POP! Goes the Jedi

When you look at the realm of collectable figures over the last few years, very little can come close to matching the meteoric rise in popularity of the collectable Pop! vinyl range produced by Funko. Dipping into the expansive pool that is ‘popular culture’ it’s hardly surprising that the US based company now has a library of over 1,000 licensed vinyl figures, from all areas of film, TV, literature, music, and so on, and so on…

From Doctor Who to Harry Potter, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Breaking Bad, there isn’t a single pop culture sphere that hasn’t been touched by these 3.75″ collectable oddities!

I’m not here to catalogue just how they’ve become so popular over such a short period of time. If you’re interested in that then have a read of this great article that was published by Rolling Stone in November 2014 –

Pop Culture: The Incredible Rise of Funko Pop!

Oddly, given the collector in me, I don’t actually own any of these 1,000+ figures… yet! I’ve purposely steered well away from them as I know that once I start down that rocky road the completist in me won’t be able to limit myself to just the odd ‘one or two’! Such is my curse!

The figures themselves are definitely an acquired taste, modelled in an extreme super-deformed design, similar to the Japanese cartoon style known as chibi, with tiny physiques, oversized heads and perfectly round black eyes…

Christ… Those are some cold, dead eyes… seriously!

Star Wars is extremely well represented in the Pop! Vinyl range, with new figures being released at a startling rate alongside limited editions and variants, driving the rarity and collectability factor all the way up to 11.

Next month, the weekend of 15th-17th July to be precise, one of the biggest events to occur outside of the US, comes to London. Star Wars Celebration Europe is a huge convention bringing the best of Star Wars direct to the fans. As part of the festivities Funko will have their own booth showcasing several new figures, exclusive to this event. These figures will drive the number of Star Wars Pop! Vinyl figures over the magic 100 mark, and I have to say they do look pretty cool. Just check out that 4-Lom!celebrationeuropefunko

So who knows? Maybe this might be a good place to start? I mean, one or two can’t really hurt THAT much… Can they?

Oh stop it Andy!!! Just think about those soulless eyes…

I’d be interested to see if anyone out there has collected any of the Star Wars Funko? Feel free to share the details of your collection!

Revenge of the Trailer

As a young boy on the cusp of my teenage years anything Star Wars related was easily the most exciting thing on this, or any other planet! The three year wait between Empire and Jedi was an agonising period, only made easier by the multitude of Palitoy Star Wars toys that I had at my disposal to re-enact tales from my own imagination of how Luke, Leia, Chewie and Lando (still didn’t trust that guy) would rescue Han from the vile clutches of Jabba.

Cinema visits were a common occurrence back in the early 80’s and one of my favourite parts of any trip (apart from the opportunity to sing-a-long with the Kiora ads during the Pearl & Dean segments) was to see the trailers for upcoming movies. In those days, centuries before the internet, this was all we had to whet our appetites for new films… and even the most sparse of trailers were enough!

The above trailer was released a couple of weeks ago from the archives of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the Oscars people if you weren’t sure). You can click here to read the original article from their website. I have very vague recollections of seeing a Star Wars/Empire double bill from around that time, so I may well have seen this very trailer back in the day.

However when Return of the Jedi finally arrived in the summer of 1983 I was at the front of the queue for the very first showing with my best bud Andy Hemsley. Mr Hemsley was the first through the doors on that particular day but I’ve still managed to get plenty of mileage out of my ‘I was second in to the very first showing of Return of the Jedi at the Rex in Coalville’ anecdotes over the years, so I can’t complain too much.

The thing I love about this little nugget of cinematic gold is that you don’t need too much in your trailers to push the excitement levels all the way up to 11, and although minimalistic doesn’t even begin to cover it, simply seeing Luke standing side by side with Vader and Han freed from the icy embrace of carbonite is enough to kickstart the imagination once again.

Boy, they don’t make trailers like THAT any more!

Now, if only I hadn’t sold all those Star Wars figures on eBay 15 years ago…

Sigh…

Art For Arts Sake

Every now and again it’s nice to be surprised.

As part of this blog I’m always on the look out for those little oddities that add a different flavour to the Star Wars universe, but to be fair there’s very little in the last 40 years that  hasn’t been covered in the world of Star Wars, so finding something new and original is a pretty tall order.

