TRANSMISSIONS FROM A GALAXY FAR, FAR, AWAY:

EPISODE XII

This is the 12th column in a weekly series from The Rock Father James Zahn. Check back Fridays for the latest in what’s happening in the galaxy far, far away, or read them all here.

It’s no secret that “retro” has been a big thing in toys for the past few years, and as that trend shows no signs of slowing down, some surprising throwbacks are starting to emerge. When it comes to action figures, cool play sets should be an essential part of play, but they hardly seems as prevalent as they were in the ’70s and ’80s when epic play sets reigned supreme. What’s particularly interesting is that while the mid-80s made way for the larger, plastic play sets that would become standard from the likes of G.I. Joe, Masters of the Universe, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, there was an entire era of cardboard play sets that came before that. Amsco made sets based on Marvel Comics, Planet of the Apes and Space: 1999, while Mego had the Batcave and the the Starship Enterprise. And then came the Kenner Star Wars collection, with the Cantina Adventure Set, Cloud City, Land of the Jawas, the Hoth Ice Planet, and more. Who knew that in 2018, the time would be right for their return?

At San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) this year, Hasbro surprised fans by unveiling a pair of new play sets based on environments featured in Solo: A Star Wars Story. While fans have been asking for some Star Wars play sets for years, they haven’t exactly been blown away by what’s been offered. The Last Jedi First Order Star Destroyer set was cool (my girls and I love ours), but the electronics and transforming feature (it was technically the BB-8 2-in-1 Mega Playset) made it really expensive ($200) and out of reach for many families. Cardboard sets, if made to be strong and durable, can help bring things back into a reasonable price range while still packing some maximum play value.

The new Star Wars sets are the Vandor-1 Heist Cardstock Playset (sold exclusively at Target) and the Kessel Mine Cardstock Playset (sold exclusively at Walmart). Priced at $44.99, some say that they’re still too expensive for a cardstock diorama with a pack-in action figure and a couple of plastic accessories. Having not played with these in-person, the jury is out right here, but I’m intrigued—and I think my kids will be as well. There’s a reason for that.

One of our favorite toys from the past year was one that most people still haven’t heard of: the Urban Playset by a little company in California called Ready Setz. It’s a massive, 33- by 43- by 22-inch city that folds flat for storage and is extremely durable. We’ve had ours for nearly a year and it’s still played with every single week, and the original price was only $60. So what are they doing next? A “Space Base” play set, now on Kickstarter with early-bird pricing.

Basically, it’s a $65 pre-order for a large set ($50 for a smaller version) and you have a universal play set or diorama for all of your space-themed action figures and vehicles. It might not be Star Wars-branded, but neither were the many lesser-known but now highly sought-after “space” sets from the 1970s. The Ready Setz Space Base has already been hand-picked by Kickstarter for their “Projects We Love” feature.

While some kids (and grownups) might initially scoff at the idea of a cardboard set, generations of kids got along with them just fine, and I’m looking forward to seeing if they truly catch on in this age of complicated play. Sometimes the simple things are the best ones going!

FURTHER TRANSMISSIONS FROM AROUND THE GALAXY

  • Star Wars: Episode IX is officially in-production! Director J.J. Abrams returned to twitter to mark the August 1 kick-off with a photo of John Boyega as Finn, alongside Joonas Suotamo as Chewbacca, and presumably Daisy Ridley as Rey aboard the Millennium Falcon. The end of the Skywalker Saga/sequel trilogy is approaching.
  • Disney wants it’s TV rights back. Seems in the midst of setting up their still-unnamed direct-to-consumer streaming service, TV rights to Star Wars were sold to Turner for airing on TNT and TBS through 2024. Bloomberg reports that Disney is trying to arrange a buyback.
  • Is Han Solo’s “Bespin” jacket from The Empire Strikes Back worth $1.3 million? That’s what The Telegraph reports that it could fetch when it hits the auction block on September 20!