For a couple of reasons, I decided this week for Star Wednesday I would write about my 12″ Lando Calrissian figure.
In 1978, Kenner released a super-sized line of Star Wars figures. It’s referred to as the 12″ line, even though many/most of them are a couple of inches taller than that. In all, 12 figures were released: ten from Star Wars (R2-D2 and C-3P0, Ben Kenobi, Chewbacca, Darth Vader, Han Solo, Jawa, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Stormtrooper) and two from the Empire Strikes Back (Boba Fett and IG-88). For the record, I owned five of them as a kid (Luke, Leia, Chewbacca, Vader, and Boba Fett) and currently own four (I lost Luke and Leia, but gained C-3P0). The figures retailed for $10.99, which (according to the online inflation calculator I just used) would cost roughly $39.99 in 2015 dollars. I don’t know why they cancelled the line so early (low sales and high cost, I’d guess) but they did.
In the mid 90s, along with the new Power of the Force line of 3 3/4″ figures, Kenner also relaunched a line of 12″ figures known as the Collector Series. Unlike the original run of figures, Kenner didn’t stop at 12 — dozens and dozens of different figures were released in this new scale. By the time Admiral Ackbar, Greedo, and all six aliens from the Mos Eisley Cantina band show up, you know everybody’s been invited to the party…
Anyway, one of the earlier 12″ figures released was Lando Calrissian. The Collector Series ran from 1996 to 2000, and Lando, part of the second wave, was released in 1997.
All things considered, it’s a pretty good looking figure. Other than the somewhat unnatural position of the arms (which make Lando look like he might bear hug you to death), everything else looks good. The head sculpt resembles Billy Dee Williams, and the muscles (unlike his 3 3/4″ counterpart) aren’t bulging like He-Man. He’s wearing his traditional Empire Strikes Back blue and black outfit, along with his weird wristwatch/communicator and a sweet cape. (I swear to you, one of these days I’m going to get a job that allows me to wear a cape.)
I’m not writing about Lando today because of any of that. I’m writing about this Lando Calrissian figure today because he’s black.
There weren’t many black characters in the original trilogy. Along with Lando Calrissian, on screen you’ve got African American Bespin Guard and Oola, Jabba the Hutt’s private dancer (and Rancor’s lunch).
Off screen we had the inimitable James Earl Jones as the voice of Darth Vader and Ahmad Best as the voice of Jar Jar Binks, and behind a mask we had Tony Cox (a little person who you might remember from Bad Santa) as one of the many anonymous ewoks. In the prequels we got Samuel L. Jackson as Jedi Master Mace Windu, along with Captain Typho and Quarsh Panaka.
A couple of weeks ago, Disney released the official full-length trailer for the upcoming Star Wars film, The Force Awakens.
For anyone who hasn’t seen it, the trailer features John Boyega as an apparently AWOL Stormtrooper (I don’t know for sure; I’m avoiding spoilers). Shortly after that, a hashtag began trending on Twitter: #BoycottStarWarsVII. The people behind the boycott claim that J.J. Abrams (director of the new film) is pushing his anti-white agenda by featuring an African American lead in the new Star Wars film.
Let’s get to the bottom of this, shall we?
First of all, to find the racism inherent in Star Wars all one has to do is go back to its creator, George Lucas. Here is a picture of the racist Mr. Lucas with his wife.
The reality is, a couple of (literally, two) Grade-A trolls/assholes figured out how to “play” Twitter by generating a bunch of tweets using the hashtag #BoycottStarWarsVII. When people saw and began responding to those tweets, Twitter picked up on the activity and added it to their list of “trending topics” — and once it was there, it was all over.
In reality, 99% of the Twitter traffic generated by this hashtag was from people responding to it and saying (using a variety of words and phrases) “that’s not cool.” Today, at its height, the @BoycottStarWarsVII Twitter account has 332 followers.
(I’m a nobody on Twitter and I have 900, if that tells you anything.)
The account has switched focus and its latest tweets are racist attacks against Ben Carson in an attempt to get responses from the media. Somewhere, in their parents’ basement, a couple of kids are giggling and having the time of their lives. I’m sure they can’t believe that the media (or anyone else) would take their goofs on Twitter seriously, but they did, to the point where media outlets are now having to write articles to explain that the previously reported news story wasn’t really news.
