Thursday, March 21, 2013

1978 Kenner Death Star Space Station

In the beginning, there were 12 figures, 3 vehicles, and THIS tower of fun… Kenner's Star Wars Death Star Playset!  Today, I'm taking a look at Kenner's flagship playset from early (1978) in Kenner's Star Wars toy line.

Many kids wanted this playset and many got one.  I wasn't one of the lucky ones (my brother was) but I yearned to have one for myself (yes, yearned).  I had seen one in commercials and in the promotional booklets that came with Star Wars vehicles.  As an adult, I ended up adopting my brother's set, though, and I've repaired and replaced pieces to have a complete, working set.  

This is a great playset that features many scenes from the film.

Starting with the top floor, the Death Star features a turning, movable gun cannon turret with a chair for an operator to sit and blast those stinking Rebels out of the sky.  The entire gun is spring-loaded and jumps off it's base to simulate being "hit" by laser fire when you push the lever on the floor in front of it.  Bang!  It leaps from it's base and falls on it's side.  Take that Empire!

Behind the cannon is the top-floor elevator that can transport figures to any level of the playset.  The outside of the elevator is designed to mimic the platform and tractor beam controls that Ben Kenobi had to inch himself around to disable.  

The next floor down simulates the portion of the Death Star where Luke and Leia get trapped on one side of a broken drawbridge over a deep Death Star cavern.  A "rope" is included for Luke and Leia to use to swing to safety.  The drawbridge extends and retracts manually for the times when your figures don't feel like swinging.  The manual elevator also stops at this and every other floor.

The next floor down (second from the bottom) houses two Death Star control decks for figures to stand at and operate the going-ons of the Death Star.  The cardboard panel behind the decks shows a view screen that shows the intense X-wing and Tie Fighter battle that is raging just outside the cardboard (You'd think the Emperor would have a bigger budget for bullding these things).

This room also features a trap door that leads down to the Death Star's bottom level…

The Trash Compactor!  This is the feature that probably excited kids the most.  The bottom level houses a removable trash compactor complete with foam garbage and the green, tentacled trash monster.  He's made out of rubber and doesn't sport any articulation but he's a very cool addition to this set.  

The compactor features a crank on the outside that, when turned, pushes the outside wall closer and closer to the magnetically-sealed (not really) front door.  When enough pressure builds up, the door usually pops open and allows our heroes to escape!  Who needs 3PO when you've got pressure and foam chunks?!

 As neat as this set is, it was made a bit cheaply.  Playsets produced for action figure lines in later years were of, generally, higher quality. The plastic used for the Death Star is somewhat thin and brittle and it incorporates thin cardboard panels for the outside walls.  Nonetheless, this set was a blast and kept many kids entertained for hours and hours.  Despite it's fragility, this is an iconic Star Wars toy that is remembered through the warm haze of nostalgia by many, many former children.  I can hardly believe that this toy was introduced 35 years ago! 

 If you can find one of these in complete or near complete condition, I'd recommend picking it up.  It makes a great display for your vintage figures and even looks great packed with Hasbro's current figures.

Star Wars!!!!!!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Darth Vader 1977

While Brian A gets the Death Star out of dry dock and Brain B finds his Jedi robe I thought I would take this chance to sneak in a post and keep this Bantha Party rolling along! So, I give you non other than your's truly as Darth Vader (or Vadar) 1977!

Yes it was Halloween, and I was more than excited to don the cape and mask of the Dark Lord of the Sith. You have to note that the only part of the costume that is original is the mask. I wasn't too happy with the actual costume part of the costume. I mean would Darth Vader really walk around with a picture of himself on his chest?

I had to talk my mother into coming up with the rest of the costume from sketches, spy photos, newspaper clippings, and cloth swatches of my choosing. Many Bothans died to get all that reference.

Now Vader would not be complete without his lightsaber, so I am going to introduce to you a feat of Dad Engineering, a marvel if you will, non other than the first lightsaber to ever exist outside of a Star Wars movie... ever.

What we have here is a signal flashlight, complete with some D Cells, and a translucent golf bag tube, some elbow grease and a little tape and voila, a lightsaber! Funny part is no one to our knowledge had released any type of lightsaber, light sword, or light stick to cash in on the Star Wars juggernaut. Kenner certainly hadn't, I would have been on that faster than a flea on a Wookiee.

