4K UHD/HD Blu-ray Set Review: ‘Jaws’ (45th Anniversary Limited Edition)

(C) 2020 Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The Film That Made People Afraid of the Water Turns 45

Jaws (1975)

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Written by: Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb. Based on the novel by Peter Benchley

Starring: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton

On June 2, 2020, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment unleashed Jaws – 45th Anniversary Limited Edition, a two-disc set which presents Steven Spielberg’s first blockbuster film in two Blu-ray formats: 4K Ultra High Definition (UHD) and High Definition (HD), along with the Movies Anywhere code for a digital copy.

Packaged in a striking lenticular slipcover and accompanied by a 44-page collectible booklet, this marks the UHD debut of the classic adventure movie about a small New England town police chief’s efforts to deal with a rogue great white shark that has attacked several swimmers at the start of the busy summer tourist season. Jaws – 45th Anniversary Limited Edition was also released 18 days before the 45th Anniversary of the film’s premiere date – June 20, 1975.

“You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat…”

Adapted from Peter Benchley’s 1974 best-selling novel by Benchley and actor-writer Carl Gottlieb, Jaws takes place in mid-1970s Amity, a small Cape Cod-like community that is largely dependent on tourism for its subsistence. Its economic survival is jeopardized when a young woman named Chrissie Watkins (Susan Blacklinie) goes for a moonlight skinny-dip in the waters off Amity Beach – and is promptly killed by a shark.

In the morning, the town’s relatively new Chief of Police, Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), gets a missing person report from the young man who was the last person to see Chrissie alive. But when Deputy Hendricks (Jeffrey Kramer) discovers the young woman’s remains on the beach, and the town coroner determines she died as a result of a shark attack, Brody realizes that he and his community have a serious problem in their hands.

Mayor Vaughn: Martin, it’s all psychological. You yell ‘barracuda,’ everybody says, ‘Huh? What?’ You yell ‘shark,’ we’ve got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July.

At first, the town’s elected officials, led by Mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) try to cover up the first shark attack. As he explains to Brody in an effort to justify the decision to keep the beaches open, Amity is a small “summer town” that depends on “summer dollars.”

Mayor Vaughn insists that the “accident” that killed Chrissie is an isolated affair and orders the beaches to remain open. But the shark has claimed the waters offshore as its new feeding ground and kills a boy named Alex Kintner (Jeffrey Voorhees) only a few yards away from the beach.

This incident forces the reluctant Mayor Vaughn and his town council cronies to act. After Mrs. Kintner (Lee Fierro) places a $25,000 bounty on the shark, Vaughn and the town elders make a compromise that pleases no one: the beaches will be closed, but not on the all-important Fourth of July weekend.

Brody is a paradox – he’s a former New York City police officer with a phobia about being in the water yet accepted a job as police chief in a small island town – but he takes his oath to protect and serve his community seriously. Come hell or high water, he’s going to save Amity, not only from the shark he is convinced is stalking the waters offshore, but from short-sighted and narrow-minded politicians like Larry Vaughn.

Forced to confront his deepest fears and those of his wife Ellen (Lorraine Gary), Brody joins forces with shark expert Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and a crusty local captain named Quint (Robert Shaw) to find and kill the deadly aquatic predator – a 30-foot-long great white shark.

Quint: [seeing Hooper’s equipment] What are you? Some kind of half-assed astronaut?

Quint (Cont’d): Jesus H Christ, when I was a boy, every little squirt wanted to be a harpooner or a sword fisherman. What d’ya have there – a portable shower or a monkey cage?

Hooper: Anti-shark cage.

Quint: Anti-shark cage. You go inside the cage?

[Hooper nods]

Quint: Cage goes in the water; you go in the water. Shark’s in the water. Our shark.

Quint (sings): Farewell and adieu to you, fair Spanish ladies. Farewell and adieu, you ladies of Spain. For we’ve received orders for to sail back to Boston. And so nevermore shall we see you again.

The stage is set for one of the most thrilling – and nerve-racking – confrontation between men and nature. And when Brody, Hooper, and Quint go out to sea aboard Quint’s Orca, there’s no guarantee that they will return to Amity alive.

My Take

The art for the Jaws soundtrack. (C) 1975 Universal Pictures

Steven Spielberg’s Jaws is a rarity among movie adaptations of such literary works as short stories, novellas, or novels; as written by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb (with uncredited assists from Howard Sackler, John Milius, and actor-writer Robert Shaw), Jaws is better than the best-selling novel that inspired producers David Brown and Richard Zanuck to adapt it in the first place.

The novel is good, don’t get me wrong. I read the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books edition countless times during the Summer of Jaws – my mother didn’t let me go see the movie in theaters, but paradoxically she let me read the abridged version of the book.[1] I read the unabridged novel when I was a student at South Miami High, along with ‘Salem’s Lot and Carrie by Stephen King.  It’s the perfect “beach read,” really; Benchley was a good storyteller, with a good sense of pacing and a lot of information about sharks, their physiology, and other traits, mixed in with suspense and elements of horror.

The reverse side of the 4K UHD Blu-ray package. (C) 2020 Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Nevertheless, when producers Brown and Zanuck hired Benchley to do the first draft of the screenplay, they told him the movie was going to be a straightforward adventure and that many of the novel’s subplots had to go, including an extramarital affair between Ellen Brody and Matt Hooper, and Mayor Vaughn’s business dealings with local Mafiosos.  Brown, Zanuck, and – eventually – director Steven Spielberg believed those subplots were not important to the story, so out they went.

Spielberg also believed that Jaws needed humor to lighten the movie’s tone, otherwise Jaws would just be a dark horror story. To spice the film with the necessary amount of levity, Spielberg asked actor-writer Carl Gottlieb to come up with additional material for supporting characters, including lines that could be improvised in front of the camera – either on the set or on location.

Theatrical Release Poster from 1975. Art by Roger Kastel. (C) 1975 Universal Pictures

Hooper: Boys, oh boys… I think he’s come back for his noon feeding.

Spielberg made a risky choice and shot Jaws at sea instead of the controlled environment of a water tank at Universal Studios in Culver City (CA). At first, Spielberg’s decision proved disastrous. Bad weather caused costly delays in principal photography; the cast and crew members became seasick; and Spielberg’s judgment was put in question. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the film’s three animatronic sharks, all named Bruce[2],  did not work as well as the director hoped. As a result, Spielberg had to keep his great white shark out of sight for much of the film.

However, the hassles with the balky Bruces proved to be providential and contributed to Jaws’ success. Accidentally, Spielberg managed to make the lethal great white’s non-appearance seem more menacing and frightening.

Serendipitously, Spielberg takes a cinematic trick from Alfred Hitchcock’s playbook of suspenseful filmmaking. By not showing us the shark until late in the movie, Spielberg creates a sense of growing tension and unease.

We usually fear what we can’t see, especially when we are swimming in the ocean. In Jaws, we only know that danger approaches when John Williams’ two-note shark motif plays in the background and Spielberg’s camera shows a vulnerable potential victim in the dark blue waters of the North Atlantic.

Jaws is a character-driven picture, which is rare in the action-horror genre. Screenwriters Gottlieb and Benchley  focus more on the human players of the story rather than on  Jaws’ “creature feature” elements. Their script gives the shark hunters –  Brody Brody, Hooper, and Quint – well-drawn and relatable personalities that allow audiences to identify with and root for them as they go off on their quest to catch and kill the deadly white shark.

45 years after its release, Jaws is still one of the greatest adventures ever made. It’s also one of the most successful films in history. In 1975, its domestic box office gross of $260 million set a record that lasted until Star Wars’ theatrical run in 1977. Per Box Office Mojo, Jaws is the seventh top-grossing film of all time when the effects of inflation are factored in.

Along with Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Superman, Jaws ushered in the era of the Big Tentpole Movie. Crowd-pleasing wide-release films such as Die Hard, Indiana Jones, and the various Marvel Cinematic Universe films probably would not exist if any of those three filmshad flopped.  

Jaws also catapulted the then-27-year-old Steven Spielberg into a long and wildly successful career as one of the world’s eminent filmmakers. This was only his second feature film; his first theatrically released effort, The Sugarland Express, earned good reviews but was not a box office hit. That movie’s producers – David Brown and Richard Zanuck – nevertheless saw that the young director of TV series episodes and the TV movie Duel had talent. And by assigning Spielberg to direct Jaws, they laid the foundation for a brilliant career that includes such films as E.T., The Color Purple, Schindler’s List, Jurassic Park, Amistad, Saving Private Ryan, Lincoln, Bridge of Spies, and The Post.  

The 45th Anniversary Limited Edition Set

(C) 2020 Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment released the Jaws: 45th Limited Edition multi-format two-disc set on June 2. It consists of a lenticular slipcover case with an updated riff on Roger Kastel’s original poster art from 1975.  This slipcover contains:

  • Jaws in a 4K Ultra High Definition Blu-ray Disc
  • Jaws in a 1080p High Definition Blu-ray Disc
  • Insert with Movies Anywhere Digital Copy Code
  • 44-page Collector’s Booklet

Although I own a Samsung 4K UHD TV and a compatible Blu-ray player with the proper cables and a Samsung sound bar, those items have not been fully set up, so I can’t comment on the UHD elements of this release.  But according to Martin Liebman’s review on Blu-ray.com, here’s a little taste of what you can expect from the native 4K (2160p) disc’s video:

For its 45th anniversary, Universal brings Jaws to the UHD format with a practically impeccable 2160p/Dolby Vision UHD presentation. In the early minutes beyond the campfire scene the picture demonstrates superb command of its elements, the first of many notable scenes of practically reference quality. Grain is fine, accentuating the native filmic roots and bolstering the sense of cinematic texturing that sweeps through the shots with resplendent accuracy. Throughout, the picture proves to be very dynamic. There are many examples of notable, superb textures that stand apart at this resolution, notably period attire: light jackets, heavier sports coats, even a thin veil worn by a grieving mother. There’s a tangible increase in sharpness and clarity across the board when comparing to the previously issued, and still perfectly workable, Blu-ray, but the UHD brings out the absolute best the original elements have to offer. Many of the weathered accents around the beaches and piers are tack-sharp and tactile and details both interior and exterior around town gain appreciable boosts to sharpness and clarity, even at distance, obvious in comparison but even plain to see when simply watching the UHD straight through. Skin textures and hairs are unsurprisingly some of the most obvious beneficiaries of the resolution increase and clarity gains. What a vivid, flowing, and fine film-like experience. – Martin Liebman, May 23, 2020 review.

As for the 1080p “regular” Blu-ray, it’s the same disc that Universal released eight years ago as part of its Centennial Anniversary series.  As Liebman says in his review of the 45th Anniversary Limited Edition Jaws set, this Blu-ray is “still perfectly workable.” It contains the film itself, as well as the following extra features (* indicates availability on both UHD and BD discs)

  • The Making of Jaws*
  • The Shark is Still Working: The Impact and Legacy of Jaws*
  • Jaws: The Restoration*
  • Deleted Scenes and Outtakes*
  • From the Set *
  • Theatrical Trailer*
  • Jaws Archives (1080p BD only)

Overall, I like the 45th Anniversary Limited Edition release of this classic film. The new cover art does  take some getting used to, but on the whole, it’s not a bad set to get, especially if you are building a UHD collection for a 4K TV with the proper player connected. (4K UHD discs will not play on a regular 1080p BD player.) The packaging is nice – especially the lenticular art on the slipcover.

The 44-page booklet, too, is a nice bonus that includes stills and publicity photos of the main cast members, short bios, a short history of how Jaws was made, and other cool information about this 1975 classic.

I’m looking forward to watching Jaws in its 4K version! It will take a while, but I’ll see it in its fully restored UHD glory.

