I wish Phantom Phindz could be turned into a public access TV show(dream big, right?) just so I could write a theme song for it, it’d probably go PHINDZ, PHINDZ, PHINDZ!!
NOW THEY’RE MI-MI-MIIIINE!! (repeat x50)
For now, we’ll have to make due with tumblr!
I woke up super-early on Saturday, and since I wasn’t about to wake Valerie at 5:30am to go looking for dumb toys, I showered and left the house in ghost-like silence and with cat-like precision a little bit before 7am. My first stop was the closest Walmart to the west of us; I was the first customer in the store, which is always weird…there’s so much (imaginary and self-imposed) pressure to start the store’s day off with a bang, and more often than not, I walk out empty-handed, feeling guilty that I’ve let the clerks down somehow. This particular Walmart’s Star Wars section was PACKED with stuff, it was literally falling off the pegs onto the shelf and floor—but there was nothing I needed. I was kind of tempted to buy a Dewback that was clearanced down to $21, but I came to my senses, since I’d bought that exact Dewback when it first came out a few years ago. It’s a weird case, because when it was originally released in 2009 as a Dewback from A New Hope (complete with a Sandtrooper rider), it was actually based on the computer models of the Dewbacks seen in The Phantom Menace (which are different than even the Dewbacks in the ANH Special Edition)! Still, if I see it for even cheaper, I’ll grab another one, since I love the animals of Star Wars. I did, indeed, let that whole store and its employees down by walking out with nothing. Sorry for ruining your day, W. Ridge Rd. Walmart.
The next Walmart was our trashy but loveable “home base” Walmart, as detailed in Phantom Phindz part 7. Nothing to buy there, but I continue to be impressed by how they put red clearance tags on items that are still at regular price just to fool unwitting customers looking for a good deal. I dawdled around in there for a few minutes, pretending to look at Easter stuff, so that I could run out some time before Target opened at 8am. Those orange Reese’s Pieces in carrot-shaped bags are one of humanity’s greatest achievements, I think. Target was a bust, and it was kind of sad to see that they’d taken down their Phantom Menace endcap in favor of random toys like Avengers figures and Hexbugs.
I went back home and picked Valerie up, and off we went to the first of two Toys R Us’s…where there was nothing exciting to be had. For some reason, the other Toys R Us 7 miles away opens an hour later than the one closest to us, so we went to another Target (nothing) and a Marshall’s to kill time before TRU opened. I know it’s not technically a Phantom Phind(z), but I was excited to get a couple of cheap Clone Wars figure sets there. If you don’t watch “The Clone Wars” but are a fan of The Phantom Menace, I can’t recommend the past season of it enough (the whole series, really)—aside from the return of Darth Maul, there were a couple of big episodes set on Naboo, featuring not only Sio Bibble in animated form and Ahmed Best back as The Great One, but the death of a memorable TPM character earlier in the season. Whether it was “corporate synergy” due to the 3D release of TPM or not, it was fun to spend time in TPM places with TPM characters.
The second TRU had nothing of interest either, and so Valerie ran into Macy’s…I know better than to go clothes-shopping with her; not because I don’t want to be dragged in, but because I’d get hate-eyes from her after a couple minutes of holding up ugly clothes and maniacally asking her, “What about THIS??”. She had no luck either, and after she was done in Macy’s, I was on the fence about whether we should press on or go home. Luckily, the burning desire to write a new Phantom Phindz won out (after all, no “phindz” = no Phantom Phindz!), and so we headed to the Walmart in the far-flung but appropriately-named suburb of Victor.
Victor is one of those places that, if you took away its overly-precious mall (it has this weird working carousel inside it—wtf) and chain stores, would vanish in a cloud of broken dreams…Who knows, maybe a city dweller like me is just ignorant to the charms of living in a place that looks exactly like about 2500 other places anywhere in America. The Victor Walmart is notable because it’s TINY, and because it has a very creepy policy of stationing employees down the main aisle at about 10-foot intervals, who apparently do nothing more than smile at you. I wish they were dressed like The Swiss Guard. We warily made our way through these awkwardly-grinning human gargoyles to the Star Wars section, where I fully expected to find nothing, because it was about 11am or so by this point. I was wrong!
