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Wednesday, 18 November 2015

AFICIONADO REVIEW: 'STAR WARS: THE ORIGINAL TOPPS TRADING CARDS' (VOLUME ONE)


Where were you in '77? Images: ABRAMS BOOKS.



STAR WARS: THE ORIGINAL TOPPS TRADING CARDS SERIES (VOLUME ONE)

Written by Gary Gerani

With Robert V. Conte

Published by ABRAMS BOOKS

Reviewed by Scott Weller

When I think of STAR WARS’ impact on my eight year old childhood of 1978 (the movie didn’t come out beyond London’s West End and into the suburbs until January that year), two things immediately spring to mind- running about at primary school pretending to be Luke Skywalker wanting to rescue potential Princess Leia’s in my playground field of vision, and the desperate search for anybody, and I do mean anybody, who had a spare number 4 (“Space Pirate Han Solo”) to the original blue stars TOPPS card series of which I’d valiantly consumed so much bubble gum to complete my set!

Yes, that’s how important to me those TOPPS cards were (blue and red- we only had those two batches in the UK), and to all the zillion other kids who loved STAR WARS across the world (in a pre-VHS tape era), in representing its spell-binding ingredients- the classic imagery of characters, weaponry, spaceship and planets that was now starting to enrich our lives then and forever more- a unique cinematic freshness and feeling that would prove so empowering on our imaginations that we just couldn’t get enough of it.


The idea of someone producing a tribute book to those cards of yesterday was genuinely deserving of merit, and now its finally materialized, via the talents of author and TOPPS card employee since its halcyon days, Gary Gerani, in conjunction with those admirable people of finesse at ABRAMS BOOKS, presenting the first in their Classic Trilogy retrospective and celebration of the entire run of this enduringly successful series.

Giving us an affectionate and important lowdown on how the TOPPS card series of the STAR WARS universe came to be, Gerani, a key early supporter of the film, despite early looks at publicity pictures that left him unsure of its potential appeal, and especially after a prior classic STAR TREK card set had failed so dismally in sales for the company, reveals the publishing gamble that soon emerged from early rejection to pay-rich dividends whilst also generating a continued aura for a pop culture legend, not just for TOPPS but also the small and dedicated team assisting Gerani with all his photos and info needs at Lucasfilm, plus the eager to make even more profit 20th Century Fox over the course of three years.


With humour and nostalgia, as well as looks at some rare specially commissioned key art used for both the cards and publicity, alongside scans of the original wrappers, Gerani’s affectionate commentary is a huge part of this opening book’s appeal: the innocence of the early days before the STAR WARS marketing machine became so entrenched- the design ideas (some better than others), the early mistakes (yep, the infamous Threepio 'extension' card is included, as well as a couple of errors that the author still hasn't spotted even now! Blue card 36, anyone?!), and the overwhelming sense of fun and creative enthusiasm from the TOPPS team that went into making these early products such pop culture icons.


And for anyone who’s never had the complete set of cards, the individual front and back reproductions seen here are of fine quality- the now legendary blue borders set with the first amazing assemblage of classic STAR WARS (including some occasional rarities) launches things in grand style, followed by a red set with some truly garish one-off retouching (green walls of the Blockade Runner-yeeww!), then a third (yellow) and fourth (green), both rushed to fulfil demand by reusing and cropping past images yet also managing to find some intriguing new rarities-many of which have still not been republished to this day, and a final compilation (orange) incorporating great behind the scenes imagery from the filming and some finally released images of the ever-popular Cantina bar aliens created by the now legendary Rick Baker.

And for completism, the reproduced back card production info proves a further hoot to read (much of it supplied by the film’s then key publicist Charles Lippincott), what with their of-its-time movie facts and behind the scenes cast and crew personal quotes, alongside character stickers that American kids surely pasted on every conceivable shape and sized wall or bedroom in their celebration of all things STAR WARS!


The end of the book is complimented by memorabilia expert Robert V. Conte’s brief but fascinating photo essay of the equally best-selling, one-off, US-only Wonderbread card set of 1978, which became a key component in helping promote STAR WARS cinematic return engagement within its home territories, as it propelled itself towards a then incredible $200 million take at the domestic box office. This book, for the first time, presents these important images, and their back card info, along with some other key artistry linked to their original release. For UK and international readers, it’s a curious and enjoyable addition.

AFICIONADO RATING: Like Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, I can smell and taste that era of bubble gum STAR WARS all over again. An essential right-size purchase for the original 1977 era fan, whose four reproduction cards are the final icing on the cake. 4 out of 5.

1 comment:

Regularjoe said...

I had all of these cards as a kid and ordered the book thinking that the reproduction quality would be on par with the Topp's books for Wacky Packages.

Some of the images of the cards in this book are excellent and some are so - so, there are quite a few pages where the representations of the cards are just awful, grainy, washed out, lo-res if one was talking about a website. So many so that as someone who paid for the book I think it is important to communicate to people that the book is not worth it.

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