A little side story on the birth of the lightsaber. We were in a store and next to the golf tubes was the signal flash lights, my dad picked both up, sort of smiled and placed then in the shopping cart, I had no clue what he was up to, I mean he didn't golf and as far as I know we were not expecting to signal any aircraft in for a landing.

The damsel in distress in the photo is my mother, dad is on the camera, an uncle in the background, if I had to guess we were all going out to eat. A little pre Halloween celebration, and I was hoping that I could wear the Vader costume. I am sure I was disappointed and had to change... parents, jeez! 

Finally the big night, decorations... check, homemade coffin with ice cold hand hanging out... check, slightly intimidating Dark Lord of the Sith... um, check. Looking at this picture I look so small, but having been in that costume I felt like I was as big and tall as Vader himself.

This to me is what Star Wars was all about, creativity, imagination, fun. It still pretty much is.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Star Quiz #1

For our first post we thought it would be sort of a fun introduction to come up with some questions and then each take a turn answering them. So, this first post of Another Star Wars Blog is long and sort of wordy.

I personally hope that we can do a "Star Quiz" on occasion, as it was fun coming up with the questions and a blast reading everyone's answers.

Hope you enjoy and as we say on ASWB... STAR WARS!!!

Q: Your first memory of seeing Star Wars (or any of the Star Wars movies) for the
first time.

Brian A It's funny, I don't remember anything that day before seeing Star Wars but I remember watching the movie and walking out afterwards.  I was 10 years old and it felt like life was never going to be the same… and I know how corny that sounds, believe me.  I was just so blown away by the movie.  It's been said a billion times before but it was just so REAL and different than any film I had watched before.  I saw it at Rimrock 4 theatre at a local mall with a friend of mine.  I went on to work at that theater, later, as a teenager… and met my wife there, too.

Brian BMy family was on vacation in Boonesborough, Kentucky in 1977.
We had been to Fort Boonesborough and soaked in the history there but three boys still had plenty of energy so Dad took us to a movie.
We didn't know what we were going to see but Dad said all the guys at work said there was a cowboy movie in space that was really good.
I was 12 and grew up wanting to be an Astronaut.  I remember Dad taking us out into the back yard and looking at the moon as he told us "Men are walking on there right now boys!” So to see spaceships, robots, laser blasters and Lightsabers took our breath away.  We had never seen anything like it before.  In the morning we were wearing coonskin caps and shooting play flintlocks rifles but that night our guns were laser blasters and went "phew -phew" instead of "Ka-pow!”  It changed our world.

One funny thing that happened in the first viewing was during the Cantina scene.  After Obi-Wan cut off the guys arm off a guy stood up and took a flash picture of it.  I remember Dad saying, "That guy's going to be surprised to see a white screen Instead of a severed arm." since he had used a flash.

Chunky B – My first memory was walking into the Galaxy Theater a few minutes late, after the titles and story text had scrolled by, and my first vision was of the Star Destroyer passing over head. I just stood in the aisle as my Father was finding seats for us. I never once moved my eyes from the screen.

I was ushered into a seat by my Dad, who had to get back out of his to remove me from the aisle. I feel like I didn’t blink during the rest of the movie.

It was not until later that I would see the titles, months later to be exact. My parents decided to load me into our 1976 Vega and go see a movie they wanted to see at the Drive in, I was not interested in the least in seeing Saturday Night Fever, so I had my blanket and pillow spread out in the back (it was a hatch back) and was settling in when I noticed another movie starting on the opposite screen, I wondered no more what it was as I watched the story unfold again with out sound.

Q:  For those that weren't there, can you describe what life was like in 70s when Star Wars was first released?

Brian ALife was SO different back then.  Without all the pre-hype films have backing them today, Star Wars just kind of hit everyone like a ton of bricks.  No one really knew what to expect.  Star Wars became a huge phenomenon with EVERYBODY… parents, cool kids, geek kids, dogs, parrots, everybody.  The 70s were a time without much high-tech to speak of… no cell phones, no Internet, no hi-def TVs, no home computers (at least not till the very late 70s and it was nowhere near a common thing, even then, and they really didn't do much).  About the most high-tech things in homes, back then, were Color TVs, Stereo Hi Fis, Polaroid cameras, and tape recorders.  Many of us even tried to capture some TV moments with a tape recorder for audio and few Polaroids of the screen.  VCRs didn't start becoming household items until the early 80s.  So, once you saw Star Wars, your only chance of seeing again for quite a few years was to see it again at the theater.