Excellent, the long-awaited 2nd wave of 2012 “Movie Heroes” TPM figures! Why this (which contained all the main characters from TPM) was the 2nd wave of figures and came out after TPM3D left theaters, I’ll never understand, as they might have sold more of them when kids came out of the movie wanting a Padme or Jar Jar…but I was glad to finally find them. I detailed in PP part 7 how I couldn’t wait for the Jar Jar figure in this wave and grabbed him on eBay awhile back, and though I want another one for my JJB sub-collection, I decided to leave this one so that some other Jar Jar fan could experience the thrill of coming across him. I try to do that sort of thing whenever possible…I understand people who buy “one to open, one to keep carded” (I only do that with Jar Jar stuff), but it’s always struck me as selfish for people to gobble up multiples of the same figure when they’re brand new, and thus, in high demand. So, I put Jar Jar back on the pegs, and also took Darth Maul out of the cart. There have been FIVE different Darth Maul figures released in the past 2 months, and though this one is “new”, I’d rather some mega-Darth Maul fan who’s going to be really excited by this figure get him. I’m more excited by a new TPM Padme figure, anyways…or at least by the idea of one, as you’ll see. Another nice surprise was that Valerie bought them for me as an early birthday present, so that was pretty sweet. (I just typed a really awful sentence about how “In Victor, NY, I was the victor that day”, but deleted it because it was more stupid than even I was comfortable with.) It was a top-notch day of finding Star Wars stuff:
Since the Anakin and Padme are the first new figures of those characters in their TPM outfits in over a decade, I’ve decided to compare and contrast them to the original 1999 Vintage TPM figures (people were calling the original Kenner Star Wars figures “vintage” 13 years after they had ceased production, so why not TPM figures, too?). I included the 2012 Jar Jar that I had previously got in this contest, because it would break my heart to leave him out. As you read these sometimes-scathing critiques, don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy to have new TPM figures— even if they are several severely flawed steps backwards in some cases. I don’t like being a slave to nostalgia, so I’m just looking for whichever figure best captures the essence of the character.
Here they are, the 2012 Phantom Menace main characters…ready to face off against their ancestors from the last century. The 1999 figures will be on the left, the 2012 on the right. First up, Anakin:
What happened, Ani?? You used to be taller! And where did your neck go?? The new Anakin comes with his very useful podracing helmet, which also fits on vintage Ani. His other accessory is this strange jet pack that has the same general aesthetic as his podracer, and shoots some yellow missile. If he had this deadly device all along, why didn’t he force Watto to set him and Shmi free? Also, what there is of his neck is painted a jarringly different color than his head:
Yikes. He just looks like some dead-eyed and random Mos Espa urchin; the paint job on the 1999 figure is much nicer, and it has a much better grasp of the true spirit of Ani. Winner: 1999 Ani
One of my favorite Star Wars characters of them all, Qui-Gon Jinn’s big new 2012 feature is the light-up lightsaber. It’s only supposed to stay lit while you’re pressing the button (located on his belt), but if you twist his plastic skirt a bit, it’ll stay illuminated on it’s own, which is a great little happy accident. The electronics limit his range of motion, but the lightsaber more than makes up for it, and makes it a great TOY. Also, the sculpt of his face is fantastic for a figure this small:
Winner: 2012 Qui-Gon
I’ve pretty much already went into the failings of the 2012 JJB (and also my subsequent appreciation of him), so let me just praise the 1999 JJB again—he may lack the textured pants of 2012 JJB and have less points of articulation, but he’s colorful, has soul, and just looks like he’s about to get into trouble. That’s the Jar Jar I know and love. Winner: 1999 Jar Jar
This one was tough. Obi-Wan shares the light-up saber gimmick with Qui-Gon,
but I’ve had no luck in twisting his skirt to make the saber stay lit with him, so that’s a mark against him. Neither of these figures particularly look like Ewan MacGregor, but whereas the 1999 figure has the excuse of being 13 years old, the 2012 Obi-Wan should look a lot better than he does—just check the new Qui-Gon’s head out! Maybe it’s the paint job on the face that fails the figure. Since this process isn’t scientific in any way, shape, or form, I feel like I sub-consciously picked the 1999 figure because the little band on his braid is colored red, and thus, it feels like more care was put into him. Winner: 1999 Obi-Wan
Oh man, seriously?? All these years of waiting for a new TPM Padme in this battle garb, and they put THIS out?? Check out her face:
I don’t know who she’s supposed to look like, but she looks NOTHING like Natalie Portman, and whoever she IS supposed to look like must have a crippling addiction to horse tranquilizers. I think guys who fixate on how “pretty” an action figure of a female character is have problems, but this really is a lousy excuse for a head. Even if she didn’t look like Natalie Portman but still had some of Padme’s attitude or spirit, it’d be fine…but this looks like a sleepy imposter. I would’ve settled for Keira Knightly or even any of the other handmaidens!! What a shame, I hope it’s not another 13 years before Hasbro revisits Padme in this gear. Yuck! Winner: 1999 Padme
The Winners! Not a very good showing for the 2012 figures, but at least Hasbro tried…if only they’d tried as hard as they did in 1999!
I usually try to keep TPM:TH pretty lighthearted and fun, which is why I decided not to run my 5,000-word examination of the Gungan grieving process following the Battle of Naboo. After all, it is “The Phantom Menace: THE HOLIDAY”, and who wants misery during a holiday? We’ve already got plenty of that during traditional holidays (don’t forget what happened to poor Phoebe Cates’ dad). Today, though, I have to put the perpetual Phantom Menace celebration on pause to address the infestation of…THE HALF-FAN.
Over the years, I’ve said to people, “I love and am a huge fan of Star Wars, but I hate Star Wars Fans.” That wasn’t some holier-than-thou statement of superiority, it was arrived at after years of exasperation with people actively trying to ruin something that I, and many other people, love and invest a lot of passion into…and these aren’t people from “outside” Star Wars, but people who consider themselves fans. Star Wars fandom has been rotting from the inside since before TPM even came out; when we were camped out in line to buy tickets for TPM in 1999, there were a couple of smug, slimy guys walking up and down the line handing out flyers for some “Jar Jar Hate Society” website. The movie hadn’t even been released, and already, they had decided they hated one of the main characters—and it only got worse from there in the following years, to where you’re EXPECTED to hate the Prequels…and if you don’t, you’re ridiculed and marginalized.