Article explaining the farce on Vox.com
Article explaining the farce on Esquire.com
So while lots of news outlets (Salon|USA Today|CNN) covered this non-event, they all got the wrong story: the real story was “a couple of kids trolled the internet and mass media into thinking Star Wars fans are racist.”
Here’s the reality: first, the Star Wars universe contains people of all races and colors. Greedo was green, Walrus Man was blue, Luke was white, Lando was black, and Admiral Ackbar was a squid. For anyone who doubts this, here’s a picture of the Jedi Council:
We’ve never seen racism depicted in any of the films, and except for a couple of internet trolls, we’ve (or at least I’ve) never seen it in fans either. I’ve attended lots of conventions (both sci-fi and video game themed) and seen all kinds of people there: boys and girls, young and old, skinny and fat, straight and gay, and of course, black and white (and everything in between). I’ve never met anyone who lamented the fact that Lando Calrissian or the voice of Darth Vader were portrayed by black actors. Fans of Star Wars are inclusive.
Back to poor Lando; this particular one is too large to take to work, but I have a spare 3 3/4″ Lando figure that’s headed to my desk — not as a political statement, but as a personal reminder that Star Wars is for everybody. Everybody deserves to enjoy the greatest films ever made (at least the first three…) and everybody (especially children) deserves to see characters on screen that they can relate to. May the Force be with ALL Star Wars fans.
Posted at 6:00 am by Rob in Main, Writing
All of us have things to do, and most of us have reasons why we are not doing them.
A year or two ago I decided to start walking for exercise each morning. But before I began, I decided I needed a new pair of walking shoes. If only I had a new pair of walking shoes — $100 walking shoes — I knew I would start walking. After buying the shoes, I decided I needed socks. Yes, I most definitely needed thicker socks with more advanced walking technology embedded in them somehow to help me walk. After the socks came a new pair of headphones and better walking music. I spent days organizing songs into playlists by their BPM (beats per minute) so that I would have slower songs toward the beginning and endings of my walks with more intense ones in the middle. Along with my new music playlists I also installed a bunch of apps on my phone that I would need to walk. This included not one but two different apps to track my walking paths, distances and times, and another one that allowed me to track my daily calorie intake. And then I had to spend a bunch of time getting all those apps to talk to one another along with my Facebook, Twitter and Google+ accounts.
Somewhere in the middle of all that madness, I found the time to walk a couple of times.
Those putting off fitness and exercise are not the only ones who have mastered the art of procrastination; writers have been doing it for years. In the old days this meant sharpening one’s pencils (multiple pencils) just so, having the right paper, the right lighting, and the right chair at the right desk before writing the first word. Of course in today’s world it’s less about pencils and more about our computers. I remember halting a writing project one time after I had become convinced that my current keyboard would no longer do. After driving around to Walmart, Staples and Best Buy and not finding what I wanted, I ordered a new keyboard from Amazon and waited a few days until it arrived before continuing. I wish I could say that was the least expensive purchase I ever made in an attempt to stall progress on a project. “If only I had a laptop that were slightly faster than this one…”
Enter Regina Mayer, a fifteen-year-old girl from Germany. Regina really wanted a horse to ride but her parents wouldn’t buy her one, so instead she strapped a saddle to the family cow and taught it how to jump.
Suddenly, waiting until I have a FitBit to start walking seems a bit foolish.
In various interviews, Quentin Tarantino has admitted he writes all of his scripts by hand. George R. R. Martin writes his stories using an old DOS based computer and ancient word processor (WordStar 4.0). Danielle Steel has written more than 100 novels using a manual typewriter.
You don’t need a thousand dollar computer to write a best-seller or a thousand dollar guitar to learn how to play a few chords. You don’t need a $100 pair of shoes, name brand socks, or a smartphone full or apps to start walking. You don’t need a dedicated recording studio to start a podcast, or top of the line art supplies to start drawing or painting. Do you see where I’m going with this?
Sometimes, a cow’s good enough.
