Friday, January 27, 2012

Figure Friday: Luke Skywalker (again)

Luke Skywalker. Such a monumental (and underrated) character. People are always talking about Darth Vader, Han Solo, R2D2. But Luke is a magnificent protagonist and a hero in the truest meaning of the word! And recently, there have been made some nice action figures of him as well.

People weren't satisfied with my last article on Luke. Understandably. It was just some pictures I snapped on the go, while playing with my Star Wars Lego. But the fact is that I have both several toys of Luke... and strong opinions on the character and his role in the Star Wars Universe. I do have more to say.

So read on for a much longer article on the Hero of the Rebellion, the Balance of the Force, the Last of the Old, and the First of the New Jedi. Luke Skywalker.

Back in the day - I was too young to collect the original line of Star Wars toys, but a neighbor a couple of years older than me, he had a few, and I always liked to play with them. He would also tell me about the movies passionately, and I was extremely fascinated and curious. I asked all sorts of questions, trying to wrap my 10 year old head around the plot of these movies. They were shown on television on occasion, and we rented them on video. But still, Star Wars was something slightly ethereal for me, I couldn't figure out the entire story, I couldn't grasp the enormous experience it was to watch them.
But that all changed.
In 1996, I got my hands on the remastered versions of the Star Wars trilogy was released on VHS (not the special edition, mind you), and the now teenaged me found a new religion.

I watched the movies every day.

Every day.

I bought the scripts, I bought the encyclopedias, and joined irc groups for Star Wars fans. I started getting into the extended universe - the stories beyond the movies. To put it simple: I was a nerd.

I still am, of course, but back when I was 13-16 there was little else than Star Wars for me. I even camped out in 1999, to get tickets to The Phantom Menace premiere.

There's no need for me to point out how bad the prequels are. It's been done to death, and done better than I can do. And all though I don't agree with all the points Plinkett makes, it's very easy to follow his logic. And the most important points he makes can be summed up simply by bad storytelling. For instance: The prequels lack a main protagonist - a hero.
That's just not the fact with the original movies. And while there are several characters you end up rooting for, several characters that become your heroes - be it Darth Vader, Admiral Ackbar, Chewbacca,Wedge Antilles, or the countless other great characters - there's no question who's the protagonist in Star Wars.

It's Luke Skywalker.

I'll admit I don't know that much about storytelling, but even I can see why the story of Star Wars works, and why the character of Luke is essential.
When you first meet him, he's young, he's extremely inexperienced. And almost right away, he's cast into dangerous situations. Situations where he actually fails. Badly. He can't control the newly bought robots, he almost gets killed by sand people, and he basically ends up causing the death of his aunt and uncle. Compare this to when you meet Anakin. He's the cocky, ass-hole kid that can do anything, and saves the day from the very get-go.

Which one do you relate to?

Now, I can see you arguing, that you want the hero to be heroic. But you have seen Star Wars. You have seen how it ends. Luke is clad in black leather, alone, disarmed. His home-made lightsaber is taken from him.
This is how he faces the two arguably most dangerous people in the entire universe.
The three movies have, among many other things, pictured Luke's journey from a being a nobody to becoming the very definition of heroes. And we follow him all the way, we see what he's going through. He's not perfect by any means. If anything, he's the most human character in the story. And that's maybe why he works as the protagonist.

Again, it's not my job to critique the prequels. All I can say is that George Lucas wrote and directed them alone. But with the original movies, he had extremely skilled story writers and directors doing the job for him. Heard of Lawrence Kasdan? He wrote Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Heard of Irvin Kershner and Richard Marquand? They directed ESB and ROTJ respectively.

This is obviously not the whole story.
The original trilogy is brilliant, and the quality difference between the old trilogy and the new one is monumental. While there are many reasons for that (Which I will get back to in future articles), I attribute a whole lot of that greatness to the excellent character of Luke Skywalker.
For instance, the way he's played by Mark Hamill, who by the way has done amazing stuff within voice acting since the 80s. Ledger the best Joker? Guess again!
Throughout the movies, you can almost feel Hamill trying his best to oppress bad direction from Lucas. Understandably. Lucas is infamously known for wanting the dialogues to be unnaturally fast-paced. Hamill's first scenes reflect this, but through out the trilogy, he found his own style (and the two next movies had new directors). Hamill plays Luke slightly more low key and brooding than Harrison Ford's and Carrie Fisher's efforts on their characters, slightly more real. And it works for the evolving hero, it makes us believe in the character.

But this is a toy blog, right? 

It's impossible to follow the insane amount of Star Wars toys that are being made today, which makes it that much simpler to just pick the stuff I want. I feel absolutely no need to get every Star Wars figure made, simply because it's impossible.

Back in the late 70s, it was the exact opposite. The figures made specifically for the original movies were quite conclusive. Each movie saw something like 30 figures and a handful of vehicles and playsets, totaling at around hundred figures. That's manageable. Top this off with the fact that these were produced in numbers unheard of before. Kids got their Lukes, Darth Vaders and Prunefaces and FX-7 Medical Droids.

Getting a complete vintage Star Wars action figure collection isn't that difficult, even today.

This of course just meant that the fans and collectors were starved for rarities, let alone more figures. Unreleased Boba Fett, vinyl Jawas, no-saber Lukes and Sears Exclusive Blue Snaggletooths, and not that much more really.
And even though toy maker Kenner made different variations of the main characters, like Endor outfit Leia and Jedi Master Luke, the kids and collectors wanted more. Even though figures of the absolute most obscure characters - with literally just a second of screen time - made the toy shelves, it still didn't total to a big amount of characters.
Old collectors and the new generation of fans, they all wanted more toys.