I have no right or desire to stop anybody from liking or disliking whichever movies they want, but the disease inside of Star Wars fandom isn’t like that—it’s an aggressive and tangible malice. This little essay isn’t about people who saw TPM, didn’t like it/wished it was something different, shrugged, and moved on, but about the people that have made vocally hating the Prequels into a malevolent past-time…all in the name of being fans of the “real” Star Wars (the ‘77-83 movies). Do you know what movies I hated that were released in 1999? Well, I don’t…because if I don’t like something, I’m not even going to think about it unless it’s brought up somewhere or by somebody else, let alone foam at the mouth about it for 13 years afterwards.
Imagine you threw a party and a group of your friends showed up, drank your booze, had a good time for a few hours, and then another group of your friends showed up who the first group hated. Instead of either leaving or just talking amongst themselves, the first group started loudly and indiscreetly telling you and other guests about how much the second group sucked and how you sucked for inviting them…BUT, they continued to stay at your party, drinking more of your booze and eating your hor d’oeuvres in between their rants. This is basically the story of Star Wars fandom since 1999. Using this ‘party’ analogy, any sane person in that situation would simply kick the group of haters out of their house, and get back to enjoying their party—which is exactly what I’m getting at. Though Lucasfilm as a corporate entity bafflingly seems to accommodate these people at times, I’m not talking about that dysfunctional “consumer relationship”, I’m strictly talking about things on a “fan” level. I’m reclaiming “Star Wars Fan” and kicking the haters to the curb.
Dear former “Star Wars Fan”, Labeling yourself a “Star Wars Fan” when you actively and obnoxiously HATE over half of what Star Wars is doesn’t work for me any longer. I’m glad that you’re a fan of A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi(maybe you don’t even like that one)—I love them too, but they’re not the whole story. Though I strongly disagree, it’s fine with me that you dislike the Prequels and The Clone Wars. This isn’t about a difference of opinion, however… it’s about your unacceptable behavior, which has been negatively impacting other people’s enjoyment of the Star Wars Saga as a whole for years. You incorrectly think that you OWN Star Wars, and you do not. Neither do I. The only thing that fans own is their fandom, and I’m not tolerating your destructive presence in my fandom any more—so get out!! I’m forcibly taking back “Star Wars Fan”, but I won’t leave you without a new self-descriptor…HALF-FAN. Wear it with shame! I didn’t make you a Half-Fan, you did it to yourself.
Don’t get me wrong, Half-Fan—I’m not telling you what to say or think…who do you think I am, you? Get a thicker skin, I’ve got one that’s served me well when dealing with you for all these years. No, I’m asking you to remove yourself from Star Wars fandom: message boards,forums,blogs, facebook groups, etc., that are focused on ENJOYING Star Wars. You have tons of other squalid places on the internet to inhabit…have you tried the comments section on io9.com stories? They seem to celebrate your brand of tired and rehashed “snark” there. What kind of person gets pleasure from causing other people unhappiness, and why are you that type of person? On a deeper level, if you’re such a “fan” of Star Wars, have you ever thought about the themes or messages of Star Wars, and do you get that your behavior is in opposition to those things?
Nobody “raped” your precious childhood, and don’t forget…
My wife came home from running with some friends after work wearing this old t-shirt…I couldn’t have been more proud!
(p.s.—- we didn’t go to Celebration I…Valerie was at some work conference in San Francisco sometime in the early/mid 2000’s, and I had read online that LFL had “cleaned out a warehouse” and donated the stuff to some local SF thrift stores. Of course she checked one out after my highly-excited phone call, and got this shirt and a bunch of other goodies—most of which were Jar Jar items, which delighted me to no end!) (update: Here’s the thread about the “LFL Garage Sale” from 2005: LFL Garage Sale on Rebelscum.com )
Until yesterday morning, I hadn’t been to a toy show for about 6 years, if not longer. When we used to live in Seattle, Valerie and I would hit this smallish one a couple of times a year, and the most notable thing that ever happened there was this deranged elderly woman FREAKING out and screaming, “WHERE’S the HARRY POTTER TOYS??? You SAID there’d be HARRY POTTER!!” before it just devolved into shrieks of, “HARRY POTTER!” This lasted a good 15 minutes before somebody finally escorted her out of the hall. That wasn’t why I stayed away from toy shows for such a long time—I wish things that weird would happen more often—there were a couple of other reasons:
First, so many hardcore toy collectors are kind of unpleasant to deal with; grabby, rude, socially aggressive, feral…more interested in whatever’s RARE/”valuable” than in actually having affection for what they’re after. I have a pretty serious toy collection(not just Star Wars, though that’s the heart of it), but it’s all stuff that I love…even if I just love how crappy it is. The other reason I’ve avoided toy shows is that a lot of the sellers exist in an imaginary “world without eBay”, where they try to sell things for 4 times original retail prices, while the same item goes for pennies on the dollar online. When the average price of something on eBay including shipping is 1/6th the amount that you’re trying to sell it for, you might be stuck with some stuff for awhile…or forever!