Posted at 6:00 am by Rob in Main
A few months ago, Susan reserved a vacation cabin in Granby, Colorado for the kids’ Fall Break. Little did she know back then that she would be spending the week before Fall Break in Denver and the week after Fall Break in Washington D.C., both for work. Determined to give the kids the vacation she promised them, this meant after spending a full week in Denver, Susan had to travel home, turn around, and head back three days later along with the rest of us in the car.
My best buddy Jeff and his family moved to Denver a few years ago, and last Friday he, his wife and two of their kids joined us at the cabin. The cabin was advertised as being able to sleep eight, which was technically true; there was one regular bed and two bunk beds (all full-size), leaving Jeff’s son on the couch and Mason on a chair/ottoman.
Saturday, Jeff led us to one of their favorite local campsites. Literally everybody but me worked on getting a fire started as I sat by, watching helplessly. Once the flames kicked in we cooked hot dogs, s’mores, and little toasted sandwiches with Susan’s pie iron. Before long the kids were off playing with walkie-talkies and the moms were off gold panning as Jeff and I sat around in our chairs, warming ourselves by the fire in the cool mountain air.
I spent most of the weekend gasping for air. Granby, Colorado has an elevation of 8,000 feet and up in the mountains we were closer to 10,000. I didn’t feel bad in Denver proper, but up in the mountains I was out of breath the entire time.
Because we stayed so far outside of Denver we didn’t get to spend much time in the city at all. I got to see Robb Sherwin at the 1Up barcade downtown for about an hour as we passed through, but the rest of our time was spent up in the mountains. Maybe next time.
Sunday, almost as quickly as we arrived, it was time to pile back in the truck and head home. I normally figure Denver to be roughly a ten hour drive from Oklahoma City, but we were two hours north of Denver. With the time change and the regular stops, we left Granby at 9 A.M. and pulled into our driveway at exactly 11 P.M.
The kids and I are still trying to recuperate from the trip. Susan’s in Washington D.C.
Along with the Death Star and the Millennium Falcon, Kenner’s Imperial Walker (also known as an All Terrain Armored Transport or, more simply, an AT-AT) was one of the largest toys released in the vintage line. According to Star Wars lore, AT-ATs were approximately 65′ long and 75′ tall, large enough to hold multiple smaller ships or up to 40 additional soldiers inside their massive hull. Kenner’s version was slightly smaller than that — it measured 17.5″ tall and 22″ long. The one pictured here is significantly smaller than that.
I paid a quarter for this AT-AT four or five years ago at a garage sale. Disregarding size, Kenner’s 1981 version isn’t proportioned quite right; depending on your point of view it’s either too far or too short. This version is much closer to the way the AT-ATs appeared in the film. I love the amount of detail on this model. Even for such a small toy, the entire thing (even the under carriage) contains lots of tiny sculpted details.
Here is the AT-AT next to a 3 3/4″ Snowtrooper, for purposes of scale.
For years I didn’t know what this specific model came from. I had assumed it either came with a Happy Meal or as part of a larger play set. After asking around yesterday online, a fellow member of iGrewUpStarWars informed me that it was part of Micro Machines’ Action Fleet series, released in the mid-to-late 90s. The funniest thing about that is that I actually own one of those — I just didn’t recognize it because the other one I own is still mint in the box!
This version of the AT-AT has limited mobility. The head adjusts slightly. The legs move but the knees and ankles do not. If you want the thing to stand up, this is pretty much how the legs have to be positioned. The top of the AT-AT’s cockpit opens up as does the access panel on the side of the machine, revealing a small ramp with a handrail which you can see below. In the picture above you can see the two small figures that originally came with the AT-AT.
I didn’t own any of the vintage Star Wars Micro Machine toys, so I’m always drawn to new ones when I see them. Over the years we’ve been sold miniature versions of the same ships over and over again, but every now and then I’ll run across one (sometimes at a garage sale for a quarter) that makes me smile.
Posted at 10:15 pm by Rob in Main
Over the weekend Susan and I took the kids to the Skating Dead Mashup, a Roller Derby contest hosted by the Oklahoma Victory Dolls at Skate Fever in Tuttle, Oklahoma.
