‘Star Wars’ Collectibles & Toys Review: Hasbro Star Wars The Black Series Han Solo (Bespin) (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary Figure)

Photo Credit; Hasbro

Han Solo: Scoundrel, Pirate, Rebel

On April 28, Hasbro released its Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary collection of action figures and other collectibles from its ongoing Star Wars The Black Series line. Meant to commemorate the Ruby Anniversary of Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, this wave of 6-inch scale action figures features heroes, villains, and robots seen in director Irvin Kershner’s 1980 movie – including Luke Skywalker (Bespin), Yoda, Rebel Soldier (Hoth), AT-AT Driver, and Princess Leia Organa (Hoth).

Along with Mark Hamill’s Luke and Carrie Fisher’s Leia, Harrison Ford’s dashing-but-cynical Han Solo is one of the original Star Wars Trilogy’s Big Three Heroes of the Rebellion. He’s also among the most popular characters, appearing in five of the nine Skywalker Saga films and the only one to be featured in a standalone Anthology film – Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Created by writer-director George Lucas to be the older, more cynical foil to the idealistic and naïve Luke Skywalker, Han Solo is the archetypical Rogue with a Heart of Gold. In Star Wars, he is introduced as a skilled but reckless pilot-for-hire who accepts Obi-Wan Kenobi’s charter for a quick hop to Alderaan in exchange for 17,000 credits. And when that gig morphs into the rescue of a captive Princess from the Empire’s first Death Star, he insists that he’s “not in this for your revolution, and I’m not in this for you. I’m in it for the money.” In fact, Lucas wrote the last act of Star Wars in such a way that viewers in 1977 thought that Han might fly off to Tatooine and pay off Jabba the Hutt instead of helping the Rebellion destroy the Death Star at the Battle of Yavin.

“What good’s a reward if you ain’t around to use it?”

Of course, Han does come back to help Luke – urged on, no doubt, by his Wookiee copilot Chewbacca. His last-minute intervention during the Yavin battle makes it possible for Luke Skywalker to make “the shot heard across the galaxy” and destroy the Death Star. Like Casablanca’s Rick Blaine, inside Han’s shell of cynicism, bravado, and mercenary instincts lies a long-denied core of decency and courage. And, despite his claims to the contrary, Han is in it for the Rebellion and Princess Leia by the time the Rebels establish a new secret base on the ice world of Hoth.  

Since Kenner introduced its Star Wars “micro-action figures” in 1978, Han, like Luke, Leia, Darth Vader, Chewbacca, and the droid duo of R2-D2 and C-3PO, has been a fan favorite – and action figures bearing the Corellian smuggler-turned-Rebel have been part of every collector’s stash for over 42 years.

Photo of a 2010 Gentle Giant 12-inch scale replica – in Kenner branded cardback – of the original “Big Head” Han Solo figure from 1978. Photo Credit: Ebay seller Jersey Shore Toy Show.

The Figure

This reissue of Star Wars The Black Series #70 Han Solo Bespin from 2016 is repackaged in a “Kenner” branded cardback. Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2020 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Star Wars The Black Series Han Solo (Bespin) Toy Action Figure

Recall intense moments with this Star Wars The Black Series 40TH anniversary 6-inch Han Solo action figure that includes Han’s signature blaster accessory, and features premium deco across multiple points of articulation.– Hasbro publicity blurb, Star Wars The Black Series Han Solo (Bespin) Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back Action Figure  

The original 2018 Han Solo (Bespin) in its Star Wars The Black Series branded packaging. Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2018 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Originally released in 2018 as the 70th Star Wars The Black Series 6-inch scaled action figure, Han Solo (Bespin) is a re-imagined and upscaled reboot of the original Kenner action figure from the 1980-1982 Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back line. However, unlike Hasbro’s Retro 3.75-inch action figure of the same name and somewhat similar cardback design, this Han Solo (Bespin) is not made from molds that are nearly identical to those used in the early Kenner Toys era. Star Wars The Black Series figures are designed and sculpted to look as closely as possible as the Star Wars characters they represent; Han Solo (Bespin)  bears a striking resemblance to Harrison Ford’s Han as he appeared in 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back.

The Original Solo: A mint condition 1980 Han Solo (Bespin Outfit) figure from Kenner’s Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back collection. It doesn’t look a lot like Harrison Ford, but this is what my generation of Star Wars fans had available 40 years ago. Photo Credit: eBay via WorthPoint.com.

This level of verisimilitude exists thanks to advances in design and manufacturing tools in the toy industry. Computer aided design/computer aided manufacture (CAD/CAM tools and improved molds, combined with other techniques have – over the years – have improved the look of Hasbro’s Star Wars figures, adding fine detailing that gives them a more life-like appearance, especially when it comes to those that are based on human characters such as Princess Leia Organa, Lando Calrissian, or Han Solo.

Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2020 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Star Wars The Black Series Han Solo (Bespin) Toy Action Figure

Recall intense moments with this Star Wars The Black Series 40TH anniversary 6-inch Han Solo action figure that includes Han’s signature blaster accessory, and features premium deco across multiple points of articulation.– Hasbro publicity blurb, Star Wars The Black Series Han Solo (Bespin) Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back Action Figure  

“Never tell me the odds!” Promotional photo of Star Wars: THe Black Series Han Solo (Bespin). Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2020 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Originally released in 2016 as the 70th Star Wars The Black Series 6-inch scaled action figure, Han Solo (Bespin) is a re-imagined and upscaled reboot of the original Kenner action figure from the 1980-1982 Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back line. However, unlike Hasbro’s Retro 3.75-inch action figure of the same name and somewhat similar cardback design, this Han Solo (Bespin) is not made from molds that are nearly identical to those used in the early Kenner Toys era. Star Wars The Black Series figures are designed and sculpted to look as closely as possible as the Star Wars characters they represent; Han Solo (Bespin)  bears a striking resemblance to Harrison Ford’s Han as he appeared in 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back.

This level of verisimilitude exists thanks to advances in design and manufacturing tools in the toy industry. Computer aided design/computer aided manufacture (CAD/CAM tools and improved molds, combined with other techniques have – over the years – have improved the look of Hasbro’s Star Wars figures, adding fine detailing that gives them a more life-like appearance, especially when it comes to those that are based on human characters such as Princess Leia Organa, Lando Calrissian, or Han Solo.

Although it’s unfair to compare Star Wars The Black Series Han Solo (Bespin) to its Kenner “ancestor,” the first thing one notices (aside from the different size scale) is how more life-like the more modern figure looks. Kenner’s figures took the toy world by storm when they were belatedly introduced in 1978, and staked out a place in many Star Wars fans’ shelves and toy chests. (I ought to know, I was 15 when I began collecting them!)

40TH ANNIVERSARY FIGURE: Celebrate 40 years of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back with this Han Solo The Black Series action figure featuring 1980s-inspired design. – Hasbro publicity blurb, Star Wars The Black Series Han Solo (Bespin) Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back Action Figure  

Even though Kenner’s Han Solo (Bespin Outfit) from the 1981 wave of figures actually looked more heroic (or “heroic-like,” as Han might say) than other Han Solo figures, it still has its issues. Kenner finally got the character’s physical proportions right – there are no “Big Head/Little Head” variants at all of this 41st figure in the Kenner production line. However, the face is still fairly generic, and only its neutral facial expression saves it from looking like a perpetually smiling Fisher-Price toy.

Kenner tried to get the colors of Han’s “Bespin” outfit – he actually wears it throughout much of Empire except for a few scenes on snowy Hoth – correct, but his trousers are painted the same color as his spacer’s boots and gunbelt, and in the wrong shade of brown. The only detailing that prevents the lower half of Han Solo (Bespin Outfit) from looking monochromatic are Han’s belt buckle (rendered in white) and yellow piping on his trouser legs. The blue pilot’s jacket and white shirt look okay, all things considered.

Hasbro’s Han Solo (Bespin) corrects an error that Kenner made in accessorising the original figure back in 1981; Kenner’s Han Solo (Bespin Outfit) was armed, inexplicably, with a Rebel-issue Blas Tech DH-17 blaster instead of Han’s trusty and iconic DL-44 blaster pistol.

That error has been rectified, and although it’s the only accessory the figure is equipped with, it is sufficient for one of the fastest drawing gunslingers in that galaxy far, far away.

This Han Solo looks a lot more lifelike, don’t you think?Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2020 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

PREMIUM ARTICULATION AND DETAILING: Star Wars fans and collectors can display this highly poseable (4 fully articulated limbs) figure, featuring premium deco, in their action figure and vehicle collection. – Hasbro publicity blurb, Star Wars The Black Series Han Solo (Bespin) Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back Action Figure  

A huge difference between the old and new Star Wars figures is the number of points of articulation (POAs) they have. In the context of toy manufacturing, POAs are analogous to joints in the human body, such as the neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, and so on. The more POAs a figure has, the more lifelike the poses can be.

Kenner micro-action figures from 1978 to 1985 usually have only five POAs. They are:

  • One in the neck area (to turn the figure’s head from side to side.
  • Two in the shoulders (to have the figure “aim” a blaster or brandish a lightsaber in “action poses”) or make the figure look like the character is driving/flying a vehicle
  • Two in the hips (to place the figure in a sitting position in a vehicle)

Some figures, such as R2-D2 and R5-D4, only had three POAs; Chewbacca only had four because his head and torso were sculpted as a single piece and thus had no neck swivel point.

Kenner attempted to make its figures as good-looking and “playable” as possible, so it sculpted some of the figures in such a way that the limbs had natural-looking “bends” at the knees and elbows, but most of the characters (Rebels, Imperials, or “neutrals”) could only hold their blasters in one-handed (and straight-armed) grips.

Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2020 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Hasbro’s Star Wars The Black Series Han Solo (Bespin) (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary Figure is not only larger than its 1980 precursor, but it also boasts 13 points of articulation. They are:

  • One for the neck
  • Two for Han’s shoulders
  • Two for his elbows
  • Two for his wrists
  • Two for his hips
  • Two for his knees
  • Two for his ankles

The advantage of having so many POAs in a figure is that one can pose it in more closer-to-life realistic ways. This is especially true if you’re a collector who creates Star Wars dioramas for fun (and to display your action figures).

My Take

HAN SOLO (BESPIN): Pursued by the Empire, Han Solo and his friends sought refuge in Cloud City. Though he believed they were now safe, the Empire had arrived just before they did. – Hasbro publicity blurb, Star Wars The Black Series Han Solo (Bespin) Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back Action Figure  

As I said earlier, Han Solo (Bespin) is not a new figure; it’s a reissue of Star Wars The Black Series’ 70th figure, which hit stores in 2018 along with the very similar Han Solo (Exogorth Escape) figure which features a slightly more complex paint scheme, a set of hydrospanners, a breath mask, a DL-44 blaster, and two “switch out left hands,” including one with Han’s famous pointing finger gesture. Its only new feature is the 40th Anniversary Kenner branded cardback packaging, which has only a few minor details that are different from the original one from 1981.

Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2020 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Due to certain limits related to storage/display and budgetary considerations, I have not acquired as many Star Wars The Black Series action figures as I would like. Therefore, I only buy a handful per year, and when I do, I am selective about the ones I get.

Han Solo is one of my favorite characters in the Star Wars franchise; I have watched the six films in which his character has appeared (the original Star Wars trilogy, The Force Awakens, Solo: A Star Wars Story, and The Rise of Skywalker), countless times, and I’ll keep watching them, probably to the end of my days. So naturally, when I saw Star Wars The Black Series Han Solo (Bespin) 6-inch Scale Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40TH Anniversary Figure on pre-order at Amazon, I didn’t hesitate to order it.

I received my figure yesterday, and although the cardback packaging is a bit creased, I’m still happy with my purchase. Right now my Star Wars The Black Series Han Solo (Bespin) is propped up on a bookshelf just within an arm’s length, and it is so darned cool. The figure’s face has been sculpted and painted so accurately that if you look closely at it, you’ll see Harrison Ford’s famous chin scar.

Whether you are a long-time Star Wars action figure collector or new to the hobby, if you don’t already have the original Star Wars The Black Series Han Solo (Bespin) #70 figure, get this one before resellers snatch them all up for Hasbro’s MSRP of $19.99 and sell them on eBay or third-party stores at Amazon for inflated prices.

 Star Wars The Black Series Han Solo (Bespin) 6-inch Scale Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40TH Anniversary Figure is a nicely rendered replica of a character who has been a fan favorite for 43 years, and the packaging adds a bit of nostalgia, especially for adults who grew up with the original Kenner Star Wars figures.

As always, I hope you enjoyed reading this review as much as I enjoyed putting it together. And until next time, May the Force be with you.

Coming Soon to ‘A Certain Point of View, Too’

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Hi, there, Dear Reader. It’s late afternoon here in my corner of Florida on this 27th day of May, 2020, and it’s quite hot and humid outside. Currently, it’s 91° F under partly cloudy skies. With humidity at 60% and a southwesterly breeze of 11 mph, it feels like it’s 102° F. Definitely not “go out for a stroll” weather, at least not for me.