The Rochester Toy Show is held twice a year at this place called The Village Gate. Creepy art and 80’s paint jobs aside, it’s a nice multi-level arcade-style place with shops, restaurants, hair salons, law offices, etc. There’s an atrium in the center of it, so light can penetrate all the way down to the ground floor. There were 150 dealers set up there yesterday, and the show was teeming with people the whole 2 hours we were there (and we got there when it opened). The top level, though crowded, didn’t feel so oppressive due to the light streaming in from above…and neither did the ground floor directly below. The trouble spot was this very long corridor off of the main ground floor area that was packed with dealers’ tables on both sides, leaving only a very narrow path for both ways of foot traffic and people browsing the tables —not only was it shoulder-to-shoulder both times that we slogged through there, but it was poorly-lit, and a lot of people exercised their option not to bathe beforehand. It felt like the Black Hole of Calcutta. Everybody sweats and starts to smell when they’re crammed into a dank, humid place for awhile, but this was right at the beginning of the show! At some point, I turned to Valerie and told her that I literally smelled a skunk—she just rolled her eyes, but I’ll go to my grave believing that an actual skunk somehow got in there and did his thing…
In the past few weeks, visions of all kinds of Phantom Menace junk being found there were dancing in my head; nothing super-rare or pricey, just things that were common in 1999 that I never picked up, but had always meant to eventually grab. I was spoiled by the glut of super-cheap TPM stuff found at toy shows in the ‘99-‘05 era…after so much TPM stuff was clearanced-out in late 1999/2000, you could find just about anything you wanted fairly easily; most people just ignored it because it was omnipresent. I remember walking out of some of those shows back then unable to carry everything in one trip! Sadly, this fantasy didn’t pan out yesterday, but I did pick up a few cool TPM artifacts.
Hardly the sea of red-packaged TPM glory I was hoping to share with you, but enough to make it all worthwhile. I only had one Sio Bibble all of these years, and needed another for purposes that’ll be revealed in the near future, so I was pleased to find him for 3 bucks in some Rubbermaid container. There was more eye-rolling from my wife when I told her that he was a “break-out character” and a “growing fan favorite”. I think she’s just jealous because her longstanding choice for a TPM break-out character is little Ani’s friend Jira, the wizened pallie vendor of Mos Espa…and I haven’t seen a dramatic increase in (or even the existence of) Jira fandom in the past 13 years!
This Battle Droid pin was the last thing I bought with the last dollar in my pocket (it’s always a fun goal at these kind of shows to try to avoid hitting the ATM for more cash unless it’s absolutely necessary). It was laying in a large bin of unloved stuff under a table manned by some hipster dudes, and when I asked how much it was, they spent an unnatural amount of time hemming and hawing about it, looking at each other pensively as if I’d just asked one of them to donate a kidney. When the one guy finally said, “a buck”, I wondered what other prices could possibly have been going through his head, but gladly paid it and moved on. Though I don’t usually leave stuff packaged unless I already have an opened one, I think this enamel Battle Droid is nice and comfy on his piece of black sponge, so I’ll leave him to rest…he’s earned it. Roger Roger, my friend—you’re home now.
I never thought I’d be purchasing anything branded with the NASCAR logo, but love of TPM knows no bounds. After taking a few spins through all the tables, I’d told Valerie that we weren’t leaving until I found SOMETHING with Jar Jar on it that I didn’t already have…and I have a lot of Jar Jar stuff. I’m pretty sure one of these cars has been sitting on my eBay “watch list” for the past 2-3 years, but today was the day. Now that I have it, I’m pretty fond of it—well worth the 5 bucks. Maybe I’ll try it out on that poorly-designed Podrace track…
I was most excited to see this, which I’d never seen in person before. For whatever reason, it wasn’t high on my priority list when it first came out, because what would I do with a Jedi Braid? Where would I wear it? Would people try to cut it off of me in some Sith hazing ritual? I guess I just thought it was kind of a rip-off…but I was wrong. I still think the braid itself is a bit dopey, but that Holographic Royal Starship and Holoprojector are the TRUE stars of this set, and they should’ve gotten top billing. The braid isn’t as cheaply-made as I had thought it was; it has a hard-plastic earpiece (clearly designed for the tiny ears of a kid) that elevates it from being just a “dumb rope”, and it’s made from actual human hair! Maybe not, but it really isn’t so bad:
As soon as I put it on, I couldn’t stop myself from making smug statements about “pathetic lifeforms”. I then realized that I was wearing a braid of fake hair manufactured for children, and thought long and hard about who the real “pathetic lifeform” was…
I really love this! I keep holding it in the palm of my hand, putting it up as collateral in bets I’m attempting to place with our cats. They’re not impressed.