[1] See Movie Watcher Memories: or Mom Nixes Shark Pic

[2] Named after Spielberg’s lawyer, Bruce Ramer

4K UHD/HD Blu-ray Set Review: ‘Superman: The Movie’ (1978 Theatrical Release Version)

(C) 2018 Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

“You’ll Believe a Man Can Fly”

Superman (AKA Superman: The Movie) (1978 Theatrical Version)

Directed by: Richard Donner

Written by: Mario Puzo, David Newman, Leslie Newman, Tom Mankiewicz (uncredited)

Based on: Superman character created for DC Comics by Jerry Siegel and Joel Schuster

Starring: Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Christopher Reeve, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Glenn Ford, Trevor Howard, Margot Kidder, Valerie Perrine, Maria Schell, Terence Stamp, Phyllis Thaxter, Susannah York

Jor-El: [bidding his son farewell, as Lara looks on] You will travel far, my little Kal-El. But we will never leave you… even in the face of our death. The richness of our lives shall be yours. All that I have, all that I’ve learned, everything I feel… all this, and more, I… I bequeath you, my son. You will carry me inside you, all the days of your life. You will make my strength your own, and see my life through your eyes, as your life will be seen through mine. The son becomes the father, and the father the son. This is all I… all I can send you, Kal-El.

On December 15, 1978 – five days after two gala premieres in New York and Washington DC – Warner Bros. rolled out director Richard Donner’s Superman – or, as it was marketed, Superman: The Movie – in wide release in the North American domestic market.[1] With an all-star international cast, a screenplay by Godfather scribe Mario Puzo,expensive special effects and spectacular sets by John Barry, and a superb score by John Williams,  Superman amazed viewers and pleased many critics when it lived up to its tagline of You’ll Believe a Man Can Fly.  

Lana Lang: [driving up with Brad] Hey look, there’s Clark! Clark?

Brad: How’d you get here so fast?

Young Clark Kent: [shrugs] I ran.

Brad: “Ran,” huh? Told ya he’s an oddball. Let’s get outta here.

[they drive away, Lana looking back at Clark]

Jonathan Kent: Been showing off a bit, haven’t you, son?

Young Clark Kent: [going over to Jonathan] Um… I didn’t mean to show off, Pop. It’s just that, guys like that Brad, I just want to tear him apart.

Jonathan Kent: Yeah, I know, I know.

Young Clark Kent: And I know I shouldn’t…

Jonathan Kent: Yeah, I know, you can do all these amazing things and sometimes you feel like you will just go bust unless you can tell people about them.

Young Clark Kent: Yeah. I mean every time I get the football I can make a touchdown. Every time! I mean, is it showing off if somebody’s doing the things he’s capable of doing? Is a bird showing off when it flies?

Jonathan Kent:No, no. Now, you listen to me. When you first came to us, we thought people would come and take you away because, when they found out, you know, the things you could do… and that worried us a lot. But then a man gets older, and he starts thinking differently and things get very clear. And one thing I do know, son, and that is you are here for a reason. I don’t know whose reason, or whatever the reason is… Maybe it’s because… uh… I don’t know. But I do know one thing. It’s not to score touchdowns. Huh?

[they laugh]

Young Clark Kent: Thanks, Dad.

Starring Marlon Brando as Jor-El, Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor, and a little-known actor named Christopher Reeve in the dual role of Clark Kent/Kal-El (aka Superman), Superman was intended to be the first half of a duology that chronicles the origins story of the Man of Steel from his birth on the doomed planet of Krypton; his father’s fateful decision to send him to Earth; his adoption by Jonathan Kent (Glenn Ford) and his wife Martha (Phyllis Thaxter); and his transformation from dutiful teen (Jeff East) to, well, Superman (Reeve) and his first adventures in Metropolis. Originally, the film was supposed to end with a cliffhanger in which the three villains from Krypton (Terence Stamp. Sarah Douglas, and Jack O’Halloran) escape captivity and fly down  to Earth, but when that didn’t work out due to delays on the set and behind-the-scenes drama, the ending was changed to give audiences a film with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Superman: Easy, miss. I’ve got you.

Lois Lane: You – you’ve got me? Who’s got you?

 By now, the plot of Superman – with its not-too-subtle allusions to Biblical stories (the plot combines elements drawn from the Old Testament and the New) and three distinct acts – is familiar, so I’m not going to delve too much into it here. Suffice it to say that it covers a 30-year span of life (another allusion to the four Gospels of Jesus, with Jor-El as the Father who sends his almost omnipotent Son to Earth and serve as humanity’s protector. Along the way, Kal-El takes on the public persona of mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent, meets (and fall in love with) Daily Planet journalist Lois Lane (Margot Kidder), and covers the City beat for his editor, Perry White (Jackie Cooper).

As Superman, Kal-El also has to stop master criminal Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) from carrying out the Crime of the Century, a nefarious plan that involves stolen nuclear weapons, the San Andreas Fault in California, and Luthor’s seemingly crazy purchase of worthless land in the Mojave Desert.   

Despite its behind-the-scenes woes, delayed release, and the possibility that the public might not flock to a movie based on a comic book superhero, Superman persevered and in less than three weeks it had earned $43,697,365 in the U.S. and Canada.  The film was the biggest box office hit of 1978, grossing  $300.21 million worldwide.

The film was not only financially successful, but it also won many accolades and awards. Reviewers gave Superman largely positive reviews in the media, and the film industry was generous in its praise during the early 1979 awards season. Superman was nominated for four Academy Awards (Best Film Editing, Best Score, Best Sound Design, Best Special Effects -Special Achievement): the Salkind team only took home the Special Effects Oscar, but John Williams – who lost to Giorgio Moroder’s score for Midnight Express – walked away with the Best Score award at the Grammys and the Saturn Awards.  (Superman was also lauded at the BAFTA Awards and Golden Globes for its year, so it didn’t do too shabbily when it comes to industry laurels.)

The Return of the (Original) Man of Steel to Home Media

Since 1986, Superman: The Movie has been released on home media in various formats; the theatrically-released version made its VHS debut that year, some time after the film’s longer International Television Edition[2] had aired on the ABC television network and the original 2 hours and 23 minutes-longtheatrical version had made their final play-out run on HBO and Showtime.

However, when Warner Home Entertainment was laying the groundwork for the 2001 DVD release, the company approached Richard Donner and editor Michael Thau to incorporate some of the longer version’s footage and music. In the end, and with Donner’s personal involvement in the process, eight minutes’ worth of material was added to the theatrical version of Superman: The Movie.  This is the version that most people have seen or owned on DVD and the film’s first release (back in 2006) on Blu-ray.

Although the 2001 DVD edition is, like George Lucas’s Special Editions of the original Star Wars trilogy, the canonical version of Superman, Warner Bros. has released both the International Television Edition and the 1978 theatrical release on home media. The longer cut was released in 2017 as Superman: The Movie Extended Cut as a Warner Archive Collection offering, while the classic Superman: The Movie was released on November 6, 2018 in a 4K UHD/HD Blu-ray + Digital Code two-disc set.  

The 2018 40th Anniversary Release

Warner Bros. released the original version of Superman: The Movie on 4K UHD to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of its theatrical debut. Prior to this home media release, the studio had screened Superman (minus the additions made in 2001 for the DVD edition) in revival screenings throughout the world. When Warner Home Video “dropped” the two-disc set on November 6, 2018, it marked the first time the unaltered version of Donner’s iconic film was available for home viewing since the late 1980s.

This two-disc set consists of:

  • Superman: The Movie (1978 theatrical version) in 4K UHD
  • Audio Commentary by Pierre Spengler and Ilya Salkind
  • The Making of Superman: The Movie 1978 TV Special
  • Three vintage (1940s) Warner Bros. cartoon parodies
  • Superman and the Mole Men (1951)
  • TV and Movie Trailers

My Take

As I wrote in my review of the Best Buy exclusive 27-disc Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga box set, I own a 4K UHD TV and compatible 4K Blu-ray player, so I can’t really comment too much about the disc in that 2160p resolution disc. However, judging by what I have seen in the Blu-ray disc that comes as an “extra” feature, I already know the following things:

  • Some of the weird visual inconsistencies caused by the limits of late 1970s blue-screen photography, such as Superman’s costume sometimes appearing greenish during flying scenes, have been fixed digitally
  • The special effects that were so groundbreaking at the time – unless you examined them way too closely – did not age well. The “Arctic” icescapes seen in the Fortress of Solitude sequences look, sadly, too much like a studio set’s version, with ice that looks like it’s made out of Styrofoam and a backdrop that looks like either a matte painting or a huge backdrop. It doesn’t look as bad in the 1080p Blu-ray, but it will jump out at you when you watch it in 4K UHD
  • The colors will look a lot more lifelike in the 4K Blu-ray
  • The sound mix will be so-so, especially if you forget that the Dolby Athmos sound mix is not the default sound option. The sound mix that the 4K disc has as it’s default setting is the Dolby 5.1 one; to get the best sound from Superman: The Movie, you must manually change it to Dolby Athmos before watching the film

I’m sure there are other audio-visual issues that will catch your attention when watching the 4K version, but as I said, I can’t address them until my UHD set and its associated player are up and running.

I got this movie knowing full well that I wasn’t going to get a perfect movie watching experience. Superman: The Movie itself is far from perfect; even when it was screened in theaters, I could tell that much of the flying involved rear projection effects, blue-screen photography that sometimes messed up the blues and reds of Supe’s costume. And don’t get me started on the Can You Read My Mind scene, which features John Williams’ beautiful arrangement of his Love Theme from Superman under a woefully ill-considered voiceover poem spoken by Margot Kidder (Lois Lane).

I don’t hate the vocal, but (a) it doesn’t propel the plot forward and (b) doesn’t fit the tone of the rest of the film. I tolerate it because the London Symphony Orchestra’s performance is one of the main reasons why I wanted to see Superman. (True story: I actually was less-than-enthusiastic about going to see Superman until I saw the first TV ads several days before it hit theaters in Miami and noticed the  Music by John Williams credit at the tail end of one.)

Still, for all its flaws, Superman is one of my favorite movies from when I was a teenager, and it is a fun and entertaining  one. I like it far more than I do Zach Snyder’s Man of Steel, even though that film benefits from 21st Century filmmaking technology and has a fine cast of its own. And even though I have the slightly longer version on both DVD and Blu-ray, the 1978 original is my sentimental favorite.

[1] Warner Bros. – which also owns DC Comics, Superman’s comics publisher – had hoped to release Superman: The Movie in June of 1978 to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of the Man of Steel’s debut in Action Comics #1. However, the film – which was being shot concurrently with Superman II – took longer to film than expected. Tensions between director Richard Donner and producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind arose due to the challenges inherent in filming both Superman films simultaneously. To meet the new release date deadline – now scheduled for December 1978 – production was halted on Superman II, and Donner was told to focus on completing the first film. This was done, and production on Superman: The Movie ended in October of 1978.

Although principal photography of Superman II was 75% complete at this stage of the process, the relationship between Donner and the producers was toxic, and the director was fired soon after Superman: The Movie was finished. He was replaced as director of Superman II by American expat Richard Lester, who had collaborated with the Salkinds several years before as the director of The Three Musketeers. To get his name on the credits as director of Superman II, Lester had to have the screenplay rewritten in order to reshoot enough material (roughly ¾ of the film’s final content) to avoid arbitration.

There’s more to this story, but that will have to wait for another day….

[2] In an effort to recoup some of the money they lost when they had to ask Warner Bros. for financial assistance during the final stages of production, Alexander and Ilya Salkind reinserted a lot of material – some of it with subpar special effects – to Superman in order to sell the broadcast rights to television broadcasters in different countries. The 1978 feature film has a running time of 143 minutes: the International Television Edition clocks in at 188 minutes. This was not done for artistic reasons; it was a purely business-related move, as the Salkinds were charging per-the-minute-of-air-time broadcast rights. Of course, the  network or station that bought the International Television Edition could (and did) edited some of the extra stuff to fit their schedule or cut their costs, so there were several variations of that “cut” of Superman,  not just one.  

