Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"Get your filthy hands off my Obi-Wan"

"Walrus Man" action figure (1977). Provocative.
Ok, this is where I'm gonna lose everyone........

There are very few topics across the broad spectrum of the pop-cultural landscape that continue to capture my interest as consistently (and overwhelmingly) as that most special of "specialist nerdy fields": Star Wars "Vintage" Action Figures produced by Kenner between the years 1977 & 1985.

There I said it.

Now before you roll your eyes and navigate to a new web page, please hear me out. When I mention Star Wars figures I don't mean those infinite, soulless, over-manufactured "Prequel Trilogy" Star Wars figures you can pick up at any toy store these days - which cost the earth and have 16 articulation points (and that's just on the left upper limb) - I'm talking about the good old Star Wars figures we mid-thirties male-types used to have as kids in the 1980's.
These are the droids you're looking for...
We now call them "retro" because that's the cool thing to say and we like anything that's seemingly "old skool", but back in the day these action figures were anything but old skool. On the contrary, these babies were at the cutting edge of technology in the field of science-fiction-related entertainment merchandise. If you need any proof just check out the intricacies of the techno-exterior on the 1977 vintage R2D2 action figure: a cartoonish print produced on a white sticker deftly stuck to the little rotund droid's white plastic garbage-can body. Brilliant! Kudos to Kenner for giving the late-70's toy buying public this superbly bold vision of futuristic realism...

But seriously folks, the R2D2 figure aside, Kenner should be commended for bringing so much detail and life to their range of nearly 100 different figures from the original Star Wars trilogy, produced over the 8 year period between 1977 and 1985. Immensely popular the world over, they really set the standard for the modern era of movie-related merchandise, and are still sought after by zealous, possibly unstable, individuals such as myself to this very day.
"I bent my Wookie"
As a kid in primary school in the early 80's, I was right in the midst of "ground zero" of the Star Wars Action Figure phenomenon. It was pretty much all my mates and I used to talk about in those days: How many Star Wars figures have you got? Which ones do you have? Can I come around after school and play with them? It was relentless. Such information sharing would ultimately lead to varying displays of human emotion - from smug contentment to irrational envy - but such information sharing was necessary to determine where one stood in the great Star Wars Action Figure Ownership pecking order.
I was somewhere in the middle: I had a modest assortment - not the best, but definitely not the worst collection - but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't in awe of those who few kids who "had everything". You know the ones I'm talking about - there was usually at least one in every class. Every figure you wanted, they had. All the "hard to find" figures, they had. Some of them even had two of each figure. At recess some of these kids used to regale us mere mortals with tales of the "older brother" who had even more than they did - plus the vehicles and accessories that you couldn't even buy anymore - while we salivated over jam sandwiches and dreamt of having such a privileged life.
Imperial Gunners, or the latest incarnation of Daft Punk?

I distinctly remember attending a schoolmate's 6th birthday party in 1983, not long after the Return Of The Jedi movie was released. The custom at the time was to bestow a Star Wars figure on the birthday boy, but this kid seemed to have them all. After some deliberations at the local shops, I took a punt and bought him (and by "I", I mean my Mum) a nice new "Squidhead" figure from the newly released movie. I loved "Squidhead". I wanted "Squidhead" myself so bad, but my Mum told me to focus and mumbled some rubbish about "it's better to give than receive blah blah blah", and I eventually rocked up at the party to hand over "Squidhead" - only to find that the birthday boy in question already had two "Squidhead's". He said thanks and threw it on the pile.
This vulgar display of resource misallocation haunted me for some time afterwards, but I learnt a valuable lesson about the economic realities of life under the Western Capitalist system. I couldn't beat this system so I joined it and toiled away for 20 long years until I finally outbid some pitiful loser on eBay and became the proud owner of my very own second-hand "Squidhead" action figure in 2004 - at the ripe old age of 27.
Bounty Hunters. My kind of scum.