This tale of modest TPM finds wouldn’t be complete without me coming clean about the shameful thing that I did at the Rochester toy show. In one of the $3 bins of junk figures that I was going through, the familiar skin of JJB caught my eye. Did I need another of the original 1999 Jar Jar figure? No, but I still took a look at him…and saw that his ears had been cut off. I put him back in and moved on to another table. When Valerie and I made another spin through that section, I went through that bin again to see if there was anything I had overlooked, and pointed out earless Jar Jar, eliciting a sympathetic “awwww” from her. She sounded as disturbed as I was that somebody would so cruelly chop the ears off of this kindhearted Gungan outcast. We left him there, got home, and about an hour later, it hit me that I’d left a severely injured Jar Jar rotting unwanted and alone in some stifling plastic container…a tomb. It seriously bothers me that I did that. And I fancy myself a huge fan of JJB?? I’m a monster.
"Offer me your Nubian, I don’t care—I know what you did to poor earless Jar Jar, and I’m telling everybody I know."
A Startling New Theory in the Field of Binksology!
Back in the controversial(?!?) Phantom Phindz Part 7, I covered the inaccuracies of the newest Jar Jar Binks action figure—the colors of his vest and shirt were reversed, and more disturbingly, his eyes were colored white instead of yellow and speckled, and his pupils were wayyyyy too big. At the time, I sadly concluded that the toy designers at Hasbro simply didn’t care about JJB…or worse, that they were actively hating on him by mis-coloring him. That may still be the case, but as the title of this post says, I’ve developed a startling new theory that will turn the world of Binksology upside down!
2012 JJB (“incorrect” white eyes) 1999 JJB (yellow eyes)
2001 JJB (yellow eyes) 2000 JJB(yellow eyes)
While re-reading through an old Star Wars Insider Magazine today, as I’m wont to do (it was #45, from August/September 1999), I was in the middle of the great Ahmed Best interview in that issue (to be scanned and posted in full here during “Jar Jar June”!) and did a double take at one of the pictures. Though I’ve seen this photo and others like it hundreds of times, I saw it in a new context:
Look at the eyes!!! White…large pupils…???
My theory is this: during the design process at Hasbro for this figure, whoever was in charge of putting together the final paint master was using reference photos of the JJB headpiece Ahmed Best was wearing during filming. Therefore, this figure is possibly NOT just a sloppy dis of our beloved Binks, but a tribute to the pioneering work that Ahmed Best did as the first digitally-realized main character in a live-action movie!! Though I still prefer the proper on-screen yellow eyes of JJB, I now appreciate this figure in a whole new light. What do you think, my fellow Binksologists?
(p.s.—Of course, this doesn’t explain the vest/shirt color switch…but it is just a theory, right??)
It’s no secret how much I love the 1999 Phantom Menace fast food promotions. Now known as Yum! Brands (hey corporate name, stop trying so hard!), in 1999, the company that operated Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut was known by the much more sinister-sounding Tricon Global Restaurants. The tidal wave of TPM stuff spread across the three restaurants during that sunny summer included 30 different toys, 2 frisbees, 10 cup toppers, pogs (masquerading as game pieces), and collectible plastic cups—and that’s not even counting all the ephemera like bags, boxes, placemats, and paper cups! I dragged my future wife and our friend Sharon to so many different Tricon franchises in the Seattle area that year, that I should have been charged with criminal endangerment. Of course I hunted down all the toys and cup-toppers back then, but my fond memories of those adventures still cause me to make purchases like today’s Phantom Under Five:
I love auctions like this. It’s just a bunch of stuff that individually, most people don’t want—so sellers put it in a lot…which most people don’t want. Well, I wanted it!
Cups that I’ll never drink out of! There were 15 or so of the plastic ones in the auction, about half of them Anakin, and half of them Sebulba. The paper ones (in small, medium, and large) have Jar Jar, Boss Nass, Qui-Gon, and Queen Amidala on them—perfect, all characters that I love, and that would never appear on cups in 2012…it would just be Darth Maul and Yoda. Zzzzzzzzz. Anyway, I was excited about these, because I didn’t have any of them anymore.
The only one of the toys included was the little Planet Tatooine that opens when you press a button, revealing Darth Maul and Qui-Gon gyrating around like angry ravers.
There were a few non-fast food items in the auction, too, like this Qui-Gon bookmark and these pens, which I already had a set of:
Maybe I’ll write Simon Pegg a tainted fan letter with those pens??
Even though I have a Sebulba cup-topper, I’m glad to have another one…Maybe I’ll sit on my front porch steps this summer and obnoxiously drink iced tea out of this, asking passerby (in Watto’s voice, of course) what they think Sebulba’s chances are in the big Boonta Eve Race. No matter what they say, I’ll Watto-shout, “I’M BETTING HEAVILY ON SEBULBA!”. I’ll make a lot of new friends. The Jar Jar “Treasure Keeper” is something I’ve wanted for my sub-collection of Jar Jar stuff for years, but I’ve just never pulled the trigger because it’s always seemed to be readily available. I don’t think I have any ‘treasure’, but if I did, I don’t know if I’d store it inside of a four dollar rubber JJB head.
