A regularly updated blog about my vintage Kenner Star Wars toy collection. Some stuff that I've recently acquired; some stuff that I've had since I was a kid. Some rare, some common, but all sharing the warmth, charm and character of the "first generation" of Star Wars toys - the ones we played with as kids in the late '70s and early '80s.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

AT-AT All Terrain Armored Transport

In the middle of a summer heat wave, one of my favorite things to do is sneak down to the cool basement and get out some toys. Last night I finally had a chance to do just that.

The AT-AT (in Canada we say "at-at" not "ay-tee ay-tee") has to be one of the most recognizable vehicles from The Empire Strikes Back - if not the entire original trilogy. I've blogged about this vehicle's poor cousin - the Hoth Ice Planet Adventure Playset - but this is the real deal. Still not quite in scale with the 3 3/4" mini-action figures, but still a monstrously large toy, probably the largest in the entire Kenner line, at least until the Imperial Shuttle came along.

It had a massive pricetag to go along with that imposing presence, too - the remnants of the sticker on this box indicates a price of over $46. That may explain why I never had one as a kid ;-)

 
Although I have had two loose examples of the toy in my collection for some time, I acquired this box only recently. As you can see, it's a bit beat up, but nice AT-AT boxes seem to be hard to come by nowadays, and the litho on the front still looks pretty good.
 
This box is the second issue from 1982, featuring a "special accessories" offer sticker and including a set of weapons, backpacks etc.  This box also has the "Rebate" sticker in place.



As usual, I've replicated the box art in a tableau. I think that as the Kenner line gained popularity and larger, more expensive toys went into production, the art department lost their inhibitions about portraying realistic play scenarios in the box art and just went nuts. Did they imagine that a typical kid would have 9 Snowtroopers? But in any case, I love these images; they are so cool, and so evocative of the time.

Snowtroopers ready to disembark. Not sure how, as they're still almost 20 feet off the ground with no ladders in sight...

The rest of the squad tries not to get stepped on...

Luke Skywalker, X-Wing Pilot with grappling hook, one of the accessories included with the Survival Kit Offer. The "rope" wraps around the friction-buckled belt and is tied on the other end to a soft plastic two-pronged grappling hook.

Many parts of the toy are individually part-numbered.

AT-AT Commander and AT-AT Driver survey the situation.

Part number also on the canopy.

Front view of clear plastic "chin guns" and swivelling "head guns".

These guns are often lost. Reproductions are available but should be properly marked to avoid confusion with original parts.

The right side of the toy was also authentically styled to the movie vehicle.

AT-AT Drivers replicate box art.

Another often-lost part: the battery cover inside the toy.

"Pistol grip" controls movement of the vehicle's "head". Button activates light, sound and motion feature - the chin guns move back and forth.

Bottom view of head with chin guns and bulb cover (centre).

Removing the cover reveals the bulb.

The cover is another part that's often missing from toys found in the wild. Reproductions are available and complete the toy nicely. However, it's important to ensure that reproduction parts are properly marked to avoid confusion in future. In this case, note the indistinct part number on the inside of the cover... a sure tip-off that this is a repro cover, as originals have a crisp raised number. Sharpie "R" added just for good measure ;-)

Setting up the box-art scene and taking these photos reminded me why I love this hobby so much and why blogging is so much fun. There's nothing like the tactility of actually setting up the toys to reconnect you with the joys of childhood play. This is especially true of toys like this AT-AT that I could only dream of owning as an eleven-year-old kid!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Toy Fair Princess Leia Organa 41-back MOC (Kenner Canada)


As regular readers (hi mum!) will know, I'm not really a MOC collector. I like loose figures and boxed-but-not-MISB stuff, because I like to be able to play with my toys examine them close up. Having said that, I do have a couple of MOCs in my collection. The most interesting one is this Canadian 41-back Princess Leia Organa.

I picked this up at a comic shop in north Toronto when I lived there in the early 1990s. It was inexpensive (about $25 IIRC) but obviously in pretty bad shape, hence the low price. It was only many years later that I discovered what may be some interesting history behind the piece.

As you can see, the front of the cardback is torn in a very particular way, and the back has glue residue in a strip from top to bottom. Almost like it's been glued to something, eh? Well, according to theswca, this may be indicative of display at the Kenner booth at the Canadian Toy Fair in the early '80s. The Princess Leia Organa figure is a documented display figure at Toy Fair and the damage on mine is consistent with that usage. Toy Fair display figures were glued back to front in a particular, distinct way for display at the Kenner Canada booth:

Photo Credit: The Star Wars Collectors Archive/Jim McCallum

HOWEVER, Canadian super-collector Scott Bradley and others have cautioned that while Canadian multi-pack cardbacks were usually stapled together, some may have been glued together in a fashion consistent with the damage seen here. This means that this kind of damaged cardback doesn't necessarily indicate a Toy Fair provenance. The only sure way to tell is if the cardback in question has part of another identical cardback stuck to it - since multipacks don't contain multiples of the same figure.

