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:
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