I had hoped to write a review to share with you today; I usually pick a topic for my blog in the mornings and write the first draft on Microsoft Office’s Word while I’m offline, then publish my post here on WordPress in the early evening hours. That was my intention, but I woke up tired and foggy-brained this morning, and despite my best efforts to come up with something before I connected to the web, I stayed tired and foggy-brained for much of my day.

However, tomorrow is another day, and I do have some sort of game plan for my work day.

Today, for instance, Amazon Prime delivered a new addition to my growing (but modest) Star Wars action figure collection: Star Wars The Black Series Han Solo (Bespin) Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary.

Photo Credit: Hasbro, (C) 2020 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Originally, Han was supposed to arrive sometime last night, according to Amazon Prime, but apparently the shipment left the warehouse far too late in the evening hours so the delivery was postponed till today. The figure arrived this afternoon, and if I hadn’t been so tired you’d probably be reading the review right now. But…I was tired and a bit groggy for most of the day, so….

So, yeah. If all goes well, tomorrow you’ll be reading my review of this 2020 Star Wars The Black Series collectible, complete with illustrations, comparisons with the original Kenner Toys figure from 1980, and (if I find any) YouTube videos of related vintage commercials.

Per my Amazon Prime Orders page, tomorrow I should be receiving a package with the 2018 Walt Disney Records remastered edition of the 1977 Star Wars original soundtrack album.

Photo Credit: Walt Disney Records. (C) 2018 Walt Disney Records and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Like the Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back CD, which is a reissue of the North American/Japanese 2-LP album from 1980, Star Wars: A New Hope presents the music of the ’77 2-LP set on one CD.

If all goes well and the CD gets here tomorrow as scheduled, I’ll be writing about it on Friday.

Photo Credit: Hasbro (C) 2020 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

And if the Force is with me, I’ll be getting this 40th Anniversary Star Wars The Black Series version of Yoda, sporting a retro-looking “Kenner” cardback that looks almost identical to the original packaging of the 1980 3.75-inch action figure from the Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back collection. So you can expect a post about this newest addition to my collection sometime this weekend.

So, Dear Reader, that’s what I have in store for the next fun and exciting posts in A Certain Point of View, Too. I’m always happy whenever I have something new to share with you all, and I hope that you have a good time reading my posts here.

I hope you are well, safe, and keeping yourself busy in these strange and sometimes scary times. Thanks for stopping by, and until next time, I’ll see you on the sunny side of things.

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

Princess Leia Organa (Hoth) in her “Kenner” cardback packaging. For the 40th Anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back, Hasbro’s Star Wars The Black Series is releasing a wave of its new 6-inch scale figures in replicas of the 1980 Kenner Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back collection’s packaging. Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Leia Organa: Warrior-Princess!

In April 2020, Hasbro, Inc. of Pawtucket (Rhode Island) released a wave of new 6-inch action figures from its Star Wars The Black Series line inspired by director Irvin Kershner’s 1980 film Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. Based on various heroes, villains, sidekicks, and robots seen in the second installment of the original Star Wars Trilogy, these figures included Luke Skywalker (Bespin), Yoda, Princess Leia Organa (Hoth) AT-AT Driver, Imperial Probe Droid, Han Solo (Bespin), and Rebel Soldier (Hoth), just to name a few.

Princess Leia Organa, who was played in six of the nine Skywalker Saga films by the late Carrie Fisher, is one of the Original Trilogy’s “Big Three” Rebel heroes, along with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford). She’s also an iconic figure, not just in the context of the Star Wars franchise but in modern cinema.

When she was introduced in Star Wars (1977), Leia was a Princess who may have been in distress but wasn’t a shrinking flower waiting for a stalwart hero to come to her rescue. Right from the start, she stood up to Darth Vader even after being captured by his 501st Legion stormtroopers and attempted to bluff her way out of a nasty situation aboard her captured Rebel blockade runner. She withstood a torture session with an IT-0 interrogation droid. She even stayed focused on her mission to deliver the stolen Death Star plans after the Empire destroyed her home planet of Alderaan.

As such, Leia became the prototype of many female action heroes, including Ellen Ripley from the first four Alien films to Sarah Connor of the long-running Terminator series. And as played by the irrepressible Carrie Fisher, she was as fast with a quip – especially in arguments with Han Solo – as she was with a blaster.

Naturally, she became a fan favorite, and action figures based on her character were part of everyone’s Star Wars collection, starting with the original Kenner Princess Leia Organa figure from 1978.

“We all had Princess Leia action figures in our collections!” In 2010. Gentle Giant released a large-scale replica of the original Kenner action figure from 1978. Photo Credit: Entertainment Earth

The Figure

Promotional image of Princess Leia Organa (Hoth) Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary Action Figure. Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2020 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

PRINCESS LEIA ORGANA (HOTH)

After the destruction of the Death Star, the Rebel Alliance relocated to Hoth, where Princess Leia remained a key figure in the fight for freedom. -Hasbro promotional blurb, Star Wars The Black Series Princess Leia Organa (Hoth) Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back Action Figure

Three years after the Battle of Yavin, Princess Leia Organa is still on the front lines of the Rebel Alliance’s war against the oppressive Galactic Empire. Now she’s one of the Alliance’s senior commanders in charge of Echo Base on the ice world of Hoth, the latest in a series of outposts used by the Rebels since the Empire overran the Massassi Outpost on Yavin Four.

On Hoth, Leia has traded in her Alderaanian gown for an insulated jumpsuit more suitable for the freezing temperatures of Hoth. She wears her hair in Nordic-style on-duty braids, and on her heated Rebel-issue vest, she bears a command officer’s rank insignia. And to commemorate her lost home planet, her two-piece jumpsuit is white, a reminder that she is still a warrior-princess from Alderaan.

A 1983 Kenner Star Wars; Return of the Jedi cardback reissue of the 1980 Princess Leia Organa (Hoth Outfit) figure. Photo Credit: WorthPoint.

Star Wars The Black Series Princess Leia Organa (Hoth) Toy Action Figure

Recall intense moments with this Star Wars The Black Series 40TH anniversary 6-inch scale Princess Leia Organa (Hoth) action figure that includes 3 accessories, and features premium deco across multiple points of articulation. – -Hasbro promotional blurb, Star Wars The Black Series Princess Leia Organa (Hoth) Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back Action Figure

The 2020 Star Wars The Black Series version of Princess Leia Organa (Hoth) is a 6-inch scale action figure inspired by Kenner’s original 1980 figure from the original Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back product line. However, unlike Hasbro’s Star Wars “RETRO” collection (which features 3.75-inch action figures made from molds that are identical to those used by Kenner Toys in its Hong Kong factories between 1978 and 1985), the figure is designed to more closely resemble Carrie Fisher’s feisty combat leader, not the original toy.

The first thing one notices – other than the larger figure and cardback packaging – is how detailed Princess Leia Organa (Hoth) looks, especially in comparison to the original 1980 figure.

Obviously, advances in toy design and manufacture play an inevitable role in making modern Star Wars figures more realistic than their Kenner Toys ancestors; computer aided design/computer aided manufacturing methods have, since the 1990s, steadily improved the look and authenticity of Hasbro’s action figures, especially when it comes to those that are based on human characters such as Luke Skywalker or Princess Leia.

Whereas the 1980 Princess Leia Organa (Hoth Outfit) had a generic look (I sometimes refer to it as the “Fisher-Price” look, although thankfully Kenner gave the figure’s face a neutral expression instead of a permanent smile) and inaccurately rendered Leia’s vest in a dark tan color to differentiate it from the rest of her light beige/off-white jumpsuit, the Star Wars The Black Series Princess Leia Organa (Hoth) action figure has more fidelity to the on-screen Rebel leader’s physical features and John Mollo-designed costume.

Promotional photo of Star Wars The Black Series Princess Leia Organa (Hoth), If it were not for the visible points of articulation on Leia’s arms, one could swear that the vest and jumpsuit were made out of real fabric instead of plastic. Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2020 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

PREMIUM ARTICULATION AND DETAILING

Star Wars fans and collectors can display this highly poseable (4 fully articulated limbs) figure, featuring premium deco, in their action figure and vehicle collection. -Hasbro promotional blurb, Star Wars The Black Series Princess Leia Organa (Hoth) Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back Action Figure

Another significant difference between the two figures is the number of points of articulation (POAs) they have. In the context of toy manufacturing, POAs are analogous to joints in the human body, such as the neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, and so on. The more POAs a figure has, the more lifelike the poses can be.

Kenner micro-action figures from 1978 to 1985 usually have only five POAs. They are:

  • One in the neck area (to turn the figure’s head from side to side.
  • Two in the shoulders (to have the figure “aim” a blaster or brandish a lightsaber in “action poses”) or make the figure look like the character is driving/flying a vehicle
  • Two in the hips (to place the figure in a sitting position in a vehicle)

Some figures, such as R2-D2. only had three POAs; Chewbacca only had four because his head and torso were sculpted as a single piece and thus had no neck swivel point.

Kenner tried hard to make its figures as good-looking and “playable” as possible, so it sculpted some of the figures in such a way that the limbs had natural-looking “bends” at the knees and elbows, but most of the characters (Rebels, Imperials, or “neutrals”) could only hold their blasters in one-handed (and straight-armed) grips.

Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2020 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Due to the larger size of her action figure, Princess Leia Organa (Hoth) from Hasbro’s Star Wars The Black Series has at least 13 points of articulation. They are:

  • One for the neck
  • Two for her shoulders
  • Two for her elbows
  • Two for her wrists
  • Two for her hips
  • Two for her knees
  • Two for her ankles

The advantage of having so many POAs in a figure is that one can pose it in more closer-to-life realistic ways. This is especially true if you’re a hobbyist who creates Star Wars dioramas for fun (and to display your action figures).

I’m not skilled enough to create a Star Wars diorama. But other fans and collectors are! And, let’s face it, there’s no way you can create a realistic one with the original Kenner figures.

In addition, the 2020 figure of Leia in her Rebel-issue cold weather “Hoth gear” benefits from a more realistic sculpt and paint job that gives her a more “that looks like Carrie Fisher!” aspect than the more primitive original Kenner figure ever could.

Another salient feature – made possible by the figure’s larger size and Hasbro’s practice of including more accessories – is the versatility of the 2020 Princess Leia Organa (Hoth) figure. Now, instead of just wielding a small slender blaster pistol (an accessory that all of Kenner’s Princess Leia-based action figures were equipped with), the Star Wars The Black Series figure comes with the following items:

  • A Rebel-issued Blas Tech DH-17 blaster
  • Welding goggles
  • A welder
  • Thermal vest

(The welding equipment comes in handy if you plan to create a diorama based on the scene in Empire where Han and Leia share their first kiss.)

My Take

Overall, Star Wars The Black Series Princess Leia Organa (Hoth) is an outstanding figure in Hasbro’s Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Backs 40th Anniversary Collection. It’s not exactly a new figure; it was originally released as a regular Star Wars: The Black Series figure in that line’s standard red-and-black packaging in 2018 with the same set of accessories. The only “new” feature is the 1980-style Kenner cardback, which features that brand’s blue-and-white logo, as well as the silver-and-red Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back logo used for Kenner’s 1980-1982 Star Wars line of licensed toys and games.

(Hasbro has done this before: three years ago, to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of the original 1977 Star Wars, it re-released a number of its Star Wars The Black Series figures in packaging that resembled the first “12 cardbacks” for the first dozen figures. I couldn’t get all 12 of the in “Kenner” cardbacks for my 40th Anniversary Legacy Display Stand, but other collectors told me which regular Star Wars The Black Series figures I should buy to round out the set.)

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

My figure closely resembles the one in Hasbro’s promotional images. There are minor differences, though. My Princess Leia Organa (Hoth)‘s boots are a darker shade of gray than the ones you see here. But in almost every respect, what you see in the illustrations here is what you’ll get if you decide to buy this figure.

Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2020 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

If you’re a longtime Star Wars action figure collector – especially of the Star Wars The Black Series figures – chances are that you have one of these Princess Leia Organa (Hoth) figures from 2018. So if you already own the one from ’18, here’s my recommendation: unless you are a completist with deep pockets or simply want this figure for the Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary collectible cardback, you might want to pass on this one.

However, if you’re like me – a sometime collector who has limited resources and not a heckuva lot of space for either storage or display of these figures, you might want to get your hands on one before the 40th Anniversary editions from 2020 become scarce and you have to pony up more than the MSRP of $19.99 from resellers online or local comic book stores. Princess Leia Organa (Hoth) is a nicely rendered replica of a character who has been a fan favorite for 43 years, and the packaging adds a bit of nostalgia, especially for adults who grew up with the original Kenner Star Wars figures.