Brian BI don't think any other movie has changed things the way Star Wars has.
Some of what I mean is in answering question 1, flintlocks to laser blasters.
Another way was that it modernized the fairytale for us.
We knew the first movie as Star Wars and the title “A New Hope" came much later but it sums up what I mean well.
Fairytales instilled hope.  Any kid could rise up to be the hero or maybe even royalty.
We could be Luke Skywalker.  Knocking around on a farm one day to saving a Princess the next with abilities we never knew we had within us.

It was a movie. A good story that helped inspire us to be more. We were inspired to rise to our occasions, to push forward. Today it is a religion. A lines been crossed today.

So yeah it is different now.  I look forward to future movies and the excitement of their release but you can never capture what we had in the seventies again.

Chunky B – There was life in the 70’s before Star Wars?
Life was awesome, summers were longer, school seemed more fun, you and your friends could roam the streets and on Saturdays you would get up, grab a bowl of sugar filled cereal and spend the rest of the day outside playing, maybe stop back for lunch, not coming in till dinner. The most realistic Space drama was Star Trek or Lost in Space, Lego was an exotic toy, Mego and GI Joe were standard issue for the kids of the day, bikes, BB Guns, Comics. That was it. You learned about new movies from friends who had been to the cinema that week, going to the movie was sort of a big deal, and if you were going to waste a Summer Saturday inside, it better be a good movie.

Star Wars came on this scene and blew everyone away, probably one of very few times kids and adults saw eye to eye on a movie, it slammed into our lives and did not let up, it jumped into the news, the papers, music, it sort of took over pop culture and culture in general. It was like someone took movies and turned a switch and you had Star Wars.

Q:  What is your favorite Star Wars memorabilia and when did you get it?  Or How about your first Star Wars toy?

Brian AHands down, my favorite Star Wars memorabilia is my collection of vintage action figures… especially the first 21.  I still have all of my original action figures from childhood.  I was lucky that they got tucked away in a Darth Vader case for years and years to be rediscovered as an "adult."  I took great care of them and didn't lose any weapons, either.  I wouldn't even trade my original childhood figures for nice, carded examples, ever.  Not that anyone's offering… just saying.  :)

I think my very first Star Wars toy was the Escape from the Death Star board game.  I remember buying it on a shopping trip with my Mom because I needed SOMETHING Star Wars and there weren't any true toys on shelves yet.  I remember that the directions didn't make any sense.  So, I mailed a letter to Kenner about it and received a revised set of instructions back.  Kenner was really good about that kind of stuff.

Brian BThe first Star Wars related toy I had was a light saber.  It wasn't an official Star Wars merchandised sword though those came out later than this one. This Lightsaber played off Star Wars but this manufacturer got them into the stores before the official ones came to our town.  The ones we had were much more durable than the official ones were.  Ours were one piece of plastic. They didn't telescope out or light up but they did glow in the dark after you charged it under a bright light.  Did I mention that these were durable?  We pounded them to death while we had them.  They lasted a long time even though we battled with them often.  When we saw the first official licensed Star Wars Lightsabers we didn't even want them because we knew we would destroy them the first time we fought with them.  I wish I still had mine but when it was time to throw them away we knew they needed to be trashed because we had played the life out of them and in my opinion if you can say that about a toy that was a good toy.

Chunky B – My favorite piece of memorabilia is an autographed 8x10 of Darth Vader, “Compliments of Texas Instruments”. It’s not even of the actual actor, just signed “Vader”. My father got me up one Saturday and took me into town, a new Mall had opened up and JC Penny’s was playing host to a very special guest. Other than that I had no clue until I got there and beyond a mob of people was Darth Vader on a stage underneath the escalators signing autographs.

Vader was basically scribbling his name and throwing them to the outreached arms. I made my way to the stage and reached for one, a man grabbed the same one I had and tore the corner off, my Dad rescued the corner off the floor and we taped it back on, it was a day long remembered.

First toy would be a homemade lightsaber, first official toy would be the Landspeeder, X-Wing, and a few figures for my Birthday in 1978.

