The current trend of collecting action figures as a hobby was kind of a spin-off of the comic book boom of the 1990s. When Todd McFarlane got the idea to form his own toy company to ensure the quality of Spawn action figures, other comic book companies started following suit, and soon, action figures were occupying shelf space in comic book stores. That's when I started collecting.
Despite my constant obsession with all things Star Wars, my first fandom is still Star Trek. When Playmates Toys unleashed their Next Generation figures, which dominated the 1990s, that was my gateway. With this renewed interest in action figures and Star Wars, Kenner knew it was time to revive their Star Wars license. After picking up a TNG figure, I saw the Star Wars figures and thought, "May as well get Luke. I always liked Luke." Then I picked up Boba Fett. "That's my favourite villain. I've got my favourite hero and villain. That should be good." Then they released Jedi Knight Luke (clad all in black as in Return of the Jedi), and I thought, "OK, that's Luke as he starts the saga and ends it. I should be good." Then they released Ewoks (I kinda liked the Ewoks) and then Emperor Palpatine (Well, I've got two heroes, should get two villains), and then OH MY GOD, THEY'RE ACTUALLY MAKING PRINCESS LEIA IN THE GOLD BIKINI??? And that's when I realized I was down the rabbit hole.
Things came to a head in 1999, with the release of Episode I. Of course, there were new action figures for the new movie. In what was an unheard of publicity event back in the day, toy stores were actually opening at midnight so people could get the Episode I action figures. I remember watching those news reports on TV and thinking, "Suckers! I'm just gonna go online to the official Star Wars website and buy them online!"
Well...turns out I wasn't the only one who thought of that. Back in those days of dial-up Internet, the Star Wars website was moving incredibly slow that day. After hours of trying to get through to the Star Wars website (and tying up the phone line), I gave up.
I finally did get my hands on the Episode I action figures I coveted a few days later...at Wal-Mart. Everything was nicely re-stocked and ready for buying. Easily snatched up the trinity I had my eye on: Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Darth Maul. Let that be a lesson to you: everything you want is going to be there waiting for you, so don't buy in to the "opening at midnight" hype.
Which is why I surprised myself when I started getting caught up in the fervor for Force Friday.
For those who haven't heard, today is Force Friday...the day that the first wave of merchandise for Star Wars: The Force Awakens officially goes on sale. And it's happening all over again. Toy stores opening at midnight. Rampant crowds crawling all over each other for the merchandise.
And of course, I had to get my hands on some for my collection.
Now, I live far from any major metropolis, so I highly doubted any business in my hometown would be opening up at midnight. Hell, being a small town, I highly doubted that any business would be having any of the merchandise at all. So what should I do? Do I stay up until midnight to see what I could get online? On Friday, do I run into Edmonton after work? Granted, at most of the major stores in the city, most of the stock would be picked over. Would I have better luck at one of the outlying areas, like St. Albert or Spruce Grove? I was making plans upon plans upon plans.
It didn't help that I went on vacation about two weeks before Force Friday. Out camping, hanging out in a tent, those stars above me being a constant reminder of Star Wars. When I emerged from the wilderness, one of my first stops was the Hinton Wal-Mart. Over in the toy section, all the old Star Wars toys were already taken off the shelves to make room for the new ones. I was getting obsessed with Force Friday. It was maddening.
I got home from vacation back on Monday, and started wandering around Westlock to catch up on the news. While out for my evening walk, I discovered a new department store had opened up, Red Apple. I resolved to c heck out the next day. Since Red Apple was just a couple of blocks from the station, I decided to check it out on my lunch hour. As I walked through the front door, I thought, "Hey...wouldn't it be awesome if they didn't know that the new Star Wars toys aren't supposed to come out until Friday and they're already selling them?"
I started browsing through the store. It's your typical small town department store. Dollar-store-level groceries...respectable and affordable fashions. Stuff I'd seen in small town department stores all my life. And then I found the toy aisle.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens action figures. They did it. They actually did it. They put them on the shelves early.
I felt a tingle all over my body. I struggled to keep my composure. There they all were, the new guys in that trailer we've watched obsessively since April. Kylo Ren. Captain Phasma. The new Stormtrooper. Poe Dameron.
I knew I had to play this cool. I couldn't let anyone else know what a huge discovery this was, lest the other fans in Westlock discover it and come claim them. Once some of the excited kids got out of my way (seriously, who allows children in the toy aisle?), I calmly and quietly grabbed the top two I wanted:
Kylo Ren (aka the dude with the fancy new lightsaber), and...
Captain Phasma (aka the woman in the fancy chrome Stormtrooper armor)
With my purchases in hand, I calmly went up to the counter. I made the requisite small talk with the clerk, while internally, I was losing my goddamn mind. "Uhh...what time do you guys close tonight?" I oh-so-casually asked. "BECAUSE I'M COMING BACK AFTER WORK TO CLEAN YOU OUT!!!" I added in my head. Pleasantries were exchanged. Money changed hands. And I left the store.
Once outside, I gave myself permission to lose composure. I let out a mighty cheer. I did a little jig. I jumped up and down with glee. The store is about three blocks from the station...I ran all the way back to work, trying not to sing the "Golden Ticket" song from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I burst into the station doors, and our bewildered traffic manager wondered what I was carrying on about.
I took my seat behind the mic and took my purchases out of the bag so I could look at them while I did my show. My hands were still shaking. I was trembling with glee for at least an hour afterwards. During the music, I would just stare at them, marveling at how I'd gotten them early.
Of course I went back for more after work. But going back that second time, now I started feeling bad. I've blogged here before about how money's been awfully tight for me this year, and action figures definitely fall into the "want" category, and not "need." But I wanted them so much.
Applying my old logic, I had two villains, so it was time for two heroes. I got....
Well, we're just assuming that these two are heroes, right? That's the thing. We haven't seen the movie yet, we don't know any of these characters, any one of these four could be the new Jar Jar for all we know. I don't have a Jar Jar in my collection...I should get one.
But these now have an honoured place in my collection, among all the other honoured places. I can't believe I've been doing this hobby for 20 years now. I've got so many stacked up...I should get a house just to have room for them all. But for the time being, I'm just lucky I got the ones I wanted, and I didn't have to go to any toy stores at midnight, or trample any other excited fan.
Because, dude, they'll always be in stock.