As always, I hope you enjoyed reading this review as much as I enjoyed putting it together. And until next time, May the Force be with you.

Music Album Review: ‘Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back’ (Remastered)

(C) 2018 Walt Disney Records

Return of the ‘Empire’

On May 4, 2018 (“Star Wars Day”), Walt Disney Records released Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Remastered), a reissue of composer/conductor John Williams’ score for the second installment (in release order) of the Skywalker Saga. Assembled by a team of recording engineers led by Patricia Sullivan, Dann Thompson, Shawn Murphy, and Leslie Ann Jones from the best available analog recordings available, this marks the first release on compact disc of Maestro Williams’ original 75-minute soundtrack album as it was released in the U.S., Canada, and Japan in 1980.

Official YouTube release of Yoda’s Theme

Naturally, there have been several previous CD releases of Empire’s soundtrack, starting with Polydor’s original compact disc from 1985. Based on the abridged international edition of the vinyl LP album, Polydor’s offering presented 10 of the 17 tracks from the longer 2-LP edition sold in the U.S., Canadian, and Japanese markets.

Photo Credit: Discogs.com. (C) 1980 Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Now, the abridged version of the soundtrack from The Empire Strikes Back is a strange (and disappointing) album. Not only is it missing seven tracks from the original 2-LP set released in late April of 1980, but it shuffles the track order in an inexplicable fashion:

1. The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme) 3:03
2. Yoda’s Theme 3:29
3. The Asteroid Field 4:12
4. Han Solo and the Princess (Love Theme) 3:28
5. Finale 6:28
6. Star Wars (Main Theme) 5:49
7. The Training of a Jedi Knight 3:08
8. Yoda and the Force 4:05
9. The Duel 4:06
10. The Battle In The Snow 3:48

Official YouTube release of Yoda and the Force

In the early days of the format, compact discs didn’t have as much storage capacity as they do now. For fans of symphonic music, especially, this was problematic; recordings in the mid-1980s and early 1990s were usually limited to runtimes of one hour or less due to the limits of the still-new format. Many soundtracks were either sold as 2-CD sets or were abridged, as in the case of Warner Music’s Superman: The Movie and RSO/Polydor’s The Empire Strikes Back.

Promotional photo for the 1993 Star Wars Trilogy: The Original Soundtrack Anthology. (C) 1993 Arista Records and Twentieth Century Fox Film Scores. (C) 1993 Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Starting in 1993 with the release of Arista Records/Twentieth Century Fox Film Scores’ Star Wars Trilogy: The Original Soundtrack Anthology, soundtrack aficionados benefited from advances in the now mature CD format. Improvements in data compression and disc storage capacity meant that producers like Nick Redman and Mike Matessino could now offer listeners a more immersive and complete film score experience.

Redman, who passed away in 2018 after a long career as a film and music producer, was an enthusiastic film score buff, and he was one of the main forces behind a series of restored and expanded editions of soundtracks by various composers, including John Williams. Thus, the version of Maestro Williams’ The Empire Strikes Back album found in the The Original Soundtrack Anthology box set is an expanded and re-edited version of Williams’ 1980 soundtrack, similar but not identical to the RSO 2-LP vinyl album.

Since 1997, RCA Victor/Sony Classical’s “Special Edition” soundtrack has been the standard album for The Empire Strikes Back.

And, of course, RCA Victor/Sony Classical’s Special Edition soundtracks from the original Star Wars Trilogy have been the gold standard by which other soundtracks are measured. They, too, were products of the Redman/Matessino era and are the first Star Wars albums to present the complete scores from Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi.

However, if one wanted a CD version of the original 17-track, 2-LP vinyl album from 1980, it was a quixotic dream – until May of 2018.

Consumer photo of the reverse cover and tracklist of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, via Amazon.

The Album

In May of 2018, nearly six years after George Lucas sold Lucasfilm Ltd. and the rights to all of its intellectual properties, which include Star Wars and Indiana Jones, to The Walt Disney Company, Walt Disney Records released remastered versions of the six original Star Wars soundtrack albums.

These albums are remastered editions of the original commercially released soundtrack albums originally released by 20th Century Records, RSO Records, and Sony Classical between 1977 and 2005, presenting the music composed and conducted by John Williams in the traditional soundtrack album format.

In the case of The Empire Strikes Back, the remastering team at Skywalker Sound in Marin County (California) and Bernie Grundman Mastering in Hollywood took Eric Tomlinson’s original master tapes from the archives and transferred them to a single compact disc. The result: the first-ever CD version of John Williams’ 1980 2-LP soundtrack album.

(C) 2018 Walt Disney Records and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Tracklist:

  1. Star Wars (Main Theme) 5:49
  2. Yoda’s Theme 3:24
  3. The Training of a Jedi Knight 3:17
  4. The Heroics of Luke and Han 6:18
  5. The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme) 2:59
  6. Departure of Boba Fett 3:30
  7. Han Solo and the Princess 3:25
  8. Hyperspace 4:02
  9. The Battle in the Snow 3:48
  10. The Asteroid Field 4:10
  11. The City in the Clouds 6:29
  12. Rebels At Bay 5:23
  13. Yoda And The Force 4:01
  14. The Duel 4:07
  15. The Magic Tree 3:32
  16. Lando’s Palace 3:52
  17. Finale 6:28
Official YouTube of Finale

Because The Empire Strikes Back is part of a larger story, its score is a blend of leitmotifs from the first film(Star Wars) and new ones composed by John Williams for this new chapter of the saga, In brief, here are the main themes heard in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back:

  • The Star Wars theme: In the original trilogy, this motif is often identified with the protagonist, Luke Skywalker, thus doubling as “Luke’s Theme.” In the context of the Saga as a whole, this iconic fanfare is used in all of the movies’ main title sequences
  • The Force theme: In Star Wars, this was used mainly in scenes that featured Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi, but it was also used in the “Binary Sunset” scene to foreshadow young Luke’s destiny as he contemplates his need for adventure. Starting in Empire, this theme is used to represent the Force itself
  • The Rebel Fanfare is a brassy motif heard in action sequences to underscore our heroes’ acts of derring-do
  • Princess Leia’s Theme: This was one of Star Wars’ main motifs; in later films Williams will sometimes quote from it in scenes where Leia is onscreen
  • Yoda’s Theme: This is one of three new themes composed for Empire: like the diminutive Jedi Master it represents, it’s in turns quietly powerful, peaceful, yet mischievous
  • The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme): This relentlessly martial, brooding, and often eerie march is the Empire’s equivalent to “Hail to the Chief” and represents both the might of the Galactic Empire and Darth Vader himself. (It’s also the only theme that exists in-universe; a variation of it has been used in Star Wars: Rebels and Solo: A Star Wars Story as the official anthem of the Empire.)
  • The Love Theme for Han Solo and the Princess: Depending on how it’s orchestrated, this is one of those John Williams themes that can represent either Han’s sometimes daring-but-reckless heroics or the love affair that blooms between the “scoundrel” and Princess Leia

My Take

I have been a fan of Maestro Williams’ Star Wars music since I first saw Star Wars (aka Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope ) in the fall of 1977. And I’ve owned every original soundtrack of the nine-film Skywalker Saga since one of my mom’s friends gave me the 2-LP album of the original 1977 soundtrack album in 1978. Whether on vinyl, eight-track, audio cassette, compact disc or even digital, I’ve acquired an Imperial AT-AT’s hold’s worth of recordings, including different iterations of the “complete score” Special Edition CDs released between 1997 and 2016 by both RCA Victor and Sony Classical, the previous licensees for Star Wars music before Walt Disney Records was teamed with Lucasfilm.

When these Remastered Editions of the first six Star Wars soundtracks debuted on CD, vinyl, and digital MP3 formats two years ago, I passed on them. I still have the 1977 Star Wars soundtrack in its 1986 2-CD re-release by Polydor in my CD collection, as well as the abridged “international” version of the Empire soundtrack from 1985 and the Return of the Jedi CD from 1983, also from Polydor.

I also have the 1993 Star Wars Trilogy: The Original Soundtrack Anthology, the original 1997 Special Edition 2-CD soundtracks from RCA Victor, as well as two box sets from Sony Classical with reissues of those albums.

But the power of nostalgia is sometimes hard to resist, and since I have not listened to the original commercially-released version of the score from Empire in many years, I bought the 2018 remastered recording released by Walt Disney Records.

Official YouTube release of The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)

This CD, of course, does not contain the complete score by Maestro Williams for The Empire Strikes Back. Nor does it present the music in the internal chronology of the film. Following the conventions of a commercially-released soundtrack album, John Williams – wearing his hat of album producer – and his 1980 editing team (including recorder-mixer Eric Tomlinson) resorted to such techniques as the use of “concert hall arrangements” not used in the film’s actual soundtrack – Yoda’s Theme and The Imperial March are good examples – and splicing cues from several different scenes, as in Track 1, Star Wars (Main Theme), which incorporates music from the main title crawl, the arrival of the Imperial probe on Hoth, and the Millennium Falcon’s escape from the exogorth (the space slug) in the asteroid field.

So if you want to listen to the entire Empire score as it is heard in the actual film, this isn’t the album you’re looking for. Sony Classical’s 2004-2016 CDs are still available online, although some stores and third-party sellers ask outrageous prices because those recordings are no longer being made.

These were the last Sony Classical reissues of the Star Wars soundtracks. The Prequel Trilogy CDs are the 1999-2005 CDs by Sony Classical, while the Original Trilogy albums are the 1997 Special Edition 2-CD sets repackaged to look like the 1977-1983 LP albums. (C) 2016 Sony Classical and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

The 2018 Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Remastered) album is, despite its slick 21st Century CD jewel case and album cover art, a time machine to 1980. Here, for the first time since the Eighties, is the 75-minutes-long album with all 17 tracks of the RSO Records 2-LP set.

Obviously, the digitally transferred tracks have a less “warm” audio texture than you’d get from a vinyl recording. That has never bothered me at all, but some audiophiles swear that CDs, for all their precision and durability, don’t have the same fidelity to a musical performance as old-school LPs. Still, I like the format for various reasons, including compatibility with various disc-based devices (DVD and Blu-ray players, as well as PCs with CD or DVD-ROM drives) and durability.

So if you love Star Wars and its music, or if you’ve never heard the soundtrack of The Empire Strikes Back as fans did 40 years ago, you’re in for a treat. From the familiar and rousing Star Wars (Main Theme) to the menacing Imperial March and the whimsical yet powerful Yoda’s Theme, Williams’ classic melodies will transport you from the hurly-burly of today’s strange new world to that timeless tale set “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”

I hope you enjoyed reading this post, Dear Reader. I had a blast writing it and adding the pictures and official YouTube music videos. I hope you stay safe and healthy, and until next time, May the Force be with you…always.

The six-album collection of remastered soundtracks from the original Star Wars films and the Prequels. Photo Credit: Disney Music Emporium

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

To commemorate the 40th Anniversary of Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back,Hasbro packed a Star Wars: The Black Series figure in a cardback replica of the original Kenner packaging for the 1980 3.75-inch scale action figure. Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 1980, 2020 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL) Kenner is a Hasbro, Inc. brand.

“The Force is With You, Young Skywalker…”

On April 28, 2020, in anticipation of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back‘s Ruby Anniversary, Rhode Island-based Hasbro, Inc. released a new wave of its Star Wars: The Black Series action figures and other Star Wars-themed toys and collectibles. Based on the heroes, villains, and sidekicks seen in director Irvin Kershner’s smash film from 1980, these figures included fan favorites as Han Solo (Bespin), Princess Leia Organa (Hoth), Yoda, and an Imperial AT-AT Driver.

Naturally, since Luke Skywalker is the protagonist of what is now the middle Trilogy of the Skywalker Saga, the 40th Anniversary wave is led by Luke Skywalker (Bespin), a six-inch scale action figure based on the earnest but impetuous Jedi apprentice who rushes off to Cloud City in a bid to save his friends from the evil Darth Vader and the Empire.

Luke Skywalker arrives at Bespin’s Cloud City in an attempt to rescue Han and Leia, but…”It’s a trap!”

The Figure

LUKE SKYWALKER: After a vision of his friends in pain, Luke Skywalker cut his training with Jedi Master Yoda short and traveled to Cloud City, where Darth Vader awaited. – Promotional blurb, Hasbro website

Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 1980, 2020 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

As the figure’s nomenclature implies, Luke Skywalker (Bespin) is a representation of Mark Hamill’s farmboy-turned-Rebel and Jedi apprentice as he appears in the third act of The Empire Strikes Back. Clad in what I think of as Rebel-issue fatigues in khaki and accessorized with spacer’s combat boots and a belt with a holster for a DL-44 blaster pistol like Han Solo’s and a clip for his father’s lightsaber, this figure bears a close resemblance to Skywalker’s on-screen appearance, thanks to 21st Century toy making techniques.

