I’ve said before how excited I am to have played a small part in this project, so when the finished DVD of Plastic Galaxy: The Story of Star Wars Toys landed in my mailbox last week, it was a little like the day I got my Bossk.
Here’s the elevator pitch from the DVD web site:
Like no toys before them, Star Wars toys were a phenomenon that swept the nation, transforming both the toy and movie industries, and ultimately creating a hobby that, 30 years later, still holds sway over its fans.
Plastic Galaxy is a documentary that explores the groundbreaking and breathtaking world of Star Wars toys. Through interviews with former Kenner employees, experts, authors, and collectors, it looks at the toys’ history, their influence, and the fond and fervent feelings they elicit today.
I may not be the most impartial reviewer, of course, but think the movie turned out well. It’s a nice balance of nostalgia trip, toy merchandising history lesson, eye-popping show-and-tell, and behind-the-scenes storytelling. There’s some fun animation work throughout, too.
Several nifty people I’ve met and/or know from fan circles are also in the movie, like Jim Swearingen, and a couple OSWCC and KennerCollector.com friends, and Steve Sansweet, who wrote what’s still one of my all-time favorite Star Wars books, “From Concept to Screen to Collectible.” (A book, which, it should be noted, also inspired Plastic Galaxy. It’s still a good read 20+ years after its publication. Most of what has become common knowledge about the Kenner/Star Wars backstory was unearthed by Sansweet first.)
It’s probably not too much of a stretch to say that if you remember the Kenner brand or coveted the neighbor kid’s Landspeeder or grew up in the twin-sun shadow of the original Star Wars, then Plastic Galaxy is probably in your wheelhouse. You can order it from Brian and Karl’s Futurious Industries.
In terms of quantity, I had kind of a lousy year in 2013: I only finished 11 books, and five of those (marked with asterisks below) were re-reads.
- What I Talk About When I Talk About Running – Haruki Murakami
- Star Wars: Scoundrels – Timothy Zahn
- Await Your Reply – Dan Chaon
- Han Solo at Stars’ End – Brian Daley*
- Han Solo’s Revenge – Brian Daley*
- Codex Born – Jim C. Hines
- Beyond the Blue Event Horizon – Frederick Pohl
- The Ghost Brigades – John Scalzi*
- The Fault in Our Stars – John Green
- Maus I: My Father Bleeds History – Art Spiegelman*
- Anathem – Neal Stephenson*
On the other hand: Quality. I really enjoyed all of them, and my six first-time reads were a nice mix of popcorn fun, mind-bending, gut-punching, and thought-provoking.
Postcards from Christmas vacation, 1983:
A Christmas Story came out in November, but I know it had been out for awhile by the time I saw it at the Gold Circle Cinemas. My parents had seen it already, as had this kid at school who told me how it ended after I asked him about it. Seems likely I went to see it over the winter break.
I was a big Bloom County fan This is my best “Bill the Cat” face:
So, if you recall, Return of the Jedi had come out earlier that year. This meant Star Wars gifts were pretty popular at Christmas. My brothers got a a bunch of Jedi toys and stuff: Speeder Bikes, the Ewok Village, action figures, big Presto Magix kits. It was really the last big Star Wars Christmas of the original trilogy era.
As a newly-minted teenager, I had pretty much taken Star Wars toys off my wish list. The last Kenner Star Wars toy I specifically asked for was the Y-Wing. As I wrote in Collect All 21! –
Couldn’t help it. This thing was light years ahead of the old X-Wing, armed with not only that squealing laser cannon, but a rotating top turret and a plastic bomb to drop from its underbelly. And it had a socket behind the cockpit for Artoo units. I may not have actually role-played with my figures anymore, but I did send that ship on many a run over card houses in our living room, and somewhere in our family albums there’s a snapshot of me using the ship to dive bomb my little brother and his Knight Rider-inspired remote-control black Camaro.
Now, for years, I remembered that Y-Wing as a 13th birthday request: But this picture was clearly taken on Christmas, judging by my sweet striped sweater and cool brown corduroy pants – the same outfit as in that first shot. And the Y-Wing box is in the background of another Christmas picture, so while I may have asked for it in November, the evidence suggests I got it on Christmas. I think the only other Star Wars toy I got that year was the Vehicle Maintenance Energizer, which paired up nicely with the ship.
