Monday, December 27, 2010

Snow Trooper!

The battle on Hoth forced the rebellion to retreat and marked a resounding victory for the Empire.

According to the official Imperial news agencies, of course.

But one soldier, presumed dead after his AT-AT was destroyed, knows differently. Now he wanders the frozen wasteland, his hatred for the rebellion redirected towards the Empire that left him behind to die. The nights are long and cold, but thoughts of revenge keep him warm.


We had a blizzard in New York City, and since I didn't have to go to work today, I decided to play with my Star Wars figures.

They're toys, right?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Collecting Achievements and Goals: 2010 Edition

Rather than post this twice, I'd like to direct everyone's attention to my other blog, Doc Atomic's Attic of Astounding Artifacts, where I've suggested a way to look back upon our collecting achievements of 2010, and our collecting goals for 2011.

So check out the post here, and join in the fun!

(As I said in that post, I shamelessly ripped the idea off from a Star Wars blog called Rebel Scum. Everyone should definitely check them out!)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Star Trek Phaser Ray Gun (Azrak Hamway International / 1970s)

You get something equally horrifying and magnificent when package designers draw their inspiration from black light posters. Like this card for the Star Trek Phaser Ray Gun.

You can't look away, right? And yet you feel yourself slipping into madness...

I love Azrak Hamway International. Better known to the world as AHI, the company gleefully licensed properties left and right, and then released toys that were often low on quality but always high on fun.

Well... high on something.

Take this Star Trek gun, for instance. It's hard to tell from the photo, but the thing's about five inches long, tops. It's made from thin plastic and has the simplest electronics possible. Short on features, the cardback reaches for any selling point, proudly proclaiming, "With Click Action Noise!" That's pretty much the same technology you'd see on toy ray guns from 20 years earlier. (A subject near and dear to my heart, as those of you who read my other blog, Doc Atomic's Attic of Astounding Artifacts know.)

But who cares, right? This thing's awesome. It's a great -- if inaccurate -- sculpt of a classic science fiction weapon. The logo emblazoned on the phaser's side, with its chrome finish and retro lightning bolts, is nice and old school. And yes, a real Star Trek phaser wouldn't actually say "Star Trek" on it, but that's partly why I love this toy so much.

It's a toy, not a prop replica. It's not supposed to be 100% accurate. Or, based on this little bad boy, even 60% accurate... Ahem. It's supposed to look just enough like the real deal to inspire the imagination -- and that's it. Heck, kids buying this thing back in the Seventies were lucky it wasn't painted neon pink to match the card.

And yeah, about that card. It's art as a weapon, design as a war crime, an unholy attack on good taste. It's also compellingly aggressive, whimsically alien, and well outside the imagination of marketing gurus, focus groups, and executive naysayers. I can't possibly imagine how it passed muster -- except that all AHI artwork is delightfully tweaked, so for whatever reason, the company clearly endorses the look.

I'm not usually a mint-on-card kind of guy -- and really, this is a discussion we're going to have -- but this gun, on this card, just looks so freakin' awesome. (And frankly, I don't want to be the guy who takes a toy that's survived 30 years like this and just rips it open. Again, a discussion for some other time.) It even has a weird, yellow beam of energy printed on the card, right at the barrel of the phaser. Perfect!

I definitely want to chase down some of the other carded weapons produced by AHI. They've got a few other interesting Star Trek phasers, a Lost In Space gun, and numerous Space: 1999 weapons. All of which, one day, I'd like to add to my shelf.

For now, though, I'm content with having just this one. Besides, any more than that in one room and I'm pretty sure I'll go blind.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Star Wars Early Bird Set & DT Lightsaber Luke (Kenner, 1978)

I love Star Wars, and I love vintage Star Wars toys. But not just any old vintage SW figure'll do. I only really like the very earliest stuff, the toys that captured that initial "Holy crap!" moment when Star Wars transformed from a movie into a movement. And nothing captures that for me like the very first set of action figures known as the Early Bird Set.

My Early Bird set in a custom display case by Oscar's Cases ( I added the dorky, little banners at the top.

"A Long Time Ago, In a Galaxy Far, Far Away..."

This is where it all began, kids. It's an often told story, but just in case you haven't heard it: No one anticipated that Star Wars would become a hit when it was released in May of 1977. But of course it was the most gigantic, amazing, fantabulous, galactic-awesome movie ever. (Duh!) And that meant that Kenner, the toy company who held the license to produce SW toys, had a really big problem.

