Thursday, May 31, 2007

Star Wars 30th Anniversary Special - part 31

One last post for the month long celebration of 30 years of "Star Wars."

Over the years I've come into many "Star Wars" posters from the original trilogy movies. Aside from the actual movie posters including 2 copies of the "Revenge of the Jedi" posters (both of which I sold, stupidly thinking I actually had a third that I'd planned to keep. >sigh<) some of them were pull-out posters from magazines such as the staple of the Scholastic Book Club of the 1970s -- "Dynamite" magazine (see bottom image), others were commercially available in stores, or given out as premiums. The first four below were originally offered from Burger Chef. Thankfully, since there was no Burger Chef in my region, they were later offered from Burger King, which was where I obtained mine. They have some of my favorite "Star wars" graphics of all time, though I have no idea who painted them. The character posters, as well as the Hildebrandt take on the movie poster were all available in stores. There was also a Luke Skywalker poster which I never had for some reason.

This group of posters represents what was on my wall all at one time around 1978. Either the Darth Vader (with airbrushed lightsaber, including the handle) or the Hildebrandt poster fell from my wall and landed in my guinea pig's cage, where it was promptly devoured while I was at school. Hopefully i still have the others stored away.

I apologize about the quality of the images, but they're the best I can find right now.

This was a lot of fun, and I thank everyone for stopping by, whether you posted comments or not, and thank you kindly for popping over to see my kids artwork (which they've been posting diligently for the past week). The comments left boosted their artistic egos.

Extra thanks to Todd Franklin for spurring me into participating in an online celebration of thirty years of "Star Wars." If you haven't checked out his own exemplary month long trip back to the summer of 1977, then you should head over there right now. I can't wait to see what you have in store for Halloween, Todd.

Extra thanks also to Stephen for hooking me up with some "Star Wars" figures based on Ralph McQuarrie's pre-production artwork, at this years "Star Wars" Celebration IV, where Stephen got to hobnob with the stars of "Star Wars."

Starting tomorrow, a couple of updates followed by a period of much less frequent posts due to the ever increasing pressure of various deadlines.

May the Force Be With You!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Star Wars 30th Anniversary Special - part 30

As "Star Wars" month winds to a close, I wanted to offer up some hands on fun.

Heres a bunch of "Star Wars" coloring book pages to print out and color.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Star Wars 30th Anniversary Special - part 29

During the intervening years between "Star Wars" and it's first sequel, "The Empire Strikes Back," the first of what would become known as the "expanded universe" stories began to appear. Apart from the ongoing comic book series published by Marvel, there was also "Splinter of the Mind's Eye," (1978) a sequel novel written by Alan Dean Foster, who ghost-wrote the novelization of the movie. Rumor has it that the story in "Splinter" was meant as an inexpensive film sequel for "Star Wars" if it hadn't been a big hit. This seems unlikely as movies that don't do well, generally don't get sequels.

Another bit of expanded universe material came from an odd source. In 1979, Kenner released the Imperial Troop Transporter, a vehicle which did not appear in the movie, though it resembles vehicles that can be seen being used by the Rebels inside their X-Wing hangar.

The Imperial Troop Transporter doesn't look like much, but as Han Solo would say about his own vehicle, "She's got it where it counts." The vehicle has opening doors in front so that two pilots can be placed in the drivers seats, and six little pockets along the side where additional troops and prisoners can be housed. The black hatch at the rear of the vehicle also opened for the placement of droid prisoners.

Human prisoners could be restrained with two Prisoner Immobilization Units which fit over their heads, and as the instructions stated, were used for brainwashing by the Imperials. You can see one being used on Leia in the box art above.

The vehicle also came with a swiveling radar dish, and laser cannon on the roof. The cannon was surrounded by six red buttons, which when pressed emitted sound effects and dialogue taken from the movie. The complete list of sounds can be seen here in the instructions.

One of the things which made this particular vehicle even cooler was the illustrated story booklet that came with the vehicle, which was like an omitted chapter of the movie, or novelization, explaining that this vehicle took over for the dewback mounted stormtroopers in the pursuit of the missing droids, because it could cover more ground, now that a trail was found to follow. This is also the vehicle that destroyed the jawa's sandcrawler and Luke Skywalker's homestead and aunt and uncle. The vehicle's devastating capabilities were described with almost gleeful malevolence. This really set my imagination on fire, wishing that that scene was included in the movie.

This was the first of what would become an ongoing series of what Kenner (now Hasbro) likes to call their "just off-screen" vehicles and characters; elements of the "Star Wars" movies that weren't actually in the movies, but could have been.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Star Wars 30th Anniversary Special - part 28

The aspect of "Star Wars" that resonated with me most thirty years ago, and still does to this day is that the movie really looks like it was shot on actual locations in a galaxy far, far away. It didn't have that false feeling of other science fiction movies filmed prior where everything looked brand new and you wondered where people threw away there trash, or if there even was trash, or where the planets all looked like the same bronson canyon location that could also be seen in countless movies of other genres, or on sound stages that had that same barren, plaster and papier-mache landscape punctuated by tufts of dried grass and a pink sky that was clearly a backdrop just a few feet behind the actors.

