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Thursday, 12 May 2016

AFICIONADO REVIEW: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK - THE ORIGINAL TOPPS TRADING CARD SERIES VOLUME TWO

Darth Vader's Uber-villain status is confirmed with THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, and immortalised as part of the US TOPPS CARD series. Images: TOPPS/ABRAMS BOOKS.


"Luke Skywalker and Han Solo rescued the princess, destroyed the Death Star. But their story didn't end there..."

So said the breathless announcer (later revealed as Harrison Ford) behind the wonderful sneak-peek trailer for the then upcoming first sequel to STAR WARS: The Empire Strikes Back. A trailer filled with action, romance, wonder, incredible visuals, dark danger, and a return to the universe of George Lucas that had captured our hearts and imagination with its scope, characters and overall fantasy vision. From this trailer it was also clear that Empire was not going to be like any sequel we'd seen before, and that something truly special was on the cinematic horizon, bringing surprise and delight not just to eager fans but those savvy merchandising backers who saw the saga's potential early on, and who'd now continue reaping its rewards, both artistic and commercially, alongside Lucasfilm. One of those key early players were the equally iconic in their own right bubblegum card makers of TOPPS, whose joining together with the STAR WARS empire in presenting regular and hugely successful trading card series seemed a very natural fit. The incredible story of how that partnership and the resultant franchise translation came to be continues with the latest wonderful time capsule from Gary Gerani and ABRAMS COMICARTS that is the celebration and examination of Episode V: STAR WARS: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK - THE ORIGINAL TOPPS TADING CARD SERIES Volume Two, out now in right-size hardback.

Battle in the snow!

A key member of the TOPPS company for over forty years, Gerani reveals what it was like working on the new card series beyond the incredible success of the original four-series that had been so marvellously concocted for the original STAR WARS film (not yet christened A New Hope) three years earlier, now ready with the rest of the company's enthused management and design teams for the visual thrills of Empire, where he'd be quickly excited by the early script that he was one of the privileged few to read, loved seeing the very raw effects stop-motion footage of Imperial Walkers in stomping action on the snowy plains of Hoth, and hearing about the enigmatic Yoda- the film's unique and truly one-of-a-kind secret marketing/publicity weapon for eventual unveiling. But as for the incredible revelation of Luke and Vader? Well that took all the merchandisers just as much by surprise as the cast and audiences seeing the completed movie by May 1980!

Master Yoda debuts.
Romance and danger!

With expectations high and the fan base still there in the millions, and getting even bigger and more dedicated as the long three year wait for the film intensified, Gerani's lovely book introduction reveals a bigger and refined Lucasfilm operation at work for Empire, well organised and ready to promote the film in effective ways with TOPPS, not just in its cards (small and large size) but in its other division of candy, and in working with the other licensees beyond theirs, ably supported via superb onset photography by film set veteran George Whitear (of which certain selected imagery on these new cards would feature material and angles ultimately cut from the movie), and memorable, specially created ILM composite work of all the epic conflicts on land and in space that would make sequel one such a standout. With sales confidence high, all three TESB TOPPS sets would have extended amount runs of cards and stickers, with their overall front and back designs getting a revolutionary and attractive new framing/colour look, and their backs receiving specially written information and character details from Gerani, presented in the best zippy Flash Gordon tradition to appeal to the younger readers and purchasers (showcasing character name spellings and details that would eventually change once SW history was properly cemented). These were the cards that would help introduce the world to the mysterious new friends and baddies of the saga, like old smoothie Lando Calrissian, the dreaded bounty hunter Boba Fett, and the finally revealed on release Jedi Master in exile on the swamp world of Dagobah- Yoda.

STAR WARS alphabet!

And then there's the reprinted classic imagery from the film's all-time great scenes- showing us the darkly distinguished emergence of Darth Vader as the middle film's villain and his personal quest for Luke Skywalker, the boy's arrival and training on Dagobah, and the possibly final haunting fate of Han Solo on Bespin- the catalyst lure to bring a Sith and Jedi-to-be together in a classic and genuinely unsettling confrontation, with long term ramifications to be continued three years later with Revenge of the Jedi. Accompanied by interesting past info that would swiftly lock itself into fan brains forever (plus some neat new observations/commentary from the author), as well as the kind of entertaining dramatic license caption hyperbole that certainly wouldn't get past Lucasfilm Marketing these days, the overall reprinting of all the cards and ancillary items is of a good standard, though its a shame that some of the later images of the time (from the gold set) clearly had poor re-touching/printing problems. (Leia's white rebel outfit goes pink often!) Its a shame the book couldn't additionally have featured corrected printings/re-scannings of selected rare imagery, alongside the old versions.

Out now from TOPPS/ABRAMS COMICARTS.

As well as the cards (whose variety includes alphabet stickers, behind the scenes filming, Ralph McQuarrie production paintings and spaceship galleries), let's not forget the book's equally worthy reprinting of key adverts and marketing materials, photographs of the card boxes and sticker packets, and lots more specially shot imagery that I hadn't seen before, all of which delightfully add up to another satisfying and well produced history and joyously nostalgic exploration of classic STAR WARS. This book certainly brought back the ten-year old kid in me, reminding me all over again how much I was surprised and thrilled by that first sequel, and its singularly unique magic and striking air of darkness.

AFICIONADO RATING: 4 out of 5

Get the book (and its free collectors cards) here: Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back: 2 (Topps): Amazon.co.uk: Gary Gerani: 9781419719141: Books

With thanks to ABRAMS BOOKS UK


Earlier AFICIONADO previews:

STAR WARS AFICIONADO WEBSITE: BEHIND THE SCENES: ECHO BASE UNCOVERED!

STAR WARS AFICIONADO WEBSITE: BEHIND THE SCENES: WIDE-EYED DIRECTING!

STAR WARS AFICIONADO WEBSITE: CLASSIC IMAGE: READYING THE PIT OF PERIL!

Go Back In Time With This Gallery of Amazing Classic Star Wars Trading Cards

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