Thoughts and Musings on a Muggy Tuesday Afternoon: June 16, 2020

Photo by Ethan Essig on Pexels.com

Written earlier in the day. – ADG

Thoughts and Musings on a Muggy Tuesday Afternoon

Hi, there, Dear Reader. I hope you are well, safe, and coping with the coronavirus pandemic. Right now it’s just past one in the afternoon in my corner of Florida, and – as you can probably see from my post’s title – it’s  hot and muggy outside. Right now the temperature outside is 86 degrees Fahrenheit under mostly sunny skies, but by the time I post this on WordPress, it will likely be 88˚ F; the forecast for today calls for a high of 90˚ at 4 PM Eastern, and a nighttime low of 68˚ F. So, like I said…it’s hot and muggy!

I’m glad I don’t have to be out and about in this late spring heat; when I used to go outside for my daily constitutionals in my former neighborhood in Miami, I usually waited till 5 PM, though when I was taking care of my ailing mother, I would get stir-crazy and would go out for a walk as soon as the home health aide or an Easter Seals respite aide arrived, even if it was around noon. (During the cooler and drier months, I would go for walks or take a book to one of the two pools in East Wind Lake Village, lie on a deck chair, and read for an hour while the HHA watched over Mom for me.)

Here, I don’t do that. I live in a nice neighborhood, nicer than the one I left behind some time ago, but I just don’t feel comfortable going out for walks. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of strolls that I’ve gone on, and that number pales In comparison to the number of walks I’d take in any given week in the Time of Ago.  I just don’t feel motivated enough to go out, even though part of me knows I need fresh air, a bit of sun, and exercise.

Life in the Time of COVID-19

Because I can’t use the Internet during most of the day – there is a dearth of bandwidth in our area now that lots of people are having to work from home, so if we have too many devices connected to the house WiFi, someone will get disconnected or have a slow connection. And because there is at least one person here whose job requires a secure and reliable connection, at least one PC has to be used on “airplane mode.” Right now, that computer is mine, and it will be on offline mode till just after five.

This “restriction” is one that I have grown accustomed to since the COVID-19 pandemic forced many businesses to adjust to the situation by assigning many of their employees to work remotely from home. I can still write without being connected, provided that:

  • If I’m going to write a review and need to download images or get information I don’t have on-hand, I need to get what I require for the review either early in the morning or during the head of household’s one-hour lunch break
  • If I don’t have a specific topic in mind, then I should just do a “Random Thoughts” kind of post

Today I overslept, so I didn’t have a lot of time online this morning to plan ahead or do any “prep” work for a review, and even though I had a one-hour window to work on a review, I was still tired and didn’t have anything specific in mind for a review. Even now, in the early afternoon, all I feel like doing is listening to music and lying on a couch with a good book.

Good thing that I enjoy reading and have lots of books to read. I learned to read at an early age – prompted, no doubt, by my maternal grandmother, known to her many grandkids simply as “Tata” – and I’ve never, ever lost my love for books or the act of reading. I can’t conceive of being in a situation where I would have no access to books, and I can’t relate too well to people who don’t read for pleasure. (And, sadly, I know too many people like that!)

Right now I’m reading several books at once – a habit I picked up at a young age from Mom and my maternal grandfather, Quique. They are:

(C) 2016 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)
  • Library of America Cornelius Ryan: The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far
  • Library of America Barbara Tuchman: The Guns of August, The Proud Tower
  • D-Day and the Battle for Normandy, James Holland
  • William Shakespeare’s The Force Doth Awaken: Star Wars Part the Seventh, Ian Doescher

And this is only a small fraction of the many books I have on my Ikea bookshelves. So, yes, I have enough reading material – and stuff to review! – to keep my mind occupied and my sanity intact.

Photo by Sebastian Voortman on Pexels.com

Well, Dear Reader, I will close for now; I hear the call of the couch and the aforementioned good book summoning me.  And who knows? Maybe I’ll take a little siesta. So, adios, and until next time, I’ll catch you on the sunny side of things.

My Adventures in Screenwriting: ‘Clown 345’

On July 12, 2019, my high school chum Juan Carlos Hernandez posted Clown 345, a short comedy film about three clowns, a phone, and a joke. It stars Juan (a professional actor who has played many roles on TV, feature films, and even local theater in and around New York City), his wife Adria, and his son Anthony James Hernandez.

Clown 345 was not a project that I was linked to at its inception; I was cracking the story to the screenplay that I titled Happy Days Are Here Again and eventually was produced as Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss. I had already sent Juan another script – my first attempt at a comedy – but that one just didn’t flow well, so I decided to go with Plan B, which I envisioned as a riff on All in the Family but scaled down to three characters.

Anyway, while I shifted mental gears to work on Happy Days Are Here Again, Juan wrote a script about a young clown’s attempts to tell a joke, while his father and mother, who are also clowns, try to give him advice. He had most of it done, but he wanted me to contribute some material to bridge the start of the film with the ending.

I hadn’t yet gotten far with the first draft of Happy Days Are Here Again, so I agreed to look at the Clown 345 script and see what I could add to it.

It took me a couple of days to come up with an idea; our first collaboration, A Simple Ad, was a tightly contained story that takes place mostly in one room, except for the coda, which is a brief exterior scene. Juan needed something that was more “opened up” and could be shot outdoors.

So…I came up with a nice little sequence and a sight gag that references one of my favorite authors. It isn’t a long bit and it’s not a David Lean epic, but, hey…it’s my modest addition to Juan, Adria, and Anthony’s 8 minutes and 45 seconds-long short.

A Simple Ad, Clown 345, and Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss are all viewable on YouTube.

If you watched Clown 345 and want to share your thoughts, please jot them down in the Comments section below!

Thoughts On a Sunday Afternoon in Florida: June 14, 2020

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Well, here we are on the brink of mid-June, with the annual transition from spring to summer just a few days off and also 14 days into the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season. It’s hot and humid outside; the official temperature outside is 91 degrees Fahrenheit, but with humidity and wind speed/direction factored in, the “feels-like” temperature is 97 degrees. In my home state of Florida, which lies in the subtropical zone, we are used to warm and muggy weather; I’ve lived in the Sunshine State nearly all of my life and I can attest to that.

However, until the 2000s, the average temperatures for June were not quite as hot or humid; this, after all, is only the second month of what Florida residents know as the wet season, and though I remember it getting warm and muggy around this time of year, heat indexes in the low 100s were never quite a “thing” this early. July and August? Sure. June…well, June was when Floridians’ long hot summers were just getting started.

Now, every summer begins with higher-than-average temperatures……

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Because today is one of the few days when I don’t have to write during the day with my computer on airplane mode, I decided to spend my Sunday connected to the Internet and create a post for the original A Certain Point of View over on Blogger. It wasn’t anything special; I didn’t write a review or a politically-themed essay, although I was sorely tempted to write a scathing one about a Cuban-American woman who was complaining on Facebook that her young son had not received a stimulus check from the Treasury Department.

Not only was I annoyed by the sense of entitlement in her public kvetching that her son, who probably has not been working for a long time (he’s 18, if I recall correctly), but what really bugged me is that she had to drag the homeless into the equation.

I should have taken a screenshot of the comments on Facebook before I wrote a politely worded but still critical reply, a reply for which she “unfriended” me on the Social Medium. But basically, it went something like this.

My son still has not received a stimulus check. He has only been working for a few months….He went to the IRS site and filled out a form but he still hasn’t received a payment. It’s not fair! I have seen HOMELESS people get stimulus checks!!

Photo by Arian Malek khosravi on Pexels.com

Again, I wish I had taken a screenshot; once someone on Facebook “unfriends” you, you can’t see any comments you make on his or her page, and it disappears even from your Activities archive. So I can’t quote my own comment to this person. The basic gist was this, though:

I’m truly sorry that your son has not received a stimulus check. To be fair, though, not everyone has. I have not, even though Social Security sent me an email advising me that I’d not be penalized with a suspension of my disability payments when I received a Treasury Department payment, which should have arrived sometime in May. I hope that your son gets his, but be aware that he is not the only one who is in this “no stimulus check” situation. Also, why is it necessary to say that “everyone else, including the HOMELESS, is getting theirs, but not my kid?”

Well, she didn’t block me; I can still see her public Facebook page, but she still unfriended me for daring to call into question her (a) sense of entitlement and (b) her barely repressed bigotry. In her reply to me, she figuratively clutched her pearls and said that she wasn’t generalizing – although she was – and that she was only referring to a young African-American woman with drug addiction problems who had received a stimulus check.

Ugh. That is racist, even if she says that she helps the homeless on a regular basis.

Photo by Life Matters on Pexels.com

I wanted to write a review today, but my heart was not in it. In these troubled times of COVID-19, divisiveness of every sort imaginable, including over such matters as politics, religion, and race relations, and the changes in my home country (the United States of America), it’s hard to get into a mindset that’s conducive to writing a review about a book, a movie, a music album, a computer game, or even a Star Wars figure.

Today, unfortunately, was a no-review-for-my-blog kind of day.

Am I upset that the mom who was whining about her son not getting a stimulus check unfriended me? No. Not in the least. She was not a close friend of mine even when we were in the same high school.

What I am upset about is that in the process of asking for advice on what to do about her son’s stimulus check, she had to pull out the “But HOMELESS people are getting theirs! Where’s my son’s?” card.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I think I’ll go watch a Star Wars movie. Or look at my cool new Star Wars 40th Anniversary Legacy Pack display for a while. Watching freedom-fighting Rebels striving to free a galaxy far, far away from a fascist Empire always (or almost always) makes me feel a little better.

My Star Wars 40th Anniversary Legacy Pack display and the 12 Star Wars The Black Series figures for which it was intended. (It came with the 6-inch scale Darth Vader figure (back row, third from right), but I had to buy the other 11 figures on Amazon, To date, that’s my biggest one-time purchase of Star Wars figures in my 42 years as a collector. Note the framed poster from The William Shakespeare’s Star Wars box set, which was one of the last Star Wars collectibles I bought before Mom passed away in July 2015. (Photo Credit: Author’s Collection)

Music Album Review: ‘Star Wars: Return of the Jedi’ (Remastered)

Album cover for the 2018 remastered version of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, a reconstructed recording based on the 1983 single LP soundtrack album originally released by RSO Records. Photo Credit: Walt Disney Music Group. (C) 2018 Walt Disney Records and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Return of the (Original) Jedi Soundtrack

On May 4, 2018 – “Star Wars Day” – Walt Disney Records and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL) released remastered versions of the first six original soundtrack albums from the “George Lucas Era” Star Wars films on compact disc, digital, and vinyl formats. Among the sextet of albums is the reconstructed “original soundtrack” from Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, featuring the music composed and conducted by John Williams as presented in RSO Records’ 1983 1-LP release. Digitally remastered from analog sources by a team led by Shawn Murphy, Leslie Ann Jones, and Danny Thompson, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (Remastered) marks the first new reissue of the album with the original tracks Lapti Nek and Ewok Celebration and Finale in nearly 30 years.

