Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Star Wars Black Series Most Wanted: The Next Five

6" Return of the Jedi Luke Skywalker

The 2014 New York Toy Fair was a real moment of triumph for the Star Wars Black Series line as a plethora of new figures were displayed, including the incredible ROTJ brace of Jedi Luke and Darth Vader. The all-but-confirmed Speeder Bike with Scout Trooper was also on show, along with an amazingly hideous Jabba the Hutt, and any fears I had about the line pricing me out have disipitated next to the thought of getting these guys. A quick scout of eBay confirms I can get two thirds of wave two for a reasonable price, whilst wave five (or 2014 wave three, confusingly) may just be the first time I buy by the box, and cost be damned. If the Black Series needed fresh momentum, it certainly found it this weekend...

With the future of the line looking more than just a little bit secure, it seems like now would be a good time to follow up my original article, and take a look at the next few figures that I'd love to see Gentle Giant and Hasbro tackle!

5. C-3PO


Threepio from A New Hope

This one's such a no-brainer that I questioned whether to include him on the list, but everyone's favourite protocol droid (by default of being pretty much the only one we see) is starting to look like a gap in the Black Series line up - there's only so long you can keep him and R2 seperated, after all! I'd love to see a vac-metalised, ANH specific figure with a dusty paint job, removable left arm and additional restraining bolt and communicator accesories. If a definitive OT version is looking out of the question, then Hasbro needs to pull out all the stops on making the characters episode specific, and this would be a great place to start.

4. Qui-Gon Jinn


Qui-Gon Jinn from Episode I: The Phantom Menace

On the subject of episode specific... I may have sold my wave one Darth Maul, but I'd still be interested in seeing how the smartest Jedi in the prequels would look in 6" form. Liam Neeson put in a performance head and shoulders above the other actors in The Phantom Menace, which gave Jedi Master Qui-Gon due gravitas amidst all the noise and CG fireworks. Of the few characters I would like from Episodes I-III, he's near the top of the list. Throw in a commlink, poncho and breathing apparatus with the standard lightsaber and cloak and we have a winner!

3. Bib Fortuna


Bib Fortuna stands next to Jabba, from Return of the Jedi

Since we're getting the gloriously grotesque Jabba the Hutt as part of the deluxe line his Twi'lek majordomo shouldn't be too far behind, and just think what a figure this would make in the 6" scale. I'd prefer sculpted outer robes similar to those employed on the Darth Maul figure (as long as the articulation isn't too hindered), but either way I think Gentle Giant have the skills to knock this one out of the park in terms of the sculpt. Throw in Salacious Crumb* and we're golden.

*With Crumb teased as an SDCC exclusive (exclusively for scalpers) along with Jabba and his dais, I know this last point is wishful thinking but I'm gonna throw it out there anyway...

2. Princess Leia Organa


Princess Leia Organa on Yavin, from A New Hope
The 3.75" line hasn't seen an update to the original Princess Leia in a decade now, which makes me hope against hope that Hasbro will impress us soon with her hignessness in the new scale. I'd go for sculpted robes that are again made from soft plastic like Maul's outer cloak, so the Princess can still be as articulated as possible underneath. Pack her with an interchangeable head for hooded Tantive IV action, along with both a sporting rifle and Stormtrooper blaster and I'd consider this figure nailed.

1. Ben Kenobi


Ben Kenobi on the Death Star, from A New Hope

Definitely 'Ben' Kenobi. Now we've seen Darth Vader and both the Bespin and Jedi Lukes, it's time to see the original lightsaber wielder. Make him with a soft plastic outer cloak (I'm noticing a trend here...), interchangeable heads for displaying with either the hood up or down, two sets of hands for both two-handed duelling and Jedi mind trick posing, and I'd call him done - capable of both fighting with cyborg Sith Lords or confusing multiple repainted Sandtroopers. Instant win!

Deluxe Set: Ewok and Glider


Flying Ewoks from Return of the Jedi

I know we're unlikely to get AT-STs for the Ewok to bomb, but how much fun would this be? For sure it'll be a cold day on Mustafar before we see it, but a guy can dream can't he? Dream about flying teddy bear toys, I mean?

Yes. Yes he can. If anything this weekend proved that the Black Series is here to stay, and secondary market prices are also making most of the figures worthwhile (with the obvious exception of Boba Fett). Despite my still legitimate complaints, I think I might be in for a few more figures from this line yet...

Anyway, with that I'm out. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Star Wars Action Figures and Articulation

Whose Line is it Anyway?

New 5POA Jedi Kanan figure from the upcoming Rebels line
Star Wars Rebels: Kanan Jarras
5POA. If you’re a fan of Star Wars action figures at present, or most current licensed toy lines for that matter, that term is likely to evoke some strong emotions one way or another. With the reveal of the 5POA Kanan figure from the upcoming Star Wars Rebels line (above), I think I’ve finally hit a moment of clarity with regards to my own stance on the articulation debate.

