Tuesday, December 29, 2015

What goes down must first go ... up?

Okay ... this scene always intrigued me as a child (1977 "Star Wars" NKA Ep IV: ANH) ... the weapons station onboard the Imperial Stardestroyer in the opening minutes of the film.  What a neat concept shot!  However, the angles are wrong and the frames of reference are all skewed.  

Neat as it was, the scene made little sense other than as an establishing shot for a few lines of dialog that followed shortly.  The Imperial Stardestroyer gunners were aiming at an object falling away from them so the angles in the scene made little sense presented in the visual way that it was.

If the escape pod from the Tantive IV fires downwards towards Tatooine then how is this scene even possible?  It's not so much fanboying as it is trying to figure out how things work and how things fit inside other things so that they can work ... more like mechanical engineering and reverse engineering what I see in order to learn how it works and where it goes.

Here we see the escape pod launching down into space,
not up into the hangar of the ISD.

Shortly after the launch sequence the pod is seen falling away
 from the captured Tantive IV.

Next we see the droids looking out the viewport
 of the escape pod 
as the ISD falls into the background.

And finally a shot of the escape pod falling towards Tatooine.

We see the escape pod flying from the bottom to the top of the screen and the turbolaser cannon tracks it before the command is given not to engage. 

If this was true ... either the crew is upside down in a room (ala localized gravity like the Falcon's gun wells) or that's a viewscreen that's showing what's happening under the bottom of the Stardestroyer (in which case why does the gun track an image on a viewscreen). Even as a kid the scene didn't make much sense to me ... neat as it was but I could never get the angles right in my head for how this turbolaser weapons control room could exist.

Someone mentioned the fact that when you kick a ball it goes up and then back down but this isn't the case in this scene.  It's hard to fire an escape pod up and away from a ship when that ship is docked inside the main bay of the Stardestroyer. The escape pod that the droids used was on the bottom of the Tantive IV, small pods ... check out the schematics and cross-sections book for reference. 

The escape pod that R2 and C3PO use is the port side rear most lower pod, according to the cross sections illustration of the Tantive IV.

I'm sure the Imperial gunners were located on the bottom of the Stardestroyer ... but if they were and the pod fires downwards, that means that they're standing upside down in the room, the turbolaser is mounted on the ceiling and that they're watching the pod fall away.

The only reason that makes sense as to how this room is set up is if what we are seeing is a weapon station, two officers, and a giant viewscreen in front of them showing a remote weapons station elsewhere in the ship ... a turbolaser cannon that is pointed out the bottom of the ISD (presumably for planetary bombardment and for engaging targets that move under the equator of the ISD's line of fire.

One other thing that bothered me as a kid when I saw this was the dialog concerning the escape pod.  The officer watching the escape pod says "There goes ANOTHER one!" and his fellow officer says "Hold your fire.  There are no life forms aboard."

Let's break that down.

Saying that another pod has been launched indicates that there were other pods launched before this one was launched.  Telling the officer to hold his weapon's fire because there are no lifeforms aboard indicates that other pods had lifeforms aboard (escaping rebels) and were destroyed after they launched.

This dialog is further complicated when Vader and an Imperial officer are aboard the Tantive IV and are approached by another Imperial officer who tells them that the plans for the Death Star are not aboard the Tantive IV and that an escape pod (indicating a single escape pod) was launched but no life forms were aboard.  Here we have a discrepancy between several pods being launched (and destroyed in flight) and only one pod being launched.

The implied destruction of rebels trying to get away in escape pods from the Tantive IV is just one of the instances where "Star Wars" showed the cruelty of the Empire without actually showing the cruelty of the Empire.  Other scenes were the slaughter of the Jawas and the murder of Luke's uncle and aunt ... in both instances we see the end result without seeing the action that brought about that result.  This could also be said about the interrogation droid in Princess Leia's cell ... we see it approaching her, we know what it is designed for yet the door mercifully closes on the scene before we get to take part in it.  Even the destruction of Alderaan with all of its millions (billions?) of inhabitants was done in such a way that we never saw actual suffering.  The fate of those killed when the Death Star obliterated Alderran was passed onto us only in a line of dialog said by Ben Kenobi ... and later in the visuals of the debris of the once-planet as the Falcon dropped out of hyperspace where Alderaan used to be.

