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Plastic Galaxy: The Story of Star Wars Toys

PlasticGalaxy

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.

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February 2, 2014 Posted by | 1970s, 1980s, eighties, Film, geek | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Steve Sansweet and the Tales of the Blue Snaggletooth

18 years ago, Steve Sansweet – who’s leaving his position at Lucasfilm next spring – validated a tiny, almost-forgotten piece of my childhood.

From Collect All 21!

During this second surge of Star Wars stuff, my family and I paid a visit to grandma over in Upper Sandusky, Ohio. Among Upper Sandusky’s claims to fame are an old Wyandot Indian mill, a cemetery headstone recognized by Ripley’s Believe It or Not because it says “Feb. 31”, and being the home of a character in the Infocom text adventure “Leather Goddesses of Phobos” when those games were the computer geek rage in the 1980s.

My grandma was a librarian at the Carnegie Public Library in Upper, so I spent a lot of time there. Classic old brick building with narrow staircases and a basement that felt dark all the time. I can almost imagine into existence the wood and plaster and book-page smell of the place.

Up near the front door was a glass case where people would display collections of things, and on one visit, my grandma wanted me to see the collection of Star Wars toys in there. And that’s where I saw something that would confound me for years: an action figure that looked kind of like the short, red-suited Snaggletooth I had – same face, same hands, same belt buckle design – but this guy was tall and blue and had shiny silver moon boots.

I stared at this thing, trying to figure out what it was and where it had come from and why wasn’t it in any of the Kenner Star Wars catalog booklets and how, good God, could I get my hands on one?

I remember telling my friends about it, and none of them had seen or heard of one of these things either, and I probably sounded like that kid on my street talking about his supposed Grand Moff Tarkin toothbrush. It didn’t help that I never saw another Blue Snaggletooth as a kid.

I was eight or nine years old at the time. Fast-forward to 1992, when I’m 21 and in the middle of a difficult stretch of my life. Walking toward a Waldenbooks in a Toledo, Ohio mall, I see this staring out at me from a storefront display:

Star Wars: From Concept to Screen to Collectible by Stephen J. Sansweet.

Though it’s hard to remember, this was a time when there weren’t whole shelves full of Star Wars books and piles of Expanded Universe comics – so seeing this black-and-gold Darth Vader visage was a very cool sort of shock.

Inside is the incredibly detailed story of how the Kenner Star Wars guys I loved as a kid had come to life. And as I flipped through these pages, taken back years by the pictures of action figures and spaceships and sketches and models, here’s the one that had me giddy:

Because there it was: That BLUE Snaggletooth that I hadn’t seen or heard of in ages, and which part of me had maybe started to believe had been a figment of my imagination after all. It was REAL – and it had a HISTORY – and I wished somehow I could reach back through time to those incredulous looks I got from my friends when I was talking about this figure and point them to that page and say, “See? Seee?!?!”

I still think this is the best book Sansweet’s ever done, partly because it holds a special place in my memory, and partly because from a purely journalistic point of view, his writing and reporting roots shine through in the interviews and research and the level of work he put into in covering the early Star Wars merchandising history – work which hadn’t been done by anyone at that point. I think it’s fair to say a large part of the roots of vintage collecting archaeology trace back to this book, and I know it played a big role in re-igniting my own memories and fandom.

I got to meet Steve for the first time at Celebration V in August, and had him sign that very same and by now well-worn paperback. “Gee,” he wrote inside the cover, next to a smiley face, “can’t you afford a better condition book?”

Not one that would be worth as much to me as this one.

October 20, 2010 Posted by | 1990s, Books, Current Affairs, Film, Games, science fiction, writing | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Star Wars Celebration V: Collect All 21! Connections

Although I didn’t land on any panels or have a booth at Star Wars Celebration V, I did have a lot of fun sharing Collect All 21! last week, even if my daughter and I had to lug my 10 copies in our carry-on bags because they pushed our shared suitcase just over the airline’s 50-pound limit.

For starters, the day we flew out of Akron-Canton, I spent the morning getting some new promotional postcards printed up for the book, since Ethan Gilsdorf, author of Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms, had just written this incredibly nice blurb:

“Collect All 21!” is a deliciously warped nostalgia trip through Star Wars fandom. From collecting Kenner action figures to eating Star Wars birthday cakes to scribbling fan letters to Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher, Booth shamelessly flaunts his lifelong lust for all things Star Wars. Like a tractor beam, this endearing account draws us in, and makes us reminisce about our own geeky obsessions.

I mean – WOW. If you haven’t read Ethan’s book (and here are my reasons why you should), the new paperback edition comes out Sept. 1, so why not go order it?)

A couple days later, on Aug. 11, I spent the afternoon in Clermont, Fla., hanging out at Heroes Landing and talking comics and Star Wars with Adam, The Force Among Us creator Cris Macht, and Korgi author/illustrator Christian Slade. A steady stream of customers to the store led to some book sales and a lot of Celebration V chatter, and I traded a copy of my book for Cris’ DVD, which I couldn’t pass up after noticing, “Hey, those are my OSWCC friends in that movie!”

Pre-Celebration V event at Heroes Landing in Clermont, Florida.

I was also introduced to Felix Albuerne of the Prime Time Geek program, which proved to be an awfully timely meet-up, since he called me four days later for a fun interview about my book, which he worked into this post-Star Wars Celebration edition of the show.

