Friday, May 25, 2007


Where did I get all those wonderful toys?

By Edward Copeland
Some of my memories as to specific dates may be hazy, but Star Wars played such an integral part of my childhood that I feel I can embrace indulgence over concrete accuracy. Surprisingly, I don't really remember the first time I saw Star Wars in a theater, though I do remember the theater itself, a long-gone twin screen in a small suburban mall whose only other major tenant was a cafeteria frequented by Lawrence Welk whenever he was in town. I remember loving the movie, but it hardly was an obsession for me out of the box.

By the time The Empire Strikes Back showed up, I was willing to get my parents to stand in an extremely long line with me so I could watch it opening day. When it got to Return of the Jedi, my Mom just went to a theater when they opened and bought tickets for later in the day. I tried to recapture my youth when The Phantom Menace turned up, buying opening day tickets weeks in advance, but the mediocrity of the later trilogy sapped the magic. Attack of the Clones I got to see early in a press screening. Revenge of the Sith I waited a couple of weekends for before I ventured out to see it. To me, it seemed that what really got me into it were the toys, those wonderful toys.

I remember the first time I saw a Kenner Star Wars figure. A third-grade classmate brought one to class, which means it would have been in the fall of 1977, after the film's opening. It was a Luke Skywalker action figure and had come to him in a plain little cardboard box, as if it were hiding booze, that he'd received in exchange for boxtops or proofs of purchase from some breakfast cereal I've long since forgotten. Soon, I had my mom help me take advantage of the free figure offer. When it arrived, I received Ben "Obi-Wan" Kenobi, back when the figure had an actual plastic cloak that you could remove. Eventually, one of the arm holes ripped and I bought a new Obi-Wan figure, but by then the cloak was part of the hard-plastic shell of the figure itself. Thus began an obsession with collecting those figures that didn't end until well after Return of the Jedi was released in 1983. The action figure line truly was George Lucas' first masterpiece of marketing, from the initial giveaways to the Sears "exclusive" sets and to the release of Boba Fett before The Empire Strikes Back was even close to being released.

I didn't succeed in getting every figure, but damned if I didn't try. I missed out on the first, tall version of Snaggletooth that only came in the exclusive Sears cantina set, but the smaller one was more accurate anyway. Getting Yoda involved lots of phone calls and finally a trip to the other side of town once he was located. When the original run of figures stopped, the only figure I didn't get at all was Han Solo in carbonite. C'est la vie.

Of course, the action figure population explosion required more and more carrying cases in which to house them, beginning with a fairly bare-bones two level case similar to those that housed Hot Wheels before they got fancy with cases shaped like Darth Vader and C-3PO. Of course, that doesn't take into account all the playsets and accessories that came separately that I tried to acquire as well. Curiously, I never owned the large Star Wars figures. For some reason, they didn't appeal to me. There were Land Speeders and X-Wings, TIE Fighters, then Darth Vader's TIE Fighter and, of course, the Millennium Falcon. The Star Destroyer, Boba Fett's Slave I and Jabba's sail barge. Not to mention various Hoth action sets, Ewok villages and of course the biggest of them all, the Death Star, though this photo I found doesn't have the trash compactor set up at the bottom. Then there also were the creatures too big for action figure status. The tauntauns, the patrol dewbacks and Rancor, the Wampa, Sy Snootles and the Max Rebo Band (before Lucas ruined their great scene in his "special edition." Why did I spend all that vital time during junior high learning the Huttese lyrics to "Lapti Nek?") Last but not least, Jabba the Hutt, accompanied by Salacious Crumb. My obsession and overflowing collection was so large that after The Empire Strikes Back my Dad built me a special table, probably between 8 and 10 feet long and 4-5 feet wide, with storage space underneath and with a surface that was painted half in beige to represent Tatooine, half in white to serve as Hoth.

I also collected Star Wars comics, novel spinoffs, monthly magazines (which still has to be the only reason I knew that Vader was injured in a fight with Obi-Wan over a volcanic pit) and, beginning with The Empire Strikes Back, Topps trading cards. Series 2 was the only one I ever completed. As I grew older and realized what a financial opportunity I had missed by actually opening all these toys and playing with them instead of preserving them for the day something such as eBay would be invented, I started to think of posters. When Star Wars premiered on video around 1982, I spotted a poster of it in the local video store and made my first movie poster purchase. I still have it. The owner sold it to me for $10. Later, at another store I spotted an Empire Strikes Back poster (though it was of the re-release, not the original) and got that for $25, though it was already sealed in plastic. I also got Return of the Jedi for the same price. This same store though had what for me was the Holy Grail: the Revenge of the Jedi teaser poster, before Lucas changed the title deciding that Jedi weren't vengeful. I sunk (ducks head in embarrassment) $200 from my savings for it. The savings had come from some silly little stock playing I had done in junior high (investing in Warner Communications who owned Atari) and Coleco at the height of Colecovision. I still own all four posters. Periodically, I've sought to sell them, but I can never bring myself to do it or to find a sucker who will pay me enough for it. The toys (not the figures) I ended up selling to some kind of toy collector who I'm certain ripped me off, but they weren't in the boxes, so what could I do? The figures I eventually sold when I was in college to a kid in junior high who had become obsessed with the trilogy. I know I could have made more money on them, but somehow I felt better passing them on to someone who was interested in them for the joy they brought him and not as an investment. I also sold the boy one other Star Wars-related item I had. It still worked, but not as well as it did originally; it was a Darth Vader speakerphone. There was something really cool about hearing voices coming from Vader until the static got worse than his breathing in the movies. It also had cool lights that would flash as numbers were dialed. I wonder if it still works.

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My Mom threw all mine away. Every single one. Thanks Mom!!!
My kindergarten had some really cool Star Wars playsets that I've never seen anywhere else: super-high quality die-cast metal playsets of the Hoth ice cave and the Cloud City carbonite freezing room. They were much smaller than average and came with die-cast figures about the size of a quarter (the best being one of Luke that was meant to hang upside down in the ice cave).

Watching my friends recreate the carbonite freeze sequence with this playset was what made me want to watch Star Wars.
I remember when you sold your action figures. You were so worried the collection would go to someone who didn't deserve it. I wonder where that kid is now. I had the Hoth action playset. My bro and I put it in the snow and took pictures of it. BTW, why is it no one was interested in the large size action figures?
My brother had the Jabba the Hutt. I remember having a Darth Vader and Han Solo doll, as well as one of those walker things from Empire. I would remember more of the toys I had, but my brain is blocking out the pain of them being thrown away!

Wagstaff, if you send me a picture of your Hoth set in the snow, I'll send you a picture of me dressed as Han Solo for Halloween, circa 1977!
I vividly remember my mother suggesting we put a couple of the figures away without opening them. This was very early on, maybe even when the original batch of 8 (or was it 10? 12?) figures were released. I laughed so hard at her as it was the most ridiculous suggestion this eight-year-old had ever heard. Needless to say, I tore open C-3PO and just laughed at her.

I love you, Mom. You were right more often than not.
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