Luke Skywalker (Bespin) is also a direct linear descendant of Kenner Toys’ original 3.75-inch action figure from that company’s 1980 Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back collection. Like its smaller, primitive-looking precursor, Hasbro’s 2020 version comes in a “Kenner” branded cardback that features a still from The Empire Strikes Back showing Luke in a corridor on Bespin’s Cloud City, the red and silver indicia from The Empire Strikes Back line, and a 40th Anniversary logo on the top left-hand corner of the cardback’s obverse side.

VINTAGE-INSPIRED PACKAGING: Star Wars The Black Series Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40TH Anniversary 6-inch scale classic Star Wars figures feature original Kenner branding – Promotional blurb, Hasbro website

Archive photo of a 1980 Luke Skywalker (Bespin Fatigues) action figure from a Brian’s Toys listing. The product listing page has it priced at $599.99! It also says the figure is not in stock; someone with really deep pockets must have snagged it! Photo Credit: Brian’s Toys.

Although there are minor differences between the 1980 and 2020 cardbacks (the newer figure is billed as Luke Skywalker [Bespin] instead of Luke Skywalker [Bespin Fatigues], plus its cardback bears the 40th Anniversary logo in the upper left corner), you can tell that much thought was given to the power of nostalgia by harkening back to Kenner’s 1980 packaging design. Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 1980, 2020 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL) Kenner is a Hasbro, Inc. brand.

40TH ANNIVERSARY FIGURE: Celebrate 40 years of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back with this Luke Skywalker (Bespin) The Black Series action figure featuring 1980s-inspired design. – Promotional blurb, Hasbro website

“You’ll find I’m full of surprises.” Maybe it’s unfair to compare Star Wars: The Black Series’ version of Luke Skywalker (Bespin) to the eponymous 1980 action figure, but this is one cool collectible. Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 1980, 2020 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Unlike Kenner’s 1978-1985 “micro-action figures,” which were manufactured with less sophisticated tools and techniques, Star Wars figures made from the late 1990s onward tend to have more accurate sculpts and paint jobs that give them a certain amount of similarity to the characters seen in the various movies and TV series set “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”

This is especially true of figures based on human characters; droids and non-human denizens, by their very nature, often were more accurately depicted as action figures, although sometimes Kenner’s designers had to base their work on preliminary costume/makeup design or were constrained by the limits of the toy manufacturing tools available 40 years ago.

As a result, the original Luke Skywalker (Bespin Fatigues) action figure had only the vaguest resemblance to the character played by actor Mark Hamill: the blond “hair” was too yellow, the facial features were too generic, and the accessories were monochromatic – Luke’s solid black blaster was a clone of Han’s iconic DL-44 pistol, while his lightsaber (now a separate accessory rather than being built in permanently) was a solid yellow from the base of the hilt all the way to the tip of the “laser blade.” (Why Kenner went with a yellow lightsaber for Luke’s Star Wars and Empire figures is a question I’ve often asked but never researched.)

What’s old becomes new again: Hasbro’s “Kenner” Luke Skywalker (Bespin) is a replica of the original 1980 figure, The cardback design is marred by Hasbro’s ill-considered decision to add a Retro Collection label on the obverse side. Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 1980, 2020 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL) Kenner is a Hasbro, Inc. brand.

The original figure also has fewer points of articulation (POA), which was the norm when the then-revolutionary action figures were originally produced. Back then, the average humanoid figure had five POAs:

  • Head/neck (1)
  • The shoulders (2)
  • The hips (2)

Some figures, such as Chewbacca, Imperial Stormtrooper, Jawa, and a few Imperial characters with similar characteristics as the Stormtrooper didn’t have a swivel point of articulation to move the head from side to side. Some figures, due to their characters’ inherent properties, only had three POAs (R2-D2 and R5-D4, for instance) And none of them had joints at the elbows or knees, which limited one’s choices for displays, especially on Kenner’s Action Playsets.

Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 1980, 2020 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

PREMIUM ARTICULATION AND DETAILING: Star Wars fans and collectors can display this highly poseable (4 fully articulated limbs) figure, featuring premium deco, in their action figure and vehicle collection. – Promotional blurb, Hasbro website

In contrast, the Star Wars The Black Series version of Luke Skywalker (Bespin) not only boasts a sculpt and paint job that give the figure a more accurate likeness to the character from The Empire Strikes Back, but it also has more points of articulation than its 1980 forerunner. Luke’s hair coloring is no longer a bright shade of yellow but a more natural shade of dirty blond. And one can see small details that give the figure more than just a passing resemblance to the character we have seen on screen for 40 years; look closely at Luke’s face and you’ll see that it has blue eyes, eyebrows that match the coloring of the hair, and Mark Hamill’s distinctive chin dimple.

In addition, Luke Skywalker (Bespin) – Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back has lots more points of articulation, one (a swivel point) at the head, shoulder and elbow joints for the arms, and POAs for the knees and ankles. This allows collectors to pose Luke in more action-packed and lifelike stances that are less rigid (and limited) than the 1980-era figure’s five POAs permit.

The new figure’s two weapon-type accessories are also more detailed. Gone is the garish monochromatic yellow lightsaber. In its place, we see the “Skywalker lightsaber” with its silver and black hilt and blue lightsaber blade. (The latter is made from translucent blue plastic that simulates the lightsaber’s “plasma energy” blade.)

Luke’s blaster pistol is also made to more closely resemble the “real” movie prop seen in The Empire Strikes Back. The blaster’s grip is painted brown to simulate parts made from exotic wood,while the barrel, muzzle, and trigger are painted in gunmetal black with silver detailing. When not in use, the blaster can be tucked into the holster on Luke’s utility gun belt.

My Take

Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 1980, 2020 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

For over 42 years, I have been collecting Star Wars action figures, vehicles, and some of the playsets from both Kenner and Hasbro. For financial and space considerations, I decided long that I should not try to be a “completist”-type of collector. As a result, I don’t pretend to have the world’s largest collection of Star Wars figures – that honor goes to Stephen J. Sansweet, a former executive at Lucasfilm. I also have a friend, Rogers Perez, whose collection made mine look like a beginner’s…or a pauper’s.

(I can’t also claim that I still have 100% of what I acquired between 1978 and 1985 during the first and busiest phase of my collection building; despite my best efforts to keep my collection intact, I estimate that 30% of it is lost. Some figures were stolen, and most of the original vehicles that weren’t stored in boxes suffered from exposure to the sun. (My second story bedroom in my old townhouse in Miami faced due west, and when I didn’t have blinds of any type in front of the glass sliding doors, the brutal South Florida sun would stream into my room in the afternoon hours. This had a detrimental effect on my original X-Wing fighter and Imperial TIE Fighter, which used an inordinate number of stick-on labels for their detailing. )

The worst blow, though, struck back in 2005 when Hurricane Wilma hit South Florida and ripped part of the townhouse’s roof away – including the section right above the attic. This meant that the storm not only whisked away some of the boxes full of Star Wars collectibles away (including the one that contained my Imperial Shuttle from Kenner’s Star Wars: Return of the Jedi line), but damaged much of the stuff in the boxes that remained in the attic.

That having been said, I have the original Kenner version of Luke Skywalker (Bespin). It’s no longer in mint condition; back in 1980 I didn’t know much about “proper” collecting habits, so I opened my cardback and put it on display in my bedroom – usually posing him alongside Yoda and R2-D2 on my Dagobah Action Playset. (“You have to put it together. Action figures sold separately!)

Of course, I never did this. I was 18 when Kenner sold the Dagobah Action Playset.

Back then, I knew that the 3.75-inch “micro-action figures” (Kenner eventually stopped referring to them as such, but I like the sound of the term) had their flaws, but I still enjoyed collecting them. Collecting them helped me cope with the challenges of the transition from childhood to young adulthood, as well as the losses I endured at the time – an unwanted move from a house and neighborhood that I liked, my first breakup, the deaths of my maternal grandparents, and even deaths of kids I knew from school.

So even though the original Luke Skywalker (Bespin) – a strange marketing misnomer because Luke wears the “Bespin fatigues” throughout much of The Empire Strikes Back, including his stay on Yoda – looked a bit dodgy, I still liked the figure. I have it in one of the many bins that contains what remains of my Kenner collection.

Look at Luke’s outfit in this clip. It’s the same one that he’ll wear on Bespin later on in Empire.

Because I still have the same concerns about finances and space limitations that I did when I was a teenager – even more, considering my present circumstances – I do not plan on amassing a collection anywhere as large as the one I had in the 1980s. At $19.99 per Star Wars Black Series action figure and with far less space available for either display or storage purposes, it’s just not a feasible option.

Nevertheless, recently I purchased a handful of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary figures, including the Big Three leads of the Rebel Alliance (Luke Skywalker [Bespin], Leia Organa [Hoth], and Han Solo [Bespin]) as well as Yoda and the Imperial Probe Droid.

Yoda in his 1980-style cardback complete with Kenner branding. Like the original 3.75-in. scale figure, this Star Wars The Black Series collectible comes with Yoda’s gimer stick and a snake. It also includes a lightsaber. Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 1980, 2020 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL) Kenner is a Hasbro, Inc. brand.

As I noted in The Figure section of this review, the 40th Anniversary edition of Luke Skywalker (Bespin) is a fun and cool collectible. Like all of the Star Wars The Black Series figures I own, it is well-designed and extremely detailed. I especially like how Hasbro pays homage to the figure’s origins as a Kenner Toys product by using much of the packaging design and indicia from 1980, but still gives us a figure that reflects our more modern and sophisticated toys from 2020.

I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed reading this review. I had fun writing the text and adding the illustrations and videos – especially the vintage commercials from the early 1980s. Thank you for reading, and until next time, may the Force be with you.

Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 1980, 2020 Hasbro, Inc. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL) Kenner is a Hasbro, Inc. brand.

‘Star Wars’ Collectibles & Toys Review: Hasbro Star Wars The Black Series Imperial Probe Droid (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary Figure)

Return of the Probot!

Promotional photo of Star Wars The Black Series’ Imperial Probe Droid 6-inch scale Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary figure. Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2020 Hasbro, Inc, and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

On April 28, 2020, Hasbro Inc. of Pawtucket (Rhode Island) released a new wave of its ongoing Star Wars The Black Series 6-inch scale figures to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. Alongside such fan favorites as Luke Skywalker (Bespin), Princess Leia Organa (Hoth), and Han Solo (Bespin), Hasbro includes several adversaries, including the menacing Imperial Probe Droid.

The Imperial Probe Droid’s insect-like appearance, nasty-looking pincers, and black paint job give it a decidedly evil aspect.

Officially designated a Viper droid by the Galactic Empire and known colloquially as a recon droid or Probot, the Imperial Probe Droid was mass-produced under the auspices of the Empire’s Project Swarm, which entailed the deployment of thousands of probe droids programmed by the Imperial military to seek the location of the Rebel Alliance’s secret base after the destruction of the first Death Star at the Battle of Yavin.

Three years after the Rebel victory at Yavin, an Imperial Probe Droid launched from the Star Destroyer Avenger crash-landed on the remote ice world of Hoth. Encased in a protective capsule, the Viper survived this hard landing and eventually discovered the Rebels’ Echo Base and reported its location to Darth Vader’s flagship, the Super Star Destroyer Executor.

The probot’s report set in motion an Imperial assault on the Rebel base by a ground force led by General Maximillian Veers, but its live feed of Echo Base’s massive power generators proved to be its undoing. Its transmission was intercepted and interpreted by Alliance personnel, and it was ultimately forced to self-destruct per its programming when a Rebel investigation team led by Captain Han Solo and his Wookiee first mate Chewbacca discovered its location.

The Figure

Promotional photo of Star Wars The Black Series’ Imperial Probe Droid 6-inch scale Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary figure on its display stand. Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2020 Hasbro, Inc., and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Tenacious hunters and searchers, probe droids have a variety of sensors, and the ones employed by the Empire are armed with powerful blasters! – Packaging blurb, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary Imperial Probe Droid figure.

Since its introduction in August of 2013, Hasbro’s Star Wars: The Black Series line of 6-inch scale action figures has proved popular among fans and collectors. They are larger than the original 3.75-inch Star Wars action figures originally produced by Kenner between 1978 and 1985, then re-introduced by Hasbro (which merged with Kenner in the Nineties and inherited its licenses) in 1995 as The Power of the Force product line.

Promotional photo of the 40th Anniversary Legacy Pack stand released in 2017 to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of both the original Star Wars film and the Early Bird “empty box” campaign by Kenner, which introduced the first 12 original action figures by offering a collectible display stand and a mail-in certificate for several of the new figures, which were not available in time for the 1977 holiday season. The figures in this photo are all from The Black Series 6-inch collection, but the design of the stand is a replica of the original one from Kenner for the first 12 “micro-action figures.” Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2017 Hasbro, Inc.. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Star Wars The Black Series now includes over 100 6-inch scale action figures based on heroes, villains, supporting characters, and droids from Lucasfilm’s various media projects. Mainly from the live action features of the Skywalker Saga and Anthology series, although characters from canon TV series such as The Clone Wars,Rebels, and The Mandalorian – as well as a handful of fan favorites from Legends stories – also have figures based on their likenesses.

