Friday, July 11, 2014

More Muscles, Please!
A Retrospective On Star Wars Toys From 1995

Mike Beckett heads back to a time not-so-long ago & a galaxy not-so-far away in today's editorial....

I was born in 1982, so I had just barely missed the Star Wars toy craze. And although I do remember getting a brand new Speeder Bike for Christmas one year (must have been a straggler on the shelves at Big Lots), all of my Star Wars toys were used, collected from cousins or kids up the street. In fact, I didn't know who any of the characters were until the day when I was lucky enough to catch Return of the Jedi on TV.

I recognized the characters immediately, and was hooked. For several years I scrounged and traded for all the Star Wars toys I could get. But there weren't many. This was before the internet, and I was too young to drive myself to flea markets and all that.

I spent hours with my nose in Tomart's toy guides, or whatever I could get, dreaming that one day some new Star Wars toys were made.

Then there were the bendies.... Those didn't quite scratch the itch. I passed those on the shelves, and after disappointment set in, I knew in my heart that I'd never be able to walk into a store and buy a Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader action figure.

But we all know by now that I was wrong.

1995 rolled around and a new line of Star Wars toys from Kenner was announced. I remember it being big news, and when those first images were shown, it was like a dream coming true. A bulky, exaggerated, muscular dream. ...You know what I'm talking about. I mean, it had been a long decade since any Star Wars toys had seen store shelves.

We all bought them. The line did so well, in fact, that we got wave after wave of figures until just about every character from the trilogy had gotten the plastic treatment.

Then we "grew up". Hasbro bought out Kenner, and the sculpts seemed to get better, and we got greedy.

No, really. We got too big for our britches.

For years in my adult life, I worked at a vintage toy store where Star Wars figures from 1977 and up were readily available. And they all got a "pass", except that orange and green card series. We laughed at them and turned our noses up. I mean, even though she was hard to find in '95, who really liked "monkey-face" Leia?

What was Kenner thinking? Why was every figure muscle-bound, packaged with oversized guns and accessories? The best answer I've been able to come up with is simply that it was the 90's. Toy companies saw muscles as money. Or maybe they were loosely styled after Marvel Comics’ interpretation. Either way, how else would you know if Lando had a six pack unless Kenner sculpted it for us? (You know you were wondering).

We were enamored with the Saga collection, Power of the Jedi, and the beloved VOTC line, and we thought Hasbro had finally done the right thing. And they did. It was time to move on, I suppose.

But after all the smoke has cleared, and my "collection" doesn't really exist anymore, all of the "better" lines have fallen to the wayside, and I find myself nostalgic only for that first wave of beefed-up iconic characters from 1995.

Call me crazy. I know, I know... they're considered a joke. So why in the (star) world would I be thinking fondly about those?

For starters, I guess they remind me of that time when I was still mostly innocent, and was able to enjoy toys.

But I think it goes deeper than that.

This new line from Hasbro, the Saga Legends, has tipped me off to a little secret that somehow eluded me all these years. Back in 1995, it was fun. That’s right. Kenner knew they'd make money, sure, but it seemed that the spirit of fun was put into their work, guided it, even.

I didn't work for Kenner, but I have to imagine it was a thrill to be working on a new toy line for the property that put them on the map in the first place. And I think it showed. Go ahead, look at some pictures or dig out those figures you still have in your closet because you thought one day they would pay for your college tuition. Are you going to tell me you have no love there?

We've been jaded by 6,000 points of articulation (which proper proportions were sacrificed for) and ultra-detailed sculpts and tiny little clear-plastic bands to hold weapons in place and $12 price points. If we we’re paying more, it must mean we have matured… Right? "This is a collectible. I must be all grown up..."

But that got me burned out a long time ago. And now I see that what I have been doing all along, is just trying to regain the experiences of my childhood, to revisit that feeling of excitement and innocence. I don't believe I'm alone, here. Some of you might not admit that, and some of you might still be feeling that way. If so, that’s great. More power (of the Force) to you.

But for the rest of you chaps out there breaking the bank trying to fill that void, I implore that you step back, take a breath, and ask yourself if you're still having fun with it. If the answer is “No”, then maybe your younger self can point you in the right direction.


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