Of course, isn’t the first re-issue of Maestro Williams’ score for the film originally titled Star Wars: Revenge of the Jedi: including this 2018, the music from the third Episode – in release order – of the Skywalker Saga had had six major releases prior to May 4, 2018. They are:

  • The 1983 1-LP Album (RSO Records/Polydor)
  • The 1993 The Star Wars Trilogy Anthology (Arista/20th Century Fox Records)
  • The 1997 Star Wars: Return of the Jedi Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (RCA Victor)
  • The 2004 Star Wars: Return of the Jedi Original Motion Picture Soundtrack DSD (Sony Classical)
  • The 2007 The Music of Star Wars: 30th Anniversary Collector’s Edition (Sony Classical)
  • The 2016 Star Wars: The Ultimate Soundtrack Collection (Sony Classical)

Technically speaking, the 1983 album (and its expanded 1993 edition) and the 1997 RCA Victor “Special Edition” soundtracks (and its Sony Classical reissues) are distinctly different records. Though they present music composed and conducted by John Williams and performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, there are vast differences among them, including:

  • Track Listing: The original LP, vinyl, and compact disc releases from ‘83 have fewer tracks than the Special Edition 2-CD sets issued between 1997 and 2016
  • Content: Album producer John Wiliams and recording engineer Eric Tomlinson followed the conventions of the original soundtrack genre and chose the 1983 album’s music for aesthetic reasons and ignored the chronology of the film, whereas the “complete score” Special Edition album presents the music as heard in the movie.

Of the three Original Trilogy films, Return of the Jedi is the film with the shortest soundtrack album; compared with the over-70 minutes of musical material presented in each 2-LP album for Star Wars (1977) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980), RSO Records only saw fit to release a Jedi soundtrack with just under 45 minutes’ worth of themes (mostly present as “concert hall” or “soundtrack album” arrangements) in 11 tracks.

There are two reasons for this discrepancy: the decline of vinyl records just as a new format was emerging, and the changing fortunes of Robert Stigwood’s RSO Records, which would soon be absorbed by Britain’s Polydor Records.

Around the same time that composer-conductor John Williams was working on the score for Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, Dutch and Japanese inventors had perfected the first iteration of a new digital disc format called the compact disc (CD). Designed to be smaller and more durable than 33-RPM vinyl records, CDs allowed recording companies to record and store an entire one-hour-long album on one disc and in more compact packaging than the average LP album. First generation CDs had just enough storage capacity for your average 1-LP pop music album or – as the story goes – the running time of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The storage limits of 1982-1983 CDs meant that if RSO/Polydor planned to release Jedi’s soundtrack in the new format as well as vinyl and audiocassette, the label had two choices:

  • Release the Return of the Jedi as a double album on vinyl and CD, which company execs figured would be too expensive
  • Release Jedi as a 1-LP album with only 11 tracks with a running time of 44 minutes and 59 seconds, thus giving all of the editions (vinyl, CD, and cassette) the same content and avoid the then-standard operating procedure of deleting several tracks from vinyl recordings from the CD edition (as was the case with Warner Records’ CD release of Superman: The Movie)

RSO Records was then embroiled in a legal dispute with The Bee Gees over money owed to the group by Roger Stigwood; RSO lost in court and had to pay the Bee Gees a reported sum of $200 million. That, in conjunction with the failure of the 1978 musical film Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, hurt its financial bottom line and sealed RSO’s fate. So although RSO’s 2-LP gatefold album of The Empire Strikes Back (1980) was a best-seller, the company could not afford to manufacture a 2-LP album and a matching 2-CD version for Return of the Jedi.

(C) 1983 RSO Records/Polydor and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Consequently, on May 25, 1983 – the same day that the film opened in “wide release” in the U.S. and Canada, RSO records released Star Wars: Return of the Jedi as a 1-LP vinyl record in a gatefold album cover, as well as on cassette tape and the new compact disc format.

This is the track listing of the 1983 CD from RSO’s successor Polydor, which is identical to the one on the vinyl and cassette editions:

  1. Main Title (Star Wars: The Story Continues) – 5:09
  2. Into the Trap – 2:36
  3. Luke and Leia – 4:43
  4. Parade of the Ewoks – 3:24
  5. Han Solo Returns (At the Court of Jabba the Hutt) – 4:07
  6. Lapti Nek – 2:48
  7. The Forest Battle – 4:01
  8. Rebel Briefing – 2:19
  9. The Emperor – 2:40
  10. The Return of the Jedi – 5:00
  11. Ewok Celebration and Finale – 7:57

My Take

I’ve been a Star Wars fan since I saw the original film in the fall of 1977. I became a fan of Maestro Williams’ music then, even though I had watched quite a few films (and even some TV shows) that he composed or arranged way before I ever heard his Main Title from Star Wars.I loved his symphonic, almost 19th Century-styled themes and incidental music, and soon I was enamored of classical music and the film score genre in general. So every time that a new movie with “music by John Williams” was out in theaters, I’d get the soundtrack album, usually with money I earned by doing household chores and sticking to my mom’s simple rules.

By the time RSO “dropped” the Return of the Jedi soundtrack, I was having difficulties finding a new stylus for my British-made Grand Prix stereo’s record-player component, and eight-track tapes had gone out of fashion, so when I bought my copy it was in the cassette format. And, having owned the 2-LP soundtracks to Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, I had – and still do – mixed feelings about the original 11-track album.

On the one hand, I loved how Maestro Williams blends existing themes such as the Star Wars main theme, The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme), The Force, and the love theme for Han Solo and Princess Leia with new ones along the lines of the bright and playful Parade of the Ewoks, the gentle and noble Luke and Leia theme that evokes the familial bond between brother and sister, and the sinister, menacing new theme for The Emperor, which would later recur in other films of the Skywalker Saga, especially in the Prequel Trilogy. Williams knows his Wagner operas well and uses the leitmotivtrope of writing specific musical themes for characters, settings (Williams composed a motif for the Death Star in his score for the original Star Wars film that recurs in other films which feature the Empire’s planet-killer, including Rogue One, Return of the Jedi, and The Rise of Skywalker.) The basic themes can be arranged in countless ways to evoke different emotions – The Imperial March, for instance, can be played “straight” to reflect Vader’s status as the Emperor’s enforcer, or, as in Williams’ Death of Darth Vader (a cue not included on this album), can be presented as a gentle but sad dirge for the dying Anakin Skywalker.

On the other hand, I was surprised that RSO had released such a short soundtrack album for what, at the time, looked like it would be the last movie in the Star Wars series. I was unaware that RSO was having financial troubles or that a new recording format – the CD – was emerging. All I saw when I bought my cassette edition for the first time was that the Return of the Jedi soundtrack only had 11 tracks, far less content than the albums from Star Wars and Jedi.

Photo Credit: Disney Music Emporium

I swallowed my disappointment; it was what it was, and I was mature enough to accept that this was the soundtrack I was getting, not the one I had expected to get. I still loved John Williams’ stirring action themes, such as The Forest Battle (Track 7) and The Return of the Jedi (Track 10), as well as his collaboration with his son Joseph Williams (Ewok Celebration, the song known by many fans as ”Yub Nub” and replaced in the 1997 Special Edition of Return of the Jedi by the new (and maybe too Yanni-like) Victory Celebraton.

Of course, when the expanded edition of this album came out in 1993’s Star Wars Trilogy: The Original Soundtrack Anthology box set, I bought it, not just because It was more of what I had in mind before I bought the 1983 album on tape, but because it tried to place the tracks in a chronological order that more closely matched the film’s storyline. Ditto for the 1997 “complete score” Special Edition 2-CD album from RCA Victor and its various reissues by Sony Classical from 2004 to 2016, after which the rights to Star Wars’  music went to Walt Disney Music.

Shawn Murphy, the sound engineer who has worked on the various Prequel and Sequel Trilogy soundtrack albums, has taken a new approach to this recreation of the original 1983 RSO/Polydor soundtrack. The new mix is not derived, as one might expect, from LP-specific mixes and subsequent mixes. Instead, Murphy and Skywalker Sound have reassembled the 1983 Star Wars: Return of the Jedi album directly from new 24/192 transfers of the original score.

I’m not an expert on the esoteric art of recording albums, and my hearing is not sharp enough to discern such things as the texture of a musical piece and the subtle differences one is supposed to discern when listening to the same recording but on different media.

I do know, however, how John Williams’s symphonic scores for Star Wars and the other eight films of the Skywalker Saga make me feel when I listen to them. And this particular version of the Jedi soundtrack, despite its musical deviations from the film’s internal chronology, is the one that takes me back to the era in which I first became a Star Wars fan.

Do I have any favorite tracks from this album? Yes, they are:

  • Luke and Leia
  • Han Solo Returns (At the Court of Jabba the Hutt)
  • The Forest Battle
  • The Emperor
  • The Return of the Jedi
  • Ewok Celebration and Finale

I do like the other cues, such as Parade of the Ewoks and The Return of the Jedi, although I wish that John Williams – who produced the original 1983 album – had shifted the track order of those two.

A bonus that I received when I bought the disc version of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (Remastered) on Amazon is that the purchase entitles me to get, for free, the digital copy on Amazon Music. That means that I can listen to the album’s MP3 version on my Amazon Music app, which I have on my PC, my smartphone, and my Amazon Fire HD tablet. I can choose to play the CD on any of our Blu-ray players or my computer’s DVD-ROM drive, or sans the disc using the Amazon Music app.

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (Remastered) is a good (if all-too-brief) reconstruction of the 1983 gatefold single LP from the now defunct labels RSO and Polydor. Overall, I appreciate what Walt Disney Records has done with the music, especially the fact that Shawn Murphy and Skywalker Sound teamed up with Bernie Grundman Mastering of Hollywood (CA) to reassemble the original record and gave it crystal-clear digital sound.

As a certain Dark Lord of the Sith might put it, this album truly is “impressive. Most impressive.” It might be the shortest of the original 1977-83 recordings, but this reconstructed 2018 remastering is definitely nostalgia inducing. May the Force be with you, and until next time, I’ll catch you on the sunny side of things!

‘Star Wars’ Collectibles & Toys Review: Hasbro Star Wars The Black Series Darth Vader (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) and Legacy Pack

Promotional photo of Star Wars The Black Series Darth Vader (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) and Legacy Pack. Photo Credit: Hasbro, via Amazon. (C) 2017 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Darth Vader

The Emperor’s Sinister Agent

In early April of 2017, shortly after introducing the first five Star Wars The Black Series 40th Anniversary figures[1] to commemorate the Ruby Anniversary of George Lucas’ original Star Wars (aka Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope), Hasbro released its Star Wars The Black Series Darth Vader (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) and Legacy Pack.  This is a Special Edition 6-inch scale figure of the fearsome Dark Lord of the Sith in a “Kenner” branded blister pack with a slightly-modified Star Wars Collection cardback that closely resembles the packaging used for the original 3.75-inch scale action figure from 1978.  

Promo photograph of Darth Vader (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) and Legacy Pack. Photo Credit: Hasbro, via Amazon (C) 2017 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

In addition to his red-bladed lightsaber and a flowing black cape made out of fabric, the Darth Vader figure – especially made for this release – came with a display stand and a reversible back card evocative of Kenner Toys’ 1977 Collector’s Stand from the 1977 Christmas season. The artwork on the double-sided backdrop originally appeared 43 years ago and some of its elements were used in Kenner’s marketing materials for the 12 original “micro-action figures” that – belatedly – hit stores early in 1978.  

Start or expand your own collection with a 40th Anniversary Legacy Pack and have fabulous fun reliving the movie Star Wars!

Darth Vader (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) and Legacy Pack was first revealed at the 114th North American International Toy Fair on February 18, 2017 in Hasbro’s showroom in the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York. Unlike many of its fellow Star Wars The Black Series 40th Anniversary figures, this version of Darth Vader was all-new. According to Rebelscum.com, one of the original prototype figures – dubbed “Red Eye” due to the bright red color of the Dark Lord’s eye lenses – was first made on December 30, 2016; production figures feature lenses on Vader’s skull-like breath mask with subtler red coloring.

