Episode IX Cast Announced

Yesterday StarWars.com announced the cast of Episode IX, providing us with our first real bit of official news about the film. Many of the actors came as no surprise: with sequel trilogy veterans Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Kelly Marie Tran, Joonas Suotamo, Billie Lourd, and Anthony Daniels all returning. Mark Hamill will also be back - a foreseeable addition, given Jedi mentors' habits of reappearing long after their deaths.

A little more surprising was the announcement that Leia Organa would once again be played by the late Carrie Fisher, using previously unreleased footage from The Force Awakens. There's already a lot of online chatter about this choice - but, as per usual, I'm going to wait and see how her inclusion turns out before jumping to any conclusions. While it could prove a stumbling block for the filmmakers, there's also the chance that they'll pull it off with a great deal of taste and respect - providing our Princess with the fitting end she deserves.

Perhaps the most exciting part of yesterday's announcement was the confirmation (after months of rumours and speculation) that Billie Dee Williams will also be returning to reprise his iconic role as Lando Calrissian. This is fantastic news, and an announcement that many fans - including myself - had been hoping for ever since the sequel trilogy was first announced in 2012. I had the good fortune to meet Williams back in 2007, and will be rapt to see him on the big screen again. Williams will be joined by several other new additions to the sequel trilogy including Naomi Ackie, Richard E. Grant, and Keri Russell.

The Clone Wars Returns

There's been all kinds of exciting news coming out of this year's San Diego Comic-Con International, but the most surprising is without-a-doubt Lucasfilm's announcement that its beloved The Clone Wars animated series will be returning. You can see the official trailer below.

While it never quite soared to the same heights as Rebels, I still adored this show - and found myself having more of an emotional reaction to this trailer than I ever could have expected. Airing in an era when any other kind of new Star Wars visual media was inconceivable, The Clone Wars was - for five thrilling years - an incredibly important part of our ongoing connection to the saga. This made its abrupt cancellation all the more difficult for fans. While Rebels did much to explain the fates of some Clone Wars characters, there always remained a real lack of closure surrounding this series. Not so anymore. Twelve new episodes will be released via Disney's direct-to-consumer streaming service -  giving Dave Filoni the chance to provide a satisfying conclusion to his first foray into the Star Wars universe. No release date has been announced, but stay tuned for updates!

Lego 41619 BrickHeadz Darth Vader and 41620 BrickHeadz Stormtrooper

Today's post comes partially on behalf of my fiancée. Well, I say that - but I'm becoming just as obsessed with these particular collectibles as she is. They are, of course, BrickHeadz - the new line from Lego that is rapidly expanding to cover all kinds of franchises. Most recently, their range has been riding the nostalgia wave, releasing adorable brickified versions of characters from classic films such as Back to the Future and Ghostbusters. While there've also been a handful of Star Wars releases, these have solely been characters pulled from the new films (like Captain Phasma). Now, however, Lego is turning it's attention towards the original trilogy, beginning with Darth Vader and a Stormtrooper. My fiancée ordered the pair on their day of release, and they finally arrived just a few days ago.

Like their predecessors, these BrickHeadz certainly don't fail to impress. Using familiar pieces in clever ways, the sets manage to sculpt incredibly accurate (if caricatured) likenesses of their on-screen doppelgangers. It's the little details that really impress - like the tiny thermal detonator on the stormtrooper's back, or the utilisation of certain pieces to create the appearance of pleats in Vader's cape.

Loose Wizards of the Coast Star Wars Miniatures

A few weeks ago I posted about a handful of projects I have planned for my set of Wizards of the Coast Star Wars Miniatures. Before I embark on these, however, I need to fill a few gaps in my collection. While I have a great selection of diverse characters, there are a few glaring omissions - including core characters like Han, Chewie, and the dynamic droid duo. Back when these miniatures were in stores I restricted myself to purchasing four blind-bagged blister packs from each new wave, but I now wished I'd picked up more - especially from the original Rebel Storm wave (containing a comprehensive range of characters from the Original Trilogy). Recently, however, I stumbled across TrollandToad.com - a curated marketplace of loose Star Wars Miniatures. After a few solid hours of research and browsing, I bit the bullet and placed an order - and was incredibly pleased with the outcome!

TrollandToad.com essentially works as a middleman between Miniatures collectors: buying loose miniatures from individuals, then on-selling these on their marketplace. The cost of most miniatures typically ranges from $2.00 - $5.00USD (around $3.00 - $8.00NZ) with certain rarer figures fetching a little more. These prices are pretty fair, given that at the time of their release the seven-miniature blind-bags retailed for $25.00NZ (or around $3.60 per miniature). Purchasing miniatures in this way also guarantees that you'll get the characters you're after, as opposed to paying for endless fillers or duplicates you have no real use for.

