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Saturday, September 29, 2018

Force in Focus: The Empire Strikes Back Action Figures Wave 3

Roll Call
AT-AT Commander/General Veers
Luke Skywalker (Hoth Outfit)
R2-D2 w/Sensorscope
Bespin Security Guard II
Cloud Car Pilot
4-LOM
C-3PO w/removable limbs
Imperial TIE Fighter Pilot
Zuckuss

Firsts and Other Notables
This wave of figures is arguably most known for the Zuckuss/4-LOM mixup, in which Kenner mislabels the figures: 4-LOM is the droid bounty hunter, but is called Zuckuss on his aciton figure packaging, while the bug-like Zuckuss is incorrectly labeled 4-LOM.

The Zuckuss figure (advertised as 4-LOM) was this wave's mailaway figure, offered ahead of the wave's release in stores. It also has a soft goods cloak.

Luke receives his second figure of this series, featuring his Hoth gear (which, along with the General Veers figure, are the only representatives of the film's first third in this wave), which is considered one of the most well-sculpted figures of the vintage line, featuring an "in action" pose and greater detailing. Somewhat curiously, this version of Luke doesn't include a lightsaber, despite the weapon being prominently featured in two separate Hoth scenes.

Both Artoo & Threepio receive new figures with updated features: Artoo features a "sensorscope" that emerges from his dome when a button is pressed, while Threepio's limbs can be removed from his body and placed in the included backpack, mimicking his condition at the end of the movie.

The Bespin Security Guard in this wave represents the first time Kenner offered a different, unique version of a troop builder. It wasn't labeled with the "II" on the card; that designation is simply used by collectors to distinguish it from the earlier version of the fiture.

The Cloud Car Pilot, a figure Kenner wanted to produce because they felt it would be an easy sale alongside the Twin Pod Cloud Car vehicle, only appeared from the neck up in Empire. To design the rest of the figure's body, Kenner plumbed the LucasFilm archives and selected a piece of conceptual art as the inspiration.


The TIE Fighter pilot is the only figure in this wave not exclusive to the film.

Pics courtesy of RebelScum.com & the Jedi Temple Archives.

Favorite Figure
Of this wave, I only ever owned a TIE pilot and C-3PO (and the former was likely a later carded version rather than the Empire release). But this wave's Threepio figure is easily the best, representing a specific plot point for the character while also injecting a heightened degree of playability into an otherwise dull figure (since Threepio doesn't wield any blasters or other accessories).

It bothered me to no end as a child that I didn't have a Chewbacca figure to lug around the broken Threepio.

Austin's Analysis 
The third and final Empire offering continues the line's democratic offering, presenting an assortment of main characters, troop builders, and the final two bounty hunters. Of course, Luke is the only one of the main trio to get a figure in this wave, but he's at least joined by new versions of Artoo & Threepio. And it's somewhat remarkable that, by the end of the Empire offerings, all six of the bounty hunters received their own figure, despite the fact that, with the exception of Boba Fett, they only appear in one scene and have no dialogue. It's a testament to just how much they captivated audiences' attention (and to the dearth of new & unique aliens a la the cantina in New Hope to help Kenner pad the line). All, the three waves of Empire figures represent a huge step forward for the line. Not only are more figures produced, but their individual quality has greatly improved, featuring better, more nuanced sculpts to a wider range of action features, from FX-7's arms to Threepio's pull apart limbs. The Star Wars films are, in part, beloved because they present a far-reaching, well-developed world with nooks and crannies filled with interesting characters; the Empire Strikes Back figures reflect that sensibility well.

6 comments:

  1. That detachable C-3PO is one of the highlights of the entire toy line. Once I got that figure, I can't even count the number of times 3PO would inevitably get blowed up real good during my playground Star Wars adventures.

    My dad was a mechanical engineer (and also a toy designer in the mid-late 80s, he created a few Thundercats accessories) and would marvel over figures like this one. He'd point out to me that they couldn't just make a bunch of C-3PO parts from existing molds; entirely new molds had to be created for each limb and the torso, which must have cost a fortune. He'd point out how every decision that cost money probably had to be approved by three or four levels, which would explain why 3-PO's head doesn't remove. We speculated that some designer might've fought for that feature so kids could play out the full Chewie/Ugnaught scene, arguing that it was worth the thousands of dollars of added r&d and development cost. Maybe it got green-lit and made its way up the ladder, but then some executive looked at the designs, took out a red pencil, and drew a circle-line through the removable head and wrote "choking hazard" in block letters next to it. The developers were probably disappointed, but someone in the budget department likely did a little fist-pump when s/he got the news.

    Nevertheless, the toy still turned out great.

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    1. Totally agree on the greatness of the Threepio figure. And thanks for the peek behind-the-scenes (potentially) of the design process.

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  2. This wave must have hit during the peak of my childhood Star Wars mania, because I have them all. And I was certainly captivated by those bounty hunters - I made a specual effort to get them all, maybe the first time I would try to collect something. Alas for my wallet, not the last.

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  3. Everybody seemed to get the bounty hunters' names mixed up around this time. In the STAR WARS newspaper strip by Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson, the character we know as Dengar is referred to as Zuckuss!

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  4. I had a 4-LOM figure. 35 years later, you mean to tell me that it's been wrong this whole time? You learn something new every day...

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    1. So you actually had a Zuckuss all these years, is what you're saying? :)

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