Darth Vader

A grim, forbidding figure, Darth Vader stalks the corridors of the Imperial Navy. Once regarded as mad human wreckage, with the increasing favor of the Emperor, Vader has risen in power and influence to become a much-feared military commander. – Star Wars: The Complete Visual Dictionary, 2008 edition

“I find your lack of faith disturbing.”

Lord Darth Vader is, of course, the central character of writer-director George Lucas’ first two trilogies in what is now called the Skywalker Saga. Strong in the Force and born as Anakin Skywalker to a slave named Shmi Skywalker, he was discovered as a nine-year-old boy by Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn on the desert world Tatooine. In a series of events that transform the galaxy, young Anakin – well-meaning but strong-willed and often angry – trained as a Jedi Knight under the tutelage of Obi-Wan Kenobi. However, unbeknown to the Jedi, Anakin also fell under the influence of Sheev Palpatine, an evil Dark Lord whose Sith name was Darth Sidious.

Using Anakin’s weaknesses against him – especially young Skywalker’s forbidden marriage to Padme Amidala and his possessive nature – Sidious turned the gifted but troubled Jedi against his comrades during the last days of the Clone Wars. Through clever manipulation and Anakin’s visions of his wife’s death, Palpatine turned the Jedi hero into his fearsome agent, Darth Vader – and into a weapon against the Jedi, including Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Young Vader’s transformation from Jedi hero to Sith Lord became complete when, after a fateful duel with Kenobi on the volcanic world Mustafar, the veteran Jedi Master left the former Anakin Skywalker maimed, horribly burned, and nearly dead. Scarred inside and out and filled with hate and resentment, Vader was transformed into a black-armored cyborg and survived to become Emperor Palpatine’s chief enforcer.

Publicity photo of the Legacy Pack with the carded Darth Vader (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) figure visible through the “window” on the box’s left side. Note 1977-era illustration from Kenner’s 1977 “Empty Box” campaign. Photo Credit: Hasbro, via Amazon

In the original Star Wars Trilogy – A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi – Vader is the most public symbol of Emperor Palpatine’s evil and fascistic New Order. Wielding a dark version of the lightsaber he once used as a Jedi, Vader is clad in a life-supporting suit of armor without which he can’t survive. It consists of:

  • A skull-like breath mask with a locking helmet
  • Vision enhancing receptors
  • A voice projector/respiratory intake
  • Armored breastplate
  • Control chest plate
  • A multifunction belt that aids in the control of the suit’s life support equipment
  • Cybernetic limbs: the legs are covered with boots, armored shin guards, and ribbed multi-ply trousers
  • Armored gauntlets
  • A flowing black cape

Darth Vader’s iconic armor and breath mask was originally designed by conceptual artist Ralph McQuarrie and refined by Oscar-winning costume designer John Mollo. Inspired by Japanese samurai helmets and – more overtly – Nazi German iconography, Vader’s look is both menacing and memorable. His image – especially the recognizable helmet-and-breath mask that make Vader the most recognizable screen villain in cinema – was a visual element in four of the Skywalker Saga movie’s posters, and the melted-in-the-funeral pyre-at-Endor version has been seen in the Sequel Trilogy, especially in The Force Awakens and The Rise of Skywalker.

Original 1978 Darth Vader micro-action figure from Kenner. Photo Credit: vintageactionfigures.com

Of course, when Cincinnati-based Kenner Toys acquired the licensing rights to make toys and games based on Star Wars, Darth Vader was among the first characters to get a figure, both in the 12-inch action figure size as well as the 3.75-inch scale sized “micro-action figures.

What’s in the Box?

Start or expand your own collection with a 40th Anniversary Legacy Pack and have fabulous fun reliving the movie Star Wars! This Legacy Pack features a display stand with backcard to showcase the 40th Anniversary figures (each sold separately). – Packaging blurb, Star Wars The Black Series Darth Vader (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) and Legacy Pack

Photo Credit: Hasbro, via Amazon (C) 2017 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Introduced in stores in April of 2017, Star Wars The Black Series Darth Vader (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) and Legacy Pack is a two-in-one ticket to Nostalgia Land in a one-pound box that measures 2.13 x 16.89 x 11.26 inches.

Inspired by 1977 Star Wars Early Bird Certificate Package[2]

Since 1977, Star Wars has captured the hearts of millions with iconic characters, impressive vehicles, and a galaxy of stories that has passed the test of time over and over again. Celebrate the legacy of Star Wars: A New Hope with this 40th Anniversary Legacy Pack, inspired by the 1977 Star Wars Early Bird Certificate package and featuring a vintage-inspired Darth Vader figure.

This 2.13 x 16.89 x 11.26 package has a MSRP of $39.99 and, although it’s obviously not an exact replica of the Early Bird Certificate box, it bears the iconic 1977-era indicia of Kenner Toys (which was absorbed by Hasbro in the 1990s), including the silver-on-black Star Wars logo, the Luke-and-Leia “hero” graphic,  a Kenner artist’s rendition of the “Original Dozen” characters that were “figure-ized” in 1978, and the blue and white logo of Kenner Toys.

The Star Wars: 40th Anniversary Legacy Pack comes with a 6-inch premium Darth Vader figure as well as a reversible backdrop and display stand for all other 40th Anniversary 6-inch figures. Collect all 40th Anniversary 6-inch figures to complete the display! (Additional figures each sold separately. Subject to availability). – Hasbro product blurb, Star Wars The Black Series Darth Vader (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) and Legacy Pack

The Star Wars The Black Series Darth Vader (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) and Legacy Pack comes with:

  • Darth Vader Special Edition action figure
  • Lightsaber (with detachable blade)
  • Display base (four pieces)
  • Reversible backcard
  • Backdrop border (3 pieces)
  • Nameplate
  • Star Wars logo sticker
  • Instructions

My Take

The finished Star Wars 40th Anniversary Legacy Pack stand (with Darth Vader and friends…and foes!) Note the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Poster above the stand and figures. Photo Credit: Author’s collection

As a Star Wars collector, I’ve had many action figures based on Darth Vader since I started buying my own collectibles in the summer of 1978. The first one, of course, was the Kenner micro-action figure with the telescoping lightsaber. That was probably the second or third figure I bought[3] in my first trip to Lionel Play-World, to counterbalance the preponderance of Rebel figures in my collection. Since then, I’ve either bought or been given countless figures of Star Wars tragic baddie, including one 12-inch scale figure that came – along with Darth Maul –  in the Power of the Jedi 2-figure set Sith Lords.

I received Darth Vader (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) and Legacy Pack as one of several Star Wars-themed gifts for Christmas almost three years ago. At the time, I had no intention of returning to the world of Star Wars collecting; my life was going through some changes after my mother’s final illness and death two years before, and I don’t have the storage/display space that I used to have in my former home in South Florida.[4]

Of course, I was bowled over by my new Star Wars The Black Series Darth Vader (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) and Legacy Pack. I don’t go to department stores or toy stores on a regular basis – another effect of the life changes I’ve experienced since the Summer of 2015 – so I had no idea that (a) Star Wars The Black Series had 6-inch action figures, or(b) that Star Wars The Black Series Darth Vader (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) and Legacy Pack existed.

Naturally, when I saw the Legacy Pack’s blurb that there were other 40th Anniversary figures available, I decided to get the 11 remaining figures as soon as possible. Even with online shopping, enough disposable money in my bank account, and an understanding friend who encouraged me to do so, this was neither easy nor cheap.[5]

My Star Wars The Black Series Darth Vader (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) and Legacy Pack on a floating shelf. Photo Credit: Author’s collection

The original plan back in late 2017/early 2018 was to get a floating shelf on which to display my Star Wars The Black Series Darth Vader (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) and Legacy Pack and have it on my study’s wall by my birthday in March of 2018. Life, however, got complicated and we had to put all of the stuff in storage until this week.

So, what can I tell you about Star Wars The Black Series Darth Vader (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) and Legacy Pack?

Well, the action figure is impressive for an item that falls in the nebulous space between “kid’s toy” and “true collectible.”  Technically, the figure is a toy. It’s made for active play by kids aged 4 years and up, so it has many features (multiple points of articulation, removable cape, a lightsaber with a removable “blade”) that a “collectible” targeted at adult collectors simply does not need.

On the other hand, Hasbro clearly understands that while kids – especially ones who are growing with the Sequel Trilogy as their generation’s Star Wars story – will ask for or receive as gifts Star Wars The Black Series, a large percentage of the figures will be bought by folks like me – kids who saw Star Wars: A New Hope in theaters when it was titled simply as Star Wars in theaters back in the 1970s.     

Photo Credit: Hasbro, via Amazon (C) 2017 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

As a result, Darth Vader’s 6-inch figure is, as the Dark Lord himself might say, “Impressive. Most impressive.”

First, the sculpt and paint job on this Special Edition Darth Vader are superb. The figure bears a striking resemblance to the menacing armored villain as he appeared In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Every detail – from the top of Vader’s Nazi-style helmet to the tips of his armored black boots – looks authentic, as if Hasbro had scanned the Jedi-turned-Sith Lord from a sequence in the film and magically turned the image into a Star Wars figure.

The black cape, as I mentioned earlier, is made from black fabric and is removable – though I can’t imagine doing that to my Star Wars The Black Series Darth Vader (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) figure.

In comparison to its smaller and less posable Kenner Darth Vader equivalent and its five basic points of articulation (POAs), Star Wars The Black Series Darth Vader (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) has at least 14 POAs. These are:

  • Neck  (1)
  • Shoulders (2)
  • Elbows (2)
  • Wrists (2)
  • Waist (1)
  • Hips (2)
  • Knees (2)
  • Ankles (2)

This, of course, allows collectors (or kids, or kids who are collectors) to pose their Darth Vader action figure in more life-like action stances, including having the Dark Lord of the Sith hold his red-bladed Sith lightsaber in both hands.  The original 1978 figure’s weapon was built into the figure’s right arm and telescoped in and out to simulate – roughly-  how a lightsaber “works” in the movies. That meant that the three figures with built-in lightsabers – Luke Skywalker, Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi, and Darth Vader could only “hold” their weapons in one-handed grips, even though the movies and most posters show them with lightsabers in two-handed stances. (Even this figure’s cardback illustration shows Vader holding a lightsaber with both hands.)

While the figure is beautifully made, looks awesome, and can be posed realistically, it’s not easy to put the lightsaber in Vader’s hand (or hands). It takes a patient, let’s-not-rush-this approach and a great deal of dexterity to do so.

As for the Legacy Stand?

A shot of the Legacy Pack’s stand backcard art. It’s the “reverse” side of my stand; I think the art is nice, but it would compete with the figures if used as the front illustration. Photo Credit: Author’s collection.

It is visually attractive, but as the “voice-of-God” announcers always said in the TV commercials for Kenner’s  Star Wars playsets, “you have to put it together.” It comes in several different components (which I’ve listed in the What’s In the Box? section), and though it comes with a set of instructions, it also requires a good bit of spare time, patience, good lighting, a quiet work area, and a steady hand.

I didn’t put it together; my dexterity is not good enough for a task that involves snapping pieces together and placing a sticker in the indicated area. My friend did that for me after her workday ended.

It took her a few hours – she not only had to deal with assembling the Legacy Pack, but she also had to open each figure’s carded blister pack without damaging it, then ask me which weapon or accessory each figure should hold (and which extra accessories would go into storage).  She accomplished her mission, but she says that Hasbro should have made the display base larger; she things that the figures are packed too close together on the Legacy Pack stand and are thus difficult to put in the small space allotted to each figure.

Jar Jar photobombs the finished display! Photo Credit: Author’s collection

However, the finished product looks nice on its floating shelf in my study. I decided to complement the “Original 12” with Star Wars The Black Series figures of Supreme Leader Snoke and Emperor Palpatine. (See the photo we took of the finished display; I think it looks cool!) It took a great deal of time and effort on the part of my friend, but after two and a half years of waiting and planning,  her hard work had great results.