Promotional photo of Star Wars The Black Series’ Imperial Probe Droid 6-inch scale Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary figure on its display stand. Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2020 Hasbro, Inc., and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

As Hasbro’s publicists write in the product description:

Kids and collectors alike can imagine the biggest battles and missions in the Star Wars saga with figures from Star Wars The Black Series! With exquisite features and decoration, this series embodies the quality and realism that Star Wars devotees love. Star Wars The Black Series includes figures, vehicles, and roleplay items from the 40-plus-year legacy of the Star Wars Galaxy, including comics, movies, and animated series. 

The Imperial Probe Droid is a detailed replica of the Viper probot seen in the prelude to the Battle of Hoth in 1980’s Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. Based on the original design by the late Ralph McQuarrie and updates made by storyboard artist and later film director Joe Johnston, it looks exactly like the sinister bug-like recon droid, complete with bug-eye like cameras and photoreceptors, two antennae, and five articulated limbs tipped with sensors and evil-looking pincers.

Promotional photo of Star Wars The Black Series’ Imperial Probe Droid 6-inch scale Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary figure on its display stand. Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2020 Hasbro, Inc., and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

The artists at Hasbro made every effort to make Imperial Probe Droid resemble the Viper from The Empire Strikes Back as closely as possible. Instead of simply giving the figure an all-black paint job with only a few red and white markings to break up the monochromatic color scheme, they added simulated panels painted in a kind of dark olive drab that somehow looks metallic and militaristic. This aesthetic is in keeping with George Lucas’s vision of the Star Wars galaxy as one that has a “lived-in, used” look.

Unlike Hasbro’s 1997 Star Wars: Power of the Force Imperial Probe Droid Deluxe figure, the Star Wars The Black Series version doesn’t look “toylike.” For one thing, the 1997 version (which was made in the 3.75-inch scale) is grey, has only three limbs, and comes with several parts (including a fireable “missile”) rendered in a neon-orange color.

Once again, let’s go to Hasbro’s product description to see why:

The 6-inch scale The Black Series Imperial Probe Droid deluxe figure is carefully detailed to look like the character from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back movie, featuring premium detail and multiple points of articulation.

My Take

Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2020 Hasbro, Inc.. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

I have been collecting Star Wars action figures, vehicles, action playsets, and other collectibles since 1978. I started this hobby when I received the original Land Speeder vehicle and the “micro-action figures” of Artoo-Detoo (R2-D2) and See-Threepio (C-3PO) for my 15th birthday. Over the next seven years, I acquired an estimated 75% of Kenner’s Star Wars toys in the categories listed above; I had neither the space nor the finances to buy everything Kenner sold, so I focused on the micro-action figures and their vehicles, with a few other accessories (collector’s cases and playsets) added in whenever possible.

The one that started it all: Kenner’s original Land Speeder was my first acquisition. I really wanted the X-Wing Fighter, but my first vehicle was a birthday present in March of 1978. Photo Credit: Star Wars Figures Variations.

Consequently, this is not the first Kenner or Hasbro replica of the probot from The Empire Strikes Back; in 1981, Kenner introduced a Turret and Probot playset, which some collectors consider to be the first-ever release of what we now call “exclusive figures.” I bought one in my junior year of high school just for the Probe Droid; I had watched The Empire Strikes Back six times by then and knew that Kenner was trying to blend two Hoth-set sequences into one, so this playset is hardly movie-scene accurate.

I’m a lousy photographer, so here is a vintage commercial for Turret and Probot that I found on YouTube

It is, however, pretty darned cool, and it’s one of the few Kenner collectibles that I have on display in my study/man cave.

Though the figure in Turret and Probot is of a smaller scale than Hasbro’s Star Wars The Black Series: Imperial Probe Droid, it was nicely rendered for a figure of the 1981 vintage. It’s even better-looking than the 1997 Power of the Force version, which by all rights should have looked better than its precursor.

I can’t purchase every figure in Hasbro’s Star Wars The Black Series line; as much as I would love to, I have to take care of other, more grown up obligations before I splurge on luxury items such as collectibles. I also don’t have the space to store hundreds of new figures, much less the number of shelves or cases to display them in!

Still, when I found out last March about the new figures Hasbro was releasing to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back, I threw caution to the wind and ordered Star Wars The Black Series: Imperial Probe Droid from Amazon, as well as a 40th Anniversary figure of Luke Skywalker (Bespin). (The latter figure, by the way, is packaged in a 1980s-style “Kenner” bubble pack with an authentic replica of the original cardback from the 3.75-inch action figures in Kenner’s Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back collection.

Oh, how cool! Hasbro goes back to the Star Wars figures’ original Kenner Toys origins and recreates the 1980 packaging from the Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back line. Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2020 Hasbro, Inc.. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL) Kenner is a registered trademark of Hasbro, Inc.

As you probably guessed, I am a big fan of the Star Wars The Black Series line. I found out about its existence when I received the 40th Anniversary Legacy Pack display stand with a 6-inch scale action figure of Darth Vader as a Christmas present in 2017. I wasn’t really planning on collecting any new items (for reasons I mentioned earlier), but because I thought putting one figure on a display for 12 would look silly, I bought the other 11 figures to complete “the original dozen” set. Some came in the 40th Anniversary cardback packaging, but I had to settle for getting a few in the red-and-black Star Wars The Black Series boxes.

Anyway, yeah. I’ve bought or been given quite a few figures from the 6-inch scale line; I’ve tried to be selective and acquired characters from each trilogy of the Skywalker Saga, always being mindful to not get too carried away with kid-like enthusiasm for the 21st Century versions of my favorite collectibles from my teen years,

For some reason I’ve always liked probots; there’s something intriguing about the insect-like form that the late conceptual artist Ralph McQuarrie created over 40 years ago when George Lucas and Co. were making Empire. I tend to favor the Rebels (I have at least three X-Wings of the 3.75-inch scale in my collection) as far as collectibles go, but one can’t ignore the Empire totally. And since I have only one Imperial droid in my Star Wars The Black Series collection – an IT-0 interrogation droid that comes with Grand Moff Tarkin‘s figure, I figured I’d get the Imperial Probe Droid.

I like this figure because its sculpt and paint jobs are nicely done, plus it has multiple points of articulation (POA) that allow for realistic life-like poses. It has a display stand for support; the base is white, evoking the color palette of the ice planet Hoth.

Are there disappointments? Sure, but they are minor. The least grave one is that although the packaging bears the indicia of the 1980-1982 Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and the 40th Anniversary: The Empire Strikes Back logo, the packaging is strictly of a Star Wars: The Black Series design. I would have preferred a Vintage “Kenner” branded box instead. Maybe Hasbro didn’t take that route because the Imperial Probe Droid (or Probot) was not sold separately as an action figure until 1997, whereas the Luke Skywalker (Bespin) was.

The other issue I have is that when I got my Imperial Probe Droid, the packaging came with a dent on the side that tore a hole in the cardboard. I’m not going to sell my collectibles unless I absolutely have to, but a damaged original package will reduce its value on the market. Plus, it doesn’t look nice.

Nevertheless, the Imperial Probe Droid looks way-cool (in an evilly sort of way), and I’m happy I found it on Amazon at the suggested price of $29.99.

All in all, Hasbro once again shows why its Star Wars action figures, especially the ones in its Star Wars The Black Series collection, are sought after by avid fans and collectors alike. 

Photo Credit: Hasbro. (C) 2020 Hasbro, Inc.. and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)


I hope you’ve enjoyed this review of Hasbro’s Star Wars The Black Series’ The Empire Strikes Back 40th Anniversary figure of the infamous Probot as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. As a Star Wars fan and collector, I give this figure a strong “Must Get This” rating, especially for Original Trilogy fans. And until next time, Dear Reader, May the Force be with you,

DVD Set/TV Documentary Review: WWI: The Complete Story – 100th Memorial Edition

(C) 2014 CBS Broadcasting Group/Timeless Media Group

The TV Series

On Tuesday, September 22, 1964, CBS broadcast The Summer of Sarajevo, the first of 26 30-minutes-long episodes of a documentary series titled World War One. Written by John Sharnik and Irve Tunick and released to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the conflict, World War One featured a score by composer Morton Gould and narration by actor Robert Ryan.

Austria-Hungary’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo, June 28, 1914, minutes away from their assassination by Serb terrorists of the Black Hand. (Photo Credit: WikiMedia Commons)

Like NBC’s 1952-53 documentary Victory at Sea, World War One was broadcast in black-and-white and, unlike The World at War, Thames Television’s later documentary about World War II, it didn’t feature any contemporary “talking head” interviews with survivors (the youngest of whom might have been in their 70s) or historians. Stylistically, it might as well have been a sequel to Victory at Sea, since it was presented in the same fashion (B&W archival footage from Australia, Austria, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Russia (then called the Soviet Union), Turkey, and the United States; a “voice of God” narration, and a symphonic score in lieu of sound effects) and one of its producers, Isaac Kleinerman, also produced the earlier series (which focused on naval combat during World War II).

Image from Good Free Photos

World War One follows the course of the 20th Century’s first great tragedy from the assassination of Austria-Hungary’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie by a young Serb terrorist in Bosnia’s capital Sarajevo on June 28, 1914 to the signing of the Versailles Peace Treaty five years later. The series examines the political and military rivalries in Europe during the latter parts of the 19th Century and the first decade of the 20th, starting with the emergence of a unified Germany in 1871 and its attempts to become a world power co-equal in prestige, colonial holdings, and military strength as its neighbors (Russia, Austria-Hungary, France, and Great Britain).  The decline of two of the great imperial dynasties (the Hapsburgs and the Romanovs), as well as the psychologically damaged Kaiser Wilhelm II’s troubled personality, are also topics of interest in the early episodes, including The Summer of Sarajevo and The Doomed Dynasties.

Naturally, World War One devotes much of its air time to the military aspects of the conflict; most of the episodes focus on specific campaigns (the Race to the Channel and Germany’s fateful invasion of Belgium in a bid to capture Paris in 42 days per the prewar Schlieffen Plan; trench warfare; the Battle of Jutland; Verdun; Gallipoli; the air war and the public fascination with “aces” such as Manfred von Ritchofen (“the Red Baron”) and Eddie Rickenbacker; submarine warfare;  the Battle of the Meuse-Argonne – all of these are covered in specific episodes.

But armed conflict is rooted in politics and socio-cultural mores, too, and World War One examines the non-military aspects of the 1914-1918. Viewers will see episodes that look at “balance of power” maneuvering among Europe’s dynastic empires and its two democracies with colonial holdings of their own, the influence of nationalism in the Balkans and the Middle East, the decaying Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, and Russian Empires, the rise of Lenin and the Bolsheviks in a sharply polarized Russia, Woodrow Wilson and American neutrality, and the role of propaganda in the war efforts of both the Allies and the Central Powers. There’s even an episode devoted to the war-related music of the period (Tipperary and All That Jazz).

When World War One aired during the 1964-1965 season, CBS first scheduled it for broadcast on Tuesday nights at 8 Eastern (7 Central). However, it was up against ABC’s World War II action-drama series Combat! and NBC’s Mr. Novak, which were popular with audiences. As a result, the network moved World War One to the safer time slot of Sunday evenings at 6:30 Eastern (5:30 Central).

In the years after its initial run, CBS News either allowed the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) to air repeats on local public television stations such as WPBT-Channel Two in Miami (Florida) or in its own late-night programming slate. CBS also released it for viewing on cable channels such as A&E and The History Channel in 1995 to commemorate the 80th Anniversary of the Great War (and the 30th of the series). It’s also been available on VHS since the 1980s and on DVD since the early 2000s.

The DVD Set

I

(C) 2014 CBS Broadcasting Group and Timeless Media Group

In 2014, to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the First World War and the Golden Anniversary of the series, CBS News granted the DVD licensing rights to World War One to Timeless Media Group. The result: a four-disc set titled WWI: The Complete Story – 100th Memorial Edition, which was manufactured by Shout! and released on May 20, 2014.

The set divvies up the 26 episodes of the documentary among three DVDs – the fourth DVD is a Special Bonus Disc with a separate documentary titled A Century of Warfare about the “history of the United States at War in the 20th Century, including World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and Desert Storm.”