My one big issue with the Miniatures line has always been the card stock used for the character cards. It may sound like a minor gripe, but these cards form an integral part of the game and therefore need to be able to withstand an enormous amount of handling. Unfortunately the thin, matte stock used by Wizards simply isn't up to the task, and is prone to scuffs, creases, and delamination. It's a problem I've solved via the liberal use of card protectors, but it had me somewhat apprehensive about the condition of the cards I'd receive from TrollandToad. Fortunately, I needn't have worried. The cards accompanying the miniatures all arrived in phenomenal condition.

For now, the gaps in my collection have been nicely filled. But if at some point point in the future I want to expand my forces, I'll definitely be using TrollandToad.com again. If there's something missing from your Miniatures collection, I strongly recommend checking out their selection!

Force Link 2.0 3 3/4" Starter Set

After biding my time for several months, I finally bit the bullet and picked up the Force Link 2.0 Starter Set from Amazon.com this week. While I had next-to-no interest in the Force Link device itself, this set was - sadly - the only way to actually get hold of the titular hero of Solo in his most familiar garb. The original price tag of $64.99NZ was impossible to justify, however. Fortunately, this item finally plummeted to $14.98US ($22.32NZ) a few days ago, making it a much more appealing purchase.

Featuring the usual five points of articulation, a blaster pistol, and a working holster, Han is everything you could expect from the basic 3 3/4" line. While nowhere near as exciting as some of the more obscure character release from this line (see: Moloch), he's a great - and necessary - addition to any 3 3/4" Solo display. As for the Force Link bracelet itself... Well, I made no secret of my disappintment with the  original Force Link bracelet's disappointing performance. Sadly, this iteration is worse. Much, much worse. Having pulled the bracelet from its packaging and loaded it with batteries, I enthusiastically grabbed my brand new Force Link 2.0 wampa - eager to hear his blood-curdling roar. Instead, I was greeted with a far more terrifying sound: "FIRMWARE UPDATE REQUIRED".

I get it, I really do. This bracelet is intended to cover a huge number of figures, many of which have yet to even be conceived by Hasbro. So it makes sense that firmware upgrades will be required from time to time. What was shocking for me, however, was that the bracelet hadn't even been programmed to work with the initial wave of Force Link 2.0 figures that accompanied its release. In fact, the only figure that did work without the firmware update was the pack-in Solo. Things soon went from bad to worse, however. Despite all of our efforts, my fiancée and I were simply unable to perform the necessary firmware update. We downloaded the app and managed to detect the bracelet, but were then taken through through a strange finger-tapping syncing ritual that neither of us was able to successfully perform. We relaunched the app - hoping to try again - but were never again able to detect the bracelet. So now it sits abandoned on my shelf, a useless piece of tech only able to play dialogue and sound effects for one figure.

Strangely, my twenty-year-old CommTech reader still works beautifully...

The Legacy Collection 3 3/4" GH04 Imperial EVO Trooper

Despite my best efforts, there are always gaps in my collection - figures I fail to find the first time around, or that I pass up on in the interest of keeping my collecting budget intact. You can see a full list of those products here. Fortunately, I occasionally get a second chance at picking up one of these items. That happened this week when a figure that'd been on my hunt list for the better part of a decade - The Legacy Collection  GH04 Imperial EVO Trooper - turned up on Amazon.com for a very reasonable $15.00US ($21.87).

Debuting in the Force Unleashed video game, the Imperial EVO Trooper was a must-have given my predilection for trooper variants. Featuring fourteen points of articulation, a blaster rifle, two blaster pistols, and a removable backpack, the EVO Trooper comes from the very heyday of 3 3/4" figures. This was also an era when Hasbro knew how to include a ridiculously desirable pack-in accessory. Instead of oversized missile launchers or highly unreliable digital gimmicks, Hasbro instead packed each of these figures with a unique "build-a-droid" part. Not only did this allow us to boost our figure collections (essentially being able to build an extra figure for every 4-6 figures we bought), but it also encouraged us to buy less desirable figures that might otherwise have remained pegwarmers. The opportunity to build my very own HK-50 droid was enough to incentivise me to buy that entire wave of figures - even though it contained a couple of characters that I might have otherwise ignored.

In sum, hunting down older finds like this is always bitterwseet. While it's a fantastic addition to my collection, it also reminds me how far the line has fallen since the golden days. However, with the quality of five-point-of-articulation figures improving and the return of super-articulated figures in the Vintage Collection, we can only hope that we might slowly be seeing a return to form for the line.