Well, this brings us to the close of another long  Star Wars The Black Series product review. I enjoyed writing it and doing research on the Early Bird Certificate campaign, plus it’s fun to compare the new Hasbro collectibles to their Kenner predecessors. And, of course,  I hope you have fun reading this.

So, until next time, Dear Reader, May the Force be with you, and I’ll catch you on the sunny side of things.

[1] Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia Organa, Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi, Artoo Detoo (R2-D2) and Death Squad Commander. The rest were available after July of that year.

[2] As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog post, Kenner was caught off-guard by the success of Star Wars at the box office. Conventional wisdom held that like most sci-fi or fantasy films before it, Star Wars would be popular for two weeks at most, then fade out of the public’s radar after a while. So when that space-fantasy set “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” became a cultural phenomenon as well as the biggest box office hit up to that time, Kenner had not started mass production of its Star Wars products.

As a result, there weren’t any Star Wars figures or vehicles ready for the 1977 Christmas shopping season. Kenner had to offer kids and collectors something, so the marketing department came up with the Early Bird Certificate Package, aka The Empty Box Campaign. In essence, the first Kenner Star Wars product was, well, a box. This is how the Kenner retailer’s catalog put it:


An opportunity to profit from pre-Christmas sales of the first action figures modeled after the stars of the smash hit movie, STAR WARS. The special display envelope package contains: colorful STAR WARS picture display stand; Early Bird Certificate which is a postage paid order card good for four authentically detailed action figures modeled after the stars of STAR WARS; special STAR WARS club membership card and full color STAR WARS stickers. The certificate package is designed to be sold prior to December 31, 1977. Ages 4 and up. (Source: Early Bird Certificate Package, theswca.com

My family was in the process of moving from a small apartment in Sweetwater, Florida to a new townhouse in Miami-Dade County’s Fountainbleau Park area, and I wasn’t aware of the Early Bird Certificate until I watched Empire of Dreams: The Making of the Star Wars Trilogy on the Bonus Disc of 2004’s The Star Wars Trilogy DVD box set.

[3] The first figures I acquired, Artoo Detoo (R2-D2) and See Threepio (C-3PO) were gifts, as was my original Landspeeder vehicle . Please see the footnote in my Luke Skywalker (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) action figure review.

[4] I also didn’t want to get addicted to buying the new Star Wars The Black Series figures; collecting is a fun hobby and certainly preferable to, say, buying illicit drugs in the bad side of Anytown, USA. (In fact, the one time that my mom ever raised an objection into how I spent my allowance as a 15-year-old, my reply was, “Well, at least I’m not secretly buying beer or getting drugs!”).  But as any serious collector of anything can attest to, you do get a rush when you find – and acquire – a new addition to your collection.

So far, I’ve managed to keep this collection reined in and I don’t buy everything I see at a store or on Amazon. But sometimes I do treat myself to a few Star Wars collectibles.

[5] All in all, between the 11 figures, the floating shelf, and the Star Wars The Black Series Darth Vader (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) and Legacy Pack Star Wars The Black Series Darth Vader (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) and Legacy Pack (MSRP $39.99), we spent close to $350.)

Thoughts on a Rainy Wednesday Afternoon: June 10, 2020

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Midweek Musings

Well, it’s late afternoon on Wednesday, June 10 as I sit in my corner of Florida and finally get started on a blog post. I usually start working on my blogs – either here or on Blogger – in the morning, but today…not so much. I woke up tired and foggy-brained – a classic case of going to bed too late and having to get up too early.[1] I had a light breakfast and a cup of coffee before 8 AM, and two hot dogs for lunch around noon, but I still don’t have the stamina or the clear head I need for a blog post with substance, i.e. a review or essay.

I had planned to write another review of a Hasbro Star Wars The Black Series figure, or at least that’s the last thing I remember consciously thinking before hitting the sack. We’re finally – after two and-a-half years – putting together the Star Wars 40th Anniversary Legacy Stand that came with a Hasbro Darth Vader (Special Edition) figure I received as a gift during the Christmas 2017 season. I’m not going to bore you with the plethora of reasons why we’re getting around to it almost three years later, suffice it to say that life got complicated between then and now – and that the important thing is that it’s getting done.

Yesterday, for instance, my friend installed a floating shelf from Ikea onto one of the walls in my study. We bought it – yep, shortly after the 2017 Christmas season – to display the Star Wars 40th Anniversary Legacy Stand and its 12 Star Wars The Black Series six-inch figures[2]. Right now, the floating shelf – or, as I once referred to it, a “flying shelf” – is almost bare; my friend was tired from a long day at work, so she forgot about the Star Wars 40th Anniversary Legacy Stand, carefully removed Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi from his “Kenner” cardback package, and placed him on the shelf. The figure looks cool, of course, but kind of lonely, and my friend – after I reminded her that the Darth Vader (Special Edition) figure came with a Star Wars 40th Anniversary Legacy Stand promised she’d assemble it for me today.

Promo photo of the Star Wars 40th Anniversary Legacy Stand. Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2017 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

She started working on the assembly of the display stand during her lunch break; so far, the base where the figures will eventually “stand’ has been assembled. We chose the art for the backdrop that attaches to the base – we had a choice of a “Battle Over the Death Star” scene or a replica of a Kenner illustration depicting stylized renditions of the 12 characters represented by the original Kenner Twelve that were announced during the infamous Early Bird “Empty Box” campaign of Christmas 1978.[3]

We went with the Death Star battle backdrop for two reasons.

First, it’s a dynamic illustration that depicts an Imperial TIE Fighter pursuing a Rebel X-Wing fighter above a stylized depiction of the Death Star while two other X-Wings fly off in the distance, presumably to attack the Empire’s menacing battle station. It’s evocative of the late 1970s; the Death Star looks a little bit like a disco ball in space, and the main illustration is loosely based on what I think is one of the few stills 20th Century Fox released in 1977 derived from the Battle of Yavin.

Second, while the “12 Characters” illustration, created for the “Empty Box” campaign and later used in Kenner promotional materials for the “micro-action figures, including as art on the cardbacks’ reverse side, is a nice one, it does compete with the figures that will be on the stand.

Looking at the Star Wars 40th Anniversary Legacy Stand parts where they lie – on top of the kitchen’s “island’ countertop – I am guessing that all that remains to be done is the assembly of the frame for the backdrop, and voila! The figures can be placed on their supporting pegs, which “mate” with corresponding holes in the figures’ feet.

Unfortunately, my friend’s lunch break is only one hour long, and she has other things to do besides building display stands for Star Wars figures, so she will finish assembling the frame for the backdrop later.

Photo by the author.

As for me, other than writing this post, I have basically taken it easy on this second Wednesday in June. I read a little, checked my Facebook account for updates about my friends and the world in general, and played – intermittently – a few turns of Strategic Command – WWII: World at War. And even though – as I write this –  it’s now nearly 5:30 PM,  I’m still a bit punchy and in no shape to write any kind of review.

Maybe tomorrow!

[1] I have no idea at what time I went to bed. Definitely after midnight, though; the last time I checked the clock on our microwave oven, it was 12:42 AM. I dozed off trying to watch some episodes of Star Wars Rebels on the Blu-ray player after I looked at the clock, so I’m guessing I dragged myself to bed around 1:30 AM. Just a guess, though.

[2] In addition to Darth Vader, the stand will display Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia Organa, Han Solo, Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi, Death Squad Commander, Stormtrooper, Chewbacca, Tusken Raider (Sand People), Jawa, See Threepio (C-3PO), and Artoo Detoo (R2-D2). Hasbro chose those figures in an homage to the original “Kenner Twelve” released in 1978.

[3] It’s easy to forget in these days when Star Wars has been part of our cultural DNA for over 40 years, but when George Lucas was searching for potential licensees to make toys, posters, and other merchandising stuff that 20th Century Fox wasn’t keen on back in 1976, Kenner Toys of Cincinnati (OH) was one of the few toy companies that wanted in on the deal with Lucas’s The Star Wars Corporation. But Kenner didn’t anticipate the demand for Star Wars toys – the film had been forecast to become a modestly-successful performer at the box office, not a cultural phenomenon, so even though it already had designed some action figures, vehicles, creatures – including the Patrol Dewback, mass production of Star Wars toys hadn’t yet begun when the movie morphed into a blockbuster that soon rivaled the success of 1975’s Jaws. Knowing that the first huge batches of figures, X-Wings, TIE Fighters and Landspeeders wouldn’t be in stores till after Christmas, Kenner sold collectible packaging with stands – along the lines of the Star Wars 40th Anniversary Legacy Stand but smaller – with certificates one would fill out and mail in order to get some of the first 12 figures. Thus, this marketing effort entered the history books as the “Empty Box” campaign.  

‘Star Wars’ Collectibles & Toys Review: Star Wars The Black Series Luke Skywalker (Star Wars 40th Anniversary Figure)

Luke Skywalker (Star Wars 40th Anniversary Figure) repackages Hasbro’s Star Wars The Black Series: Luke Skywalker #21 from 2016 in a “Kenner” cardback based on the original 3.75-inch micro-action figure’s 1978 packaging. Photo Credit: Hasbro via Walmart. (C) 2017 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm, Ltd. (LFL)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

From Farm Boy to Hero of the Rebellion

In the spring of 2017, in anticipation of the 40th Anniversary of the theatrical premiere of George Lucas’s Star Wars (aka Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope), Hasbro, Inc. of Pawtucket (RI) released its first wave of Star Wars The Black Series 40th Anniversary 6-inch scale action figures with “Kenner” branded cardback packaging based on the packages for the original 1978 Star Wars “micro-action figures”  

Introduced in Hasbro’s exhibit area at the 2017 International Toy Fair, the first batch of Star Wars 40th Anniversary figures included Princess Leia Organa, Han Solo, See Threepio, Artoo Detoo, and a young moisture farmer-turned-Rebel named Luke Skywalker.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s review of the Princess Leia Organa (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) figure, most of the figures in this consignment are repackaged items from Star Wars The Black Series’ 2016 production run. In this case, Luke Skywalker (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) is actually a reissue of the Luke Skywalker (#21) figure but in a slightly modified replica of the “12 Cardback” package used for 1978’s Luke Skywalker, the first of the original wave of 12 3.75-inch scale figures.

Accordingly, this Star Wars 40th Anniversary collectible is a 6-inch scale rendition of the original Star Wars Trilogy’s protagonist dressed in his iconic Tatooine farmer’s outfit and equipped with his father Anakin’s lightsaber and a set of macrobinoculars.

What’s in the Package?

Photo Credit: Hasbro via Walmart. (C) 2017 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Luke Skywalker

A young farmboy living on the remote desert planet Tatooine, Luke Skywalker yearns to escape the dull routine of his daily chores on his uncle’s moisture farm. Luke dreams of becoming a space pilot, but is torn between his desire to enroll in the Academy and his loyalty to his uncle and aunt, who need him on the farm. When Luke discovers a cryptic message hidden in one of his new droids, he sets out on a quest and is catapulted into a world of adventure which will at last fulfill his true destiny. – Star Wars: The Complete Visual Dictionary

In Star Wars: A New Hope, Luke lives with his Uncle Owen Lars and Aunt Beru in a remote homestead some distance away from the town of Anchorhead and Mos Eisley Spaceport. To work and live in the inhospitable desert of Tatooine, the moisture farmers and other residents must wear comfortable clothing that reflects the twin suns’ light and keeps the body cool. Luke’s clothing reflects these exigencies of the desert climate, so he wears a loose-fitting white farm tunic, light-colored pants, leggings to keep the ever-present Tatooine sand out of his shoes, and work boots with grip soles.