I was fifteen years old when I began making plans to escape Oklahoma. My first dream destination was California, home to everything I loved at the time: silicon valley, sports cars, skateboarding, Hollywood, MTV, and (I wish they all could be) California girls. I had no real understanding of property value at that time. I just knew that California was cool, cooler than Oklahoma could ever be.
A year later I changed my mind and decided I wanted to move to Chicago. I had it all worked out — I would move a mattress into my grandma’s basement and live there until I found a job and got my feet on the ground. I went as far as to tell people that this was “the plan”… and the funny thing is, I’m sure if I had asked my grandma (or any other relative in Chicago for that matter) if I could come crash in their basement, they would been more than happy to let me do so. The streets of Chicago would have chewed me up and spit my fleshy ass out pretty quickly, but still, the idea was fun.
In reality I didn’t want to live in California or Chicago at all. I just wanted out of Oklahoma, where the wind and not much else comes sweeping down the plain. We didn’t have the internet back then but we certainly had cable television. I knew all about the fun happening everywhere else. I knew about the clubs on Sunset Strip, the all night action in Times Square, the parties that took place on the beaches of Miami — and we had none of it. Oklahoma was lame, lame, lame. We had no rock stars or palm trees. Heck, the best party I ever got invited to took place in a field.
But something funny happened over time. Not all the people who wanted a cool place to live left Oklahoma. A lot of them stayed, and a lot of them began working hard to turn Oklahoma into a cool place to live.
Today there are two free skate parks for the kids to skate at. There’s Bricktown, and the Thunder, and all kinds of cool things downtown. There’s film row, and a couple of different arcades. Almost every live act I’ve wanted to see (from Slayer to Weird Al) has performed here multiple times. We have more sushi bars than you can shake a chopstick at. We have video game conventions, dozens of free car shows, the OKC Halloween parade and multiple art museums. We’ve got tons of places to go and relatively few traffic problems.
I left Oklahoma for a year and a half and missed it the whole time I was gone. I’m proud to live here and I’m glad we’re raising our kids here. Susan and I are constantly on the lookout for new things to do in and around Oklahoma. Sometimes the grass is pretty green right in your own backyard.
Which reminds me, you should totally attend a Roller Derby bout. They’re totally fun and filled with awesome people. And they play right here in Oklahoma.
Posted at 6:00 pm by Rob in Main, Toys
Recently I spent a few days sorting my giant tub of LEGO bricks by color into smaller containers. During this process I ran across several things that weren’t actually LEGO. Here are three of those things, along with a bonus photo at the end.
01. EDUCATIONAL BUILDING BRICKS
One of the first things I found mixed in with my LEGO bricks which was not a LEGO was this big, plastic block. It took me a while to find the name of these building bricks on Google, which turned out to literally be “Building Bricks.”
I can’t remember if I had these at home or not, but I do remember playing with these in my grandma’s living room floor. The picture I found online shows red blocks with white windows and doors and green roof tiles. I am sure I did not have the green pieces, and the ones I played with had both red and white blocks. My strongest memory of these involves building houses for my Star Wars figures and garages for my Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars.
02. GIRDER AND PANEL BUILDING SET
Another obviously named toy were these blue (and black) girders that came with little plastic panels, called “Girder and Panel Building Sets.”
There were only two types of girders: horizontal and vertical. The plastic panels had small holes centered in the top of them that allowed them to be attached to any horizontal girder. These toys seem to have been around for a long time. The ones pictured above were made by Kenner in the mid-50s, although the line was brought back from 1974-1979, which is where these girders came from. While researching these I found this page that covers the history of these toys, which are still being made today and are available on Amazon.
TENTE was a competitor to LEGO, which was in business from 1972 to 1993. Although they looked similar to LEGO bricks, they were not compatible and could not be connected. All the TENTE kits I remember owning were boats for some reason.
You can see both of the pieces I found attached to the ship above. If you take a close look at that ship, TENTE was actually pretty cool. Check out that radar dish mounted ot the top and the helicopter on the rear of the shop parked on the helipad!
BONUS: BUSTED LEGOS
Down in the bottom of the tub I found these three LEGO bricks. The small 1×2 one was chewed to bits, either by a dog or a kid. The flat 2×4 is broken, which is nearly impossible to do. I don’t remember this happening. My favorite is the pink homemade computer LEGO. I definitely did not do this and it must have come from one of the collections I picked up from a garage sale, but man did that make me laugh. How desperate that kid must have been to have a pink computer!