 

The bubble on my example is perfect, with a nice visible waffle to the adhesive. Unfortunately the figure is a bit discoloured in places... grr.

Unpunched, for what that's worth given the rest of the damage...!



There's no way to be certain that this piece was actually a Toy Fair display sample. However, I think the evidence in its favour is fairly compelling. The MOC was bought in Toronto in the early '90s, it's a Canadian 41-back Leia that is a cardback used at Toy Fair, and it has damage consistent with Toy Fair display. The irony is that I only learned about the possible connection from a "U-grading" thread on Rebelscum where people posted pictures of their most beaten-up cardbacks... I posted a picture of this one, and a fellow Scummer informed me of the possible Toy Fair connection! Needless to say, this one's remaining in my collection in its current state ;-)

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Book Review: The Ultimate Guide to Vintage Star Wars Action Figures

Let's get this out of the way right at the start: Kellerman this ain't.

Mark Bellomo has produced a slick, colourful introductory survey covering Kenner vintage Star Wars toys from 1977-85. The book covers action figures (both "mini-" and "large-size"), creatures, ships, playsets, and even coins. Droids and Ewoks toys are also covered in this slick, weighty 272-page softcover tome.
  
The content is displayed in "catalog" format. Each toy is taken in turn with ample clear photography, mainly of the figure/toy only, without box or packaging (Obi-Wan above notwithstanding). Some major identified variations are also pictured. Ships and playsets are photographed from several angles and excellent detail provided regarding their component parts. There is a "price range" quoted for each item, but the book is certainly not intended to be an accurate price guide. The text, however, concentrates on "in-Universe" information, telling us in (sometimes excruciating) detail about the background of the character or object and how it fits in the Star Wars universe canon.

Not only Trilogy information is mined, oh no. We get lots of details from the prequels and Expanded Universe stuff too. For example, did you know that Greedo's father, "Greedo the Elder", was also a bounty hunter? Me neither. It's an interesting factoid I suppose, but it's only marginally relevant to the original Trilogy and even less relevant to the toy line.

However, some of these factoids, even when toy-related, are just plain incorrect. For example, it's actor Sebastian Shaw whose face was used as a model for the Anakin Skywalker head sculpt - not David Prowse's mug!


Anakin
Not-Anakin

I suppose it was inevitable that a mass-market oriented book about the toys would cross-over into a discussion about the Universe. There's only so much you can say about a mini-action figure that might be interesting to a casual reader. For example, discussion of cardbacks is limited to stating that the first issue are called "12-backs" because of the number of figures pictured on the cardback. "20/21B", same thing. But Bellomo states that beyond this, cardbacks are only referred to as "ESB", "ROTJ", or "POTF". Tell that to somebody who's looking for a 4-LOM on 47-back offerless ESB card ;-) Although to be fair, each character's debut cardback is referenced in its entry.

Okay, so I guess we know why the book is jam-packed full of information about the Star Wars universe - it's to fill the whitespace. Which is fine - if you're interested in the Expanded Universe.

Bellomo's writing style is also... complicated. Here's a quote that's typical, from the entry on the Droids ATL Interceptor:

"Utilized by the Fromm Family of Crime (a.k.a. the Fromm Gang) around 15 BBY, the spacecraft is used by the Fromms (see Droids, Sise Fromm and Tig Fromm) as an interceptor (see INT-4 and TIE Interceptor) where the ship functions to protect their weapons satellite, the Trigon One, and to subjugate and terrorize the inhabitants of the backwater Mid Rim world known as Ingo: specifically, R2-D2, C-3PO, and their masters, Thall Joben and Jord Dusat, along with their ally, Kea Moll (see their individual entries)."

Whew! How about:

"The ship was used by the Fromm Gang around 15BBY to protect the Trigon One (their weapons satellite) and to subjugate and terrorize the inhabitants of Ingo, a backwater Mid Rim planet."

The author also uses the same hyberbolic adjectives again and again... "impossibly rare," "incredibly expensive," every playset and vehicle's parts are noted as being "removable/easily lost"... it just gets a bit same-y.

Those are some examples of how the book might have benefited from more aggressive editing. Another example is a very confusing discussion at the beginning of the book about the terms "MIB" (mint in box) and "MISB" (mint in sealed box). Explanations are given of these terms, then Bellomo introduces the terms "MIP" (mint in package) and "MISP" (mint in sealed package), which have essentially the same meanings as MIB and MISB. Why?? It's incongruous and a waste of space, especially when some figure collecting basics like COO are not even referenced.


However, Bellomo can be commended in producing a worthwhile introductory text for vintage enthusiasts. If you're looking for a guide to what accessories come with what figure, or identification of some major variations, or just want to look at pretty pictures of vintage toys, then this is your book. It's comprehensive as far as it goes, covering all the vintage figures (plus Ewoks and Droids) plus creatures, ships, and even coins. It's all here, in colour, in one volume. The identification of the parts that come with each vehicle and playset is an invaluable reference. And the photos are spectacular!