This weekend my wife and I spent some quality time away to celebrate our wedding anniversary, taking a trip over to Staffordshire on the Saturday, staying in a nice little B&B overnight and then spending today visiting the Peak District. And very nice it was too, especially thanks to the glorious weather!

But obviously I’m not here to talk about all that!

Yesterday afternoon we visited Trentham in Staffordshire (just south of Stoke-on-Trent), starting off at a monkey sanctuary before moving on to a little retail outlet called the Trentham Shopping Village. Noteworthy for its lack of big-named stores and brands, this particular outlet has a fair share of craft and gift stores… not always my cup of tea but you never know!

While traversing the stalls and kiosks I stumbled into an art gallery, not something I tend to do on a regular basis but not an unpleasant way to pass a few minutes away from the hustle and bustle of retail therapy.

Now I know that art isn’t for everyone… That it’s very much in the eye of the beholder. I’m firmly in the camp that I like what I like, not wanting to look too far into meaning and subtext. Most stuff goes completely over my head but while moseying around said gallery one particular painting jumped straight out at me as soon as I saw it.

IMAG0284I know it’s not Star Wars related but the style and content just blew me away and I immediately fell in love with it!

As I looked at some of the other paintings and prints in the same exhibit my eyes suddenly fell upon this baby!

IMAG0282

How… Cool… Is…  THAT!?!?!?

These two paintings were created by Sheffield-born artist Craig Davison, a cartoonist in the 80’s whose work on pre-school comics helped him define his distinctive style. His artistic career began in full as an animator and games designer where he utilised his artistic style in sculpting 3D figures.

Inspired by a number of sources including comic-book artist Mike Mignola; the simplistic still characters of Yoshitomo Nara; the energy of Goya and the superb illustrations of N.C. Wyeth, Davison has admitted that the biggest source of his inspiration was, and still is, his childhood.

Taking numerous iconic images from TV, film and popular culture, Craig has created some enduring and original imagery and deserves a great deal of kudos for bringing a huge amount of fun to his work, while at the same time espousing the wonders of being a kid and reminding us all of the limitless power of the imagination.

You can follow Craig’s work on his Facebook page or on his website. If you want to get hold of one of his pieces there are several galleries online that stock them, but believe me when I say they ain’t cheap!

Craig-Davison_500

Here’s some more of his awesome work inspired by happenings in a Galaxy far, far away!

blastemchewie

Armed-Force-framed-canvas-by-Craig-Davison Dirty-Deeds-Done-Dirt-Cheap_F-1000Don’t-Put-The-BEEP-Lid-On-framed-canvas-by-Craig-Davison Full-Force_F-1000 I-Need-Your-Help-R2..._F-1000 Yoda-Am-I_F-1000 getImg  Wooossh-Jhoooom-framed-canvas-by-Craig-DavisonBMX-Wings_F-1000

The Wrong Solo?

When Disney bought the Star Wars brand from George Lucas back in November 2012 they paid somewhere in the region of $4billion (and some loose pocket change).

Keen to start reaping the rewards on their somewhat lofty investment, they were quick to announce plans to resurrect the movie franchise with a new trilogy and a series of one-shot, spin-off movies to fill the gaps (on an annual basis) between each part of the trilogy.

Over the intervening years more and more details emerged as to how what Disney had in store for the franchise, and fans began to lap it all up.

Over three years later we’ve already had the first part of the new trilogy, The Force Awakens, a crowd-pleasing romp that has already taken over $2billion at the box office worldwide. This December sees the first standalone movie Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, a direct prequel to A New Hope whose initial teaser trailer promised so much despite reports all over the entertainment press just this week about the upcoming six-weeks worth of re-shoots due this summer after the Disney brass reportedly had ‘concerns’ over an early draft of Gareth Edwards’ movie.

I’ll tackle that story another time as the main focus of this little piece is the second standalone film that’s been announced already, the as-of-yet untitled Han Solo anthology movie scheduled for release in 2018 (Han Solo: A Star Wars Story anyone??).

Now, here’s where a couple of caveats rear their ugly head. I’m a big fan of expanding the Star Wars universe with new material and new faces, filling in the gaps in the huge tapestry that is the Star Wars saga that we’ve all come to love. But a standalone Han Solo movie? Mmmmmm…???