As a rule I try not to let the excessive negativity of online forums get to me, and sometimes find myself taking a contrarian position just to counter that aggressiveness – I can’t help it, I have a natural aversion to sharing a viewpoint with some of the more… dedicated forumers out there. It was this attitude, along with genuine curiosity and an appreciation for the fact that Hasbro were making action figures affordable again that I picked up my first Saga Legends figure, the Super Battle Droid. Despite some initial reservations this purchase was swiftly followed with Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi and the Shock Trooper from Saga Legends, and the Darth Vader/Seeker Droid and 212th Clone Trooper/Battle Droid sets from the Mission Series. I’ve now essentially got a small selection of vintage style Revenge of the Sith action figures, but as cool as they all look together… I’m not really sure what to do with them.

Saga Legends Darth Vader, Shock Trooper and Anakin Skywalker
A small selection of Saga Legends
I enjoy taking photos of my toys when I can find the time, but I’ve struggled to get much mileage from the Saga Legends in that regard. Don’t get me wrong, I love Rather Childish (RIP?) as much as the next toy collecting Star Wars nerd, but there are two factors stopping me from ripping him off as much as I’d like: firstly, my photography skills are nowhere near as developed as his, and secondly the vintage figures have a certain charm that the Saga Legends toys emulate, but don’t quite match… And that’s probably as close as we’re going to get to an empirical value for nostalgia. As pilot figures I think they look great, and I would love to pick up a Class II (accurately scaled) Jedi Starfighter with which to display either Anakin or Kenobi when I have the funds. Beyond that though, I’ve really run out of interest, and that’s only confirmed that this isn’t the action figure line for me.

And the thing is, it’s really not. I called it when the Saga Legends were first announced, and after giving them a fair go I’m happy enough to say that these figures aren’t for me. They’re for my nephew, his friends, and any other kids discovering Star Wars for the first time, and I am not gonna fault Hasbro for that – after all, it was an affordable kids toy line that got us all hooked in the first place, whether it was vintage or POTF2. That’s why I’m OK with the new Rebels figures being 5POA, because it means staying affordable, and might even lead to a new group of collectors eventually joining the party - something that’s definitely required if the line is ever to reclaim the heights it once scaled.

Promo pic of Ezra from the upcoming Rebels TV show
Star Wars Rebels: Ezra Bridger & The Ghost
The Saga Legends toy line isn’t for us, and the Rebels cartoon (a Disney channel exclusive, no less) isn’t for us either. If we enjoy it, that’s a different matter; but it’s not for us, and amidst all the pitchfork wielding about how the new Rebels characters have been designed purely for kid appeal, or that the latest figures aren't the greatest quality, that’s something entirely worth remembering.

I'll get off my soapbox now... 

Thoughts prompted and images snatched from the always awesome FLYGUY.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

MediCom and Star Wars

Saga Legends Obi-Wan and a 212th Clone on Guard
Action Figure Wars!
There's been an exciting development in the Star Wars toy world this week, with the low key announcement that MediCom Toy Inc. will be producing 6" Star Wars figures under their Mafex banner, through which they've already released Amazing Spider-Man and Dark Knight Rises Batman figures. I've seen images of their existing releases (and the upcoming ASM2 Spidey) and have to say they look very impressive, particularly the bulkier, armoured Batman. If they can bring this level of quality to the Star Wars line (imagine Boba Fett, the various types of Troopers or Vader himself with quality builds, accessories and interchangeable parts) then I think we're going to be looking at some very exciting additions to the Black Series lineup.

The reaction on message boards has been unusually positive, although there has been some understandable consternation over the price, with amounts from $40-70 being mooted. However the lower down that scale you get, the closer you come to the Wave 3 price for the Black Series figures out here in Europe anyway (which at £25 equals $41.61, as of today's rates). That's an amount I'd be willing to pay for a better quality mid-range collectable - which, just to be clear, the Black Series is not.

MediCom Mafex box announcing Star Wars line
Image from
I think another reason for the not-negative reaction (which for a Star Wars board is as good as a standing ovation) is because this is finally another company being given the means to compete with the license. Hasbro were good for so long, but it's undeniable how badly they've cocked up in recent years. Now the Mafex figures will be import only, so it's not going to harm the big H's bottom line at all, really - but it could be a very sharp reminder that they need to take care with this license, if the import figures embarrass their Black Series counterparts too much.

On top of it all though, I'm looking forward to a company making a 6" Boba Fett figure that they actually want to sell, rather than utilising not one, but two separate release strategies that allow scalpers take full advantage. Imagine being able to buy a Boba Fett at retail at a reasonable price, huh? Madness, I know...