Though these are so flimsy, and even I can’t figure out how to display them in any kind of classy or even acceptable way, I’m delighted to have them:
There were a bunch of each bag, about 20 total. Has there ever been a more regal Kentucky Fried Chicken bag than the one featuring Queen Amidala?? The character selection on these bags is fantastic…and unlike the revisionist licensing history circa 2012 that spits in our collective prequel-loving face by giving us gold-plated Threeps, you get the REAL unfinished TPM Threepio!
There’s something off about his mouth, he looks like a Terminator—but it doesn’t matter, he’s still the real TPM deal. Speaking of “making little difference to me”, I give you…WATTO:
Patience, my blue friend—I’ll find a nice way to display you and your fellow bags. I’m talking to a 13 year-old plastic bag. It was inevitable, I guess.
$1.99 for all THIS!! I’m fully aware that the majority of this stuff could’ve been dug out of a dumpster behind any KFC or Taco Bell in the summer of ‘99, but that just adds to the charm for me. If only I knew what had happened to the Nute Gunray Pizza Hut box that I’d saved all those years ago…it’s the “Rosebud” of my mid-twenties.
I first saw these TPM cell phone straps during one of my regular eBay searches for Phantom Menace stuff. They’re made by “Panson Works”, and are available in Japan on bottles of Pepsi Nex, promoting the 3D release there. The day after I put them on my eBay watch list, one of the SW collecting sites ran a blurb about them, and the price for a set shot up…which was odd, because there were “buy-it-nows” for much cheaper than what people were bidding! My career of collecting Star Wars stuff (as an adult) since the 90’s is littered with regrets over not getting certain things before they disappear or get too pricey, and I really didn’t want to miss out on these, since it’s so refreshing and rare to see TPM characters given their due. After a few days, I found a good price on a set with free EMS shipping from Japan, and pulled the trigger. They made it here in less than a week, and the seller couldn’t have been more friendly or communicative…AND they sent me a little packet of Miso soup—thanks, Masaaki!:
Cell phone straps are something that, as far as I know, never really caught on in the US—but seem to be pretty big in Asia. Here’s the Holographic Darth Sidious:
Before they ever even arrived, I’d wondered how difficult it would be to remove the metal hooks/straps,but it was effortless; it took all of a few seconds a piece to unscrew the metal hook out of the figure’s head. For some reason, I hate when little figural items like these have ugly keychain hooks or whatever, and am always glad to remove them cleanly. These figures are far too charming to have stupid metal pieces jutting from their heads! Half of them can stand on their own, but the rest of them are too top-heavy. They’re well-painted and made of a soft-ish but sturdy vinyl; here’s a LEGO Jar Jar next to the Panson Works Yoda to give you an idea of their size:
They’re tiny, though that only adds to their allure. I have big hands, but I was easily able to hold all 12 of them in my palm and close my fingers around them. The size/style of these is definitely more appealing than what Hasbro ultimately went with for their new Star Wars "Fighter Pod" figures. If the Fighter Pod figures felt like they should be 25¢ in a vending machine, these feel like they should be in one of those fancy 50¢ machines!
I can’t help but harp, once again, on the decision to include GOLD-plated Threepio and Vader over, say, TPM Threeps and maybe Qui-Gon! Even when it’s TPM’s moment to shine, Star Wars licensees can’t help but muddy the waters with incarnations of characters from other Star Wars movies. Can you imagine the outrage if this was an Empire Strikes Back promotion, and they threw Watto in instead of Boba Fett?? (I would think it was utterly hilarious!!) I get that Vader is so iconic that he transcends Star Wars, and I do love Darth Vader—but it almost dilutes his impact by shoehorning him into everything. The Prequel Era of 1999-2005 was well-served by saving full-blown Darth Vader until the end; how anti-climactic it would have been if Anakin had transformed into him in AOTC!
All my prequel-loving indignation aside, these are really fun little figures, and I’m happy to have them. Even though “Pepsi Nex” probably tastes like New Coke, I’m grateful that they cared enough to honor such important characters as Padme Amidala and “The Great One”, Jar Jar Binks. McDonalds USA, this is how it’s done!
Welcome to a brand-new recurring feature: Phantom Under Five! This series is pretty much a sidekick to Phantom Phindz, but I mercifully decided not to spell it “Phive”. As you can guess, PUF will chronicle Phantom Menace stuff that I was able to get for $5 (USD) or under…not including any shipping or tax, since that would really limit things. The point of it all is to demonstrate that you don’t have to be some kind of $io Bibble to collect cool (or uncool!) TPM items.
First up is Tiger Electronics’ “Underwater Race to Theed Game”, from 1999:
Not only was it free shipping, it was FAST shipping…and I didn’t even care that it was mailed in a taped-up Publix grocery store bag. The only one of these Tiger electronic games that I bought back in 1999 was the Naboo Starfighter game, and that was only because it came with an exclusive pilot Anakin figure. The game was pretty bad, but I remember playing it a lot just to be difficult.
