories of adventure fueled afternoons pitting miniature Lukes against tiny Vaders with the fate of your backyard hanging in the balance? Did you mail away for Boba Fett, and were you pissed off when he didn't fire his damn rocket?

Then you really need to read John Booth's excellent Collect All 21: Memoirs of a Star Wars Geek (The First 30 Years).  In it, Booth recounts his experiences with Star Wars, both the movie and the line of toys it launched. Free-flowing and episodic, it flits from one story to the next while eschewing any attempt at a linear narrative -- kind of like memories themselves. Booth, a journalist and toy collector, is a funny and engaging writer, and I enjoyed following his younger self through his various adventures.

But Collect All 21's real strength is in its ability to trigger the reader's own memories. Each of Booth's stories called up another chapter from my own life with Star Wars. I found myself flashing back to the days when my friends and I would play with our action figures and send our ships into all sorts of strange misadventures. It was kind of an amazing sensation.

It's easy to see the giant crater left left behind after Star Wars blasted the pop culture landscape. What Collect All 21 does is remind us that the explosion was ignited by the imaginations of a zillion young fans.

Like John Booth. Like me. Like you.

Information on purchasing the book, as well as reviews, excerpts, and information on the author can be found here:

Monday, February 28, 2011

Die Cast Darth Vader (Takara, 1978)

Once again, count on the Japanese to deliver an awesome, but weird, version of a Star Wars character. This time, they performed their magic on everyone's favorite baddie, Darth Vader.

With his overly long legs, Vader looks a lot like a late Seventies/early Eighties anime character (think Captain Harlock, for instance). Takara also took some liberties with the facial sculpt and a few smaller details, but all in all, I really like their interpretation of the toy.

Vader's limbs are plastic, his torso is metal, and his cape is vinyl. Yes, it's tied in a bow around his neck. Yes, that has to be incredibly embarrassing for the dark lord of the Sith. It's probably why so many people get force-choked.

Unlike many of Takara's die-cast Star Wars figures, Vader doesn't fire missiles. (I'll let you take a moment to process that. Amazing, I know!) Instead, he's armed with a cool glow-in-the-dark lightsaber, which fits in his hand via a small peg. Cool!

That's not his only weapon, though. Vader must have been shopping in Chewie's local Wal-Mart, because he's also armed with a mean looking bowcaster. (Yeah, I'll you take a moment to process that one, too.) The weapon comes loaded with two glow-in-the-dark crossbow bolts; it uses a rubber-band mechanism to fire them.

Very. Odd.

Vader also comes with a nifty display stand, and everything's packed inside an attractive box. As I've said before, the Japanese created some amazing packaging, and the combination of bright colors, an imposing photo of Darth Vader, and cleverly placed text makes this a great example.

This proved to be the hardest Takara die-cast toy for me to add to my collection. I'd been hunting for about a year, trying to find one that wasn't massively overpriced by delusional dealers. Finally, an example popped up on eBay -- where else? -- with an auction format (as opposed to a buy-it-now). When the auction ended, I was glad I'd waited -- I ended up snagging it for about 2/3 of what I'd expected to pay. Sweet. The force was strong in this one, I guess.

I'll admit, getting the toy was a little bittersweet. I was glad to have it, but I immediately missed the hunt. I suppose that's the double-edged sword of collecting... Nothing to do about it but set my sights on the next toy! Which, trust me, I've already done. Ha!
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