And with that flash-forward, I wrap up This is Me in ’83.
Big thanks to my mom, who kept and organized shelves full of photo albums that held a lot of these pictures.
I’ve really enjoyed this project. I didn’t wind up writing as much as I thought I would when I started, but I also dug up and rediscovered things I didn’t have in mind a year ago. I also found some other pictures and photos and memories that I want to share and write about.
I hope you’ve had a good year. Thanks for visiting 1983 with me.
This begins with an overdue thanks to the guys behind JediCon WV, who earlier this month published a really moving and heartfelt Tumblr post about Collect All 21! and my presentation at their 2010 convention.
John writes he was six when he was first swayed by the Force. I was more like 11. But so many of his recollections are similar to my experiences. Here he was, five years my junior living in Ohio while I grew up in Virginia, older – not wiser – and it’s like we lived next door to each other.
So I want to thank you, John, for bringing out the Star Wars kid in me once again. Each re-reading brings back memories of the best childhood anyone could’ve asked for. Maybe that’s why I’ve never really left it behind.
I mean dang. Thank YOU. It feels like I’ve said this a million times, but god, that kind of reaction, and hearing that someone read what I wrote and enjoyed re-discovering long-lost secret joys? That’s one of my favorite things in the world, and it’s a huge reason I wrote Collect All 21! in the first place.
So, that’s the first part of the post as referenced in the title.
Naturally, the second part is this: You know what makes a good Christmas present? Unbridled Star Wars,-1970s-and-’80s nostalgia, conveniently packaged in classic paperback format, or in an expanded electronic book edition.
There’s an excerpt, and some nice things that nifty people have said about the book, and things like podcasts and interviews, and some non-Amazon Collect All 21! links here.
Deep and sincere thanks again to everyone who’s supported this book for the past five-plus years and encouraged me to keep sharing my Star Wars memories.
Thirty years ago, I became a teenager.
I wasn’t a huge fan of cake, so mom made me these amazing frozen mint pies with Oreo cookie crusts.
I also received a speedometer for my bike:
Three decades later, I spent a good chunk of my birthday playing a 1980s-era video game (Gauntlet) with my brothers, and the evening with my immediate family – having pie.
Inspired by that source material, I cobbled together my own fantasy adventurer’s costume for Halloween:
No parental assistance required: Sweat pants and a sweatshirt that looks like I removed the collar for that deep-V look that’s all the rage among dragon-slayers; cape from an old…bedspread, maybe? I can remember the material was heavy, but also kind of clingy and stretchy; tunic-vest-thing that I cut and stitched together myself out of some burlap-type cloth mom had around; and a belt that I probably wore every other day of the year, too.
The sword? A yardstick covered in aluminum foil, of course. Which means it stands to reason – as if it’s not completely clear already – that yes, I am in fact wearing a foil hat. (Technically, my helm was a white knit hat covered in foil. Still: FOIL HAT.)
And now that “foil” sounds funny, I’ll move on.
If I remember correctly, my fellow D&D wannabe Mike S. wore a pretty slick elf ranger costume he and his mom had made.
More than once, I think, Mike and I took advantage of the trick-or-treat scheduling differences between the village of Hartville itself – where he lived – and Lake Township: One usually scheduled it on Halloween proper, while the other set it on the closest preceding weekend night, or something like that, making it possible for us to hit both of our neighborhoods. I seem to think we also really liked going out in the early hours of trick-or-treat, dropping off our candy haul at home, and then going back out after dark to roam the neighborhood and try to scare the kids we knew.
Other bits and pieces nicely caught up in this photo: The Halloween decorations – store-bought and handmade alike – that my mom put out every year; the long-gone brick fireplace and wood paneling of our family room; the wooden set of coasters in their little boxy holder up there on the mantle (these go back practically to the beginning of my memory).
For all the dorkiness captured in this picture – of me, that is; nothing against our family decor - I remain oddly proud of this costume, since I made the whole thing myself.
Plus: Foil hat.
Earlier this year, a friend asked if I’d be interested in his 1980s Dungeons & Dragons stuff. He’d played a lot back when we were kids – I wish I’d known that at the time – but hadn’t touched the game in years, and thought I’d enjoy having the classic material on hand, since I now play regularly.