I think that's one of the things that made "Star Wars" so great ... the bad guys were really bad guys but we weren't shown just how bad that they really were ... just given hints that we had to pick up on and connect the dots for ourselves and in doing so that was masterful storytelling ... the kind of masterful storytelling that got lost in the prequels, especially when Anakin Skywalker slaughtered children at the Jedi Temple.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The 1977 "Star Wars" Movie Program

When "Star Wars" first hit the theaters some theaters offered special complimentary movie programs to movie goers.  This was a first run item not duplicated or repeated when "Star Wars" was rerun in theaters the following year.   I don't remember ever having one of these but my wife says that she got one when she went to see "Star Wars" and she had it for a long time through her childhood.  Years ago, I found an original program on Ebay and added it to my collection.   When it arrived, I showed it to my wife and she remembered the one she had as a child.  My first question to her was "How is it that you had something of "Star Wars" that I never had?"

And now I present the 1977 "Star Wars" complimentary movie program.

For some of you, sharing this program will bring back fond childhood memories ... for others this will be a new experience for you knowing that something like this once existed and now having the chance to view it for the first time.

Giant two page center spread showing the classic publicity shot of starfighter combat - Rebel Alliance X-wings versus Imperial TIE Fighters.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Kenner "Early Bird" Star Wars figure mail away offer

I consider myself lucky to have been seven years old when "Star Wars" first hit the theaters in 1977 (seven because SW hit the silver screen about three weeks before I turned 8).  It was a glorious time to be a kid and SW brought with it a veritable Renaissance in toys based on the runaway hit movie ... but that was in the long months to come.  One of the great things about "Star Wars" was that it was such a surprise hit.  "Star Wars" was magic made manifest and while it caught the pop culture of America (and the world) by surprise, it also caught all of the toy companies by surprise.

One of the greatest toy legends of all time was how Kenner sold four "Star Wars" action figures without really selling the action figures at all.  Christmas 1977 would have been a monstrous windfall for toy companies if they had made any "Star Wars" toys and Kenner was doing its best to get a new line of three and three quarter inch action figures to market ... but they didn't make it and they wouldn't make it for the massive cash influx that the 1978 Christmas holiday season promised to bring.  Kenner, not having any toys to offer (but knowing that they would be coming in the months to follow) did what I think no other toy company has ever done ... they sold what amounted to an "IOU".

Some of you may not be old enough to know what an "IOU" is ... basically, Kenner sold an empty folder with a promise to mail four new (and then unavailable in stores) "Star Wars" action figures to the kid who took the chance on Kenner.

Kenner sold an IOU in that they pre-sold four of their new action figures in a special mail-away offer, the first of three very important mail-away offers associated with the original release of "Star Wars" in 1977; the Kenner "Early Bird" kit.

This IOU promised kids four hot new action figures ... Luke Skywalker with an extending / retracting telescoping Lightsaber (strangely colored yellow), Princess Leia with a vinyl cape and a laser pistol, Chewbacca with his Wookie bowcaster (minus the crossbow part) and R2-D2.


MAIL IN ... the postage paid Early Bird Certificate

RECEIVE ... between FEBRUARY 1 - JUNE 1, 1978, before they're available in stores, poseable Action Figures of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Chewbacca and Artoo-Deetoo (see back of package for full details).

The kit included some stickers, a mail-in certificate for the first four action figures, a "Star Wars" club membership card and a colorful fold-up display stand (featuring the original 12 Back artwork) to display your figures.  The Early Bird Certificate kit was the first of the 12 Backs and a hint of what was to come from Kenner in the next 18 months.

Kids went nuts and the Early Bird Certificate kits flew out of the stores.

Here is a television commercial from that time period for the Kenner Early Bird Kit.

When the figures finally arrived (shipped in a cardboard box, packed in a white package tray), here is how they came ...

Included in the mail-in offer you received the four action figures you were owed by Kenner, a plastic bag filled with twist-in foot pegs to secure your four figures to the fold-out display (plus enough plastic pegs to secure another 8 figures later on as you purchased them), the first of the small Kenner "Star Wars" toy catalogs (these things were gold to a kid back then), and yet another mail-in offer ... this time for the "Star Wars" Action Figure Collector Stand.

