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“Deck Officer! Deck Officer!”: An Autobiographical Journey Through Star Wars Toys, Part 2

“Sir, your tauntaun will freeze before you get to the end of this blog post…”

“Then I’ll see you in hell!”

 Yes, I was a slight latecomer to the Star Wars universe. I was a child of The Empire Strikes Back, but I was keenly aware Empire was a sequel. I knew I had missed the boat on the original (which I referred to simply as “Old Star Wars”) and ached to see it. The gap was filled somewhat by my Star Wars storybook, which told the story of the first film through lots of lavish photographs and fairly advanced and detailed text for a young reader. (The book-and-cassette read-along version helped, too, as I dutifully turned the page when I heard the chimes.) The storybook also contained some material that was cut from the final film, including the famous lost Luke-Biggs dialogue scene.

This was my only reference point for the original Star Wars

This was my only reference point for the original Star Wars

storybook3

I distinctly remember the Empire illustrated storybook had its publication delayed for some reason, and my mom had to special order it from the mysterious “Random House,” which I pictured as a literal house full of storybooks. That Empire storybook and the excellent Marvel comics adaptation helped keep the plot and visuals fresh in my mind once Empire left theaters. The things we had to resort to in those dark days before home video…

The Marvel comics adaptation served as my "home version" of Empire

The Marvel comics adaptation served as my “home version” of Empire

The collecting fire was fueled by the TV commercials, which were in constant rotation during after-school and Saturday morning shows. They usually featured a pair of bowl-haired kids in 70s turtlenecks playing on a perfectly landscaped “backyard” set, making up atrocious dialogue (I still say “look both ways, dewback!” to myself as I approach intersections to this day), and failing to pull off C-3PO’s British accent.

“Playing Star Wars” was a common activity — but you could go down one of two paths, which we called “Real Life” or “Action Figures.” “Real Life” meant pretending to be the characters and acting things out. Actually, we were not the real characters, but rather the real characters’ kids. This was at my insistence. I could pretend to be in a galaxy far, far away, but I could not pretend to be any age other than my own. I was a peculiar child. (Or was I prophetic? This was years ahead of the “babyfication” fad that swept pop culture later in the decade.) Characters were assigned to my neighborhood crew based on age, gender and hair color. I was dark-haired so I got to be Han, Jr., Isaac had kind of dirty blonde hair, so he was Luke, Jr., Susie was a girl, so she was Lil’ Leia, and Mikey was three-and-a-half, so he played whatever he was damn well told, usually something demeaning. Continue reading

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Full-Course Kenner: An Autobiographical Journey Through Star Wars Toys, Part 1

KENLOGThere’s no big Star Wars-related milestone that inspired me to write a little bit (or not-so-little bit) about the line of Star Wars Kenner toys that were such a massive part of my childhood. The original three movies are 37, 34, and 31 years old, we won’t see a new film under the deal with Disney until at least the end of 2015, so things are pretty quiet in the Star Wars universe.

What set me off down this path was actually a podcast — The Star Wars Minute, hosted by Alex Robinson and Pete the Retailer. The concept behind star wars minutethe podcast is these two Star Wars geeks around my age (closing in on 40) dedicate each episode to a single minute of the original Star Wars movie. (I still have trouble calling it A New Hope or Episode IV.) A typical episode runs between 12 and 15 minutes, and it’s better than it sounds. They go into behind-the-scenes trivia (most of which I know, and I tend to yell corrections at my iPod when they flub something) and banter with their weekly guest, in addition to analyzing the minutiae of the film sixty seconds at a time. I may be biased, but I don’t see this working with any other film series. There’s a certain richness to the Original Trilogy that latter-day CGI-fests can’t match (terrific as some of those films are.) (EDIT: There’s now an Indiana Jones Minute, Back to the Future Minute, Jaws Minute, Goodfellas Minute, all done by other podcasters. No, those movies are not “latter-day CGI-fests,” and no, they still don’t work as well in a minute-by-minute breakdown.)

Star Wars Minute has moved on from Star Wars, and are a ways into The Empire Strikes Back (they have promised to hang it up without doing the dreaded prequels. EDIT: They’re totally doing the prequels), and here’s my beef: they have remarked numerous times that they have received complaints about digressing too much into discussion of the Star Wars toys. It surprises no one that these complaints come from Generation II of the Star Wars fan base.

Generation I are the people who fell in love with the Star Wars movies during their original theatrical run (1977-83), and aside from yelling occasional corrections at their iPods, are content to bask in nostalgia and not rock the boat too much. (Maybe there’s a little irritation at the sub-par writing of the prequels.) Generation III is everyone from toddlers through high-schoolers who were born or began to watch the films after the “Special Edition” re-releases in 1997 and are totally uncritical and accept the series as a whole, prequels and all. New Generation III’ers are being made each day (welcome!).

luke

Generation II are the nitpicking assholes. The millennials. The Gen-Y’ers. The eldest of them maybe got taken to Return of the Jedi as an infant and breastfed through it. They usually have older siblings or younger parents who were Generation I and got them into it…and then they really ran with it. They played all the video games, gobbled up the “Expanded Universe” novels and comics, and re-watched the movies endlessly on video. They are the ones who began to fetishize Boba Fett beyond all reason. They’re mostly in their mid-twenties to early thirties these days, and they’re the type who actually e-mail complaints to podcasts. Which is fine, but when they say the toy discussions should stop, that’s where I have to step in and invoke a little Gen I seniority. (Sad 2018 post-Last Jedi EDIT: And I guarantee you all of the racist, misogynistic fuckwit trolls who are ruining Star Wars fandom are 95% Gen II. I know you’ll all die alone, and I hope it will be painful.)

Generation II have never existed in a world without home video. To Gen I, the toys were the only way we could keep the movies alive in our heads. We squeezed in as many viewings as we could at the theater, and once it finished its run, we hoped it would show up on TV now and then.

In the meantime, we had the toys. The wonderful, wonderful toys produced by Kenner from early 1978 through 1985, which fired the imagination like nothing else could. Continue reading

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