It began as a regional conflict and escalated into a war of Empires that covered the Earth. WWI The Complete Story is a comprehensive look at The War to End All Wars. Produced by CBS television in the early 1960s in anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the onset of World War I, this unflinching 26 episode series is more than just the history of this global conflict; it is also a photo album of the early twentieth century. From the political intrigues that led nations to war to Armistice day more than four years later, you’ll meet the men and machines that fought the war and witness every major battle and event of this global struggle. No other collection offers such a complete overview of one of history’s most destructive conflicts. – DVD packaging blurb, WWI: The Complete Story

WWI: The Complete Story (note the rebranding of the series) presents the original series thusly:

Disc One: The War Begins

  1. The Summer of Sarajevo (Original Air Date—22 September 1964)
  2. The Clash of the Generals (Original Air Date—29 September 1964)
  3. The Doomed Dynasties (Original Air Date—6 October 1964)
  4. Atrocity 1914 (Original Air Date—13 October 1964)
  5. They Sank the Lusitania (Original Air Date—27 October 1964)
  6. Verdun the Inferno (Original Air Date—10 November 1964)
  7. The Battle of Jutland (Original Air Date—17 November 1964)
  8. The Trenches (Original Air Date—24 November 1964)
  9. D-Day at Gallipoli (Original Air Date—1 December 1964)

Disc One also has the following extra features under the umbrella of Great Events Before the War

  • 1910: King Edward VII Dies
  • 1911: The South Pole is Conquered
  • 1912: The Titanic Disaster
  • 1913: The Panama Canal

Disc Two: The Loss of Innocence

  1. America the Neutral (Original Air Date—8 December 1964)
  2. Wilson and the War (Original Air Date—20 December 1964)
  3. Revolution in Red (Original Air Date—27 December 1964)
  4. Behind the German Lines (Original Air Date—3 January 1965)
  5. Year of Lost Illusions (Original Air Date—10 January 1965)
  6. Over There (Original Air Date—17 January 1965)
  7. Over Here (Original Air Date—24 January 1965)
  8. Daredevils and Dogfights (Original Air Date—31 January 1965)
  9. The Agony of Caporetto (Original Air Date—14 February 1965)
  10. Tipperary and All That Jazz (Original Air Date—21 February 1965)
  11. The Promised Lands (Original Air Date—28 February 1965)

Disc Two also has the following extra feature

  • Up From the Trenches

Disc Three: The Tide of War

  1. The Tide Turns (Original Air Date—7 March 1965)
  2. The Battle of Argonne (Original Air Date—14 March 1965)
  3. The Day the Guns Stopped Firing (Original Air Date—28 March 1965)
  4. Wilson and Peace (Original Air Date—4 April 1965)
  5. The Allies in Russia (Original Air Date—11 April 1965)
  6. Heritage of War (Original Air Date—18 April 1965)

Disc Three also includes the following extra features under the banner Post War Great Events:

  • 1920: Prohibition
  • 1920: Suffrage
  • 1921: The Irish Free State
  • 1922: Mussolini Takes Over

The bonus disc, A Century of War, consists of four minidocumentaries:

  • World War II
  • Korea
  • Vietnam
  • Desert Storm

My Take

Woodrow Wilson, the 28th U.S. President, poses for a portrait in this undated photo. (AP Photo)

I remember watching repeat episodes of World War One (as it was known before 1995) sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s. My recollection is rather vague because I only saw it once on broadcast TV way after its original airdates of the 1964-1965 season. (I was one going on two years then, so I couldn’t have watched – and remembered – it during its broadcast run on CBS. My parents might have watched it, but my father died in a plane crash on the Saturday before The Agony of Caporetto aired on February 14, 1965.)  I probably have watched it on PBS when I was in junior high. We didn’t have cable then and the series was shown in its “as seen on CBS” form, complete with its original main title sequence and name.

I emphasize the part about the main title sequence because somewhere between the PBS rebroadcast and the series’ release on home media, the title was changed from World War One to WWI: The Complete Story and the original main title sequence, which ended with an iconic shot of an Allied soldier – either British or American from the look of the silhouette – rising up from a crouch position to aim a rifle, at which point the image was frozen, has been deleted. The new title sequence still features a section of Morton Gould’s main theme, but It has been modernized and shorn of most of its credits. More likely this was done to appeal to more modern audiences with shorter attention spans and to cut the episodes’ run time to allow cable channels to cram more ads into their 30-minute time slots.

As far as I can tell, the main content of the episodes is left intact, and because CBS News and CBS Home Entertainment are still listed as owners of the editorial material, the episodes don’t seem to have any flaws in the editing or completeness of content (except, of course, for the revamped main title sequence at the beginning of each episode).

From a history buff’s perspective, WWI: The Complete Story is a good introduction to the topic; like Victory at Sea, it’s a Big Picture-type of historical overview; it’s not as immersive or detailed as the shorter but more specific 2017 American Experience: The Great War, a three-part documentary by Stephen Ives (The West), which focuses on the U.S. involvement in the war. However, it is a decent if rather general overview that gives viewers who are more familiar with the 20th Century’s other – and even bloodier – global conflict, World War II and its sequels a deeper understanding of why peace after Versailles proved impossible.

To their credit, the series’ writers – John Sharnik and Irve Tunick – don’t just focus their attention on the purely military aspects of the war – aspects such as strategy, tactics, weapons, or technology. Considering that each episode is about 26 minutes long, they convey some of the human dimensions of the war by adding occasional mentions to the strengths and flaws of leaders such as Kaiser Wilhelm II (a man who overcompensated for a deformed left arm and a tendency to waffle by acting as Europe’s bellicose bully) and Nicholas II (a well-meaning man who nevertheless was intellectually incapable of leading Russia into the modern world and resisting the need for political and economic reforms). WWI: The Complete Story also goes out of its way to explore the home fronts of Germany, Russia, and the United States, which was dubiously neutral and had as its President a complex man who was in turns idealistic and arrogant.

So far, I have not noticed any serious flaws in Timeless Media Group’s presentation of the rebranded World War One documentary; I’ve seen at least one sloppily presented version of the earlier Victory at Sea on DVD where the distributors crammed in the 26 episodes on two DVDs. (That set, which was a Mill Creek production, was ghastly. It had really sloppy edits and poor video quality that made for a truly unpleasant viewing experience. Such is not the case here, Timeless Media Group partnered with the copyright owner, CBS News – the network’s iconic “Eye” logo is on the spine of the DVD package and is also seen in the start of playback of each disc – so quality control was a top priority in the making of this set. The images – both motion picture and stills – are decent, considering the fact that the archival footage used by the producers was already 50 years old and had flaws caused by damage and the passage of time.

The only serious issue I have with this DVD set – other than the change in title from World War One to WWI: The Complete Story – is the lack of subtitles for the deaf or hearing impaired. I am not 100% deaf, but I do have a hard time hearing clearly In situations where I can’t have the volume set at 60% or higher on the volume bar of a TV set. (On my computer, where I’ m closer to the monitor/speakers or can use a headset, this isn’t a problem. But in the TV room late at night…that’s another situation altogether.) Subtitles for the deaf or hearing impaired would have been nice on this set.

Overall, this DVD set is worth getting. Although the episodes are – like Victory at Sea a decade or so earlier – under 30 minutes in running time, it is well-researched and free from the wartime propaganda biases that colored the belligerent nations’ views of the war while it was ongoing. The narration is well-written and delivered without dramatic embellishment by veteran actor Robert Ryan, and composer Morton Gould’s score is used for great effect instead of artificially added sound effects.

I strongly recommend WWI: The Complete Story to anyone who is interested in learning about the cataclysmic event that shaped and continues to affect our modern world.

Movie Watcher Memories: ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ at 40

Preliminary design for Roger Kastel’s Gone With the Wind-inspired poster for The Empire Strikes Back. (C) 1980 Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

On May 21, 1980, Twentieth Century Fox released director Irvin Kershner’s Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, the eagerly anticipated follow-up to writer-director George Lucas’ Star Wars, which was retroactively retitled as Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope for its Summer 1981 re-release.

Like Star Wars, it opened mid-week close to Memorial Day. But unlike Star Wars, which was a “come-out-of-nowhere” space-fantasy film that Fox (which both financed and released it) didn’t have high expectations for, Empire entered the pop-culture conscience with a bang louder than that made by the Death Star’s destruction. In its first weekend, this first of five Star Wars films personally financed by Lucas earned $4.9 million in 126 theaters in the North American market. (Star Wars, in comparison, opened on May 25, 1977 and earned $1.5 million in just 43 theaters across the U.S.)

That was 40 years ago today.

On that Wednesday – which I remember clearly even though a lot of time has passed – I was not a happy camper. School was still not out for the summer in what was then Florida’s Dade County public school system, so I was stuck at Riviera Junior High School at around the same time of Empire’s first scheduled showing instead of sitting in one of the theaters at the Dadeland Twin Theaters. I accepted that reality as calmly as I could, considering that by 1980 I was a die-hard Star Wars fan.

When The Empire Strikes Back started its original theatrical run, I knew well in advance that I wasn’t going to be among the first to see it. My widowed mom, Beatriz Diaz-Granados, was working in the cafeteria at Miami Sunset Senior High School, which had opened its doors only a few months earlier. As a Dade County Public Schools employee, she did not have the day off on that day, either, and she would not be home from work until 5 or so that evening. I knew she’d be tired, so I didn’t even broach the subject of going to the movies that night.

Back then, I didn’t have friends with cars of their own; most of my close buddies were in the 14-15 age group and didn’t even have learning permits, and a few others had disabilities that made driving a car a difficult proposition. A few years down the line, after I graduated from high school and started college, that impediment was gone, and I had a regular moviegoing posse that endured till the late 1990s. But not on May 21, 1980.  

I, of course, was disappointed; I’d been skeptical about the original Star Wars three years earlier and resisted every invitation to go see it with friends in the Summer of 1977; I came around in mid-October – thank the Force for Fox’s decision to extend Star Wars’ run well into the summer of 1978. Not being one of the first to climb onto the Star Wars bandwagon was a conscious decision on my part, albeit one that I regret. But now I wanted to be among the first ones to watch The Empire Strikes Back – and I could not.

And yet, I still had reason to be content on that day in May 1980.

A few weeks earlier, Del Rey Books had published, with Lucasfilm’s permission, Donald F. Glut’s novelization of The Empire Strikes Back. This was publicized in the media of the time – I dimly remember reading an article about its upcoming release in the Miami Herald. The Midway Mall – now called Mall of the Americas – was 2.6 miles away from our townhouse; the mall had a Waldenbooks store, so Mom drove me there so I could buy my copy of the Empire novel.

I bought the paperback of the novelization several weeks before the movie was out in theaters. (C) 1980 Del Rey Books/Ballantine Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL) Cover art by Roger Kastel

A few days after that, Jorge Boshell, who was married to my cousin Maria Clara at the time (they divorced several years later) went to Miami to visit from Colombia and gave me a belated birthday present of $20. I wanted badly to get the 2-LP original soundtrack album with composer John Williams’ original score, which had also been just released in stores. Once again, Mom drove me to Midway Mall so I could get it.  (We had watched Evening at Pops on WPBT-Channel 2to see Maestro Williams’ debut as music director and principal conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra on April 29, when The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme) and Yoda’s Theme made their world premiere.  Mom had not seen Star Wars in any of its pre-1980 theatrical releases, but she liked its music, so she watched Evening at Pops and promised me that, unlike her refusal to take me to see Jaws five years before, she would go see Empire with me as soon as she could.)

The album cover for RSO Records’ 2-LP (vinyl) original soundtrack album. (C) 1980 RSO Records and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

I didn’t get to go see The Empire Strikes Back with Mom until its second weekend in Miami theaters. By then, of course, I’d already read the novel – I read the paperback over the course of an entire Saturday – and listened to the soundtrack on my stereo countless times. So by the time Mom finally said, “Okay, Alex, we’re going to the 1:00 show today” on a Saturday in early June 1980, I had already absorbed the basic plot of Empire and could hum The Imperial March almost by rote.

Boy was I excited! After almost three years of wondering what Empire would look like on screen and how the various story arcs would develop, I was on my way to see the second installment of the Star Wars saga.

The one worry that I had wasn’t that we’d be late for the show – Mom was punctual and a good driver, so we left the house about 90 minutes before the scheduled screening.  No, Dear Reader, I was worried that Mom would not have a good time watching The Empire Strikes Back.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Mom was never a big fan of sci-fi movies; she thought she’d hate Star Wars and always demurred whenever I asked her to go with me during the movie’s original 1977-’78 release and its Summer of 1979 “for the last time” re-release.

She tolerated my fandom, of course; she bought many of my original Kenner action figures or, later, took me to stores so I could buy them with my earned-allowance money that she gave me weekly in exchange for good grades and doing chores around the house.  And she liked John Williams’ music, though she probably wished I’d not play my soundtracks on my stereo system as often as I did.  

We arrived at the theater with plenty of time to spare; a line was forming in front of the box office even before we parked, but we weren’t so late as to end up at the end of a blocks-long line. I don’t remember having to queue for an inordinately long period of time, and by the time we got our tickets Mom was in such a happy mood that she surprised me by buying a large Coca Cola and a medium popcorn so I’d get a free Empire poster by fantasy artist Boris Vallejo. (I still have that poster, too!)