Because Christmas was a mere seven months away, and they didn't have any action figures.

So the president of the company, Bernard Loomis, came up with a brilliant idea: Kenner would release a coupon for Christmas redeemable for a set of four action figures. It'd be packaged in a wide, thin box that could fold down to become a display stand, and would include a membership to the Star Wars Fan Club, some stickers, and a catalog of upcoming Kenner releases. Children would send in the coupon and a few months into 1978 they'd get their figures in the mail.

Let's take a moment to think about this. For Christmas, Kenner was asking parents to buy their kids what was essentially an empty box.

Insane, right? And yet... it was the scheme that kicked off a toy-making empire, leading to unimaginable profit for both Kenner and Star Wars creator George Lucas, and the gleeful smiles of children everywhere. Years later, it also helped create a toy that's super duper collectible, and the object of my deep, un-abating lust.

The Early Bird tray was made out of a very thin plastic that often cracked over time.

The Early Bird set holds four figures: Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia Organa, Chewbacca, and R2-D2. Each was sealed in a bag marked with the words Hong Kong. The set also includes a small baggie of pegs that could hold the figures to the cardboard display stand. It was shipped in a plain white box that would come to symbolize all of Kenner's future mail-away figures.

The box has its original mailing label on it. I blacked out the name and address to protect the innocent.

There's a lot of discussion about why Kenner would include such an odd assortment of characters. Certainly, most people would have picked Luke and R2, but why Leia and Chewie? There's nothing wrong with them, per se, but it's hard to imagine playing with any Star Wars figures without having some villains. Most collectors that I've spoken to would have swapped those two out for Darth Vader and a Storm Trooper. Or at least Vader and Han Solo.

But the general consensus seems to be that Kenner wanted to try hitting the female market with Leia. And Chewie was included because when you're making toys for a movie about a galaxy far, far away that's populated with all sorts of weird and fantastic creatures, you sure as hell better include some sort of alien. Since Chewie was the most prominent non-human in Star Wars, he got elected for the job.

Anyway, that's what other collectors who I've spoken to seem to think. If anyone else has any concrete info, by all means let me know.

Leia, Chewie, and R2 are all standard figures, the same as the ones you'd find in stores across the country. (Though it should be noted that all Early Bird figures were made in Hong Kong, whereas carded SW figures came from factories in a variety of countries.) This is why I've kept them in their baggies. I've got loose examples to play with er...display, so I'd prefer to keep these as originally issued.

The Luke figure, is something special. Or, rather, his lightsaber is.

(Note: The following photos show Luke outside of his baggie. Don't freak out. He was purchased this way; in fact, the baggie he was stuffed into when I bought him is incorrect. I've got some strong feelings about opening -- or not opening, depending on the circumstances -- packaged vintage toys, but I'll save that for another time. Suffice it to say, no damage was done by me to this figure, his baggie, or any of the worker gnomes who I hire to polish my toys with magic fairy sweat.)

"It's Your Father's Lightsaber..." Or is it?

The common lightsaber found on Luke, Vader, and Ben Kenobi figures is a simple piece of plastic that slides up into the figure's arm. There's not much to it, it's charmingly wonky, and it gets the job done.

Many of the Early Bird Lukes, however, came with something called a Double Telescoping lightsaber. It's made of two pieces: an outer tube and an inner rod. The tube slides out of the figure's arm, and then the rod slides out of the tube. Double Telescoping. Pretty straight forward.

Early Lukes from Hong Kong -- including many that came with the Early Bird set, have limbs that turn pinkish over time. Many also have slightly different colored legs. I have no idea why...

Ultimately, Kenner decided to discontinue the DT Luke (as it's known today) due to the cost and time involved in manufacturing this particular lightsaber -- they switched over to the single-piece saber most people know of today. Consequently, this version of the toy is very rare. Not every Early Bird set comes with the DT Luke... though it should be pointed out that some DT Lukes did make it into the standard packaging. You need to inspect the toy carefully to know what you're getting.

(By the way, a number of Vader and Obi-Wan figures were also released with DT lightsabers. These are significantly rarer than the yellow Luke version...)

Getting this set was a big thrill for me. While most everyone says Han Solo or Darth Vader are their favorite Star Wars characters, I always gravitated towards Luke and R2. To have their very first appearance in plastic is a distinct pleasure. And to have Luke holding an amazingly cool version of what is arguably the best weapon in science fiction -- certainly my favorite weapon -- is like the most delicious icing ever on a cake that's already filled with sweet and sugary awesome.