Q:  Original Trilogy or Prequel Trilogy… or both?

Brian A – OT all the way! That's not to say that there's nothing in the PT that I don't appreciate.  There were some definitely cool things in them here and there.  Overall, though, I'm doing my best to stay away from watching them or collecting any PT memorabilia.  When the first films were released, I TRIED to talk myself into liking them and even bought quite a few toys and figures.  When I started to realize that every time I saw a picture of Vader, I thought of Hayden's Anakin, I knew it was time to start "walling up" my memories of the PT and keeping my distance from them.  With that said, I do tend to go back and watch Episode 3 every few years or so. I think the Prequel Trilogy is a valiant effort but it's just not "my Star Wars."

Brian BOriginal by far.  I have enjoyed the prequels but nothing will replace that first encounter with this Universe.
I have never even seen the digital remasters of the first originals.  Oh VHS rocks.

Chunky B – I am going to fall into the camp of Original Trilogy. I did like the Prequels, I really like watching the Clone Wars Animated series (both of them), but A New Hope will always be Star Wars, and Empire will always be my second favorite movie after Star Wars. It really was a different time and brings back different memories than the new stuff, a connection was made back in 1977.

Q:  What is your favorite "Star Wars" memory?

Brian A – In the spring of 1978, I fell on the ice at recess playing "hockey" (kicking a puck with our feet) with some friends and fractured my shoulder.  We didn't know it was fractured until an infection set in.  So, I spent a couple of weeks in the hospital.  At that point, I already had a couple figures and a Landspeeder.  My Dad would come visit me after work (my Mom, too, just not always at the same time) and started bringing me a new Star Wars action figure every day.  It made being in the hospital more than bearable.  One day, he brought me a new figure AND a new X-wing fighter for the figures.  That's probably my favorite memory.  It's one of those nostalgic moments that always brings up the best emotions whenever I happen to think about it.

Brian BThe 1980 release of the Empire Strikes Back.  I was 15 and geeked up for the movie before that was even a word for it.  My best memory was watching the snowspeeders as flew and little flaps open and closed on their wings.  I remember think how real it looked and felt like I was in the battle.

Chunky B – That is tough, I have a ton of great memories surrounding my love for Star Wars. I am going to go back to my very first memory of a buddy of mine trying to tell me about the latest and greatest movie that was out and how I was missing out. He had seen it on the first weekend it was out, we were playing army men in the front yard of our house and he is going on and on, I wished he would give it a break, I mean nothing beat Star Trek for being realistic. I remember not seeing the actual movie until Summer and loving it and being blown away, now I haven’t shut up about it since… still loves me some Star Trek though, but holy cow that Star Wars was sooooo real.

Q:  As a cultural "thing", how do you think Star Wars is different today than it was, say, in 1977?

Brian AI kind of touched on this earlier, but when Star Wars was released it was an instant cultural "hit" with everyone.  It wasn't a "geek thing" to love Star Wars back then.  Fans came from every walk of life.  You couldn't get away from Star Wars.  It was in magazines, referenced in TV shows, and parodied constantly.  Something happened, though, sometime in the 1990's, I'm guessing.  Suddenly, Star Wars became this thing that was for "geeks and nerds."  The general population started to look at Star Wars fans as being kind of "off-center" and odd.  Certainly, any fan base has the kind of people that take something too far but most of the Star Wars fans I know today are normal, smart, successful people.  I think the "shift" in attitude started when fans started dressing up as their favorite Star Wars characters at conventions and whatnot.  I have nothing against people that enjoy Star Wars costuming but I think that was when the "tide" started to turn.

Brian BYes it was different back then.
In 1977 it was new, a discovery, a mystery but now it is different.
I don't want to say that Star Wars has been watched too much but I kind of lean that direction.

In 1977 I might have known one or two people who had seen the same movie more that once.  There weren't VCR's or DVD's.  No Internet to discuss it with.  Just the kids you knew.
We didn't tear it apart or study it's intricacies.  We just enjoyed it.  Seems like America was closer to what America was supposed to be then not some politically correct thing that tries not to offend anyone and still please its audience.