Using Weathering to Hide Yellowed Plastic

A huge problem faced by toy collectors is yellowing plastic. Despite all of the precautions we take, the inherent chemical composition of some plastics means that, over time, they will inevitably lose their bright, white lustre. Recently, I noticed that my Vintage Collection R2-D2 had succumbed to this blight. Despite being kept out of direct sunlight, it seems the ambient light in the room had been enough to slowly turn his entire right side a sickly yellow. I was hugely disappointed, as this R2 is one of my favourite figures - being the closest thing to an "ultimate" R2-D2 that we've ever seen in the 3 3/4" line. I soon hatched a plan, however.

I'd recently completed a Back to the Future III Delorean time machine model, and during that process I'd stumbled across a new modelling resource to add to my arsenal: Humbrol's weathering powder. Coming in a variety of colours, the powder is designed to look and behave in the same way as the various dusts, dirts, and detritus that typically adorn used machinery. I'd opted to use a rust-coloured powder to give my Delorean an authentically dirty "Old West" feel. And that's when inspiration struck: despite being a wonderful representation of R2, this figure was far too clean - and that rust weathering powder I had on hand was a perfect stand-in for Tatooine sand. So I set to work dirtying him up a little bit.

Solo: A Star Wars Story - The Official Guide

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll know that Star Wars reference books and visual guides are one of my obsessions. It should come as no surprise, then, that I had a copy of Solo: A Star Wars Story - The Official Guide ordered to arrive on its release date. The deal was further sweetened by the fact that Amazon.com had the book listed for a pre-order price of $12.59US ($18.20NZ) - a considerable discount on the New Zealand RRP of $40.99.

Like the Rogue One visual guide, this book is essentially an amalgam of the separate Visual Dictionary and Incredible Cross-Section volumes that accompany each episodic film in the saga. For those of you who have delved into these visual guides before, you'll know what to expect: A cornucopia of trivia and glorious images of characters, locations, vehicles, and props. Pablo Hidalgo returns as author once again, bringing with him his urbane wit and formidable knowledge of the Star Wars mythos. He manages to tease out some fascinating minutiae, as well as draw links (some very surprising) to all manner of elements of the Expanded Universe - both canon and Legends. As an added bonus, there are a few pages at the rear of the book that give us a glimpse behind-the-scenes of Solo, including a look at the design process for some of the more iconic characters and vehicles.

Solo: A Star Wars Story Premiere [Spoiler-Free]

Last night, my fiancée and I went along to our local theatre to catch the first screening of Disney's fourth contribution to the saga - Solo: A Star Wars Story. When it was first announced, I was less-than-enthusiastic about the idea of a Han-centred origin film. While he's my favourite character in the saga, I felt that there were far more interesting stories to be told in that galaxy far, far away. Nevertheless, my anticipation for the film had been steadily growing over recent months, and I went into last night's screening with a cautious sense of optimism. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised.

This might just be the Star Wars movie I've been hoping for ever since Disney took over the franchise: a fun-filled romp through the galaxy that - while still having high stakes - isn't yoked with the burden of having to further the story of the main episodic saga (which, despite being a standalone film, Rogue One was still tasked with doing). Sure, this story might not matter. Skipping it certainly won't leave you bereft of plot information that's vital to understanding the rest of the saga. But if that's all you're focused on, then I daresay you've missed the point of these standalone films - and the Star Wars franchise more generally. I'm a veteran of the Expanded Universe, and I learned a long time ago that a Star Wars story doesn't need to "matter" in order to be important. This franchise has always been about world-building - about fleshing out characters and filling in little unexplored nooks and crannies of the universe. That's one of the things I love most about this franchise. And this is something that Solo gets absolutely right.

The Hunt Is On - Force Link 2.0 3 3/4" Wave 2 Figures Found

In a piece of incredibly fortuitous timing, HasbroToyShop.com listed the second wave of Force Link 2.0 figures on the same day as their May 4th 20% discount and free shipping deal. There were only two figures from this wave on my hunt list - Moloch and Supreme Leader Snoke - and I was able to pick up both along with my order of Han Solo's Landspeeder.

Despite making his screen debut all the way back in 2015, this is the first time we've seen a single-carded Snoke in the basic figure line. A repack of the figure that appeared in the BB-8 mega playset, Snoke doesn't really have a huge amount going on. Including only four points of articulation and zero accessories, he's less of an "action figure" and more of a display piece. He performs this role admirably, however - towering over other figures and catching the eye in his glistening gold attire. In fact, that's one detail that Hasbro pulled off quite well. Instead of painting the figure in a lacklustre pigment, they've instead opted to mould the entire body from a metallic-coloured plastic that really makes Snoke pop.