But as reference for more advanced collectors and fans, there are things lacking. A major deficit, in my view, is the lack of information on cardback variations and more fundamentally, on packaging at all. Kenner's package design is one of the toy elements that's most attractive to collectors and enthusiasts and some pictures or reference on that would certainly be welcomed by the collecting community. This is especially relevant in light of recent developments in the world of reproductions - not only repro cardbacks, but reproductions of boxes and even inserts! I suspect that a major reason for this omission is that the toys pictured in the book are all from Bellomo's personal collection, and he may not personally own boxed versions of the toys - or maybe, like my own collection, his boxes aren't all in a condition that's "ready for prime time" ;-) However, if the book had included photography of cardbacks, packaging and boxes, there wouldn't be the need for all of the extraneous Universe information to fill the book.

I can understand the concentration on loose toys, and that's great. But even in accepting this focus, the lack of any information, or even any mention, of COO information as regards the figures is a significant deficit.

Collectors will love to use this book for parts reference to ships and playsets, and as an accessories/weapons guide for figures. The toy photography is also exquisite. But don't expect any meaningful discussion of packaging or cardbacks, figure variations or COO information. You may also find the excessive discussion of the Expanded Universe and Bellomo's florid prose distracting.

I guess in the end, the book is just a bit confused as to its purpose. Is it a collector's reference? Or is it a fan reference to character backgrounds and the "history" of the Star Wars universe? As it happens, it's a bit of both (almost more the latter than the former), and as such will likely have an increased mainstream appeal. I certainly recommend it for eye candy alone, especially at the price. However, this also means, unfortunately, that we still await the ultimate collector reference. Roll on Kellerman Second Edition!
 Verdict: Recommended for what it is, especially at the price.
 


The Ultimate Guide to Vintage Star Wars Toys by Mark Bellomo
Krause Publications
$17.70 from Amazon.com

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Death Star Space Station (Kenner Canada)

Kenner's largest playset allowed kids to have mini-action figure adventures set aboard the dreaded Death Star Space Station. Of course, kids here in Canada were among the luckiest in the world, as they had the chance (parental finances and goodwill permitting) to get not just one, but two Death Star playsets - this one or the very cool cardboard version I recently blogged about.

The box art depicts various play scenarios - Stormtrooper manning ("cloning"?) the laser cannon, Ben deactivating the tractor beam, Luke and Leia's rope swing to safety.

Of course, being a Kenner Canadian release, we have bilingual box art too - Threepio and Artoo about to embark on the elevator, Han and Chewie pop out of a hatch, and the heroes caught up in the trash compactor.

Here's a nice shot of the "Alien Trash Monster" which the cognoscenti know as "Dianoga"... completely imagined from whole cloth by Kenner designers, as of course the original monster never entirely appeared on film.

"Station Spaciale de l'Etoile de la Mort"... just rolls right off the tongue doesn't it!

Here it is, set up to replicate the box front art.

Stormtrooper on the big gun...

Ben about to deactivate the tractor beam...

Luke and Leia rope swing... waitaminute, what happened to Luke's saber? Tragic story, that...

Luke's saber is original to the figure that I've had since I was a child. Some years ago the tip broke off, but I secured it back on with superglue and it held... until now...

It was very difficult to balance the figures on the bridge for photos and the thought crossed my mind, "I hope Luke's saber doesn't break again." Well, guess what happened? (A replacement original has been ordered)

Threepio and Artoo pose by the elevator. It raises and lowers "manually" and the blue tab turns to lock it in place.


Imperial Gunner time-warps back to 1978 from 1985 ;-)  Looks good there though, no?

Typical Death Star scene. Vader and Tarkin discuss whether to blow up Dantooine or Alderaan while Death Squad Commander does "Empire Stuff."

Two cardboard pieces slot in to form the outside "walls" of the playset. Nice graphics.

Death Star Droid looks right at home here as well.

Here's the elevator tab, shown locked in place.

The elevator has a clear insert that rotates to simulate opening doors.


"Surprise!"

Trash compactor is an interesting element of the playset. The foam "garbage" that's included is prone to deterioration over time so if you're in the market for one of these playsets, make sure it's in good condition.

"The moon with the rebel base will be in range in 30 minutes."

One more thing - I wanted to show a picture of the parts of this toy that can cause so much heartache. Many a playset has been ruined by incorrect assembly of these parts... they're the floor supports, and there are nine of them. The four thin white ones attach to the second floor (with the consoles) and support the third floor. The three grey ones attach to the third floor (light bridge) and support the top floor. The remaining two thick white struts attach to the gun floor and support the roof piece.

Care must be taken when assembling these pieces to make sure the slots in the struts align properly with the receptacle. Forcing the pieces can break them and may even ruin the toy if the strut gets stuck in the wrong receptacle part. So be more careful with these than I was with my Luke Farmboy in the photoshoot :-(