"Stars of STAR WARS look-alike action figures available soon!"

The truth is that I never had one of these ...

Personally, while I remember seeing these kits in the store (and picking them up and looking them over in great detail) I never had an Early Bird Certificate kit because I just didn't "get it" as a kid.  Here was a toy company, selling me an empty package and promising to mail me four figures at sometime in the future.  When you're a kid and you want something really bad four to six to eight weeks isn't just a month or two, it's a frigging eternity.  

By the time I got interested in the kits locally and by the time that my interest had been piqued by the television commercials the December 31, 1977 expiration date had passed and the kits were pretty much useless after that.  I remember finding three of these kits still on the shelf at the "toy cave" at Howard's department store sometime in January 1978 but my dad didn't let me get one because he looked it over said that the kit had an expiration date on it and I wouldn't be able to get the figures by mail if I bought the kit.

Man, I wanted those action figures!  Some kids at school started to get their action figures by mail and brought them to school and we played with them during recess.  These figures were my new want and I kept checking the toy department of the local department stores looking for these figures.

One day I found them.

There they were.

Each figure, individually sealed in a clear plastic blister on a picture card.

The 12 Backs had arrived.  The first "Star Wars" figures, a set of twelve figures on card backs.

Strangely enough, my first four action figures that I bought that day were Luke, Leia, R2-D2 and Chewbacca, all purchased at Wilson's department store in the University Mall area in Hattiesburg, MS in January of 1978.

These were the first of my 12 Backs and they would start a collection craze and an action figure hunt that would last for the better part of the next 12 months.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Article - My first "Star Wars" magazine - TIME, May 30, 1977

As a 7 year old, "Star Wars" was still something that wasn't really known to me.  

There was no Internet, no smart phones, no personal computers (they were coming).  I really hadn't heard or seen any hype about the movie, even by May of 1977 when the movie was actually released.  You'll think that strange, reading this today, but back then information traveled at the speed of print and by word of mouth.  The only phone you had was the one on the wall in your house (and you probably leased that unit from the telephone company).

I remember going on vacation to Chattanooga, TN to visit my grandmother's brother and while I was there I saw my first "Star Wars" television commercial and I knew this was something that was going to be amazing.   The next day we went to the local mall and while my father got a haircut I saw a current issue of TIME with an article on "Star Wars".  As far as I can tell, this was the first magazine to have an article on "Star Wars" and it was my first view of some of the pictures from the movie.

My seven year old mind was blown.

While my father and my grandmother's brother had their hair cut at the barbershop I flipped through the magazine, mesmerized.  I remember leaving the barbershop and seeing "Star Wars" playing at the big cinemaplex across the street.  I begged my father to take me to see "Star Wars" because there was a huge line to buy tickets to see the movie and I really wanted to see this movie, now more than ever.  My father said that we would wait and see it when it came to Hattiesburg, MS where we lived.  I asked him how long that would be and he told me a few weeks.

"Star Wars" didn't reach Hattiesburg, MS until late October or early November.  So much for my dad's estimate of "a few weeks."

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Estes "Star Wars" Flying Model Rockets

With the success of "Star Wars" it was only natural that Estes would want to get in on the huge cash pie.  

Enter the Estes flying models in the "Star Wars" flavor.  

I'd long been a fan of model rocketry and the Estes catalogs held the same kind of fascination with me that the Dinky diecast toy catalogs held ... they were filled with things that as a child I thought were neat beyond belief but which I didn't seem to ever be a part of.  Estes catalogs featuring that impressive camo German V2 rocket and the "Star Trek" versions of the "USS Enterprise" and the "Klingon Battlecruiser" drew my child-like fascination.  

Oh, I saw a few model rocketry shows in my childhood but my attempts to build model rockets always met with failure.   I was much better with models of rockets rather than model rocketry and it remains that way even today.  While interesting, model rocketry just isn't a hobby that I think I would get very much enjoyment out of ... 

I digress.