Guess what happened in the 90s?

We started getting a massive surge of Star Wars toys. A constant stream of action figures that haven't stopped, in fact it's only increasing. Now, we have probably started on the third decade of 90 new figures every year.

I never bothered with the toys back in the late 90s. Not because they sucked - they most definitely did. But I just wasn't into toys at that point in my life. And I never had the vintage toys, all though I did play with them over at my neighbors place.
Today, I simply pick up the figures I like - which are usually just the original trilogy characters. But the modern Star Wars figures are definitely better toys than what we got during the 90s.

These are probably all from different sub-lines, but I think I have placed them all to specific moments from the movies. Like I said, I'm at the point where I pick up figures I like. I haven't bothered getting really into the modern Star Wars action figures, but I certainly appreciate them being made. I may not be the hard core SW nerd I was in the late 90s, but I'm still passionate about it.
And I guess that's also the reason I have no less than 4 Luke Skywalker action figures.
One black Jedi Master, one orange X-wing pilot, one robed, shirtless and finally one in Stormtrooper disguise (not pictured here).

The X-Wing pilot Luke is of course the same you saw last time, and is extremely detailed. In particular I like the decals on his helmet, and all the tiny parts that are painted.
He also came with two lightsabers. One lit, and one holstered in his belt. I'm not sure I like the head sculpt on this one, but the others aren't really any better. The same head was used on the Stormtrooper disguise Luke.

Great articulation in his arms, and feet, but still T-joint at the hips - which is a bit lame. Or, rather, it's something that gives a vintage feeling to the figures, because the vintage figures had this kind of articulation. But really, a modern toy should have better hip articulation, being able to uhm.. spread the legs.

Again, I have no clue what sub-line this figure belongs to, I just saw a Pilot Luke that I needed in my collection, and it's a great toy.
This is how Luke looked like in the end of A New Hope, during the battle of the Death Star.
The Stormtrooper disguise Luke uses the same head, and isn't that much of a figure. It's the standard Stormtrooper with a removable helmet and a Luke head. It's a nice addition, but then again, this was a figure we got already back in the late 70s.

The robed Luke had me wondered. I initially bought it to use as the Tatooine farmboy Luke, and it's a neat figure, even though the robe is large enough to be a bathrobe. He has a clenched fist, and his left hand can hold the lightsaber he came with.

The story about how a boy becomes a man...
...and the difficulties that follows.
It doesn't really match Luke's costume from when we first meet him. And I'm still looking for a good action figure of this outfit. But it works. I'll admit I love soft goods on toys, and the Star Wars figures have had a good tradition of using robes made out of cloth. I'd wish Mattel would do this with their recent Masters of the Universe Classics line, like they did with the vintage He-Man toys.

The Ben/Obi-Wan Kenobi figure is, by the way, one of the best Star Wars figures I have seen. It's absolutely excellent, great articulation, cool cloth costume, very cool accessories, and a terrific head sculpt. Alec Guinness may have hated Star Wars, but he would have loved this toy.

Of course, this is not Tatooine Luke, but post-Bespin Luke.
It's from when he has faced Darth Vader in Empire Strikes Back. Imagine what Luke went through. He tried to save his friends, but fails. One of his robots is destroyed and his best friend is captured. Luke himself ends up being badly beaten by a man who is revealed to be his own father. And he gets his hand cut off.

And it's this last point that gives off where this figure is from.

I think it's great that it's come to the point where we don't get more obscure characters (well, we still do, as far as I can see), but we also get the main characters in a certain, and very specific point of the story. The Leia I used earlier is also from the end of Empire Strikes Back, all though very similar to A New Hope Leia.
This figure is clever enough to be usable in more ways than just "Luke lying in the hospital bed", as you can see, he almost fits as Tatooine Luke.

But he's definitely best used for recreating those amazing final scenes of Empire...

Finally, we have the all black costume Luke. Totally bad ass, wielding his green lightsaber, which is considered to be his final step to becoming a Jedi.
Slightly off topic, the newer Star Wars figures have gone away from completely straight sabers to having a bit of a burst near the hilt, making the beam slightly thicker. I think I like this.

This is a toy that probably comes from the scene where Luke has his final battle against Darth Vader and the Emperor. But there's a thing that sets him apart from how he looked in the last scenes of Return...

Just pretend the white bedsheet is the throne room inside the second Death Star...

But the wind blown hair makes it interesting.

For me, this is Luke when he had ruined Jabba's sand cruise, escaped his own execution, and sent Boba Fett and a whole bunch of other minions down the pit of the mighty Sarlacc.
It's one of the most iconic images we get of Luke, when he effortlessly opens a can of Jedi on the poor bastard bounty hunters of Jabba the Hutt.

Luke rescues his friends, grabs a hold of his scantly clad sister (here represented by a typical mid 90s toy), and swings away to freedom. Excellent figure of a monumental character in the moment when we realize he's near the end of his path. When we first met him, he was playing with toys, barely able to wash a pair of dirty droids. But here in this moment, he's the hero, capable of doing it all on his own. The progression he's had over the three movies makes Luke Skywalker a character of monumental proportions.

And with this, I have probably not even written a fraction of what I want to tell about Star Wars, the movies, the toys and my experience of being a fan. But it will do for now. Have a good weekend, people.

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