Luke also wears a belt with pouches and hooks for various items, including survival gear, a droid caller to summon any of the droids on the homestead – including Artoo Detoo and See Threepio – and (eventually) a belt clip to attach an unexpected heirloom – his father’s lightsaber.   All of this is reflected in Hasbro’s Star Wars The Black Series Luke Skywalker (Star Wars 40th Anniversary Figure).

This figure is, as described earlier, a reissue of Hasbro’s Star Wars The Black Series Luke Skywalker (#21), which depicts the character played in six of the Skywalker Saga films (and two Radio Dramas!) by actor Mark Hamill as he appears throughout much of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Luke is outfitted with the following articles of clothing and accessories:

  • Tatooine farm tunic (made of fabric)
  • Light pants
  • Sandproof leggings
  • Footgear with grip soles
  • Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber (with detachable “energy blade”)
  • Set of macrobinoculars

A Closer Look at Luke Skywalker (Star Wars 40th Anniversary Figure)

Although this Hasbro action figure is a linear descendant of Kenner Toys’ original 1978 Luke Skywalker #1 micro-action figure – the 40th Anniversary variant even comes in a “cardback” bubble pack with Kenner indicia and the same art and Star Wars collection logo used for that 3.75-inch figure – it is a vastly different product altogether.

First, the Luke Skywalker (Star Wars 40th Anniversary Figure) is rendered in a larger size – 6-inch scale, to be precise. This allows Hasbro to add many features that Kenner Toys – a former rival that the company absorbed in a merger in the 1990s – simply couldn’t give its 1978-1985 figures at the time.

This well-preserved specimen of Kenner’s Luke Skywalker #1 from 1978 was sold by online store Brian’s Toys for $700. Someone with deep pockets bought it. Photo Credit: Brian’s Toys.

Advances in toymaking tech – especially computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM) methods – gives Hasbro the ability to create action figures with better sculpts and paint jobs. As a result, Star Wars figures now more closely resemble the human, non-human, and robotic characters from the films and TV shows than the original Kenner figures ever could.

Second, because most of Hasbro’s consumers of Star Wars figures, vehicles, and other collectibles are adult fans and collectors, the company puts a lot of effort into making character-based products as realistic and lifelike as possible.

In order to give Luke Skywalker (Star Wars 40th Anniversary Figure) – which was originally released as Star Wars The Black Series Luke Skywalker (#21)  these desirable traits, Hasbro not only tried hard to make the sculpt and paint job on the figure so good that it looks like the then-24-year-old Mark Hamill. And for the most part, it does, especially if you make the – unfair, I know – comparison to Kenner’s original Luke Skywalker #1 from 42 years ago.

Promotional photo of the original Star Wars The Black Series Luke Skywalker #21 figure from 2016; in April of 2017 Hasbro re-issued the same figure in “Kenner” branded cardback packaging for Star Wars’ 40th Anniversary. Photo Credit: Hasbro (via Amazon). (C) 2016 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

For instance, where Kenner used a too-bright yellow color for Luke’s late-1970s shaggy hairstyle in at least two iterations of the farmboy-turned-Rebel-and-Jedi (Luke Skywalker and Luke Skywalker (Bespin Fatigues), Hasbro has used – for the longest time – a paint color that approximates Mark Hamill’s dirty blond hair color. The skin color on Luke-based figures is also more lifelike, and whereas Kenner never could give its 3.75-inch scale human figures accurately colored pupils, Hasbro has been doing so since at least its late 1990s Power of the Force 2 collection. (To be fair, Kenner could, and did, give its 12-inch line of Star Wars figures that kind of verisimilitude back in the 1970s, but that’s because the larger size makes that task easier.)

Photo Credit: Hasbro via Walmart. (C) 2017 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm, Ltd. (LFL)

And if you look at the figure closely (either still in its cardback or loose), you’ll notice that the 21st Century Star Wars The Black Series Luke Skywalker gets the details of Luke’s Tatooine farmer’s outfit right, too.  The white tunic – which symbolizes the character’s naivete and innocence at the start of his “hero’s journey” – is made of fabric and cinched at the waist by Luke’s survival gear belt.

Luke’s light-colored work pants, sandproof leggings, and grip-soled boots have a lighter, less monochromatic shade of beige-grey compared to Kenner’s dark-tan coloring for that part of the figure’s outfit. The only commonality, function-wise, between the newer figure and the 1978 original’s paint and sculpt job is that both simulate various articles of clothing and footwear via molds and paint rather than use fabric for the pants and leggings.  The 1978 micro-action figure was cool for its time (and I wouldn’t part with mine in any case), but this one looks way cooler.

Again, it’s unfair to compare the new with the old due to the fact that as time has passed, the look of toys – especially those that are sought after by avid fans of a franchise such as Star Wars – has evolved in tandem with toymaking tech and methodology.  So it stands to reason that this version of Luke Skywalker is closer to the character’s look than its Kenner ancestor.

Hasbro also makes it easier to place the figures in more lifelike poses by incorporating at least 12 points of articulation (POAs) – which are analogous to joints in human anatomy, such as the neck, elbows, wrists, hips, etc. –  in human or humanoid character-based action figures. In the “early age” of Kenner action figures, especially its famous 3.75-inch figures, Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Stormtrooper, Chewbacca et al had five – sometimes less – POAs. (Chewie and Imperial stormtroopers lacked a neck POA to turn their heads!)

Hasbro’s Star Wars The Black Series Luke Skywalker (#21) – or, in this case, its 2017 Luke Skywalker (Star Wars 40th Anniversary Figure) incarnation boasts at least 13 POAs, most of which are hidden by Luke’s Tatooine tunic. These points of articulation are:

  • Neck  (1)
  • Shoulders (2)
  • Elbows (2)
  • Wrists (2)
  • Waist (1)
  • Hips (2)
  • Knees (2)
  • Ankles (2)

By my count, Luke Skywalker (Star Wars 40th Anniversary Figure) boasts 14 points of articulation.


Casting aside his humdrum life on Tatooine in favor of galactic adventure, Luke Skywalker learns the ways of the Force under Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi and quickly ascends to Rebel leader. – Packaging blurb, Star Wars The Black Series Luke Skywalker #21 (the original version of this figure)

No discussion of a Hasbro Star Wars action figure is complete without a look at the accessories that come in the package, so let’s see what Luke Skywalker (Star Wars 40th Anniversary Figure) is equipped with.

In contrast to its Kenner Toys counterpart from 1978 – which only came with a permanently-attached lightsaber with a telescoping yellow blade – Luke Skywalker (Star Wars 40th Anniversary Figure) is lavishly equipped in comparison.

Yes, the 21st Century Luke Skywalker (Star Wars 40th Anniversary Figure) also comes with a lightsaber, but this one is not “built into the figure” but is a separate accessory with fine black and silver detailing on the handle and even has a red activation button. The lightsaber hilt even has a small hook that attaches to Luke’s utility belt. The “blade” is made of translucent blue plastic that resembles the energy blade of the “Skywalker lightsaber” and can be detached so that the “deactivated” Jedi weapon can hang from Luke’s belt clip.

Photo Credit: Hasbro via Walmart. (C) 2017 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

The other accessory in the Luke Skywalker (Star Wars 40th Anniversary Figure) package is a replica of Luke’s macrobinoculars. The figure can hold this high-tech optical device in one- or two-handed grips to make the figure appear as though he’s looking for a particular runaway astromech droid or a space battle just beyond Tatooine’s atmosphere. The “binocs” are painted black with silver detailing to simulate metallic parts of Luke’s vision-enhancing gear. They, too, can be attached to the clip on the figure’s utility belt.

The fabric tunic, I suppose, is an accessory and can be removed, although I’d only recommend doing so to carefully wash it if the figure gets dirty.

My Take

Photo Credit:Walmart. (C) 2017 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

When I began collecting Star Wars figures back in 1978, the first figures I bought with my own money was Kenner’s Luke Skywalker #1, Princess Leia, Darth Vader, and Han Solo.[1]  I used to earn a weekly allowance of $15 by doing chores around the house, and because Kenner figures had a MSRP of around $2.69 at the time, I was able to, as the cardback with the Star Wars figure checklist used to say, collect all 12 by year’s end, as well as the original X-Wing Fighter[2] and the Imperial TIE Fighter.

Luke was my favorite character at the time, and he is the protagonist of the Original Trilogy, so it is logical that his figure would be at the top of my “To Buy” list. And since I was 15 when I started collecting Star Wars stuff, I was aware of the figure’s strengths and weaknesses.

Like most of the figures from the Kenner Toys period, Luke Skywalker #1 looked best – from a collector’s point of view, at least – as a static displayable on the figure stands that were an integral part of the 1979-era Micro-Action Figure’s Collector’s Case or seated, with the Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi, See Threepio, and Artoo Detoo action figures on the Landspeeder. At most, I sometimes placed the figure next to – but not in – my then-new X-Wing Fighter; I was too old at 15 years of age to use my imagination and “pretend” that Luke was in his Rebel-issue flight suit when I created static displays with my collectibles.

As I wrote earlier, the problem was that Kenner’s Star Wars figures and vehicles lacked the realism  and authentic details that Hasbro’s 21st Century products have. First, Kenner wasn’t targeting its Star Wars toys to teens and adults. Look at any Kenner Star Wars product commercial from the period and what do you see? Child actors – boys usually – under the age of 12, gleefully creating their own Star Wars adventures with the figures or vehicles being shilled in the ads.

Second – and I’ve already discussed this in great detail in the sections above – even if Kenner did have the collector’s market in mind, the technology simply wasn’t there in the late 1970s and early 1980s to make Star Wars The Black Series-style action figures.

So even though I loved collecting the figures and setting them in rather impressive static displays that hardly anyone ever saw – I wasn’t friendless by any stretch of the imagination, but I didn’t have any close friends in East Wind Lake Village, and I rarely had any social gatherings at the house in any event – in the back of my mind I always thought that the figures did have their limitations. (I’ve always thought this is an interesting dichotomy – I was an avid collector, but I always wished that the figures would, well, look better.)

I’ve written elsewhere about why I started collecting, albeit in a deliberately limited fashion, the new Star Wars The Black Series figures, so I won’t repeat myself here. Suffice it to say that I bought this Luke Skywalker (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) figure and 10 other figures in December of 2017 to complement the Darth Vader (Star Wars 40th Anniversary Figure with Legacy Stand) that I received from a friend that Christmas.

The display stand that started it all…. Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2017 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

I think that even though Hasbro’s Star Wars The Black Series Luke Skywalker #21/ Luke Skywalker (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) doesn’t quite pull off the “Hey, this figure really looks a lot like Mark Hamill!” trick – the facial details aren’t 100% accurate, even though the hair and eye coloring are right – it’s still worth displaying on that Star Wars 40th Anniversary Legacy Stand, along with Princess Leia Organa, Han Solo, Death Squad Commander, Tusken Raider, Jawa, and the rest of “The Original Dozen.”

I will probably regret having to open the Star Wars 40th Anniversary “Kenner” cardback packaging. I think nostalgia is one of the big “draws” that these figures have for collectors, especially those of us who are in our fifties but still remember Star Wars as one of those Big Cultural Events that happened when we were adolescents or almost-adolescents.  One of the reasons why I was so bowled over when my friend gave me the Darth Vader (Star Wars 40th Anniversary Figure with Legacy Stand)  set was the feeling of “Wowser! This is way cool!” when I saw, peeking from the box’s front panel “window”  the old-school Kenner cardback style packaging.  

Anyway, this is one cool and exciting figure from Hasbro’s successful Star Wars The Black Series collection. I suppose I’m a sucker for Star Wars and/or nostalgia for my (somewhat) misspent youth, but I am impressed by the attention to detail Hasbro lavished on the figure and its accessories. I like the the fact that the tunic, at least, is made of fabric, and that it comes with two authentic-looking accessories from Star Wars: A New Hope.

