Friday, December 4, 2015

ANTICIPATING NEW STAR WARS: A Fistful of action figures

(or, um…tiny dolls, with cool articulation)

Born in 1972, I was five when Star Wars [no, not “A New Hope”] hit theaters, where I saw it like most everyone else on the planet, at that time.  Stating I was blown away is a bit of an understatement.  From the “Holiday Special” to the action figures to the trading cards and the storybook adaptations, I was all in.  That trilogy – the only Star Wars trilogy, to my mind – was the be-all and end-all for many, many years.   

It’s now December, 2015, and we are barely weeks away from the new Star Wars film, “The Force Awakens.”  All signs point to this will be good, and with all the excitement surrounding this new chapter, my mind has trailed back to some of my fondest Star Wars memories.  Here’s one . . .

The most direct way for me, as a kid, to feed my Star Wars fandom (fanaticism?) was through the action figures.  These 3 ¾” figures were probably my first collection (comics, trading cards, patches, books—these all came later).  I loved playing out scenes from the movies, or brand new ones, with my favorite characters.  Or, my friends and I would play hide-and-seek with them—one of us taking a few dozen figures to hide around the house for the others to find.  (Usually we found them all, but one of Donnie Eagan’s did end up melted to a lightbulb when we forgot where that last figure was and the lamp was turned on, leading to a terrible burning smell that alerted us to its whereabouts.) 

And . . . there were the card backs that showcased all of the available figures, taunting me with images of the ones I had yet to procure.  That, above all else, helped push me to be a crazy collector of these little plastic dolls—uh, action figures.  So, without further ado, my Fistful of Favorite (classic) Star Wars action figures, in no particular order, other than #1:

5.  Darth Vader:  

Come on.  This guy was the baddest of the bad.  He took out Obi-Wan, choked Imperial officers from across the room, wielded a red lightsaber, and wore all black.  That first scene, as Vader marches through the smoke onto the Tantive IV surrounded by his Stormtroopers, their white uniforms (and the white walls of the ship) contrasting strongly with his black armor and cape, is epic.  Vader’s look—including the mask, the breathing, and the high boots—was, and still is, incredibly cool.  How could you not love Darth Vader?  Having his figure was a must. 

4.  R2-D2:

This little astromech droid can be annoying for some, but I love R2 (and 3PO), especially in the beginning of Star Wars.  R2 demonstrated a resourcefulness that is admirable, especially in a droid, and there’s something incredibly special in their escape from the blockade runner and the travails that follow on the desert planet of Tattooine.  For this, as well as his cool design and obvious smart-ass remarks to 3PO, R2 was always a favorite of mine. 

3.  Hoth Han Solo:

This was the coolest Han Solo figure, to my mind.  The color of his jacket (a favorite of mine, midnight blue), the design and detail of his boots, and the hood (which covered his hair, a problematic design element for these sculpted figures) all add up to a cool looking figure.  Probably didn’t help that the head on the original Han Solo was never properly proportioned with the lean body they gave that figure.  Whenever I had to pick a Han Solo figure, this would often be the one in my hand. 

2.  Walrus Man (or, Ponda Baba): 

The cantina scene from Star Wars is one of the best scenes in a film, ever—or, at least the best in any fantastic film.  The myriad creatures, the dark ambience of the place, the sense of danger epitomized by Han Solo’s altercation with Greedo, all enrich this scene and make it memorable.  Every creature from the Mos Eisley cantina was a favorite of mine, but I landed on Walrus Man because he is so crazy looking, as a figure—the color choices, the walrus like visage and flippers for hands, the simplistic design for his suit all add up to a figure that is distinct and engaging. 

1.  Chewbacca

Chewbacca is easily my favorite action figure.  I believe it was the summer after I turned 6, 1978, and I came down with the measles.  It was sunny out (deep, blue sky; puffy, white clouds; I remember that distinctly), and the doctor said I needed to stay inside, away from people, for at least three days.  Ugh.
My Dad went out and bought me the Chewbacca figure.  This was the first Star Wars action figure I owned.  I grabbed a chair (it was my Death Star), and for the next three days I played with that Chewbacca figure.  It was awesome.  Through the ensuing years, I lost this figure twice, both times dropping him somewhere in my family’s backyard (an all-brown, 4-inch figure, lost among the brown earth and green grass isn’t easy to find).  The second time I replaced him with a new iteration, only to rediscover the original in the backyard again.  To this day, I still have this Chewie, and the memories forged with this old Wookiee are some of my most-cherished from when I was a kid. 


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