I'm not really proud to admit the fact, but I managed to track down some original, unopened Star Wars figures from the early 80's a few years ago - and they cost me a small fortune. They are, of course, in what one of my ilk would refer to as "mint condition" and are safely stored away from evil threats such as direct sunlight, prying hands and even the occasional wandering eye. Just looking at them takes some of the value away, I feel, so I advise all admirers to take a quick 5 second look and then move along briskly. That way nobody gets hurt. And these figures get to remain in their "mint condition". And if I've played my cards right, my son will one day inherit these, sell them off and be able buy his very own home - provided of course that he wouldn't mind achieving the "Great Aussie Dream" of home ownership until he's a 56 year old in the year 2065...
The elusive "Squidhead" (1983)

When the "new wave" of Star Wars action figures appeared in the mid 90's - followed by the diabolical "Episode I-III" action figures which were released between 1999 & 2005 - the whole crazy fad started again, and a new generation of kids got swept up in the excitement of collecting all things related to the mammoth Star Wars movie franchise. This also renewed interest in the original "Vintage" figures that crazy old dudes like myself were so smitten with, which subsequently sent their values skyrocketing on eBay as we all threw down outrageous bids for oddities such as the incredibly rare "big head" Han Solo, or the Jedi Luke Skywalker from Return Of The Jedi that came with a blue lightsaber instead of a green one. Sure, go ahead and laugh: you've obviously never experienced the thrill of the chase. The hip-pocket pain is always excruciating in hindsight, but when you're focused on getting a "fix" you'll gladly shell out more than reasonable amounts of your hard earned for that little bit of plastic. It wasn't until my family and friends organized an intervention for me that I realized my habit had escalated out of control. I'm better now, of course, but even the glimpse of a stray Yoda figurine at a weekend swap-meet still has the power to send me into a downward spiral...
Jedis: Always comparing sabres...
Actually, speaking of Yoda, I dimly recall an unfortunate incident that occurred in late 1985 when a friend of mine staying at my house on a sleepover was caught "lifting" my Yoda. This 2-inch figure was a popular item in the Star Wars action figure universe - often coveted by those who did not own a Yoda. To give you some idea of the value, you would need to trade 7 to 9 plain Stormtroopers in return for a Yoda - depending on how hard a bargain you drove. Anyway, a tense altercation ensued before the Yoda was returned to its rightful owner and the accused repented - but not before receiving a double dose of "The Force" from his irate contemporary. All was forgiven within minutes though, probably just as the night's episode of A-Team was starting, I'm guessing....
Millennium Falcon: The Holy Grail.

Anyway, all these recollections are stirring up some uneasy feelings in my being so I'd better start to wind this up. As I reflect back over this life of mine, there is one burning ambition that rises up within me from time to time. I realize there is one final goal I would like to reach on this earth before I pass on: before I become too old to appreciate the wonder and magnificence of finally owning what many regard as the "Excalibur" of the entire "Vintage" Star Wars universe. I am of course talking of the original Millennium Falcon spaceship. I've never had the opportunity to hold one, yet alone see one up close. All we ever heard at school were hushed whispers and rumours of kids who may have owned one - no-one was ever sure. Kids who owned the Millennium Falcon never seemed to want to reveal themselves to others for fear it would mean having to field requests to bring it to school or, worse yet, have a heap of uninvited guests over after school.
So I have two choices: do I continue to be a dreamer, or do I take out a second mortgage, jump on eBay and search the online galaxy for a shady dealer in "Vintage" Star Wars vehicles who I'm sure wouldn't look out of place in the Mos Eisley Cantina?
Time will tell.....


  1. I had the Millenium Falcon, and a Telescoping Lightsabre Obi-Wan....sold in a garage sale in 1986 when I was 10. I still curl up into a ball and sob at the thought of "if i only still had them..."

  2. I feel your pain Rick. Still, as they say, "'tis better to have owned Millenium Falcon and lost....".