In the late 1970's Estes produced several flying rocket models under the "Star Wars" license; the Proton Torpedo, the X-Wing Fighter, the TIE Fighter, and IIRC, a flying R2D2 rocket (yeah, where was that in the movie?).  I always wanted the X-Wing and the TIE Fighter because the X-Wing looked really cool (better than the MPC kit IMHO) and since MPC never made a model of the basic Imperial TIE Fighter I wanted the flying model rocket just to put together as a static, non-flying model.  Never did that, either, but it was a wish, a hope and a dream of mine back in that special time that was 1977 to 1979.

The Estes Proton Torpedo ruined me as a child and as a "Star Wars" fan because it looked so plausible ... then whoever it was that finally designed and drew the canon proton torpedo made it look like a snow cone sitting on top of a fire extinguisher and ... well, I like the simplicity of the Estes Proton Torpedo better.   I mean, what happens to the casing after the torpedo is fired?

Discussion for another time, I guess.  Given that, here's three 1978 period advertisements for the Estes products ... the X-Wing Fighter, the TIE Fighter and the Proton Torpedo.  I really, really wanted the X-wing and TIE simply because MPC didn't make a TIE Fighter model (not a regular TIE Fighter) and the X-wing looked better than the MPC model did (at least to me).

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Advertisement - Warren's "Creepy" magazine, June 1978, showing more "Star Wars" merchandise.

New Star Wars products on Page 67!

Advertising from Warren's "Creepy" magazine, June 1978, showing more, new "Star Wars" merchandise including the first four plastic models by MPC, a cheapo Darth Vader costume, an Estes flying model rocket of Luke Skywalker's "Proton Torpedo" and the first three movie related toy vehicles designed for the (then) new action figure line.

If you look close at the windshield of the Landspeeder you'll see the arm of the Luke Skywalker action figure.  The rest of the image of the toy was cut off and manipulated.  I had all of the MPC model kits except Darth Vader's TIE fighter ... not sure why I never had that but I just never did.  Likewise for the Vader costume and the Estes rocket because neat as it was I really wasn't into model rocketry when I was young.  

My first action figure vehicle was the X-wing fighter which I received for my birthday in June of '78.  I was 9 years old.  Later that Summer I got the TIE fighter while on vacation visiting my uncle and aunt in Chattanooga, TN.  The Landspeeder was the hardest vehicle to find and I didn't get it until the late Fall of 1978 when I found it at a local Western Auto store, of all places ... it was the only one they had and, as far as I know, the only one they ever got in.

As for the MPC plastic models, the X-Wing Fighter was a real step-bitch to put together, ditto for the R2D2 model with its opening panels and extending leg.  The C3PO model went together fairly easily.  None of the models survived into my early teenage years ... thankfully MPC later not only reintroduced these models but added a whole lot more to the lineup.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Kenner "Star Wars" Laser Pistol and Laser Rifle Toys

(reproduced from my Angst and Speed blog)

There came a time in my childhood when two of the most awesome guns were made available by Kenner; the Star Wars (Han Solo) Laser Pistol and the Star Wars 3 Position Laser Rifle.  This gave the "good guys" a gun to use and the "bad guys" a gun to use as well.  For Christmas of 1978 I received the Star Wars 3 Position Laser Rifle while my friend three houses down got the Star Wars Laser Pistol.  After that, the hours were spent running around the neighborhood draining pairs of C and D sized batteries to our hearts' content and our parents' dismay (disposable batteries were kind of expensive during the Jimmy Carter era).

The weapons were somewhat faithful reproductions of their on screen counterparts but the sounds that these toys produced were nowhere near what the sounds in the movie were.  In fact, both toy guns were activated by a two stage trigger system ... a small nipple type button in the hand grip activated something inside the gun so that when the trigger was pulled the toy gun made a noise reminiscent of either a buzzsaw at a lumber mill or a hamster being put in a blender.  We both found that even at the age of 8 years old we could make more accurate Star Wars blaster sounds using our mouths than Kenner could using electronics and back then electronics was the big thing in toys ... an electronic toy was cutting edge and these toy guns weren't the cheapest toys on the market.  They weren't the most expensive, but they weren't the cheapest either.