Monday, 10 February 2014

Best of the Best: The Star Wars Soundtrack Countdown

Star Wars Episodes I-VI
VII-IX Pending.
I’ve had very little time to focus on action figure reviews or photography over the last few weeks as my university course has grown increasingly hectic (it’s the final year rush!), but one thing that’s kept me going in that time has been Spotify, and in particular the fantastic work of John Williams. Whilst I’ve been happily listening to his scores for Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, and The Book Thief, it’s really the Star Wars soundtracks that made me fall in love with his music, over and above, say, the incredible themes for E.T. or Indiana Jones

The thing is that when you begin to consider the music as a separate entity to the films a very different order of preference emerges, and the prequels don’t seem quite as bad anymore… With that in mind, I proudly present:

The Star Wars Soundtrack Countdown

6. Return of the Jedi

Coming at the tail-end of the OT, the Return of the Jedi soundtrack has its moments, such as the soaring, operatic majesty of Luke and Leia or the haunting Emperor’s Throne Room. However the music rarely takes off, and never feels quite as vibrant as the earlier scores, due in large part to the production which is almost muted and flat by comparison to the earlier records. The Special Editions were the hardest on this film as well, as we were ‘treated’ to the appalling Jedi Rocks and inferior Victory Celebration tunes – celebrate the love indeed. Like the actual film, the Jedi soundtrack has some depth, but a lot of filler. Still worth a listen though!

5. Attack of the Clones

On a similar note (hah!), the Attack of the Clones soundtrack has some beautiful moments, such as Across the Stars and Yoda and the Younglings; but it still falls a bit flat in places – Zam the Assassin and the Chase Through Coruscant is as bitty and noisy as the horrible, horrible scene it scores, for example. However, tracks like Confrontation with Count Dooku and Finale really emphasises the intended mystery of the Sith, and on the whole it’s a collection of beautiful music with a building, tragic undertone that sells the story far better than the actual film. It’s an undeservedly elegant score.

4. Revenge of the Sith

Revenge of the Sith comes the closest out of the prequels to matching the quality and tone of the OT, and as such it’s far more in harmony with its score than the previous two episodes. I’m still confused as to why Battle of the Heroes was composed and used when Duel of the Fates would have been equally (if not more) appropriate, but it’s a fine tune in and of itself. We’re also introduced to the brilliant, alert General Grievous, which is a sharp continuation of themes from The Phantom Menace album. The soundtrack is punctuated with stabs of the Imperial March, and the closing A New Hope and End Credits is the perfect way to tie the two trilogies together. It might not have a beautiful high point like the ROTJ or AOTC albums, but as a whole this soundtrack is greater than the sum of its parts.

3. The Phantom Menace

The soundtrack that started the debate. In my factual and scientifically endorsed opinion this is only the fifth best Star Wars film, but the soundtrack runs the top two extremely close. This album was pretty much all I listened to over the summer of 1999, and it’s a score of unexpected majesty, beauty, and fun – waking up the neighbours by blaring out Augie’s Great Municipal Band and End Credits every morning certainly fulfilled my bizarre, Calvin-esque rebellious streak; Anakin’s Theme is one of my favourite tracks from the whole saga, and even Jar Jar Binks gets a bone with a playful, enigmatic introductory tune. That’s even before we consider the commercial impact of the frenetic Duel of the Fates, as exciting as the fight scenes it accompanies… Regardless of your take on the success of Lucas’ decision to show a more regal and refined galaxy, John Williams delivered the goods in spades.

2. The Empire Strikes Back

I struggle with the Empire soundtrack, because it’s simply amazing – from an objective viewpoint, it can be genuinely considered for the title of the greatest film soundtrack ever. However, and I’m being subjective here, I listen to it fairly frequently and find myself skipping the ends of tracks, before the Imperial March comes crashing in and destroys the mood the previous music created. I get it, how the never-too-distant fear of the Empire is perfect for the film, but from a selfish point of view I’d really enjoy being able to listen to the soul edifying grandeur of Yoda and the Force without having to worry about turning the volume down almost immediately afterwards.

But maybe I’m being too critical; after all, this album gave us The Asteroid Field, City in the Clouds, Han Solo and the Princess, Yoda’s Theme… And of course, the Imperial March. It’s a classic.

1. Star Wars

Now, I’m not the kind to think that Star Wars is the greatest achievement of the saga (however great an achievement it is), and I love the fact that we have two complete stories, those of both Luke and Anakin Skywalker. However the score is a huge part of why Star Wars exists as it does today, and Williams nailed it at the first time of asking. The Main Title is a cultural touchstone, enough said. Beyond that there are moments of beauty and adolescent melancholy galore with The Hologram/Binary Sunset, and Tales of a Jedi Knight/Learn About the Force, weighted against the drama and tension of Burning Homestead. The beauty reaches a high point with Princess Leia’s Theme. There’s the playfulness that sets this film apart from the others in The Dune Sea of Tatooine/Jawa Sandcrawler and Cantina Band, and the glorious, rousing The Throne Room/End Title caps both the listening and the viewing experience off perfectly.

The Star Wars soundtrack established the themes and pattern for the others to follow, and however great Williams’ achievements on the other five films, or any of his countless other classics, no other soundtrack surpasses his work on this.

John Williams is The Man.
The music of Star Wars is one of the elements of the franchise that I enjoy the most, and do so on an almost daily basis. Whatever order you may put these soundtracks in, we should all be grateful that such masterful music exists for our listening pleasure. All the same if you think I've got it the wrong way around, let me know in the comments!

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