Thursday, October 29, 2009

For the Love of Comics #04: My Lifetime of Collecting Star Wars Figures

star wars hammerhead
Words and pictures by Seth Kushner

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

Actually, it wasn’t all that far away; it was Brooklyn, at the Toys R’ Us on Flatbush Avenue. It was 1977 and I was four-years old. I walked next to my father down the aisles of toys and they seemed to extend up so high that to me they could have reached the stars. My eyes darted quickly from one display to the next. Where were they? There were the Matchbox cars, which I certainly liked, but they weren’t the objective that day. We passed the bikes and the girl toys like Holly Hobbie and Barbie. A thought flashed through my mind—what if they didn’t have them? Just then we turned a corner and there they were, right on the endcap—the Star Wars toys. My face must have lit, as though I were looking at the blinding explosion of the Death Star itself.

“See, I told you they’d have them,” my father said.

“How many can I get, Daddy?” I asked.

“Just two today.”

I scanned the display. I loved the packaging. Each black rectangular card had rounded edges, the Star Wars logo on top, the action figure below on the left, under plastic, and on the right, a still from the movie featuring the character in the package. They were all so cool. But, which ones should I get? I thumbed through the rows of boxes, past Han Solo and Chewbacca and Greedo. I liked those and knew I’d eventually get them, but I needed Luke Skywalker. He was my hero. I kept searching. Obi Wan Kenobi, Princess Leia, R2D2 and C3P0—all good, but those weren’t the droids I was looking for. Then finally, I found Luke, all the way in the back.

The force was with me.

He was clad in his white bathrobe-like tunic, his hair was painted bright yellow, and he had a yellow Lightsaber (why not blue, like in the movie?) protruding through a hole at the end of his hand. It was as if some other little boy hid him back there right before I arrived, because maybe his father wouldn’t buy it for him so he felt he had to hide it so it would be there waiting for him when he returned another day. Sorry kid, you did your best, but you are not a Jedi yet. Luke was mine. Now, who else should I get? Easy, Darth Vader. Luke would need someone to battle, of course. The circle was now complete and it was time to hit the register.

As is the case for many of my generation, Star Wars was seminal for me. I remember seeing the commercials advertising it during my Saturday morning cartoons for weeks before it was released. I remember practically begging my dad to take me to see it. He was concerned that I was too young and that we should wait. But I was relentless.

“Can we see Star Wars, Daddy?” “Can we see Star Wars, Daddy?” “Can we see Star Wars, Daddy?” “Can we see Star Wars, Daddy?” “Can we see Star Wars, Daddy?” “Can we see Star Wars, Daddy?” “Can we see Star Wars, Daddy?” “Can we see Star Wars, Daddy?” “Can we see Star Wars, Daddy?” “Can we see Star Wars, Daddy?”


I sat in the darkened Walker Theater in Bensonhurst when I first heard that heroic John Williams theme kick in and that Star Destroyer first entered the screen and seemed to take an eternity to pass over, forever changing me. I recoiled in fear when Darth Vader lifted his enemy by the throat. I laughed at the banter between C3PO and R2D2. I almost cried when Obi Wan sacrificed himself to Vader’s Lightsaber. And I cheered as Luke “trusted his feelings” and fired into the Death Star’s thermal exhaust port and saved the day. I remember leaving the theater and walking out into the too bright street, the summer sun nearly blinding me.

“Can we see it again, Daddy?”

han soloIt wasn’t long before I carried my peanut butter and jelly sandwich and juice box to school in a Star Wars lunchbox, slept on Star Wars sheets, wore Star Wars Underoos, drank from Star Wars glasses from Burger King, and most memorably, played with Star Wars toys. I got an X-Wing fighter for my birthday. I got the Death Star playset for Chanukah. I got new action figures, one and two at a time. Soon, I had enough to recreate scenes from the movie on the living room floor. I used my imagination to construct elaborate storylines using my toys, and in fact, I made a sequel long before George Lucas released one. I also made up my own prequels, spin-offs and deleted scenes.

I collected Star Wars action figures until around 1984, about a year after Return of the Jedi left the theaters. Then Star Wars seemed to fade away. I moved on to G.I. Joe, Transformers and Voltron. By the time I was about 13, I stopped buying toys completely, replacing them with teenage things like music, clothes and girls. But, I always kept my Star Wars figures lined up on top of my dresser, a reminder of my childhood.

Years passed and then when I was about 21, a funny thing happened—Star Wars toys came back. Hasbro, riding the nostalgia wave, began recreating the old figures in new, more detailed sculpts. Soon, I was making weekly trips to that same Toys R’ Us on Flatbush Avenue, looking giddily for the newest figures. Then in 1997, on the 20th anniversary of Star Wars, the merchandising bonanza exploded just as it had back in ’77 and I found myself hooked all over again. By the time the new Star Wars movies started coming out in ’99, my new collection rivaled my first. I admit it; I even own a Jar Jar figure. Every trip to Toys R’ Us brought back the unabashed enthusiasm I felt when I was four-years old.

c3-poNow, I’m 36-years old and I live with my wife and baby boy. One thing I’ve learned is that adult women generally don’t like sharing an apartment with Wookie dolls and Yoda puppets. But happily, my gal’s cool, so when she moved in four years ago, she came up with a compromise that I was happy with. In the corner of our bedroom, to the left of the window and to the right of the closet, sat a glass display case filled with my Star Wars figure collection, spanning from 1977 all the way to 2006. Some might say action figures in the bedroom are not very romantic. I wouldn’t disagree, but their presence helps me sleep soundly at night, and every time I look through the glass at the top shelf, which contains my original figures, it takes me back to that first trip to Toys R’ Us, walking the aisles with my dad, not a care in the world but finding that treasured Luke Skywalker figure. I can’t wait to share my collection with my son, and maybe we’ll even head over to Toys R’ Us and start his collection.
Hopefully he won’t be looking for a Jar Jar.