Monday, May 6, 2024

The Pali-toys that made me


I have a very distinct memory. It must have been the summer of 1977, and my dad had gone away for a few days on a training course. It didn't happen often, usually once a year or so, but working in mental health I'm sure he had to keep up to date with what was happening with nursing treatments and stuff. He rarely talked about it. Anyway, he'd been away for a few days, and came home with a gift for me. I was, like, nine years old, so getting a new toy was always awesome, but I don't think my dad realised how much of an impact he was going to have. 

He handed me two carded figures – R2-D2 and Chewbacca – and said that he had no idea what they were but the guy in the toy shop said that they were going to be big. They looked really cool, and the Star Wars name at the top of the card flagged something in my memory. 

That summer, 2000AD had produced their "Summer Special Supercomic", a big version of their regular weekly comic with some extra features, some longer stories, and all the 'thrill-power' you could handle. Kinda designed to take with you when you go on holiday, keep the kids quiet for the trip or something. But there was a feature in there with some early photos was a feature on Star Wars

The facts were wildly out in some cases, but the photos were cool, and 2000AD was saying that the movie was going to be really something special. 2000AD was like the bible of cool at the time, and if they said something was going to be good, and the guy in the toy shop said it was going to be big, I needed to know more. 

I opened those two figures carefully (my mum suggested cutting the tops of the blisters to slide the figures out so they could go back in once I'd finished playing with them). They were amazing. I had no idea who these characters were, or what they were going to do, but they were great. But the back of the card said there were another ten figures... 

It was the start of my obsession and love of Star Wars. I eventually completed my set of the first twelve, then the next six, and so on. That summer, my dad bought me the oversized Star Wars comic adaptation (the first half of the movie), and we booked tickets to see it (though there was only one cinema nearby that was showing it – the Dorchester, a long closed movie theatre that opened to just show Star Wars, three times a day, for about six months). We had to book so far in advance, it wouldn't be until early 1978 that we went to see it, and seeing the film just cemented my love of Star Wars even more. 

Those figures, however. No matter how simple, how un-lifelike they were, they were my childhood. I was Luke Skywalker, and could create my own Star Wars adventures with them.

They went on holiday with me. My fondest holiday memory is of a small self-catering cottage in the middle of a huge forest in the Borders of Scotland, near Hawick. Access with down a muddy path you could drive through, and on two sides of the cottage there was nothing but trees, with farmland and fields on the other. It was so quiet. By day I would wander around the forest, my stick of choice became my lightsaber, pretending I was training to become a Jedi. In the evening, I'd retreat to my small room, with my Star Wars figures, making more stories, listening to the soundtrack tape I had (not the official one, I couldn't afford that, so I had "The Sounds of Star Wars by the Sonic All-Stars" on tape). 

Another holiday we had was in North Wales, where most of the time I'd hide in my room playing Star Wars, trying to block out the sounds of my parents watching The Omen and trying to ignore the fact that the self catering cottage we'd rented was right next to a cemetery. I spent those two weeks saving my 'holiday money' as a local toy shop had a snowspeeder in the window. The day before we left, I got my snowspeeder, completely unaware that it was supposed to make sounds. How was I to know, we didn't have internet or anything. I just thought it lit up and that was it... oh well.

I mean, I had other toys. Lego, Scalextric, and so on, but those Star Wars figures were everything. 

Until I discovered roleplaying games. I mean, I loved Star Wars, and my two biggest interests collided when West End Games brought out the Star Wars RPG, but by that time all of my 'play' was either D&D and Runequest, or on the ZX Spectrum. Those figures were sitting on the shelves, still carded (as my mum's advice always held)... and I made one of the biggest mistakes of my life.

I sold them.

There must have been about 40 figures, the snowspeeder, landspeeder, and a tauntaun (without opening stomach). What the hell was I thinking? This must have been about 1984, just as we moved house. I was thinking I was all grown-up and nonsense, and someone local to me got themselves a bargain. 

And I regretted it ever since. 

For the last twenty-plus years I've regretted it so much I'd find myself looking on Ebay at replacing my collection and swearing at the prices. I could never afford them, not without that elusive lottery win. I'd see the odd one here and there in shops for about £20 each, but even then they'd be faded, without their guns, and I'd never be too sure if they were real or dodgy knock-offs. I was never going to replace them...

It was my birthday last month, and I'd learned that Hasbro had done something remarkable. They'd remade those original figures, carded in a very similar way to them, and released the original twelve in two packs of six. My lovely wife bought me the first set (Han, Chewie, Luke, Leia, Vader, Stormtrooper) and I bought the other six (Obi-Wan, Threepio, Artoo, Tusken Raider, Jawa, Death Squad Commander). 

It was like being ten years old again. The muscle memory kicked in, and just holding them brought back all of the memories of my childhood. The way Han doesn't stand very well, or hold his blaster. The clicky head on Artoo to make 'bleep bloop' noises. The slidey lightsabers that go up the characters arms. 

I have to say it was slightly emotional. It was like that moment when my dad first handed the figures to me. All those memories came flooding back. Sitting at the back of the Dorchester cinema (as that was the only place they'd allow a wheelchair for my mum to park) but being so far back the very top of the screen was cut off from view by the balcony – and my mum almost leaping out of her seat as the Star Destroyer first loomed overhead...

Or us dressing up as the characters for the town carnival, with my dad wearing a carved up black bucket on his head to be Darth Vader.

Reading the novel-sized paperback of the comic adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back not believing they could make those AT-ATs appear on screen... and not believing the revelation of Luke's father in the final act...

Perfect. One of the best birthday gifts ever...

Now to buy some little stands.