Here is what I mean. We all had knives, BB guns and rode-jumped-crashed our bikes without a helmet.  We watched the movie on a weekend night and played outside until our parents called us in to eat every day we could.
Kids ran, rode their bikes, climbed trees, dammed creeks and in general enjoyed life.  We didn't sit in front of the T.V all day and all night existing in a fantasy.  We lived.

In our movies Storm troopers were shot, Obi Wan died and we knew Han shot first because he had to.

We had four maybe five channels on our television sets.  Those channels were not on twenty-four hours a day either but came on at 6 am with the National anthem playing and went off at midnight with the National anthem playing.  Movies were only on television on the weekends.
Watch this link to see what a big deal it was by its intro. How fast a movie got on television after it was in the theaters told you how bad the movie stunk.
The longer it took for a movie to be shown on television the bigger and better that movie must have been.
Armed with that information I can remember have the following discussion with a friend.

Me:  "Did you watch the Friday night movie?"
Friend:  "Yeah it was okay."
Me:  "Star Wars will never be on T.V."
Friend:   "I bet your right."

We were saying it was so good and so big that television couldn't afford it and thus would preserve it in our memories forever.

Today people can't wait to rip apart a movie they say they love.

Very different today.

That is the way I see it.
Brian steps down off his soapbox.........for now.

Chunky B – In 1977 everyone loved Star Wars (or most people I knew or saw on the news) Adults and children alike, it was as if there was this one movie everyone really enjoyed and agreed upon. I can see now it was just a retelling of the Heroic Journey, it was just the way it was presented. As the movie left theaters it was the children that latched onto it and kept it going with the toys and the talk on playgrounds of what was next. It was like the adventures were up to you.

I recall the lean years too, late eighties to early nineties, I think it transformed during that time into a geek driven passion. Fewer and fewer people wanted to associate with it I guess; they loved the films, but had grown away from them. It is almost weird for me to see how big this franchise has come today. It’s almost like you are considered cool or hip for liking Star Wars. I remember being made fun of at my first real art job for having a Chewbacca action figure on my desk, now I would be made fun of for not having the latest Chewbacca action figure hanging out on my desk. I feel like the early children who loved Star Wars were the care takers for decades and it has been placed in the hands of fans that are almost too fanatical about it (says the man writing on a blog about Star Wars) or maybe they care too much about every detail it has become less fun.

Q:  How is Star Wars different for you, personally, vs. when you were a child?

Brian AWhen I was a kid, there was a sense that Star Wars was a huge deal to a lot of people but to me, personally, it felt like it belonged to me and few friends… like NO one else could have loved it as much as we did.  Of course, then you grow up and realize that there are maybe millions of people around the world that feel just as strongly (or even more so) as you do about that "galaxy far, far away."  It's actually a pretty cool thing to realize you have all sorts of "Star Wars friends" out there.

Plus, now we have the Expanded Universe, Prequel Films, the Clone Wars animated series, and even more Star Wars movies on the way.  So, Star Wars feels bigger than ever… and that's pretty neat.

Brian BSee above.  On the lighter side though I think it was the way they were made. CGI vs. Models.  I liked the old way better than CGI.  I love the behind the scene picture of the X-wings attacking the Death Star while a man stands there with a light meter.
In the camera makes a difference I think.  I think there is a place for CGI but it shouldn't do all the heavy lifting.

Chunky B – Well, for one I have more of an income than just paper route money to spend on all those wonderful toys.

Seriously though, I would say it’s different now vs. then in a sense that it is more detailed, I liked it simple, more left to the imagination, but as we got bigger and hopefully smarter we did require more details about the technical name of the Stormtrooper’s blaster, that Jedi had something in their blood that made them special, and that there were way more politics involved in the Star Wars than we imagined as kids. As a kid it was Hammerhead, Snaggletooth, Walrusman and Greedo. Now it’s Momaw Nadon, Zutton, Ponda Baba, and, well, Greedo.

Q: Why has SW stuck with you after all these years?  Why are you still a fan?

Brian AI'm not entirely sure I can answer this one.  A handful of things have stayed with me since being a kid, and I'm not always sure why.  With Star Wars, I think the characters and story were just so mind-blowing to me, as a kid that they just kind of "stuck."  It's hard to explain but, as far as films go, nothing even comes close the impact that first Star Wars film made on me.  As an adult, I can see that Star Wars borrows some themes from other great works of fiction and mythology.  A lot has been said about how it tapped into mythological stories that are kind of ingrained in our psyches.  However, being one of those kids sitting in the theater in 1977, it was just such an amazing story filled with amazing characters that it swept us away.

