Monday, 14 January 2013



By Stephen J. Sansweet

Out now from TITAN BOOKS

Reviewed by Scott Weller

You never forget your first STAR WARS action figures: mine were back in the days of the original and unaltered Classic Trilogy: See-Threepio and a non-cloth Jawa, brought by my enthusiastic mum from the once fruitful British Home Stores shopping chain one rainy Saturday in 1978. From there, holding these two glorious characters in my hands, part of the original twelve figures in three and three quarters inch frames, a love affair soon began with the ultimate form of play acting- as my collection of plastic characters grew over three years, so did my imagination in staging their epic adventures. And in those long days between films- three painful years at a time- they were a lifeline to mine and I’m sure many other millions STAR WARS universes: played with, and played with, and played with. Mine were particularly kept safe for reuse-and new adventures galore- within my soon Xmas gift Darth Vader Collectors Case and easy access metal lunch box.

Flash forward to 2012, and its gotten to the point now where I sadly have no room or a big enough wallet to buy the incredible range of HASBRO based figures available to fellow STAR WARS aficionados, which have so admirably succeeded that original range of colourful KENNER/PALITOY characters from so long ago, but I can at least enjoy seeing the old and new diversity in printed form with this wonderful guide of nostalgia witnessed within the pages of long time STAR WARS collector en masse, archivist and ex-LUCASFILM Fan Relations expert Stephen J. Sansweet’s exciting and packed to the brim new volume dedicated to the toy phenomenon, the author happily far beyond his original analysing the commercial enterprise figures of Wall Street to now charting the more emotionally rewarding plastic figure universe of the classic and modern Trilogies collectible range.

Led into with a nice potted history of the line and the birth of their incredible success for KENNER toys in the 1978 market onwards (Oh, ho that Early Bird campaign would ultimately prove a genius idea!), to the equally incredible and enduring success inherited by HASBRO from the nineties onwards, and which remains one of the top five toy brands every year for both children and their kidult parents!, STAR WARS: THE ULTIMATE ACTION FIGURE COLLECTION is indeed an impressive and superior work to his previous, and now highly rare vintage figure archive from 1999, THE ACTION FIGURE ARCHIVE, once again using his highly knowledgeable and accessible writing style to take us on a fine journey of celebration, alongside still-life images of the various action figures-2,300 across 29 major product lines from 1978 up to early 2012- and their accessories, better showcased here than before, especially the modern figures of the last few years, what with their impressive attention to detail and increased body frame maneuverability.

And its not just the films that are so dutifully covered by the figure range-there are the many characters brought to life from the multitude of spin offs, too, like the sagas legendary deleted scenes, spin-off TV series, animation, computer games (like The Force Unleashed), and even comics and book icons from such notable entries as the early nineties Shadows of the Empire series and MARVEL/DARK HORSE series. Plus iconic conceptual and behind the scenes art work from the likes of Ralph McQuarrie and Joe Johnston (most notably in release during the saga’s Thirtieth Anniversary). Even George Lucas made it to plastic and card backing reality in 2002! I could only dream of such diversity of characters back in the day as a child with those original PALITOY/KENNER figures and their eight year duration up to 1985. STAR WARS fans really are well and truly spoiled for choice these days. And good for them!

Rarities, special purchase figures, limited editions, etc., are all fascinatingly documented and photographed as part of the KENNER/HASBRO legacy. A lot of them revealing fascinating behind the scenes origins and development stories, with clear enjoyment and some occasional wry humour by Sansweet, as he also charts the joys and perils of being such a dedicated collector. Changes and additions-both deliberate and accidental- to the range over thirty years, which have made some of the figures worth a small fortune to collectors, are also keenly highlighted. Once again, alongside the figure images, Sansweet does a fine job assembling hundreds of movie representative photos and artwork, including some very rare and previously unseen shots. It must have been quite a hunt through the archives looking for so many match-up images. Stephen, if you ever need help on that front, I’m your man!

One of the best aspects of the book is seeing the timeline of the figures and how so many of the characters have changed, or become more or less a part of the range over time. There are the main heroes like Luke, Han and Leia that are the essentials, of course, but there have been other characters beyond them that have equally made their important mark in STAR WARS collectormania. For a start, with the Prequel Trilogy, I couldn’t believe just how many Clone Trooper variations there have been in the last five or six years. And who knew there were so many Jar Jar Binks figures out there? For an unpopular character he obviously sells well enough for them to carry on making them. And talking of treading a tightrope of a different kind, only the STAR WARS toy line could get away with realising some of the more gruesome aspects of the filmed saga, like Luke Skywalker with decapitated arm and bloody stump from EMPIRE, or Anakin Skywalker legless and lava burned body remains from SITH! If Hans Christian Anderson were alive today, he’d surely be pitching to HASBRO!

Picking up this first class, 350-page tome tribute to the diverse, continuing action figure range (of which Carrie Fisher may finally discover in its pages a Leia figure that doesn't look like Eddie Munster!), which has become such a joyous and fascinating obsession to so many millions of dedicated fans worldwide, you’ll soon discover what a must-have purchase it is in the way it recognises and charts such an amazing and enduring aspect of STAR WARS history. Available in a nicely priced large format paperback, it’s not just an invaluable research tool and aid for collectors of the range to enjoy and use as the ultimate checklist, it’s also a helluva lot of fun in general for readers and fans of all ages as we are whisked off once more into our imaginations by George Lucas’s enduring and colourful character packed saga.

AFICIONADO RATING: An essential purchase, a box of delights, and an obvious labour of love for Sansweet. 4 out of 5


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