Posted at 6:00 pm by Rob in Main
This morning as I walked down the hallway on my way to the bathroom, the laundry room light turned itself on.
“Hello, Uncle Joe,” I said as I walked past the laundry room.
As of this past August, Uncle Joe has been dead for two years now. That’s around the time our laundry room light started randomly turning itself off and back on. Even though the room is small there are two light switches in the room, one on each end, hooked to the same light fixture. Even after four years I’ve never quite figured out what configuration the switches need to be in order for the light to come on. I think when they’re both up or both down the light is off, and when one is up and the other is down the light comes on, but I’m not completely sure. Lots of times, the switches don’t do anything at all. Sometimes the light stays off and no matter what you do with the switches, they stay off. Then, just as you climb into bed and lie down, the light turns itself on and fills our bedroom with light.
Uncle Joe sure has a sense of humor.
This morning, the dryer door was open. Last night, the “kid door switch” had been flipped on my truck. Occasionally I go outside and find the garage door open, even though no one will admit to leaving it open. There are a litany of events that take place around here that nobody seems to know anything about.
When I was a kid those strange events were attributed to Ida Know, Not Me, and Nobody. As an adult, I know who’s responsible. It’s Uncle Joe.
Now, I’ll confess, we don’t really think Uncle Joe is behind all of these things. One of the kids probably left the garage door open, the cat may have been the one to open the dryer door, and the wiring in the laundry probably has a wiring short.
That being said, we miss Uncle Joe, and this is a lighthearted way of keeping him around in our thoughts. Whenever I can’t find the remote I just had or set down a drink that magically disappears, Uncle Joe will continue to get the blame.
While Kenner only offered one creature each for Star Wars (the Patrol Dewback) and Return of the Jedi (the Rancor), for The Empire Strikes Back they offered two: the Wampa and the Tauntaun, both of which originally retailed for $8.99 in stores. As you can see, I paid almost three times that ($24.99) for this one in a fairly beat up box a few years ago.
Note the vintage sticker price of $7.77 on this particular box. Like other Kenner boxes, the back of this one shows you suggested ways to play with your tauntaun. You can move his arms and legs and insert a figure into the trap door on the tauntaun’s back to create the illusion that they were riding the creature.
In the movie, tauntauns were two-legged “reptomammals,” native to Hoth and ridden by members of the rebellion. In the film we see both Han and Luke riding around the frozen landscape on the creatures. In fact, Luke, while riding a tauntaun, is the first character we see in Empire.
Aside from transportation, in the movie we also learn that a dead tauntaun’s belly is a good place to stick someone to prevent them from freezing. When Han discovers Luke passed out face down in the snow and nearly frozen to death after escaping from the Wampa’s lair, Han saves his friend’s life by cutting open the tauntaun’s belly with Luke’s lightsaber and stuffing him inside. This leads to Han’s classic line, “I thought they smelled bad… on the outside!”
Somehow over the years I ended up with three of these smelly beasts.
The original tauntaun toy went on sale in 1980, the same year Empire was released. In 1982 the toy was updated to include a slit open belly that allowed children to pretend it was dead and shove an action figure inside. That’s kind of gross, now that I think about it. Unfortunately, none of the ones I own are the 1982 updated version. The one on the left is the one I originally owned as a kid. The one in the middle was inside the box I purchased. I’m not sure where the one on the right came from. It’s missing its bride and saddle, so I’m sure it’s not my original one.
While tauntauns certainly seemed alive on the big screen, the illusion was created by using a few different techniques. The ones that ran were miniatures, animated using old school stop motion effects…
…while the other ones that appeared with actors were built out of wood and foam and had people rocking them from underneath:
In 1998, Hasbro released a new tauntaun as part of their Power of the Force line of toys. I have one of those, too:
As you can see, the sculpt is much more detailed and less cartoonish looking. Unfortunately, the legs are positioned in such a way that occasionally getting the newer ones to stand upright is a real pain in the asteroid. Then again, the legs on the vintage tauntaun tended to loosen as well (at least one of mine’s legs have been glued into place), so they both had their problems.