Though the guy who had this up for auction had other Tiger TPM games with that sweet free shipping deal, I was determined to win this one since I love the Bongo so much. I shudder to think what would’ve happened if my maximum bid of $5.04 had been the winning amount (or, I guess, if I had lost the auction)—in that nightmare world, since it wouldn’t have been “under five”, there may NEVER have been a Phantom Under Five series!! Extrapolating that world using the “butterfly effect” is a grim exercise. Anyways, here’s what it looked like when I released it from it’s Publix grocery bag shipping cocoon:
Wow, “Digitized speech and sound from the new Star Wars film!”?? Sounds great! “5 levels of underwater adventure”?? That’s quite a promise. Maybe I’ll feel like the 4th passenger on that fateful trip with Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon, and JJB??
Even with the necessary screen and buttons to turn it into a game, it’s still a nice representation of the graceful Bongo design. What attention to detail! What loving craftsmanship! What—-what?!?:
What the hell is “TUBRO”??!?!?!? Tiger Electronics has been a part of Hasbro, Inc. since 1998, and you’d think that the high standards of quality control would trickle down from the parent company! This is obviously supposed to say, “TURBO”, but fine…I can forgive it, everybody makes mistakes, even the 2nd largest toymaker in the world. It’s just an isolated error, right?
No, it wasn’t an isolated error! They couldn’t even spell “Otoh Gunga” right! I scanned the instructions next to the entry on Otoh Gunga from the TPM Visual Dictionary, and even used the original 1999 edition instead of the 2012 expanded version—it seemed more fair, like judgement by a peer. It wasn’t just a typo, either—they spelled it “otAh Gunga” twice in the same paragraph. They don’t even care where the Gungans live, do they? This didn’t bode well for the actual game…
And yeah, the game is terrible. I get that it was some cheap tie-in, and not a Gameboy, but still…it’s just a chore to try to play. The basic conceit of it is that you’re trying to pilot the Bongo to Theed, but it feels more like you’re trying in vain to avoid runaway Gungan bubbles and various fish that just seem to come flying/creeping at you in a very unfish-like way. The handheld “Burgertime" game that I had as a kid had smoother game-play. There’s a "4-way motion sensor" inside it, and you pilot your Bongo by physically moving the whole thing from side to side like an idiot. The "TUBRO" button only seems to hasten your demise by slamming you into objects a couple of seconds faster than you would’ve without it. As for the "Digitized speech and sound from the new Star Wars film!"? Ugh, just watch the video:
Am I glad I bought it? Sure—it’s a Bongo, it’s part of the glorious TPM Blitz of 1999, and it was under five bucks. Will I ever play it again? As Shmi Skywalker once said, “What does your heart tell you?”
Feel free to use this image however you’d like; post it on the Facebook walls of your most sour prequel-hating friends, print out stickers and stick ‘em on your skateboard or locker, or blow it up and hang it over your couch—what a conversation piece!
Oh man, it’s been awhile since the last Phantom Phindz—so much of awhile, that I’ve had to reconstruct the past like some sort of Phantom Menace:CSI. I guess it’s not quite that intense; all I really needed to do was arrange my photos by date!
As Phantom Phindz continues on, there will probably be more online “phindz”, as the TPM merchandise revival at retail is sadly winding down—even all the now-ubiquitous Star Wars Easter kitsch at Target, Walmart, etc. is back to the traditional Vader, Yoda, Clone Trooper motif. I know that it’s not quite as exciting to read, “Well, just bought this Queen Amidala lip balm on eBay for 99 cents” as it is an account of some insanely stupid, gas-wasting obsession to find Ric Olie figures at Walmart in the dead of night…but that’s the sad reality of a world where The Phantom Menace (and AOTC and ROTS) doesn’t get the same love or respect as the Original Trilogy. Sigh.
The first item is something that I was simply not able to wait for it to hit retail:
It’s the first Phantom Menace Jar Jar figure to come out since this one in 2000!! I wasn’t about to wait another second when I saw a reasonably-priced US-based auction on eBay for him. It was only about five bucks more than the eventual retail price, and had super-cheap shipping. I easily would’ve spent far more than that on gas while trying to find him, so it was the sane choice—even if it robs future Phantom Phindz of some of their pathos. Why this figure wasn’t released (it’s still not out in the US) before TPM3D came out, I’ll never know.
Since JJB is one of my favorite characters (as you’ll see during “Jar Jar June”, coming this June, 2012) in all of recorded history, and since he’s basically been blacklisted for over a decade, you can see why it was so important to have this new one in my clutches—and I’m really glad to have him. BUT…I’m sorry to say, the legacy of disrespect for this main character in the only Star Wars movie to make over a billion dollars has continued in this action figure. I don’t know which is worse—that his eyes are colored white instead of yellow, or that his vest and shirt are the wrong color!! How could Hasbro get it so right in 1999, but fail so miserably in 2012?!? Did they think nobody would notice?? I noticed. I have BOOTLEG Jar Jar figures that have the right paint scheme!!
I’m not the kind of dude who nitpicks every little thing and throws a fit if something isn’t “screen accurate”—if I wanted some perfect replica of a character, I’d collect high-end statues instead of mass-produced toys—but that vest/shirt mix-up is a pretty glaring error, and I can’t help but think that a goof that large would NEVER happen to, say, a Boba Fett figure (and I’ve seen grown men online spin out into madness because this or that Boba Fett figure’s cape is too long). They don’t even care enough about poor ol’ Jar Jar to simply double-check a picture of him…for instance, the picture about one millimeter next to him on his package, which clearly shows his properly-colored vest!!
