02/03/16- The Force is a compulsion to spend money on Star Wars stuff...

Star Wars always seems to draw me back. The last time (2009, post-Prequels), it was triggered by the acquisition of some of Sideshow Collectible's 2006-2008 1:6 scale Star Wars figures and by the videogame, The Force Unleashed. Six year later, it's the movie, The Force Awakens (TFA) and Hot Toys' release of 1:6 scale Original Trilogy (OT) and TFA figures. As usual, I was late to the party...

I ignored Hot Toy's Star Wars release (Bespin Luke) a few years ago because it seemed terribly expensive. Fast forward a few years and now everything's wonderfully expensive. Sideshow Collectibles used to release $80 figures that seemed expensive at the time; most of their new releases seem to be retail priced at around the $200 mark (before eBay markup prices)... and there are Hot Toys releases that are only a few months old that have tripled in price on eBay. Wow. I wonder where prices will be in five years?

The Force Is Strong With This One! Collecting is like an addiction. In simpler times, there was only Kenner or Hasbro, and we second-childhood adult Star Wars fans were happy. Then Marmit, Medicom, Sideshow, and Hot Toys gave us better versions, and the old stuff wasn't good enough anymore. Is there an end to replacing yesterday's king-of-the-heap figure with today's goldenboy version? Probably not, despite what we collectors tell ourselves.

In the last few months, I've spent an obscene amount of $ on these new dolls... errr... collectibles! I feel less guilty about indulging myself when I make a big leap, like from Hasbro's barely-articulated C3PO to Tamashii Nation's die-cast C3PO. However, upgrading from Sideshow's very good Darth Vader to Hot Toys' slightly better Darth Vader feels shamefully obsessive especially since I probably couldn't tell the difference without being told. Yes, it's true-- I don't bear the curse and burden of being an expert about important first-world stuff like this; when I want to see the most faithful renditions of the characters, I just watch the movies. So why?

It's the anal-retentive and futile quest for perfection in an imperfect world. Word is, Hot Toys probably makes the best 1:6 scale Star Wars stuff that's ever been available (to date). While their renditions often have that extra bit of quality and accuracy, for me, their strongest calling card is that the figure wearing the exquisitely scaled duds is reasonably sturdy, well-articulated, holds poses, and isn't "floppy". Their figure design isn't perfect, but it's one of the best out there. (That's been one of Sideshow's products' weakest aspects.) Unfortunately, they've stopped selling their TrueType figures separately; most tinkerers/customizers don't make their own figures from scratch, so discontinuing the "blank canvas" impedes the creative option and steers hobbyists towards collecting their fully-realized (and expensive) products-- which is probably totally unintentional.

Hot Toys also does an impressive job sculpting and painting their character headsculpts (a.k.a. <cringe>"portraits"</cringe>). Their recent sculptures have incredible paint jobs that make the headsculpt look hyper-realistic. This makes Medicom's and Sideshow's older efforts look toy-like.

Note that this impressive production technology doesn't necessarily ensure a good likeness! In some cases (especially their Han Solo), I think Sideshow did a better job in capturing the essence of the likeness through sculpture back in 2008. A simple line art drawing can sometimes capture the recognizable essence of a personality better than an elaborately detailed and shaded painting.

Unfortunately, the differences in paint styles (and sizes of the headsculpts) don't display well together because they look so different. I bought Hot Toy's Tatooine Luke and felt obligated to get their Han Solo to match the hyper-detailed style, even though I have a hard time seeing Harrison Ford in the sculpt. The eBay-inflated price dissuaded me, and I ended up getting Medicom/Enterbay's ROTJ version (a.k.a. "Psycho Han") because I saw Harrison Ford immediately in the sculpt, without any qualifications ("...from this angle, in this lighting"). From my head-sculpting days, I know that this is tricky stuff: If you stare at a headsculpt for too long trying to analyze what's wrong, you go "face-blind". When it's right, a fresh eye will recognize it instantly.

Besides the different stylistic approach to headsculpts, the biggest problem with mixing older Sideshow figures with Hot Toys figures is the scale: Sideshow's older versions of the OT main actors have noticeably larger heads. (FWIW, Hot Toys used to make bigger heads too.) While each manufacturer's stuff is in-scale with their own stuff, the size difference is jarring when mixed together in a display. Personally, I feel that the slightly smaller scale is more compatible with the majority of 1/6th stuff I've collected and made.

Despite Hot Toys' reputation for quality, they still do some erratic stuff. I bought their ANH Han Solo blaster, expecting it to be superior to Medicom/Enterbay's and Sideshow's HS blasters, and was disappointed. Most notably, it was painted with a thick, high gloss black paint that made it look like a cheap toy produced in the '60s. Although it has some pretty intricate and accurate detail underneath the paint, my Internet "research" convinced me that the scope doesn't extend far enough at the back-- as if they had sculpted it based on an Internet photo that had cropped the scope (but didn't realize it). It's a pretty glaring inaccuracy if you've seen photos of what it's supposed to look like. (It's surprising how anal-retentive people get about this stuff.)

Sure, Medicom included an ANH blaster with their ROTJ figure and took some liberties with the paint scheme. (OMG! My guess is that they didn't have a resident Star Wars geek in charge of the project.) It may be undersized as well, but at least it has a matte finish that makes it look like a miniature gun replica. Sideshow probably had a Star Wars geek on staff because they did a great job of replicating the ANH "Greedo blaster", a prop known more from obscure geekish trivia than its sort-of onscreen appearance (a few milliseconds of blurred footage). It baffles me why Hot Toys "phoned it in", considering how key and iconic Han Solo's blaster is, and how much attention they lavish on their headsculpts' finishes. Seems like an opportunity for a small company to make a die-cast, super-detailed w/working action "Space Smuggler" pistol.

Collecting vs Playing: This website is mainly biased in favor of the "Do-It-Yourself" (DIY) approach. That comes from the fact that when I started, all these cool toys didn't exist, so you had to do it yourself. Today, besides the gratification, a big reason to DIY is because the products have become so expensive.

Although I'm a collector and appreciate the really cool stuff that the manufacturers produce, I'm very aware of the way it's inhibited the urge to DIY. The DIYer has a very hard time competing with the quality and detail of the manufacturers, given their resources and hired talent. These days, there are very few opportunities to do easy improvements to their products, unless you delve deep into rivet counter territory. Very few are probably up to that. I'm not.

I've been down the Collecting road many times before, and the destination is always the same. For me, Collecting usually brings brief blooms of gratification followed by diminishing frequency of moments of appreciation... followed by long periods of neglect. That's a common pattern for the most stuff I accumulate, not just toy figures, and it's true for the stuff that I work on, once a project is completed. It's a consequence of having many interests and wanting to move on to the next novelty.

Generally, I leave new acquisitions box-stock unless there's great fun potential or there's something horribly wrong with them that's relatively easy to correct-- I'm not a dedicated rivet counter. I get more entertainment bang-for-the-buck when I expand on/extrapolate from the movies; it personalizes the subject matter for me. For example, it's plausible that a Sandtrooper might strap a holster to his belt so he wouldn't have to hold his blaster all the time. It's plausible that low-tech edged weapons might be useful in some situations that aren't in the movies. I don't believe in excluding possibilities just because they weren't seen in the movies.

Despite the temptation to show off the results of all the bucks I've dropped, I'll focus on stuff that I've had deeper fun with. There are plenty of reviews with pics of the stock store-bought stuff out there. (continued-->)