Stay tuned for one more post about the DT lightsaber... Trust me, you'll dig it.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Die-cast C-3PO (Takara, 1978)

If Star Wars had been created by the Japanese, it would have lasted only a few minutes. Because as soon as Darth Vader stepped onto the rebel blockade runner -- wham! -- he'd have gotten a face full of missile, compliments of everyone's favorite golden protocol droid, C-3PO.

At least, that's how it'd have played out if the 3PO in the movie matched Takara's amazing interpretation of the character.

Standing an imposing 6.5 inches tall, this heavy, plastic-and-metal figure features a bad-ass missile launcher smack in the center of his torso rings. 3PO is fully articulated at the shoulders, elbows, and knees, and there's a small handle at the back of his neck that turns the head from side to side.

When you think about it, that handle is kind of weird. I mean, it's right below the back of 3PO's head. If you're fingers are already there, why not just grab the head itself? Why add such an unnecessary bit of mechanics to the toy?

Because the Japanese toy makers were awesome, that's why, and they never missed an opportunity to give something just a bit more play value. This won't be the last time I point out that Japanese toys, whether they're vintage robots from the Fifties or die-cast toys from the Seventies, kick total ass.

Note the small handle just underneath the head. And below the screw in his back you can see the black button that fires the missile.

A red-eyed 3PO is not a happy 3PO. Duck!

C-3PO comes packaged in a wonderful box. Like most Japanese die-cast toys, he fits inside a styrofoam bed, along with his small, plastic base, two missiles, and the requisite Takara catalog of toys.

I love the box art, with its killer portrait of 3PO and small photos from the movie. I can't read Japanese, so the writing takes on a neat, graphical quality that helps the packaging stand out with a weirdly exotic quality. It really straddles both U.S. and Japanese cultures, which is a lot of fun.

Takara boxes were collector friendly. No staples, glue, or tape to keep them shut.

Cool. I can't read a word of it, but cool.

The catalog advertised Takara's line of Star Wars toys.

This 3PO is one of my favorite Star Wars toys. It's really detailed -- dig that shine! -- and full of play value. It's also compellingly tactile, thanks to the cool (as in temperature) and heavy (as in it's freakin' heavy) metal construction. This is one solid toy. Which means it'd nicely double as a weapon if any schoolyard bully tried to take it from you.

Just sayin'.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Post Numero Uno!

Hiya, kids! Welcome to Galactic Awesome!, a blog I've started to showcase and talk about my various collections of vintage science fiction toys.

I know, I know... some of you are grumbling that I already have a blog to showcase and talk about my various collections of vintage science fiction toys. And you're right, I do. It's called Doc Atomic's Attic of Astounding Artifacts, and it's located right here. But that blog is for the really vintage toys, the robots and ray guns from the 1930s through 1960s. 

Galactic Awesome!, on the other hand, is for all the other toys I collect. (And yep, the exclamation point is part of the name... at least until I get annoyed by it.) Here's where you'll find original Star Wars figures; old Ahi Star Trek and Lost In Space toys; Japanese die-cast figures (also known as chogokin) and vinyl kaiju; and whatever else ends up in my collection. Yeah, most of these toys are from the late Sixties through the Eighties, but I'll also be tossing in some new stuff now and again. Hey, a cool toy is a cool toy! 

On top of all that, I'll be writing about the culture surrounding these toys, from the movies, TV shows, books, and comics that inspired them to the marketing ploys that got us to buy them to the different ways we actually played with them back in the day. (And by "back in the day," I sometimes mean... ahem... last week.) In fact, I'll probably branch out even more -- perhaps beyond even toys. Who knows? I sure as hell don't.

While The Attic of Astounding Artifacts is more of an encyclopedic endeavor, Galactic Awesome! will be a little looser. I'll be the first to admit that I don't know as much about these toys as I do about the ones in that other blog, so this will be a bit heavier on the enthusiasm and a little lighter on the scholar-ism. But I hope this opens the door for discussion in the comments section. If you've got some intel on a toy that I've posted, by all means, school me. School me hard.

So with that, I'll say "Stay tuned." I've got some nifty posts coming up this week, and from there, we'll see where things take us. In the meantime, here's a Japanese wind up R2-D2 from Takara. More on this little guy later on...

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