Color issues aside (it looks like somebody with really shaky hands just dabbed black dots on his eyes with a Sharpie), his proportions still seemed a bit off. Luckily, some guy in the UK who had this figure posted online about his easy improvement of JJB, which is as simple as putting a vest from one of the 1999 figures on him:
…still not that great, but better than before. There’s a much nicer-looking TPM Jar Jar figure coming out later this year, so all is not lost for our favorite Gungan (unless your favorite Gungan is Boss Nass’ niece, Major Fassa).
The same day that JJB showed up in the mail, I found this creepy little Darth Maul candy dispenser at Walmart on post-Valentine’s Day clearance for 75¢:
He unnervingly reminds me of Megamind.
A few days after the agony and ecstasy of Jar Jar Binks, I went out and took advantage of the last day of a sale at Toys R Us, which coincidentally brought Star Wars figures and vehicles down to 1999 prices!
You can never have too many Battle Droids, and I wanted a new TPM-colored AAT, since I always regretted not buying a second one back in 1999. My wife had bought me the ridiculous Darth Maul heart-shaped tin for Valentine’s Day, so I was glad to find the Yoda one on clearance for 75¢…even though I wish they had used an actual TPM-era picture of Yoda instead of the Revenge of the Sith promo shot that’s on there. Nice try, Valentine’s Day profiteers—but you can’t fool me. Speaking of misleading packaging, the SW fruit snacks in the lower left have a beautiful TPM image on the box…and yet, the actual fruit snacks are in the shape of General Grievous and other Clone Wars characters! I mean, I’m not losing sleep over it, but would it kill them to TRY to make little dubiously “fruit”-flavored snacks in the shape of Watto or Nute Gunray? Whatever. You’ll also notice 2 of those awful McDonald’s UnHappy Meal “spinners” in the picture, Mace Windu and Obi-Wan. I have no excuse for buying those pieces of junk other than “anything for The Phantom Menace”.
I’ll really miss the various TPM3D food promotions, because I’ve been using almost any lame reason to go to the grocery store that I can find. The TPM pens in Cheerios/Reeses Puffs/Cookie Crisp/Cinnamon Toast Crunch/Lucky Charms have led to an embarrassing surplus of cereal in our house. Finding all the GoGurt tubes with the regrettably named Slurp-sabers was much easier, it just took 3 boxes of them to complete the set:
Great, except…why the golden-plated Threepio instead of the “naked” TPM Threeps??? Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh!!! For something that’s supposed to be so convenient to eat, every time I’ve had one of these, it becomes a tedious process that involves me thoroughly washing them out immediately after eating them (which itself only takes about two seconds to eat the 1.5 spoonfuls of yogurt in them) in order to save them for posterity. I’ve spent far too much time thinking about GoGurt lately, but why is it described as “portable”?? What yogurt ISN’T portable? Is there some kind of yogurt served in a 100lb tungsten cask that I don’t know about?
The Walmart closest to us is irredeemably trashy, but I kind of like it more than the other local ones for that very reason. By any normal standards, it’s a terrible store—most (but not all) of the employees range from unhelpful to openly hostile, shelves can go unstocked for days on end, and it’s a complete mess. Sometimes, though, the best place to find something is in the middle of chaos—long after these got clearanced out of most Walmarts, I was able to find this in their DMZ of a clearance section for 12 measly bucks:
I already had all of the figures since they were just repacks of older ones, but the whole presentation is pretty nice, and that Battle Droid in particular is probably even nicer than the more recent ones pictured above. The mini-TPM movie poster behind the figures is printed on sturdy cardstock, suitable for framing…overall, a great deal for 12 bucks!
This past weekend, I noticed that all the Walmart-exclusive Qui-Gon Jinn “Ultimate FX” lightsabers had sold out at our local store, which surprised and alarmed me, as I’d been planning on getting it…I love Qui-Gon Jinn, he’s like a kindly uncle to me. When Valerie and I were out running errands, we stopped at another Walmart, and after an absurd in-aisle test of about 4 of them to see which was the brightest/loudest, I grabbed this one:
I’d had the first “Force FX” lightsaber that came out in 2002 or whenever, which was far more expensive at around 100 bucks, and had a metal hilt—so it was surprising how light the plastic hilt on this one was. The blade is a little bit shorter than the fancier Force FX ones, but it’s sooooo much more vibrant and loud than that prehistoric version I’ve got. This picture has no increase in color or brightness or anything:
Finally, I had been searching for this for awhile along with the figures talked about in Phantom Phindz part 6. I never saw it at any of the multiple Walmarts I went to for the past few weeks, and every time it appeared for sale on Walmart’s website, it sold out far too quickly, and I kept just missing it. Last week, I kept a tab open with its product listing for a few days, and just kept refreshing every so often until it eventually went back in stock, and then pounced:
What kid wouldn’t want a set where 3 out of the 4 droids were DEAD within seconds of appearing on screen?? Thanks for reading, more this weekend!