Thursday, 18 August 2011

212: X is for Xanthodontic

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.

The A-to-Z of the GFFA.

I'd like to open this week's post by talking about everyone's favourite yellow-toothed speciesist*1, The Emperor.

You thought that 7 Chewbaccas and 8 Yodas wasn't going to be topped, didn't you? So did I until I took this pic.

He was referred to in ANH, shown briefly in tESB, then in RotJ, we finally got to meet him properly. He did not disappoint. He's total pantomime-villain, of course, but I suppose if you were megalomaniacal enough to seize (and sustain) rule over an entire galaxy, you'd be an exaggerated version of yourself, too. In-universe, the fact that the Empire in the OT-era consists of white, human males has been put down to the fact that he was completely xenophobic (in the literal sense), and essentially hated almost everyone except himself. Which is also debatable, I guess. Out-of-universe, it's more the fact that non-human Imperials just weren't going to be practical, given their numbers, and that the Rebels were shown to be more liberal than the Empire by recruiting more widely.

Between 1977 and 1983, he was known largely as The Emperor, whereas from 1999 (ie TPM) onwards, he's also referred to as Senator/Chancellor/Emperor Palpatine*2. That said, he has been Palps since 1977…

"the ambitious Senator Palpatine caused himself to be elected President of the Republic… Once secure in office, he declared himself The Emperor, shutting himself away from the populace."

Star Wars, by Alan Dean Foster, published 1977.

I remember the first time Frank Palpatine*3 came to my house. I'd been waiting for him for weeks. My parents had carefully written (and funded, come to think of it) the invitation, and while it was assumed he'd arrive, there was no indication of when. Then he just showed up one morning, with an absolute minimum of fuss. No card, just a small white box in a small brown envelope, and a note introducing himself.

The ultimate in Imperial Propaganda Leafleting.

The Imperial Forces residing in my house were pleased he was here (one of each trooper/officer. No massive battalions of troops in my house. Not back then, anyway), but none more than myself. With their leader, they finally stood a chance of winning the epic battles that took place on my bedroom floor (or the yard if it had been snowing). I'm referring, of course, to the 1983 mail-away offer for the first Emperor figure from Palitoy*4

The TV-ad says five proofs-of-purchase, while the print-ad asks for six. They're both for the US as well, so I'm not sure how many were required for the UK (five sounds about right - Look, what did I tell you, my parents cut them out). Back in those days, it wasn't the "proof of purchase" barcode form the back of the card, it was the actual name-badge from the front. Because of the card-design being consistent, this meant you could cut out names from existing cards that you happened to have kept, and you weren't tied to buying figures from the current wave (as happens these days). Then again, Boba Fett and Admiral Ackbar had already been introduced by mail-away, so fans were pretty much in the habit of keeping all the cards by then. As someone who's always been an opener, their arrival in an unmarked box didn't bother me at all.

It's the Mail-Away Gang!

The format wasn't just used for figures. I recall getting a "survival kit" at one point, basically consisting of weapons and backpacks for the figures. Always handy, as 8-yr olds aren't fantastic at keeping the guns (not just keeping them 'with' the figures, keeping them 'at all'). And as the waves of SW figures petered out, so too did the mail-aways. So I was more than a bit happy when they started up again with Hasbro's resurgence in 1995. Spirit-Ben from tESB and RotJ, and the B'omarr Monk from Jabba's Palace both sit proudly among my collection these days, although as figures have got more expensive*5 and the proof-of-purchases tend to be from specific figures/waves, I find myself less inclined to pay £40+ for a 'free' figure. Although I did go for the 'Crystal Skull' mail-away figure in 2008 because a) I don't care what you say, I enjoyed that film, and b) the figures were pretty heavily discounted, making it more feasible.

Another format being used in this modern age is build-a-droid, whereby you give sections of a figure away with individual characters over a wave. So with Darth Vader, you may get a protocol droid's head and torso; Han Solo will come with the left arm, R2-D2 will have his right one; C-3PO will have the bonus droid's left leg. And his right one? That will be with the figure that you wouldn't normally buy in a hundred years. That will be bundled with Captain Pegwarmer. The figure that isn't horrendous in itself, but is of a character that you're not bothered about. The character won't fit in a display with any of your others, and isn't outstanding in any way. But you want your protocol droid to have two legs, don't you? So you buy it.

That's not a rant, by the way, it's pretty much the facts of 'the way it is'. As a business-model, it's going to shift more figures, make more money, encourage complete-ism in your customers, and the retail outlets are going to be happy at having less of the pack-in figure that no-one wants. It's a good idea.

So, I love mail-aways, and I love build-a-droids. If the price of 3¾" of moulded plastic would drop to something reasonable*5, I'd love collecting Star Wars figures again, too.
Your move, Hasbro.




*1 - You can insert your own real-world jokes here. I normally would, but this particular series of posts isn't really the place.
*2 - Pre-1999, it was often pronounced "Palp-a-tyne" (even in official audiobooks), until tPM straightened the record on pronunciation with "Palp-a-teen".
*3 - Yes, his first name is Frank. As said by himself in The Phantom Menace. Listen.
*4 - Kenner in the US, Palitoy here in the UK. Made by Kenner, but the cards were branded differently.
*5 - Seriously, though. £9 ($14.60) for a figure? REALLY? They've got to be pretty good for that. Some of them are…


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• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

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