I’m not going to regale you with a play-by-play of my first screening of The Empire Strikes Back. But here are some of the highlights that are still vivid in my mind:

  • The loud cheer from the audience when the last Coming Attractions trailer faded out and the house lights went dark all the way, and the Fox logo (with its Fanfare by Alfred Newman) appeared on the screen
  • The hush that fell on that same audience as the “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” card followed the then-simple green-lettered Lucasfilm company credit
  • The even louder whoops and hollers when the yellow-lettered Star Wars logo, synchronized with the opening fanfare of John Williams’ Main Title theme, appeared
  • My initial surprise when I saw, for the first time, the Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back subtitle
  • My occasional side glances at my mom in an effort to see if she was enjoying the movie or not
  • My happiness when I finally saw that my mother was engrossed in the film and often had a little smile on her face, especially in the scenes with Yoda
  • My own immersion into the movie; yes, I had read the novel, but the movie was so captivating that watching it was a mind-blowing experience. It was as if I had not read Glut’s novelization of the script by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan

On our way home a couple of hours later, Mom said she had liked The Empire Strikes Back, even though she had not seen the first film. She (and I) didn’t quite understand why it was “Episode V”; in those pre-Internet days, the only sources of Star Wars news were officially-licensed publications such as The Official Star Wars Poster Magazine and sci-fi oriented magazines such as Starlog, and I didn’t read those regularly enough to know about Lucas’s nebulous plans for a nine-part saga.  So, yes, Mom and I were mystified by that “Episode V” subtitle.

I think I can recall these events from 40 years ago for two reasons. First, Star Wars was my first fandom. I would later get into Star Trek, but Star Wars was the first film (and, eventually, franchise) that I totally geeked out over. Maybe it was the age in which I first saw it, or maybe it was because it was one of the few bright spots for me in 1977. (I’ll tell that story at another time, though!) I’d liked plenty of other films before, but none of them as much as I loved (and still love) George Lucas’s original Star Wars.

Later on, I bought the Marvel Comics adaptation. (C) 1980 Marvel Comics Group and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Second, this was a movie that further cemented my bond with my mom. I had a good relationship with my widowed mom; she worked hard and did her best to be both a mother and father to me. Parenting  is difficult enough under socially-ideal situations (a two-parent home with kids who get along decently if not always harmoniously). Mom  didn’t have the luxury of living in that ideal social setup: my father had died 15 years earlier in a plane crash near Miami International Airport, and it wasn’t easy for her to raise a boy on her own. (My older half-sister is almost 13 years than I am, but she was already living on her own and didn’t play much of a role in my upbringing.)

The Boris Vallejo poster, which was originally sponsored by Coca-Cola and available at Burger King and movie theater. I still have mine, though it’s a bit tattered and faded, (C) 1980 Boris Vallejo and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

So, yep. Mom and I got along well, despite my occasional displays of teenaged rebelliousness and my dislike of having to live under what I thought were strict rules. (Looking back on that time as a middle-aged guy, they really were not that strict. But Teenager Alex thought having an 11 PM curfew on weekends, a set schedule for meals [we ate dinner at 6 PM sharp, barring extenuating circumstances] and having to wash dishes three times a week were almost a prison sentence.)  We had mutual respect for each other’s space, we had at least one long conversation every night after I did my homework, and more often than not we watched the same shows together (especially sitcoms such as All in the Family and M*A*S*H), even though by then I had my own black-and-white TV set in my room.

Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and later, Star Trek were franchises that my mom learned to like from me, while I got my love of Casablanca and Lawrence of Arabia from her. So The Empire Strikes Back’s 40th Anniversary has special meaning for me, not just because it commemorates the release of a movie I enjoy, but because it was a special part in my family life a long time ago in a city that seems far, far away.   

Audiobook Review: ‘William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Collection’

(C) 2017 Random House Audio and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL). Cover illustration by Nicolas Delort.

On February 14, 2017, Random House Audio released William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Collection, a 15-CD box set featuring the three audiobook editions of author Ian Doescher’s William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy. It consists of dramatic readings of Doescher’s first three books in the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series: Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope, The Empire Striketh Back, and The Jedi Doth Return.

Originally published as hardcover books by Philadelphia’s Quirk Books (home of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) between July 2013 and July 2014, Doescher’s funny and inventive books reimagine the original Star Wars films as Elizabethan era stage plays written in iambic pentameter, authentically sparse stage direction, stirring soliloquies, and lots of puns and pop culture references.

The three books that are dramatized in this audiobook collection are:

Cover art by Nicolas Delort. (C) 2013 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Return once more to a galaxy far, far away with this sublime retelling of George Lucas’s epic Star Wars in the style of the immortal Bard of Avon. The saga of a wise (Jedi) knight and an evil (Sith) lord, of a beautiful princess held captive and a young hero coming of age, Star Wars abounds with all the valor and villainy of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. ’Tis a tale told by fretful droids, full of faithful Wookiees and fearsome Stormtroopers, signifying…pretty much everything.

Reimagined in glorious iambic pentameter, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars will astound and edify Rebels and Imperials alike.

“Alas, poor stormtrooper, I knew ye not!” Illustration credit: Nicolas Delort.

Discs 1-5 of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Collection present director Kevin Thomsen’s dramatization of Doescher’s first mashup of Star Wars and Shakespeare’s blend of drama and poetry. It recounts the Special Edition of George Lucas’s Star Wars: A New Hope presented in iambic pentameter that includes the face-off between Han Solo and Jabba the Hutt in Mos Eisley’s Docking Bay 94. 

Cover art by Nicolas Delort (C) 2014 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd.

Many a fortnight have passed since the destruction of the Death Star. Young Luke Skywalker and his friends have taken refuge on the ice planet of Hoth, where the evil Darth Vader has hatched a cold-blooded plan to capture them. Only with the help of a little green Jedi Master—and a swaggering rascal named Lando Calrissian—can our heroes escape the Empire’s wrath. And only then will Lord Vader learn how sharper than a tauntaun’s tooth it is to have a Jedi child.

Illustration by Nicolas Delort

Discs 6-10 contain director Thomsen’s audio production of Doescher’s Shakespearean version of Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan’s screenplay for Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Again, the author uses iambic pentameter, soliloquies, puns, and – to distinguish the 900-year-old Jedi Master Yoda from the rest of the characters – haikus to retell the story of what many fans consider to be the best of the Original Trilogy films. 

Doescher adheres to  Lucas’s revised version of Empire by adapting the scene in which Vader and Emperor Palpatine’s hologram discuss the Empire’s new enemy, Luke Skywalker, to match the 2004 DVD edition rather than the 1980 original. In addition, Doescher fleshes out Lando Calrissian’s character by giving him soliloquies and asides that serve to explain his motives vis a vis his betrayal of Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Chewbacca at Cloud City on Bespin. 

Cover art by Nicolas Delort. (C) 2014 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Prithee, attend the tale so far: Han Solo entombed in carbonite, the princess taken captive, the Rebel Alliance besieged, and Jabba the Hutt engorged. Now Luke Skywalker and his Rebel band must seek fresh allies in their quest to thwart construction of a new Imperial Death Star. But whom can they trust to fight by their side in the great battle to come? Cry “Ewok” and let slip the dogs of war!

Illustration by Nicolas Delort.

Discs 11-15 present Thomsen’s audio adaptation of Doescher’s third Shakespeare-meets-Lucas jaunt to a galaxy far, far away. The five-act play wraps up the tale of a farmboy-turned-Jedi who challenges a tyrannical Emperor Palpatine and attempts to redeem his fallen father, Darth Vader, and restore him to the light side of the Force. 

(C) 2017 Random House Audio and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Each play in the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Collection is divided into five acts, as was the custom in Shakespeare’s time, and Doescher uses many of the Bard’s techniques in adapting a late 20th Century space-fantasy saga into a 16th Century stage-bound production  worthy of the Globe Theater itself.


Consequently, each play takes up five compact discs, with one CD per act. 
To bring the audio version of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Collection to life, executive producer Aaron Blank assembled a creative team that included writer Ian Doescher and actors Danny Davis, Jonathan Davis, Jeff Gurner, January LaVoy, and Marc Thompson to perform the unabridged production of all three plays. In addition, composer Robert Lopez (Frozen, Avenue Q) supplements the music performed by the “Max Rebo Band” with an original song written for William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope. 

My Take

Publicity image for the Royal Imperial Box Set of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy, (C) 2014 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

As a Star Wars fan and a lover of the written word, I was intrigued when I happened to find the print edition of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy half a decade ago. It was purely by chance; I was on Amazon one night, looking for new books to buy and read to escape, for a while anyway, the harsh realities of my life as the primary caregiver for my ailing elderly mother.

I had, of course, heard of literary mashups (I’d seen Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies mentioned on social media) and pastiches (Nicholas Meyer’s Seven Percent Solution, a Sherlock Holmes adventure written in the style of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is the one I was most aware of), but I’d never read one.

So when I saw the box set of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy, I decided to buy it purely on impulse: I have been a Star Wars devotee since 1977, and I guess I wanted to see how well the Original Trilogy – a product of the late Seventies and early Eighties – fares as a trio of Shakespearean dramas.

As it turns out, the concept works rather well; George Lucas, after all, had based Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi on themes and archetypes that have appeared in world literature over thousands of years. Some of the sources that the Bard of Modesto used to develop the first six films of what we call the Skywalker Saga included the works of the Bard of Avon, including plays such as Henry V, Richard III, Coriolanus, Macbeth, The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, and A Midsummer’s Night Dream, just to name a few.

To be sure, at first sight, the notion of reimagining Star Wars as stage plays written by perhaps the greatest dramatist in the English canon seems crazy, even sacrilegious. But because Shakespeare’s dramas and comedies are full of insights about human nature that are as true today as they were in the 16th and 17th Centuries, this crazy idea works.

Of course, I bought the hardcover books at a particularly difficult time in my life: my mother was dying (there’s no gentle way to describe this reality), and I was preoccupied with many things between the time I purchased the print edition of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy and my decision to get the audiobooks, most of them either vexing or depressing.

The main reason I had for getting the 15-CD set (other than the price, which was rather attractive because unabridged audiobooks are usually more expensive than the original hardcover editions) is this: I rarely watch or listen to adaptations of Shakespeare’s real works. I have but one film adaptation of Henry V, and Shakespeare in Love is a fantasy/comedy not written by the Bard of Avon. And it’s been decades since I studied Macbeth and The Taming of the Shrew, even though I kept the paperbacks of those plays instead of consigning them to the “donate these old books at Goodwill” box.

Basically, I wanted to hear professional actors performing William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy. It’s one thing to read about iambic pentameter and how it works in Ian Doescher’s Afterword page in the originals; it’s quite another to hear real thespians who are familiar with Shakespeare’s works reading the lines as if they were acting on the stage at London’s Globe Theater.

Suffice it to say, Dear Reader, that listening to William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Collection is quite the treat, especially if you have the print or ebook editions handy. It’s one thing to read the sonnets, soliloquies, asides, and dialogues whilst trying to figure out how they should sound in our heads – I still remember how odd we high school students sounded when we had to recite Macbeth’s “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” soliloquy for English 4 class.

Ah, but to hear William Shakespeare’s Star Wars performed by the pros…that’s a totally different – and mind-blowing – experience! After listening to the first audiobook version of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope, I found myself wishing that Lucasfilm would greenlight a movie version of these whimsical, oft hilariously funny, and delightfully inventive pastiches.

On the printed page (and enhanced with Nicolas Delort’s Elizabethan-style art work), Doescher’s William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series is a loving tribute to the works of both Shakespeare and George Lucas. Readers familiar with both the Bard and Star Wars will find much to enjoy in the eight existing “parts” of the saga. 


In this audio presentation, though, Doescher’s Shakespeare “parody” truly comes to life. The soliloquies, rhymes, puns, and cultural references are more fun for the listener when they are performed by actors, especially those who are familiar with Shakespeare’s great plays and George Lucas’s Star Wars movies. Enhanced by excellent line readings by the cast and the listener’s imagination, Willliam Shakespeare’s Star Wars Collection is an enjoyable journey to that famous galaxy far, far away. 

Book Review: ‘William Shakespeare’s The Force Doth Awaken: Star Wars Part the Seventh’

Cover illustration by Nicolas Delort. (C) 2017 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Two trilogies are now behind us, dear reader….Thank you for sharing this journey with me, and may the Force be with you onward, into episodes 7, 8, and 9. – Ian Doescher, in his Afterword to William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of the Sith’s Revenge: Star Wars Part the Third

Roll swiftly as thou canst, good BB-8 –

Kind solace in a dying hour thou art! Poe Dameron, Act I, Scene 1, William Shakespeare’s The Force Doth Awaken: Star Wars Part the Seventh

On October 3, 2017 – nearly two years after author Ian Doescher closed out the Prequel Trilogy of his William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series – Philadelphia-based Quirk Books published William Shakespeare’s The Force Doth Awaken, a witty and enthralling reimagining of director J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

Based on the screenplay by Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, and Michael Arndt, The Force Doth Awaken is based on this premise: What if William Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon, were the author of the Skywalker Saga, and its nine Episodes were stage plays written in the times of Queen Elizabeth I?  