The problem I have here is twofold…

  1. Harrison Ford created such an iconic figure in Han Solo that having another actor step into the role, albeit a younger version of the same character, is nigh on sacrilegious and a borderline recipe for disaster
  2. I reckon they’ve got the wrong guy for the role

Here me out!

In early March it was announced that 26-year old Alden Ehrenreich had been cast in the role of the swashbuckling smuggler and scruffy-looking nerf herder.

young_harrison_ford_in_star_wars_and_alden_ehrenreic_split-

OK… Not bad if you can get past the pretty-boy good looks. He looks as if he could pull of the rugged charm aspect of the role, so all is OK there.

However let me offer you an alternative!

Last year Ford released a film called The Age of Adaline, a magical love story that stretches across time and space. At least that’s what the tagline says… That’s not one of mine, honestly!!

In The Age of Adaline we get to meet Ford’s character, William Jones, as a younger man, played by 26-year old Anthony Ingruber.

Harry & Tony

Seriously people!!!!! Is it just me?!?!?

It’s like watching Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a young Bruce Willis in Looper.

An opportunity missed here I think!!

And if you need any more convincing, here’s a video that Ingruber made when he was just 16! Case closed I reckon!

Reasons We Love Mark Hamill… The King of Autographs

The crazy world of celebrity can often be an oddball place, especially when viewed from the outside looking in.

These individuals who are thrust into the public eye are, by all appearances, a ‘known’ quantity to us. We see them on our TV and movie screens; read their stories that are plastered all over the media, whether it be in the newspaper or the internet. We feel like we know them, that we’re somehow part of their lives.

We see some celebrities who embrace the lifestyle they lead, use it to do ‘good’ and to influence the world around them. We also see celebrities who shun the limelight, trying to keep their private and public lives poles apart.

I’m firmly of the opinion that these are people who do a job just like the rest of us. They eat, sleep and go to the toilet like the rest of us; they have families whom they love (and sometimes don’t love) like the rest of us. They have the opportunity to approach life in the same way the rest of us do… If some of them choose to be dicks about it then it’s because it’s the same opportunity that’s been afforded the rest of us.

One of the main qualities I admire in people, whatever their occupation, social standing or status, is the gift of humour and self-effacement. When these qualities are displayed by someone marked with the status of ‘celebrity’ I find it both refreshing and endearing. These are the types of people I’m drawn to, who interest me and who I love to learn more about.

The amazing Jennifer Lawrence is one such celebrity, and while I could dedicate a whole post to the wonders of J-Law I’m forced to remind myself that this is a Star Wars blog, and as such it’s important to remain on topic.

[Still love you Jen]

The Force Awakens has given us a whole new generation of young actors to idolise, none more so than the great John Boyega and the gorgeous Daisy Ridley. Watching and reading about what these individuals have been up to since they were announced in their life-changing roles of Finn and Rey has been a joy and a pleasure. Not only do they appear to say and do the right things in front of the media, they also seem to be having fun with it, revelling in their roles with great deal of humour and humility.

But if you want to know how this sort of thing is done ‘old school’ then you don’t need to look any further than a certain individual who’s been there from the beginning. And so begins my first post in an occasional, but ongoing series, entitled ‘Reasons We Love Mark Hamill’.

Signing autographs and keeping the fanbase happy is pretty much part and parcel of being a celebrity, especially when dealing with the somewhat dedicated and fervent fans that attach themselves to genre film and TV. Celebrities will have lost count as to the hundreds of thousands of times they’ve signed a photo, a t-shirt, a blank bit of paper or even a pair of breasts. Such is the lifestyle we all aspire to… Sigh…

And while signing autographs might be de rigueur for those in the public eye it doesn’t mean that they can’t have a bit of fun while doing it.

Which brings us nicely around to the great Mark Hamill and his propensity for personalising his autographs. A number of these images have been doing the rounds on the web for some time and I have no context as to when or where they were signed, but they go a long way to highlighting that when it comes to signing Topps trading cards, there’s no-one better in the ‘business of show’ than the man that is Luke Skywalker. And to celebrate this, here are a few of the best!

eonN0fp.0

tumblr_nzr3ngf8aj1ri9e6fo9_1280

mark-hamill-autographed-card-07

HamillPhoto2-large

b2srtqp-146402

07c98cd900d1a279fee64a87b7e589cb4fdc1e1b

tumblr_nzr3ngf8aj1ri9e6fo10_1280

1366633373673957267

ES1PGop

uNtq5kB

And my two personal favourites…

1YbBdQr.02e725e445e0fb32cab3b895c69913a51

Honestly… The man’s a LEGEND!!!