Well, this brings us to the close of another Star Wars The Black Series action figure review. I enjoyed writing it and reminiscing about my older figure, and I hope you have fun reading this.

So, until next time, Dear Reader, May the Force be with you, and I’ll catch you on the sunny side of things.

[1] The first Star Wars figures I acquired were given to me as birthday presents by Chuck and Sheila Blanchard, who had been our neighbors in Westchester from the late summer of 1972 to September of 1977, which is when Mom sold our house on SW 102nd Avenue and bought a brand-new townhouse in a new section of Fountainbleau Park called East Wind Lake Village. Their sons Robert and Patrick were friends of mine (Patrick more so than Robert), and since Chuck and Sheila knew I was a Star Wars fan, they gave me the original Kenner Landspeeder vehicle and two action figures, See Threepio (C-3PO) and Artoo Detoo (R2-D2).

[2] A gift from my late maternal grandmother, “Tata.”

‘Star Wars’ Collectibles & Toys Review: Star Wars The Black Series Princess Leia Organa (Star Wars 40th Anniversary Figure)

Photo Credit; Hasbro. (C) 2017 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Princess, Diplomat, and Rebel Fighter

On April 21, 2017, Hasbro, Inc. of Pawtucket, RI released Princess Leia Organa (Star Wars 40th Anniversary), one of an initial series of 12 Star Wars The Black Series 6-inch scale action figures sold in “Kenner” branded packaging based on the original 1978 cardbacks used for Kenner Toys’ 3.75-inch scale “micro-action figures”). Designed and marketed to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of writer-director George Lucas’s original Star Wars (aka Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope), this initial wave included:

  • Luke Skywalker
  • Han Solo
  • Chewbacca
  • Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi
  • Artoo Detoo
  • See Threepio
  • Jawa
  • Sand People (Tusken Raider)
  • Stormtrooper
  • Death Squad Commander
  • Darth Vader (with 40th Anniversary Legacy Display Stand)

In most cases, the 40th Anniversary figures were repackaged versions of existing Star Wars The Black Series figures from 2016, and at least one (Death Squad Commander) used Kenner’s original product name from 1978 instead of the more canonical Death Star Trooper. Princess Leia Organa, however, was a revised version Star Wars The Black Series #30; the 40th Anniversary figure uses the same body and includes the fabric replica of Leia’s hooded Alderaanian Senatorial gown, her small sporting blaster, and the E-11 Imperial blaster she uses aboard the Death Star when she escapes from that Imperial battle station with help from Luke, Han, Chewie, Artoo Detoo and See Threepio. However, Hasbro was not happy with the sculpt of the head on Princess Leia Organa (#30), so the Kenner cardback figure features a new-and-improved head with features that more closely resemble the late Carrie Fisher as she appeared in the 1977 Star Wars film.

What’s in the Package?

Princess Leia Organa (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) , released by Hasbro in April of 2017, is an updated version of a Star Wars The Black Series figure released a year earlier. Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2017 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Kids and fans alike can imagine the biggest battles and missions in the Star Wars saga with figures from The Black Series! With exquisite features and decoration, this series embodies the quality and realism that Star Wars devotees love. Celebrate 40 incredible years of Star Wars action and adventure with vintage Star Wars figures, featuring classic design and packaging. – Manufacturer’s product description, Princess Leia Organa (Star Wars 40th Anniversary figure)

The 2017 figure – as I mentioned earlier – is a slightly different version of 2016’s Star Wars The Black Series Princess Leia Organa (#30). Slightly smaller than, say, Luke Skywalker or Han Solo at 5.25 inches in height (Carrie Fisher was also not as tall as either Harrison Ford or Mark Hamill), the figure represents the Senator/Princess from Alderaan as she appears throughout much of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. The figure is clad in a replica of Leia’s white gown, which is the traditional outfit worn by members of Alderaan’s Royal Family. Based on the Academy Award-winning costume design by John Mollo, Leia’s hooded gown is made out of fabric and fastened to the figure by a symbolic belt worn by Alderaan’s royalty. She also wears white travel boots.  In addition, the new-and-improved head on Princess Leia Organa (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) features the character’s iconic “cinnamon buns” braids, which George Lucas borrowed from the practical and “out-of-the-way” braids worn by female fighters during the Mexican Revolution of the early 20th Century.

Princess Leia Organa

Hasbro promotional photo of Princess Leia Organa (Star Wars 40th Anniversary). Note that her Alderaanian gown is made of fabric. Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2017 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Princess Leia Organa was one of the Rebel Alliance’s greatest leaders, fearless on the battlefield and dedicated to ending the tyranny of the Empire. – Manufacturer’s packaging blurb, Star Wars The Black Series Princess Leia Organa #30

In Star Wars, Leia was a tough-as-nails idealist and Rebel cell leader who, although she was in distress, could hold her own against formidable foes. She stood up to both Grand Moff Tarkin and Darth Vader even though she was their prisoner after Vader’s 501st Legion captured her consular ship – the Tantive IV – above the desert world of Tatooine. She somehow managed to keep herself together after the Empire destroyed her home world of Alderaan as a demonstration of the Death Star’s – and the Empire’s – power. And she confidently took over her own rescue aboard the Death Star from the eager-but-inexperienced Luke Skywalker and the cocky Han Solo after the two guys nearly bungled the attempt to break out from the battle station’s detention center.  Naturally, most of Kenner/Hasbro’s Star Wars figures have usually included a weapon of some sort.

Accordingly, the Star Wars The Black Series Princess Leia Organa (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) figure comes with:

  • Sporting Blaster
  • E-11 Imperial-issue blaster
Princess. Diplomat. Rebel leader. Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2017 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

The first weapon is a small, thin-looking laser pistol that resembles the weapon she uses for self-defense aboard the Tantive IV when it’s boarded by Imperial troops searching for the stolen Death Star plans. The original 1978 3.75-inch figure that Princess Leia Organa (Star Wars 40th Anniversary)  pays homage to featured a primitive (and smaller) version of this sporting blaster, as did most of Kenner’s action figure variants based on Leia, including Leia Organa (Hoth Outfit) and Leia Organa (Bespin Outfit) from the 1980 Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back collection.

A vintage Princess Leia Organa micro-action figure from Kenner’s Star Wars collection (1978-1980). This one is being sold on eBay for $200 plus shipping and handling by a California seller. Photo credit, drtorch2004

The E-11 Imperial blaster included with Princess Leia Organa (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) allows collectors to pose the figure to recreate scenes set during her rescue attempt by Han and Luke aboard the Death Star. This accessory was not included with the original 1978 3.75-inch figure. However, when Kenner was a Hasbro subsidiary in the mid-1990s, its Power of the Force 2 Princess Leia Organa 3.75-inch figure from A New Hope came with a more detailed version of Leia’s sporting blaster pistol and the E-11 blaster rifle. The Leia figure in Hasbro’s 25th Anniversary Swing to Freedom mini-diorama accurately equips the Rebel Princess with the E-11 blaster.

Recall moments of intense battle with this Star Wars Black Series 40th Anniversary 5.25-inch Princess Leia Organa figure that includes character-inspired accessories and features premium deco across multiple points of articulation. – Manufacturer’s product description, Princess Leia Organa (Star Wars 40th Anniversary figure)

Like most Star Wars The Black Series figures, Princess Leia Organa (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) has multiple points of articulation (POAs) that allow for more realistic action poses than Kenner’s 1978 “micro-action figure” based on Carrie Fisher’s iconic sassy and self-reliant character. Where the ’78 3.75-inch scale Kenner Princess Leia Organa only had five basic POAs, the 2017 5.25-inch figure has at least 12. Most of these are hidden – thankfully – by Leia’s fabric-based hooded gown, but they do make the figure look more life-like when you are trying to pose the figure. (The original Kenner version was cool – for its day – but you could only pose it in stiff-looking stances that didn’t look realistic enough, especially if you were a teenaged collector who liked to display the figure on collector’s stands or on the Death Star Action Playset.) This figure can even hold an Imperial-issue E-11 blaster in a two-handed grip; her 1978 forebear could only wield her small blaster pistol in one hand, and in a stiff, almost straight-armed stance at that.

My Take

“This is some rescue. When you came in here, didn’t you have a plan for getting out?” Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2017 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Although I’ve been collecting Star Wars action figures since I was given Kenner’s Landspeeder vehicle and two micro-action figures for my 15th birthday back in 1978, most of my collection consists of the 3.75-inch scale micro-action figures and their associated vehicles and “action playsets” from Kenner’s original 1978-1985 collection and the later Star Wars product lines (Power of the Force 2, Star Wars: Episode I, The Power of the Force, and Star Wars Saga). Life changes, the rising costs of collecting (due more to inflation than any other factor), and a limited amount of space for both storage and display have caused me to cut back on this hobby, especially over the past 15 years. In fact, when Star Wars: The Force Awakens premiered in December 2015, I figured that I’d only buy the home media version of the movie when it came out in early 2016, as well as the novelization and the soundtrack  

However, that changed when a friend started giving me some of Hasbro’s Star Wars The Black Series 6-inch figures as either Christmas or birthday presents, starting in the 2017 Christmas season. Not many, because my friend was aware that I don’t have much space to put a lot of Star Wars stuff in, either in the way of shelves (floating or otherwise) or storage space. (Coincidentally, the first Star Wars The Black Series vehicle in the 6-inch scale category I received that year is the Landspeeder with Luke Skywalker, which is a callback to how my collection started 42 years ago!)

I probably wouldn’t have acquired Princess Leia Organa or any of the other figures I mentioned earlier had I not been given the Hasbro Star Wars The Black Series Darth Vader 40th Anniversary Figure (With Legacy Display Stand) in December of 2017. My friend happened to get one of the last ones she saw at a local store (Target, I think it was), not realizing (perhaps) that it would have a ripple effect on my collection.

After all, Darth Vader 40th Anniversary Figure (With Legacy Display Stand) is a cool collectible in its own right, but if I opened it and put it on a display shelf in my study/man cave, it would look…incomplete without the other 11 figures in the first wave of Star Wars The Black Series 40th Anniversary collectibles.

In what perhaps was my biggest – and most expensive – one-time purchase of figures in my many years as a collector, I spent close to $300.00 at Amazon when I ordered Princess Leia Organa (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) and 10 others. Most of them were available from Amazon LLC at or just a bit above the manufacturer’s suggested retail price and came in the Kenner-branded cardbacks. However, some of the “Kenner” branded figures, such as Chewbacca, Stormtrooper, Tusken Raider, and See Threepio were only available through third-party sellers who were asking $50 or more per figure. So I had to get the “regular” Star Wars The Black Series figures for those characters at more reasonable prices.

I am happy with my Star Wars The Black Series Princess Leia Organa (Star Wars 40th Anniversary figure, partly because I like the nostalgia-inducing “Kenner” branding and the 1978-style cardback packaging that, with the exception of a few minor details, looks exactly like the original micro-action figure’s 1970s-era 12 Cardback, down to the still photo of Leia in the Massassi Rebel HQ on Yavin Four on the front cover.

The main reason why I enjoy this figure – in spite of the expense it incurred on me – is that the figure looks good. The sculpt – especially the much improved head on this version of Princess Leia Organa is impressively well-done, and while the figure’s facial features don’t make it a ringer for a 19-year-old Carrie Fisher, they come close enough. And, of course, the figure comes with not one but two blasters, just like the ones Leia wields in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.  

Happily, I am having a floating shelf installed in my study for my 40th Anniversary Legacy Stand, and I’ll be able to unbox Princess Leia Organa (Star Wars 40th Anniversary) along with the other heroes, villains, and sidekicks that I bought almost three years ago to go with the Star Wars The Black Series Darth Vader figure I received on Christmas 2017.  Those 12 figures sure will look good as a displayed collectible.