So we struck a deal, and I’ve spent a good amount of time revisiting the books and box sets and modules that I either never had or never fully appreciated as a kid. (Bonus: His collection included a Fiend Folio that even has the remnants of a Kay-Bee toy store price sticker, just like mine did!)
Inside the Basic Set was a sandwich bag containing seven dice. The brown 10- 12- and 20-siders look like they came from the same original set. The light blue d4 and d6 are identical to the ones I got in my own red box Basic Set. The two d8s are each a little different.
I was surprised to see how small those three older brown dice looked, sitting next to dice from my current collection -
- but they felt familiar between my fingertips. And the d4 is numbered the way I remember from middle school, with the digits on the edges rather than the corners.
Thing is, it was only last weekend that I had the realization that These Dice Should Be Rolling! I retrieved them from the Basic box and tumbled them into my dice bag.
Tuesday night’s D&D session was entirely role-playing, but toward the end of the night, we rolled for a bit o’ treasure.
Here’s the result of the d12′s first in-game cast in close to three decades:
This One Goes To Eleven. (And landed Culhwch Keepson a Ring of Climbing.)
I started to write up my memories of the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, which premiered on CBS Sept. 17, 1983, and then realized I’d really like to contribute this particular bit of recollection to GeekDad.
And I’m glad I did, because it’s been really cool seeing the responses on GeekDad, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, and realizing that hey, I struck a nice nostalgic nerve with this one.
We even made the official Daily D&D!
I didn’t want to overload the GeekDad post with pictures, so here are a couple images from the cartoon’s closing credits that I mentioned. Still gorgeous and a little sad, somehow – but in that good sort of way. (And I think I figured out why I love them so much. It’s an amusement park at dusk. Weak spot.)
I finally had a chance to read Jim C. Hines’ second “Magic ex Libris” book, Codex Born, and I wrote a review for GeekDad.
I’ve been a fan of Jim’s since meeting him at Penguicon in 2009, and have had fun interviewing him about his Princess series and the origins of Magic ex Libris, and was really excited when he won the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer in 2012.
So, I have to admit, when Codex Born arrived in the mail, and I saw the cover, I thought, <understatement>”Hm. This is kind of cool.”</understatement>:
That front cover quote is from my GeekDad review of Libriomancer. (And it still holds true, by the way: Hines has got some big, amazing ideas unfolding in this series, and the premise is just a ton of fun.) I don’t know who handles this sort of thing at DAW Books, but I heartily approve of their taste in blurbage.
Now, seriously: If you’re a science fiction/fantasy book geek, and you’re not reading “Magic ex Libris,” you’re missing out.
In the fall of 1983, I started seventh grade at Lake Middle School.
Technically, this yearbook itself is from 1984, since we received them toward the end of the school year. However, since I did pretty much nothing in the way of extracurricular activities, I can guarantee that half the pictures of me in this book are from the beginning of the school year.
I can make this promise because I am only in two pictures. Here’s the first – my official seventh-grade portrait, as it appeared on page 50. Row 6, first column, surrounded by a group of fellow B-name kids that wouldn’t change much over my entire 12 years at Lake. (This guy’s picture is in row 5, column two.)
Why yes, those are plastic-rimmed prescription glasses that darkened in sunlight – and apparently, under certain bright indoor conditions as well – because after all, it was August, 1983. And according to my extensive television research, every girl was crazy ’bout a sharp dressed man.
Digression to the future: That seventh-grade me still regularly read his Fiend Folio - with its unforgettable image of Lolth, Demon Queen of Spiders –
- and other Dungeons & Dragons materials, even if he never actually learned to play. Those memories add another level of enjoyment to this picture, taken almost exactly 30 years later at Gen Con:
Back to the past, then:
My only other appearance in the yearbook is in the photo below.
I’m thinking I’m second row, third or fourth chair clarinet. My face is hidden, but I’m pretty sure that’s my unruly hair within the red circle:
Seventh grade at Lake Middle School was also notable in that thanks to a shift in student distribution (the middle school had housed grades 6-8 the year before, but handled grades 7-9 in 1983-84) my classmates and I got to be the youngest class in the building for a second consecutive year. Yay.