Brian BA good story is hard to not hear again.

Chunky B – I guess Star Wars being such a game changer as far as the way stories were presented and the special f/x always just resonated with me, that and possibly that I have always been fascinated with space and sci-fi. During that time it was normal for me to watch Star Trek, Lost in Space, Space 1999, and be playing the same with my friends. I was taking trips to NASA with my family, building models of real and fantasy space ships, just seemed normal to me then and somewhat now. Today I still enjoy the parts in Sci-fi where they show a bit of what technology will be like, even though we live in a pretty hi tech time ourselves. Still I am waiting for my Landspeeder.

Q: Did you watch the Star Wars Holiday Special when it aired back in November of 1978?

Brian AI did.  I went over to my friend Andrew's house to watch it.  Andrew and I both were still actively hunting for the original 12 action figures, back then.  I can still remember watching it in his basement (there was even a lava lamp in the TV area).  The whole show seemed a little odd but it didn't matter… we were watching something NEW and STAR WARS at home.  Just seeing the actors in costume outside of the film was pretty exciting.  It was definitely an "event," too.  I remember making plans to watch it and then counting down the days before it aired.

Brian BYes. I was excited to see Stat Wars on television and watched in disbelief as someone tried to destroy Christmas and Star Wars at the same time.
I just remember thinking "I must be missing something?" or "What was that?  Was this meant for British T.V.?”

Chunky B – Yes, and thinking back I can see why I blocked out the parts that everyone seems to be making fun of now. The parts I do remember is the debut of Boba Fett, the story of Chewbacca’s family and Han coming in to help save the day, and for some reason the creep part where Chewie’s father-in-law (guessing here) was watching the pay per view Wookiee Channel. I left the show thinking it was cool I got to see some Stormtroopers on the TV screen, Boba Fett looked cool. Will Kenner make Wookiee Life Day robes?

Q: What are your top three favorite Star Wars characters?

Brian ADarth Vader - His back-story was mysterious and it was fun to imagine what he was like before turning to the dark side.  Now, we don't have to imagine… but I still do.

Luke Skywalker - As a ten year-old, I could completely identify with Luke and his drive for adventure.  He's the character we kind of see the first Trilogy through and I enjoy the story being kind of presented as Luke's journey.

R2-D2 - Droid or not, he's a great character.  I think it was pretty brilliant to have a main character or two that the audience couldn't understand, at least as far as language is concerned.  If we had been able to understand R2, I don't think he would be nearly as loved by fans as he is.

Brian BLuke Skywalker, Han Solo and Boba Fett.

Chunky B – Just three?
1)    Stromtroopers – They were the coolest bad guys I had seen, didn’t talk much, couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, but how cool was that armor. I would daydream all the time what I wouldn’t do for a cool set of Stormtrooper armor.
2)    Han Solo – When I was a kid everyone wanted to be Han Solo, Luke was way too whiney for me, Han knew how to get things done. Plus Chewbacca, yeah I have one of those today, except he is a She and she’s a Basset named Lulu.
3)    Boba Fett – I am talking about when he was cool, The Empire Strikes Back Days. I used to think it would be funny if Boba Fett were actually a woman that Han Solo crossed, that would piss a lot of fan boys off. My main reason, cool, beat up armor, and could shoot better than a Stormtrooper.

Q: If you could fly any of the Star Wars ships or vehicles, which one would you chose and why?

Brian AMy favorite vehicle in the Star Wars universe is definitely the X-wing.  However, I'm going to have to go with the Snowspeeder.  For some reason, it seems like it would be a blast to pilot a small, nimble craft like that.  With the way it kind of skims the terrain, it would be kind of like piloting a roller coaster.

I have to say; it would be pretty fun to go stomping around in an AT-AT, also.

Brian B Darth Vader's Tie Fighter because it is bad!!!

Chunky B – A Speederbike, always loved the way it feels to ride a motorcycle, it was like George Lucas reached into my brain and said “Here you go Charles, a space motor cycle just for you”. They should have Speeder Bike tracks with little target you could blast as you fly by Phew Phew!