I already wrote an overview of Celebration Day One, but I want to stress here again how fun it was to finally meet Steve Sansweet – not because of his status as a megacollector and Lucasfilm fan liaison, but because of what his first Star Wars-related book meant to me. This is from the Collect All 21! chapter called “The Dark Times”:

Then Steve Sansweet’s “ Star Wars: From Concept to Screen to Collectible” book came out. This thing came at me out of nowhere one afternoon in a mall bookstore, and I absolutely devoured it: page after page of the toys I’d had, the toys I’d craved, and sweet God, the toys I’d never even known existed but now wanted to see. And for just the second time in my life, my eyes fell upon the image of a Blue Snaggletooth. This single picture and one-paragraph explanation of the figure’s existence, maybe more than anything else in that book, put the scent of Star Wars collecting back in my nostrils. “Collecting” even seems too antiseptic and grown-up. This nostalgia was like being little again and feeling that bone-deep desire to Collect All 21!

So, yes, it was amazingly neat watching him sign that same now-well-worn copy of his book most of two decades later. We talked for a couple minutes about journalism (he’s a former Wall Street Journal writer, and I always appreciated the interviews and research that went into Concept to Collectible, as well as Sansweet’s ability to tell the Kenner story) and about my own writing, and when he asked me to sign the copy of Collect All 21! I gave him, that was a great moment, too.

On Friday, I met up with another fellow writer and fan, Tony Pacitti, whose My Best Friend is a Wookiee – One Boy’s Journey to Find His Place in the Galaxy memoir is set for a Sept. 18 release. Tony’s book came to me through two near-simultaneous recommendations: GeekDad Jonathan Liu sent me a personalized, signed ARC he’d picked up during his coverage of the San Diego Comic Con, and while it was in the mail, Ethan Gilsdorf sent me a link to Pacitti’s book asking if I’d seen it.

After online introductions and back-and-forth messaging, Tony and I met face-to-face:

Two guys with excellent taste in literature.

I gave him a copy of my own book, and he plowed through it after the convention and wrote up some cool reactions here. Even though we’re fans of different generations – he watched the original trilogy on VHS and came of age during the prequel era – I enjoyed his book and it’s deserving of its own dedicated review post rather than a paragraph shoehorned into this entry.

The last panel I attended on Friday was titled “Why We Love the Prequels,” and while I’ll admit I enjoyed it probably more than I was prepared to, I really went because Fanboys director Kyle Newman was there. See, awhile back, after I’d created the Collect All 21! Facebook page, I noticed one day that he was among the new “likes” – and it just sort of floored me. So just before heading to Celebration V, I sent him a note thanking him for the support and offering him a copy of the book. He had responded with a thumbs-up, so just before the panel started, while he was hanging out near the door to the room, I introduced myself, and we talked about the book for just a minute or so. (Neat moment: He said he really liked the title, and identified with it, since he’d once considered starting a company called “12 back.”) When I told him that Jim and I had stayed up late and watched Fanboys the night before the convention kicked off – mentioning one quote from the movie in particular – Kyle nodded and said something to the effect of, “Yeah. That’s it.”

The quote? “It was never about the movie. It was about all of us.”

That line came to mind a lot during Celebration V.

August 20, 2010 Posted by | 1980s, Books, Current Affairs, eighties, Film, geek, Ohio, science fiction, Travel, Weblogs, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Star Wars Celebration V: Day One

So, this was my first Star Wars Celebration in five years, and my daughter’s first ever, as well as her first really humongous-scale convention, and we just had a spectacularly awesome day.

Kelsey and Jim and I arrived shortly after 10 a.m., and once inside the Orange County Convention Center, we made a beeline for an exhibit of Ralph McQuarrie original art, a good portion of which had only recently been rediscovered, and some of which hadn’t been viewed in decades. Seriously neat stuff, from the most bare-bones concept sketches to fully-realized designs that were just never used, like this one:

ESBdesign

Then we visited the 501st costuming room –

– and the TK Helmet Project display:

Jane Wiedlin's Cylon helmet

…and then the R2-D2 Builders’ room (about which I wrote at GeekDad):

Jim went off to a photo shoot while Kelsey and I went with Adam & family to visit the exhibitors’ hall and take part in the construction of a giant Lego mural.

Off, then, to a Bonnie Burton talk about Star Wars crafts, after which we met Bonnie face-to-face and she presented Kelsey with a signed copy of her Girls Against Girls book, which was an awfully generous and most-appreciated gesture. (Yeah, Bonnie kind of rocks.)

We hit the showroom floor again for a longer stretch, and then took in a panel about model-building and The Empire Strikes Back presented by Lorne Peterson and Jon Berg – Jim rolled for initiative and caught Lorne’s attention afterward, so we talked for a moment and planned to meet up again over the next few days.

After that, Kelsey and I relaxed for a good long while over a Dr. Pepper and some french fries, and I talked to people I knew as they passed by.

Just before the main hall closed for the day, she and Jim and I popped in to take our turns posing in the giant Boba Fett action figure package.

We spent our last half-hour or so of the day hanging out at a collectors’ social, talking to friends, then called it a day and grabbed pizza on the way back to Jim’s.

Other super highlights: Jim surprising Kelsey with an original Katie Cook sketch of a Yellow Submarine; finally getting to chat with Steve Sansweet and having him sign my beat-up copy of his Star Wars: From Concept to Screen to Collectible, which played a hugely inspirational role in reinvigorating my love for the saga in the early ’90s (my Dark Times), and also giving him a copy of Collect All 21, which he asked me to sign; watching my daughter emerge from changing into her brand-new TARDIS-emblazoned Doctor Who shirt.

This was Kelsey’s only day here, and while she was exhausted at its close, she also had an awesome time, and no matter what else, that alone means I did, too.

August 13, 2010 Posted by | 1980s, Books, Current Affairs, eighties, Film, geek, science fiction, Travel | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

   

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