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.

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 :-(

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Death Star playset (Palitoy)

Every collector has a "grail" item - something that they long to have, that just has some special appeal. Usually the grail is rare, and most often it's expensive. For production Star Wars collectors, it can be something foreign, or unusual. For me, this item is all of those things - it's the infamous chipboard Death Star playset.

As you can see from the packaging, this is the Palitoy (UK) version of the playset - it was also released in other markets including New Zealand, Australia, France and Canada. Although we here in Canada were the only market to get both the Kenner (plastic) Death Star playset and this chipboard version, the Canadian card Death Star is even more difficult to find than Palitoy's and I've "settled" on adding this UK version to my collection. But I'm not disappointed - far from it. This is the coolest playset I own, and by some margin at that.

The box is in admittedly lousy condition but I'm happy just to have one with the toy. Even though it's a Palitoy item the box design carries all of the classic Kenner hallmarks - colourful photography, sharp design and that iconic racetrack on the front.

Here it is, assembled. It's actually reasonably challenging to put together, and I wouldn't recommend trying it for the first time without referring to the instructions. The components are a thick card I have heard referred to as "chipboard", combined with some plastic components - the five two-piece base connectors, the trash chute, the top gunner's cockpit and canopy, and the two cannons pinched from the X-Wing Fighter toy. The set also included some small clear plastic figure stands, but these are long gone from my set, which is fortunately otherwise complete.

The detail packed into this playset is amazing. Every inch of the walls is covered with Star-Warsy goodness. Here Darth and Ben battle in front of the trash compactor escape hatch.



"Get in there, you big furry oaf! I don't care what you smell!"
"Raaawwrrruunnngghh"
Trash chute drops figures straight into the compactor - complete with moving walls. The hatch at right opens to allow heroes to "escape".

The mirror at the base reflects the walls, giving the illusion of a bottomless shaft. Ben searches for the controls to the tractor beam.

Back to replicating the box shots. One of the rooms represents the Princess's cell. Either that or Vader's bedroom...

The heroes engage in discussion while Ben battles Vader.

The heroes about to be crushed in the trash compactor...

"How you doin'?"
...or is that Luke just taking the opportunity to mack on Leia?

Han takes to the garbage chute as the heroes come under fire from Stormtroopers. What's that Jawa doing on the Death Star?!?!?

Imperial Gunner finds his rightful place, although he wouldn't be released until the PotF line, six years later...

"I'm Luke Skywalker, I'm here to rescue you."
 
Imperial Gunner looks menacing stalking the corridors.

Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin discuss their nefarious plans.

You gotta wonder about Imperial administration when they have a whole room full of Death Squad Commanders and no actual Death Squads in sight.

The detailing on this toy is just incredible.

Underside of base is decorated with familiar space battle photo as well as photos of the first 12 figures. Canadian version differs in that it has a plain "marbled" looking base underside.

I think I would have blown my brains out with joy if I'd had this set as a kid. The play value and detailing are just off the charts. The only drawback, of course, is that the cardboard construction is far from robust, which probably contributes significantly to the rarity of these pieces... I expect that most were trashed by kids and subsequently thrown away.

Suffice to say, I'm very happy to have it in my collection :-)  Next up, I'll post the Kenner version!