In "Star Wars" everything looked like it had a purpose, everything looked like it had a history and that it was all interconnected in some way. From the moisture vaporators that appeared all over Tatooine, to Luke's banged up landspeeder with the missing plate over one of the engines, to the restraining bolts, blue milk, sandpeople costumes, and Harrison Ford's bravura performance in making it look like he actually knew what all of those switches and dials on the "Millennium Falcon" did, but also which ones needed to be fiddled with because they were on the fritz. It all seemed real.

One of the biggest contributing factors to the reality presented in the movie, was the movie's organic sound effects, created by Ben Burtt, who quickly became my first behind the scenes hero after watching "The Making of Star Wars." It was also one of those jobs, that to a kid in particular, sounded like it was a lot of fun.

Everything in "Star Wars" needed to have a sound that it made. On top of that, the sound had to be convincing, every starship engine, creature, piece of machinery, bit of energy, robot joint movement, everything. Burtt collected sounds from everywhere, combining them into some sound effects, and creating others pretty much out of thin air.

Not only did Burtt create numerous distinctive, and iconic sound effects such as the sound of a lightsaber being activated, the sound of a TIE Fighter screaming past, or even R2_D2's voice (which was mostly Ben Burtt's own vocalizations altered electronically and combined with other sounds, such as water pipes, and dry ice being rubbed against metal), but Burtt created a tradition in movie sound of using a scream originally used for a character being eaten by an alligator in the 1951 movie "Distant Drums" (which Burtt named "the Wilhelm" after the character who utters the scream in the 1953 western "Charge at Feather River") and using it numerous times over the course of several movies, beginning with a stormtrooper who is shot off a balcony just before Luke and Leia swing across the chasm. This distinctive scream has been picked up by other sound designers and used in countless movies since, such as "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981), "Beauty and the Beast" (1991), "Resevoir Dogs" (1992), "Toy Story" (1995) , "The Lord of the Rings: the Two Towers" (2002) etc. Burtt's theaory on who's voice originally performed the scream? After some research, he's come to believe it was performed by Sheb Wooley, best known for his song "The Purple People Eater."

Some of Ben Burtt's sound effects formulas for "Star Wars":

Chewbacca's voice was a combination of bear, walrus, and other animal sounds.

TIE Fighters were the sound of an elephant howling slowed down and stretched out electronically.

The laser blasts were created by tapping various radio tower guy wires with a hammer (see image of Burtt doing so) combined with bazooka sounds.

The doors on the spaceships were created from the sound of air doors on the Philadephia subway.

The Jawa language was created by having ILM employees speaking words from various African dialects and then altering them electronically.

The lightsaber hum was created by combining the sound of an old movie proector with the hum of the picture tube in Ben Burtt's television set.

Luke's landspeeder was the sound of Los Angeles freeway traffic recorded through a vacuum cleaner tube.

The Star Destroyers utilized the slowed down sound of the Goodyear blimp, as part of their sound.

Darth Vader's breathing was created by placing a microphone inside the regulator of a scuba mask, and breathing into it.

Burtt's wonderful work earned him a much deserved Academy Award.

Star Wars 30th Anniversary Special - part 27

I don't know who created this thing, but when I saw it in my mother's copy of the November 20, 1978 "Women's Day" I thought it was the coolest thing I'd ever seen.

As the article points out, while there were action figures and vehicles, there weren't really any playsets to put them in. I think acrylic was pretty new then, since it was used heavily in the "Superman" movie which was just about to premiere, so it probably did seem futuristic at the time.

Three of my favorite things about this:

The little narrative they created using (what would now be a fortune in vinyl caped jawas, one of the most expensive of the vintage "Star Wars" action figures) the jawas invading the city.

The implication that it was okay to mix "Star Wars" toys and Micronauts, which I did.

That Leia, Luke, and Han have a little beagle.

I had my parents send for the plans, which, sadly, are way too cumbersome to scan. When they arrived, my father who worked in the construction industry determined that it would be a pretty expensive playset to construct. Looking at the plans now, I can see that he was right. I never ended up with one (and now wonder if there are any of them out there), but was inspired enough to make my own out of lumber scraps, plaster over sculpted window screen, styrofoam, cardboard and so forth, which I did on a 4' x 6' table in our basement. As toys such as the Death Star Playset, and various vehicles fell into my hands, they'd be incorporated into my own spaceport. I even had to use a card table, with a ramp leading to the main table as an annex to house my Millennium Falcon. There was a power station, a transporter (like on "Star Trek"), housing, guard towers, a seedy part of town, an underground sewer (built in under the table, but fully accessible), a prison, caves, a small mountain, a radioactive wasteland, and junk yard.