Pictured above ... Han Solo's German Mauser based heavy blaster pistol.  The trigger always felt like it would break off if you pulled it too hard.  You unscrewed the two twist knobs on the side and inserted two "C" sized batteries in the toy.  The batteries had amazingly short lives, IIRC.  Oh, yeah, both weapons had "secret buttons" which really weren't that secret in hindsight.

I think one of the things that endeared me most to the weapons of Star Wars was the fact that all of the weapons were built out of real world counterparts ... familiar counterparts ... mostly taken from World War II which fit right in with my pre-Star Wars love affair of all things World War I and World War II.  Years of being weaned on "Sgt. Rock" and "The Unknown Soldier" and "The Losers" and other combat comics and of playing with Marx "green army men" had made me more than aware of the many, many weapons used in the major wars.  As such, it was easy to see where Han Solo's blaster was made out of a early 20th century German Mauser (one of my favorite pistols of all time).  The standard Stormtrooper weapons included the standard issue blaster rifle (created from a Sterling 9mm submachinegun) and two heavy blasters created out of a German MG34 machinegun and a British Lewis machinegun.  Scopes and doo-dads were added liberally to these classic weapons but their cores, their guts, were unmistakeable which I guess made them all the more believable when they were being used because I had seen so many combat movies where the cores of those fantastic weapons had been used.

The 3 Position Laser Rifle was probably the neater (and more expensive) of the two blaster offerings but it was also the more prone to break.  Loading batteries into this toy weapon required that you twist / pop the rear loop off at the rear of the weapon, take a cover off and insert two "D" sized batteries (batteries not included).  When you pulled the secret nipple trigger below the trigger guard and then pulled the trigger the 3 Position Laser Rifle did something that the Laser Pistol did not ... it spun a yellow with black stripes "barber pole" inside the barrel ... and made a sound reminiscent of a failing starter on a AMC Pacer.

The rear loop, for whatever reason it was included, was both prone to breaking through hard play and even more prone to simply fall off and disappear.  I'm not sure why the rear loop was part of the design as it wouldn't hold the rifle on anything like a belt loop or a shoulder srap.  The rear loop wasn't required for the laser rifle to work but it was something that when it went missing you felt like your toy was incomplete.  The trigger was also way more substantial than the trigger found on the laser pistol.

What really set the Laser Rifle apart from the Laser Pistol was the three position folding stock hence the name of the weapon being 3 Position Laser Rifle.  The stock was affixed to the weapon at two swivel points located at the back and to each side of the hand grip.  On the front, a simple clip "snapped" the folding stock in tight against the barrel.  This clip also did not survive strenuous childhood rough housing and when it broke it would leave you with a folding stock that simply had to either be deployed full or held tight against the barrel.

The three positions, seen above on the box, were folded (standard), shoulder pad down up front (guard) and fully extended (turning the rifle into a real rifle).  While we never saw any of the three positions of the stock being used in the movie that didn't stop us from taking it as canon and running with it.

Although my original 3 Position Laser Rifle never made it with me out of childhood I was lucky enough to find a replacement on Ebay a few years ago.  The toy did include the rare (and often lost) rear D-ring type clip but the front clip for the stock was broken.  The toy blaster did not work even with new batteries and a quick inspection of the screws used to secure the casing showed that the tiny screws were heavily rusted and corroded.  If I go into this toy to see if I can fix it, it's going to require new screws as I have doubts if the heads of the current screws may even make it through a very careful disassembly.  I also plan on using a simple pair of magnets under the barrel to "grab" the stock and secure it in the folded position.

I said that I never owned the Laser Pistol ... now I do, from the same Ebay seller and in similar condition (though this toy still had some obscure, cheap-ass "C" size batteries in it that were rusting to pieces).  Other than the non-functioning electronics and the broken stock retaining clip on the laser rifle, both toy weapons seem quite well preserved for 36 year old artifacts from my childhood.  Both are dusty as hell and will require hours of careful cleaning to be fully presentable but the plastic is still non-discolored and uncracked.

I think I'll mount them on pegs on the wall of my study where, like my other iconic toys from the 1970's, I'm sure they'll incite conversation from those who remember these toys.  As I hold these toy weapons in my hands, I'm taken back to cold winter days where imagination ran free and so did we through the yards of our neighbors yelling and laughing and not having a care in the world other than how much fun we could have.