Preview – 2016 Topps Star Wars Evolution Trading Cards

evolution1

Star Wars trading cards have been around for almost 40 years and during that period the one name that’s become synonymous with this particular brand of merchandise is that of Topps!

Topps has produced in excess of 60 Star Wars trading card sets over the last four decades, and with the future looking incredibly bright for the movie franchise I think it’s safe to say that we’ll be seeing that number grow over the coming years.

With their latest set Topps has resurrected an old brand from 15 years ago – Star Wars: Evolution. Containing a base set of 100 cards along with the usual mix of coloured parallels, insert set, autographs, manufactured relics and sketch cards (pretty much the standard set up for Topps’ Star Wars card sets these days) this looks like being a pretty straightforward set to put together, and at around £50 a box from the US (pre-shipping and import tax) it doesn’t have a bad price attached to it either for the content.

24 packs per box and 8 cards per pack, with a guaranteed two ‘hits’ per box, this has the potential to be a fun break. The box price is certainly a lot cheaper than the recent The Force Awakens sets, and there’s a healthy selection of autographs crammed in to generate enough interest from collectors… Even if Topps do insist on putting those bloody stickers on them!

You can click here for a full breakdown of what Evolution has in store when it’s released in early June.

evolution2

Comic Asides – On Why Marvel’s Star Wars Wasn’t My Star Wars

This article was first published on the technology and innovation website Rootnotion, back in mid-December, after the good folks over there had asked me to put something together as part of the ‘Star Wars Week’ they had running around the time that The Force Awakens hit our cinema screens.

It’s one of my favourite posts that I’ve ever written, for this or any other blog, so my thanks to Kurt and Lisa at Rootnotion for giving me the opportunity to get my voice out to a different audience.

I’ve reproduced the article here in it’s entirety.

When Star Wars hit UK cinemas just before Christmas 1977, several months after its US release, the film was a known commodity. It had already attracted a huge fan following the world over and, thanks to some canny marketing and merchandising, George Lucas’ juggernaut showed no signs of slowing down as it arrived at our shores from across the Atlantic.

I didn’t get to see the movie until mid-January but I was well aware of its enormity. School friends who had already seen it enthused about it. Many had been for repeat viewings so I was biting at the bit to immerse myself in this new world of Sci-Fi fantasy, and when I finally did get my wish even my pretty vivid imagination hadn’t got anywhere near appreciating the sheer scope of what I’d seen presented on the big screen.

So imagine if you will, a young child of seven, fresh from the greatest cinematic experience of his so far short life, bursting with excitement at all the wonders laid out before him and eager to devour more. Star Wars was EVERYTHING in those days and in the early weeks of February 1978, when that same young man was walking past the local newsagent with his mum, he laid his eyes upon the very first issue of Marvel UK’s Star Wars Weekly (complete with a free constructible cardboard X-Wing). There was literally no way that particularly shopping trip was going to end without said publication in his possession.

StarWarsWeekly

When I got home I spirited myself away to engross myself in that same universe that I’d left behind a couple of weeks earlier, eager to relive all those incredible moments that Star Wars had seared into my overly-excited brain.

But there was a problem… This wasn’t exactly the story I remembered. I was seeing characters and situations that hadn’t even been in the film that I’d revered and cherished at my old two-screen cinematic stomping ground – the Rex in Coalville. What was Anchorhead all about? Who the hell was Luke’s buddy Biggs? He hadn’t been in the film that I saw…

I looked down at the comic in my hands feeling pangs of disappointment. Sure it looked and felt like Star Wars, but THIS wasn’t MY Star Wars – and for the life of me I couldn’t understand why.

It would be a good few years before I finally had my answers.

Let’s rewind back to 1975 when Lucasfilm’s publicity supervisor, Charles Lippincott, first approached Marvel Comics about publishing a Star Wars adaption ahead of the film’s release. Stan Lee initially turned down the offer, preferring to wait until the film was completed, but Marvel’s then Editor-in-Chief, Roy Thomas, eventually managed to change Lee’s mind two years later. Due to a lack of popularity for movie tie-ins in comics Lee negotiated a publishing arrangement where Lucasfilm would receive no royalties until sales exceeded 100,000, meaning that Marvel got the licence to publish Star Wars for free. LucasFilm’s only condition at this time was that the first two issues would have to be on the news-stands before their film opened, in order to drum up a significant amount of publicity and advanced word of mouth.