Sadly, and shockingly, given how much time I spent playing with this, I don't have a single photo, nor do I think that one was ever taken. I've wanted to try and recreate it from memory, but I think the table itself is gone, and certainly, all of the home built structures no longer exist.

Looking at the "Women's Day" playset, I'm stunned at the sheer size of it. If I built it for my kids, we'd have no place to put it. It's nearly half the size of their playroom here. My own son has been grumbling about the lack of playsets to put his "guys" as he calls them, so I'm thinking of making him something more compact.

"Women's Day" must have had some success with these plans, because two years later they published pictures and plans for a Hoth playset and a Dagobah playset, which are of a more manageable scale. You'll have to wait until May 2010 for me to post them though, during the 30th Anniversary for "The Empire Strikes Back."

I don't know if they did it a third time for "Return of the Jedi."

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Star Wars 30th Anniversary Special - part 26

Here's a look at what is probably the second most well known of the action figures from the original Kenner line, the blue Snaggletooth.

Kenner only made four of the cantina aliens, in wildly different costumes from how they appeared in the movie. They were generally working from headshots, often in black and white, of the characters as they appeared in the film, and had to extrapolate as to what the rest of the character might look like. If you look at the image of the character they ended up calling "Walrus Man," you'll notice they gave him flipper like feet. "Hammerhead" is the most accurate, as they were obviously working from the sketch by Ron Cobb, shown in the post from 2 days ago.

Nobody at Lucasfilm took any exception to Walrus Man's feet, or Greedo's radically different outfit, but for some reason there was a problem with the character that came to be known as "Snaggletooth."

The four cantina characters were originally sold as a set that came with a cardboard backdrop, shown here, called the "Cantina Adventure Set." This set was sold exclusively by Sears for Christmas 1978. The four characters could also be purchased in pairs, without the cheap backdrop, which is how I received mine all those Christmases ago.

The Snaggletooth, shown with the set was how he was initially released, a tall fellow with a blue jumpsuit and silver boots. Apparently this was wrong.

The blue Snaggletooth also appeared in the Kenner catalogue images for the forthcoming "Star Wars Cantina Cafe" playset, seen here as a prototype also with a walrus man with a radically different, and more accurate, color scheme for his costume.

On a different page of that same catalogue, the revised Snaggletooth is shown, with a red jumpsuit, bare feet, and at a stature that would make him about the height of a jawa. This is the figure that would be carded and available in stores (along with the other three cantina characters) in Spring 1979. It also replaced the blue Snaggletooth in later versions of the Sears set.

Why the change? The character, in its revised version, seems to represent a character called "Zutmore," or "Zutton" who appeared in the "Star Wars Holiday Special," only Zutton, or Zutmore wore shoes, and, while on the short side, didn't seem to be a little person in a costume. This is the character in the first movie photo shown here, which was also used on the card for the figure.

The Snaggletooth character is a member of an alien race known as snivvians, at least two, possibly three of which can be seen in the Mos Eisley cantina. One can be seen at the extreme right, sharing a table with a mostly bald human, as Luke and C-3PO walk down the steps into the cantina. This same snivvian/human pair can be seen to the left of Han's booth as the stormtroopers walk past. A second snivvian can be seen on the left of frame, right next to the crocodile-like Sai'torr Kal Fas, as Wuher, the bartender tells Luke "We don't serve their kind here. Another appears at a table with a jawa, and a hooded mouse-like creature called a ranat, all three of whom turn their heads in reaction to Han blasting Greedo. None of these characters is particularly short. The same snivvian, called "Takeel," who was seen standing at the bar next to Sai'torr kal Fas, can also be seen walking the streets of Mos Eisley, with a profound hunchback problem. He is clearly average human height, as is the other snivvian, both of which are shown in the image with members of the crew here. Why couldn't snaggletooth have been one of these snivvians? It's also clear that the action figure's face was based on one of these, wooly haired, "Star Wars" snivvians (most likely working from the second movie photo), rather than the homelier face of the straight haired "Star Wars Holiday Special" snivvian.

I don't have an answer as to why the change was made. All I can say is that both Takeel and Zutton found themselves made into action figures in the modern line, Zutton, again in reduced stature, but at a height that more reasonably represents the character from the "Star Wars Holiday Special." Zutton was also released in the blue jumpsuit and silver boots as part of a Mos Eisley Cantina set that included 2 other characters.

Here are all of the versions of snaggletooth made to date:

Blue Snaggletooth (1978), Red Snaggletooth (1979), Takeel from the "Cantina Aliens" cinema-scene 3-pack (1998), Zutton (2001), and Zutton from "The Mos Esiley Cantina" screen-scene 3-pack (2004).