FN-2187 grieves over his fellow trooper’s corpse on Jakku. Illustration by Nicolas Delort. (C) 2017 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Set 30 years after the events of William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return: Star Wars Part the Sixth, this delightful and inventive pastiche finds that all’s not well in that galaxy far, far away after the reported demise of Emperor Palpatine and his fearsome agent Darth Vader. The Empire is defeated, but the New Republic faces a new, deadly threat. Writing in the voice of Shakespeare, Doescher says through his omniscient narrator, the Chorus:

PROLOGUE.

Outer space.

Enter CHORUS.

CHORUS: Luke Skywalker hath sadly disappear’d.

And in his absence come most wicked foes.

The cruel First Order hath made all afeard –

Like phoenix from the Empire’s ash it grows.

They shall not rest till Skywalker is dead,

Yet others seek to rescue him from harm.

By Leia – General Organa – led,

Th’ Republic doth a brave Resistance arm.

Her brother she doth earnestly pursue,

Thus may he help bring peace to restoration.

She sends a daring pilot to Jakku,

Where one old friend perchance knows Luke’s location.

In time so long ago begins our play,

In yearning galaxy far, far away.

[Exit.

Banner ad for The Force Doth Awaken. (C) 2017 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Between the Covers

Experience the Star Wars saga reimagined as an Elizabethan drama penned by William Shakespeare himself, complete with authentic meter and verse, and theatrical monologues and dialog by everyone from Rey to Chewbacca.

As the noble Resistance clashes with the vile First Order, Rey, Finn, Poe Dameron, Kylo Ren, and BB-8 are pulled into a galaxy-wide drama. The romance of Han Solo and Leia Organa takes a tragic turn that Shakespeare would approve of.

Authentic meter, stage directions, reimagined movie scenes and dialogue, and hidden Easter eggs throughout will entertain and impress fans of Star Wars and Shakespeare alike. Every scene and character from the film appears in the play, along with twenty woodcut-style illustrations that depict an Elizabethan version of the Star Wars galaxy. – From the publisher’s website.

Kylo Ren examines the misshapen remnants of Darth Vader’s helmet and breath mask, Illustration by Nicolas Delort. (C) 2017 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd.(LFL)

Like J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens, William Shakespeare’s The Force Doth Awaken begins on the desert world of Jakku, far out in the galaxy’s Outer Rim Territories. In a small village, Resistance fighter pilot Poe Dameron meets with Lor San Tekka, an “old man of Jakku” who is a retired adventurer and long-time friend of General Leia Organa. An enemy of the fallen Empire and its new ideological heir, the First Order, Lor has something vital to the survival of the Resistance – a lead to the whereabouts of the missing Jedi Master, Luke Skywalker.

But before Poe and his faithful astromech droid BB-8 can depart from Jakku with the information Leia so desperately seeks, the First Order Star Destroyer Finalizer arrives in-system and dispatches a landing force commanded jointly by Kylo Ren – described in the Dramatis Personae as “a dastardly villain of the First Order” and Captain Phasma, head of the First Order’s stormtroopers. Its mission: to acquire the information that leads to Skywalker, the last Jedi, and kill anyone who stands in the way.

POE: Lo! Death hath rear’d himself a throne and doth

Approach with haste. We shall have company,

Thus you must hide.

LOR:               – And thou, my lad, must leave.

Get hence! Deliver my fond hope to her.

Enter a mighty battalion of STORMTROOPERS, including CAPTAIN PHASMA and FN-2187.

Enter several CITIZENS OF JAKKU severally, fighting in opposition.

POE: Roll swiftly as thou canst, good BB-8 –

Kind solace in a dying hour thou art!

BB-8: Flip flli zzwablic zilf blooblee zoom reej blee!

[Poe and BB-8 climb into Poe’s X-wing fighter. Stormtroopers fire at his ship.

The singing rahtar! Illustration by Nicolas Delort. (C) 2017 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Poe and BB-8 make a hasty exit from their badly-damaged starfighter just as the sinister masked figure of Kylo Ren enters the scene. Realizing that Leia’s search for Luke will fail if he is captured, Poe entrusts the chip with the information both sides want to find the missing Jedi Master to his faithful droid. And to distract the First Order long enough for BB-8 to make his escape, Poe joins the band of villagers who are fighting Ren and Phasma’s stormtroopers.

During the battle with the villagers, Stormtrooper FN-2187 has an epiphany when one of his fellow troopers is killed. In a rare act of compassion, the rookie FN-2187 tries to render assistance to his fallen comrade, but only succeeds on becoming a “marked” man. The dying trooper – FN-2003 – reaches out and leaves a bloody handprint on FN-2187’s helmet.

In a revealing soliloquy, the shocked young trooper states:

…Like womp rats in a nest we were fix’d fast

As we flew in the transport to Jakku.

Form’d into order’d, stately rows of white,

Prepar’d for years for battle on this night.

Each one of us a soldier, train’d and skill’d,

Ta’en from our families, and rais’d to kill.

The great First Order is our only kin,

Our chieftains hold the claim to parentage,

For we know naught of ties of family –

Our squadron is our first community.

Yet here, this night wherein I come to fight,

I find myself dismay’d by horrid sights:

My comrade bloody, fallen, dead, and gone,

As we make slaughter of these innocents.

I cannot fight – my mind hath shaken loose

Of what the strong First Order doth require.

The play, written in five acts as was the custom in Shakespeare’s day, follows the beats of the script by J.J. Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, and Michael Arndt: The young, powerful, and ambitious Kylo Ren slays Lor San Tekka when the old man refuses to hand over the map to Skywalker. Poe is captured by stormtroopers and brought before Ren, even as Captain Phasma, on Ren’s orders, destroys the village and all in it. FN-2187, in trouble with his superiors for not firing his blaster at the foes of the First Order, is girding himself to do the unthinkable – desert from the shadowy regime that seeks to impose its dark will upon the galaxy. Meanwhile, the astromech BB-8 makes his way across the desert wastes of Jakku, where his path will intersect with that of a young orphaned scavenger named Rey.

R2-D2 and BB-8 try to fit the puzzle that will reveal the whereabouts of the missing Luke Skywalker, Jedi Master. Illustration by Nicolas Delort. (C) 2017 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)
Cover art by Nicolas Delort. (C) 2017 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Up Front: The Cover

Nicolas Delort is back again to illustrate the book and give it a striking cover that blends the Star Wars look with an Elizabethan era aesthetic. For William Shakespeare’s The Force Doth Awaken, the coveted central spot is reserved for BB-8, the new “cute droid” counterpart to R2-D2.

The central illustration of BB-8 is flanked by smaller depictions of (clockwise from left top) Poe Dameron’s T-70 X-wing starfighter, the Starkiller Base, the Millennium Falcon, Kylo Ren, and facing off against him across a stage with the Skywalker lightsaber, Rey. Like all of the characters in this series, BB-8, Kylo, and Rey wear Elizabethan-era variants of their outfits from The Force Awakens.

Setting the stage for William Shakespeare’s Jedi The Last. Illustration by Nicolas Delort, (C) 2017 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

The Book

An excerpt from the audiobook.

TO BB-8 OR NOT TO BB-8? THAT IS THE QUESTION!

The curtain rises on a galaxy-wide drama! New players take the stage as Rey, Finn, BB-8, and Poe Dameron clash with Kylo Ren and the vile First Order. Star-crossed lovers reunite, a lost knight is found…and tragedy befalls the house of Solo.

THE FAULT, DEAR BRUTUS, is in our Starkiller…What’s past is prologue! A new chapter of Star Wars begins, with The Force Awakens reimagined as a stage play from the quill of William Shakespeare – featuring authentic rhyme and meter, woodcut style illustrations, and sly asides that will delight pop culture fanatics and classic literature lovers alike. Join the adventure in a galaxy far, far away, penned in the style of the Bard of Avon. There has been an awakening in the verse!

The hardcover edition of William Shakespeare’s The Force Doth Awaken is not a large or heavy volume; it is only 168 pages long, including the Dramatis Personae page, the Afterword (in which Doescher explains some of the techniques he used to adapt Abrams’ 2015 film into a Shakespearean tragedy and some comparisons to the plays he borrowed material from. The author also tells readers about some new tweaks to his writing, such as translations of Chewbacca’s grunts and growls and how to interpret BB-8’s lines. All in all, the hardcover edition measures 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches and weighs less than 1 lb.

My Take

FN-2187, now renamed Finn, has a close encounter with a happabore in Niima Outpost, Jakku. Illustration by Nicolas Delort. (C) 2017 Quirk Books and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

KYLO REN:  Thou art alone, of leaving most afeard.

At night, thou art so desperate to sleep.

Within thy mind an ocean, and an isle

Plac’d in the ocean’s vast expanse—I seet.

Han Solo: he is in thy mind as well.

To thee he seemeth like the father whom

Thou ne’er didst know.

Hear thou my words most true:

 The man, I’ll warrant, would but disappoint.

This podcast was recorded before Ian Doescher’s The Force Doth Awaken was published, but here the author is interviewed by the Film Trooper and discusses the genesis of the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series.

I’ve been reading the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series since 2015, which is when – purely by chance – I discovered the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy: The Royal Imperial Box Set whilst looking in Amazon for new and unusual books to review for the late, lamented Examiner.com website. I don’t know why, but the notion of reading Star Wars, my favorite franchise of all time, as a series of plays by William Shakespeare seemed interesting and fun to read.

Now, I am not the world’s biggest Shakespeare aficionado. I didn’t fret much about having to study several of his works when my 12th grade English teacher, Sallie DeWitt, taught the “Shakespeare Unit” during the 1982-1983 school year. In fact, I rather enjoyed it, and even kept the two paperback volumes of the two plays I bought at Waldenbooks to read and analyze in class – Macbeth and The Taming of the Shrew – after I graduated,. (I didn’t read them often, but I still have them.)

(I also have two movies devoted to the Bard and his works: Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 adaptation of Henry V, and John Madden’s delightful 1998 romantic comedy Shakespeare in Love. But that’s pretty much all that I have that could be considered true Shakespeariana.)

However, even if you are a casual visitor to A Certain Point of View, Too, you can tell that I am a Star Wars aficionado; I have been a fan of the space-fantasy series since the fall of 1977 (I was a reluctant viewer at first, you see…), and I have remained an enthusiastic fan for 43 years.

Ian Doescher’s William Shakespeare’s The Force Doth Awaken: Star Wars Part the Seventh works well because the author is well versed in the works of the Bard and George Lucas. He was born not long after the first Star Wars film debuted in 1977 and became a fan when he saw Return of the Jedi as a six-year-old in 1983. In eighth grade, young Ian fell in love with Shakespeare’s tragedies, comedies, and sonnets, and his passion for them is reflected here.

Taking Star Wars: The Force Awakens and rewriting it in proper rhyme and meter and making it compelling and fun to read is a daunting task. You need to know the characters and situations created by George Lucas and his storytelling successors well in order to be able to reimagine them as if they were from the time of Shakespeare. In addition, you have to be in touch with American pop culture in order to add Easter eggs that will surprise and amuse readers of all ages,

Well, I’m happy to report that Doescher has once again succeeded in creating a wonderfully funny and insightful pastiche in William Shakespeare’s The Force Doth Awaken.

As a Star Wars fan who loves the entire Skywalker Saga but is partial to the Original Trilogy, I have to say that reading Star Wars: The Force Awakens through a Shakespearean perspective adds dramatic sweep to the story arcs of Rey, Finn, Poe, and Kylo Ren; it also gives all the characters rich layers of human complexity, which is often difficult to discern in the source film.

As the reviewer for Brit + Co. wrote in a contemporary review: “With movie Easter eggs aplenty, Bard babes and Star Wars lovers will be equally enthused.”

This is a fun-to-read, laugh-out-loud, and extremely well-written work. It is full of drama, comedy, action, and – if you are new to the Star Wars saga – even some suspense. Moreover, since it is a pastiche, it is a good way to introduce younger readers – say, of high school age – to the style of William Shakespeare before tackling a play like Macbeth or The Merchant of Venice. And most of all,  Doescher adds lots of puns, clever wordplay – Shakespeare loved playing with the English language and added much needed humor in his works – and pop culture references (Easter eggs), some of which are not remotely related to either Shakespeare or Star Wars.

I really enjoyed William Shakespeare’s The Force Doth Awaken, and I eagerly recommend it.