Thomas, a long-established writer who had penned a successful run on The Avengers and Conan the Barbarian, was keen to write and edit the tie-in after Lippincott had showed him Ralph McQuarrie’s concept art from the film. He brought industry giant Howard Chaykin on board to look after the pencils and the two of them began working on a six-issue adaption using McQuarrie’s art, camera stills and several variations of Lucas’ original Star Wars scripts.

The two didn’t see an actual cut of the finished film until issues one and two were at the printers, accounting for the fact that the early content of the movie adaption differed in several areas to the final cut, differences that would be rectified to a greater extent in the final four issues, bringing the story and visuals much more in line with the finished movie that opened to audiences at the Mann’s Chinese Theatre on May 25th 1977.

anchorhead

And herein lay the problem for that over-excited seven year old, clutching his copy of Star Wars Weekly #1, trying his damnedest to understand why the comic he was reading was different to the movie he’d seen.

You see, I had no idea at the time how films were made – that scenes were often dropped or reworked during filming, that scripts were almost always re-written. I had no idea of what an ‘adaption’ was – that what I was reading was actually someone else’s interpretation of the Star Wars story, brought to life through limited exposure to the film I’d fallen in love with.

Had I known these things at the time would it have made a huge amount of difference? Probably not! All I knew was that when I opened up that comic what I did get was Luke witnessing the space battle where the Tantive IV is captured by the Star Destroyer over the skies of Tatooine (didn’t happen); Luke meeting his friends Biggs, Fixer and Camie at Anchorhead (Who?! What?! Where?!); and Han Solo being accosted by a very strange looking creature at Mos Eisley who was apparently some big-shot crime lord to whom he owed money.

All I wanted to see was MY film brought to life on the pages in front of me, something that was painfully eluding me at that moment in time.

I revisited the adaption a few weeks ago and the whole run is something of a curio to me now. Thomas, whose run on The Avengers features some of my favourite stories from the 60’s and early 70’s, feels understandably constrained adapting someone else’s work, while the usually awesome Chaykin turns in some really sub-par and pedestrian artwork.

There are sections in the early chapters that don’t appear in the final release. Luke meeting his friends in Anchorhead had been dropped by Lucas early on during the production, a fact unknown to Thomas and Chaykin as they plotted the first couple of issues. The same fate was reserved for the first appearance of Jabba the Hutt, a scene that Lucas instead saw fit to inflict on us 20 years later, in all its CGI-glory, in the 1997 Special Editions.

jabba

It is surprising to see how much of the dialogue from the comics did still make it into the theatrical release, with famous scenes appearing almost identically word for word. My all-time favourite comes in the Death Star meeting room when Motti questions Vader’s “sorcerer’s ways”. The action plays out the same way as it does in the movie except for the fact that the Dark Lord of the Sith seems to have a glass of hot milk in his hand as he’s administering the Admiral’s force neck choke. I can only assume that he used it as a nightcap, but who knows?

LackOfFaith

Looking back after all these years it’s become abundantly clear that my love of the Star Wars saga is rooted firmly in its cinematic origins. I’ve tried dipping into the books and comics but nothing quite compares to seeing the movies up there on the big screen, a story being told the way it was meant to be told, and although the comic adaption didn’t push the right buttons for the younger me it’s not to say that it wasn’t a triumph in other areas.

It was well known that the comic book industry was dying a slow death in the latter half of the 1970’s but the success of the Star Wars comic, going on to sell over a million copies, was unprecedented at the time. Jim Shooter, Marvel’s subsequent Editor-in-Chief, has been vocal in his appreciation of Thomas, openly stating that he felt Thomas was responsible for saving Marvel during those difficult years, helped in no small part by his successful campaign to bring the Star Wars adaptation into print.

Marvel’s Star Wars comic ran for 107 issues (with three special annuals) from 1977 to 1986, and while no longer considered canon thanks to the revisionism that The Force Awakens has brought about, it is still much loved by the fans of the universe created by George Lucas all those decades ago… Just not loved as much by that young lad sitting all alone with his copy of Star Wars Weekly.

For him Star Wars was made for the big screen, and will always belong there.