Approximately the same price as three action figures, tauntauns were a pretty common toy among Star Wars kids. While it’s pretty common to find loose models with the bridle and saddle missing, other than that there aren’t really any other parts to lose. Lots of these survived, including the three I own.
Posted at 6:00 am by Rob in Arcade, Main
After visiting barcades all over the country, we finally have our own right here in Oklahoma City: the FlashBack RetroPub. Last Friday, Susan and I attended the pub’s official grand opening.
That’s not my DeLorean, but it is my 8-bit tie…
The FlashBack RetroPub is at 814 West Sheridan, several blocks away from Bricktown. There are a few trendy businesses and restaurants nearby, but it’s also less than a block from the City Rescue Mission and right down the street from the scariest McDonald’s I’ve ever set foot in. It will be interesting to see how this part of town develops over time.
There are a few different business models for modern arcades: there’s the “pizzacade,” which combines food with arcade games, the “pay-at-the-door-cade,” where gamers can pay one entry price and play games all day long, and then there’s the “barcade,” establishments that combine arcade gaming with a full bar. FlashBack RetroPub is definitely a barcade, as we were carded at the door.
The front half of the pub is where the bar and arcade games are. Then there’s the dance floor, DJ booth and lounge area, the restrooms, and an unused area that I suspect will have seating in it soon.
A rough guess, I’d say the pub has 30 arcade games. The front right is loaded with classics (Robotron, Defender, Centipede, etc) and the rest of the machines run down the opposite wall. The oldest game I remember was Asteroids and the newest was NBA Jam, with most of the machines belonging to the awesome 80s. Directly across from the games was the bar, with bar tables standing between the two. Those tables became a problem later in the evening.
With a couple of drinks in hand, we took a few bills over to the change machine. “OUT OF ORDER.” We then went back to the bar and bought five dollars worth of tokens. Then we went back to the machines and found most of them had dozens of free credits on them. So, there was a little confusion there.
Beyond the bar and the games was the dance floor, the DJ booth (that giant boom box) and a lounge area. Some of the benches had signs on them saying they were reserved for VIPs. As the crowd piled in, all available seats were taken very quickly.
My biggest complaint with the place was with the games. Centipede and Tetris, Susan’s two favorite games, were powered off. Popeye couldn’t punch. Kung-Fu Master couldn’t punch. Player Two’s joystick on Mario Bros. didn’t work. Donkey Kong didn’t have sound. The joystick on Zaxxon was a little wonky. At least ten of the machines we tried had serious issues, which is 1/3 of their machines (and we weren’t able to try them all).
The other problem we had was this:
As people continued to file in, we got stuck. We couldn’t get to the games, we couldn’t get to the bar, we couldn’t even get out. It took us a solid ten minutes to make our way from the back of the pub to the front. Granted, the place will not usually be this crowded, but the bar tables in between the machines and the bar completely stopped foot traffic. Worse, it blocked access to the bar, which prevented us from getting more drinks or tokens.
One thing this place has going for it are the employees. We ordered drinks from two or three different bartenders and each one was super nice. The two doormen were also overly polite, thanking us for coming in. I suspect in the near future a few changes might be made to the floor plan to help the crowd flow. As long as they can get (and keep) the games in working order, it looks to me like they might have a winning combination.
FlashBack RetroPub, a great place to go party like it’s 1999. Er, 1989.
Posted at 9:00 am by Rob in Main
I have less and less to say about Czech Day each year. This year Susan and Morgan were part of the Girl Scout Float and Mason ran off to shoot pictures for the yearbook, so I sat by myself and shot pictures. I ended up sitting next to Danny (a friend of my dad’s) and a row in front of my niece and her boyfriend, so I wasn’t completely alone. I took pictures of a lot of the same things I took pictures of each year. I always enjoy hearing the marching bands, seeing the new floats, and watching the kids scramble for candy.
I tried taking a picture of every single car and float this year, so if you or your kids were in the parade, there’s a good chance I caught one of them. If you would like to see another 275 pictures of the Yukon’s 2015 Czech Festival Parade, CLICK HERE.