16 November 2021

HALO: Combat Evolved Turns 20!


Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of Bungie's HALO: Combat Evolved, and it got me thinking about HALO:CE and its importance to me and the wider world of military science fiction. During the first season of Star Trek: Enterprise, I saw the TV ad spots for this game called "halo" on that new system, by Microsoft called the "Xbox". Then I started reading gaming magazines that basic said the HALO: Combat Evolved was the second coming of Christ. Then I played some of HALO: Combat Evolved and I was hooked like an addict and I need some HALO in my life. Then my home was robbed and the meth-head took my PS2 and with the insurance money, I bought an OG Xbox and HALO: Combat Evolved in 2003 and I never looked back. After the first play through, I knew HALO: Combat Evolved, was going to be my favorite game of all time and it still is. I still own my original copy of HALO: Combat Evolved and my original Xbox and I cracked it up on the 20th anniversary of the game and I time traveled back to 2003. I've been a video gamer since my dad gave me ATARI 2600 in 1982 and this game was nearly a religious experience and I replayed it over and over. None of the sequels have equaled the original to me (HALO: Reach is my 2nd favorite). In terms of the wider world of military science fiction, HALO: Combat Evolved, it was a key moment the history of the genre and the HALO franchise would go to be one of the best ambassador products for the genre to this very day. HALO forged new fans and reinforced fans of military science fiction. However, the apex of HALO's power and influence was reached several years ago and currently HALO is struggling with how to navigate far away from the poor handling (and shrapnel) of the sequel games by 343 Industries. The fate of HALO as a franchise will greatly rest on the how well Infinite performances with critics and fans, but the whole of HALO will stand, despite HALO 5, as one of the greatest military sci-fi franchises of all time.              

05 November 2021

FWS Movie Review: DUNE (2021)


DUNE has been considered by many to be one of the finest works of human imagination and since being published 1965, the world of DUNE has been a special place for millions, including me. Since the 1970's, there have been several major attempts to bring DUNE to the big and small screens with a film finally coming in December of 1984 and the Sci-Fi Channel Miniseries in 2000. Only one other DUNE title has been brought to the visual media with Sci-Fi Channel Children of DUNE miniseries in 2003. Both have been marked by odd production, casting, and theme choices. DUNE is a hard book to bring to screen due to the complexity of the subject matter and the universe. For years there have been rumors and failed attempts of another DUNE production. Finally, the man and mind behind the epic and heartbreaking BLADE RUNNER: 2049 was given the helm to ride the worm and bring DUNE to the 21st century audience with a stellar cast. As a DUNE fan since the 1980's, I was beyond excited to finally have another DUNE movie besides the oddity that is the 1984 DUNE. I witnessed DUNE 2021 at an a Dallas IMAX theater on November 3rd and here is the FWS review:

To best sum it up in two words: Denis Villeneuve. DUNE showcases, to us, a wonderful visionary filmmaker that loves the source materials can do to bring a beloved sci-fi classic to the big screen in a way that is pure escapism. DUNE 2021 is beautiful, emotional, loud, brutal, and captivating filmmaking that visually and sonically blows the doors of the 1984 version. This is thanks to some of the rich DNA of BLADE RUNNER 2049 being injected into DUNE 2021 along with improved scale and scope of the world of DUNE forging a grand adventure worthy of the words of Frank Herbert. One of the cool elements for a DUNE fan is that 2021 film includes the visions of Paul's possible paths of destiny, the battle languages, the desert mouse, the coming Jihad, the seed myths of the Sisterhood to the Fremen, proper ornithopters, and even the Still-Tent! Then there is decision to break the book into two films, which was a smart move to allow the unfolding of the story and the journey of Paul Atreides into Muad'Dib with the gift of time. 
Several highlights for me was the kinetic brutality of the knife fights, the way that Fremen are shown as killer ghosts of the sands with Arabic themes and style, the improved personal shield special effects, the look and feel of war among the great houses, and the 2021 film's take on the Harkonnen, the Guild Highliners, and the Sardaukar. Another strong element was the improved threat of the looming sandworms that are moving just under the oceans of sand on Arrakis. This was stated in the book, but this film finally demonstrates the power, speed, and horror of the old man of the desert. Speaking of the desert, I do not know where they filmed the open desert scenes, but it looks like an alien desert world to the degree that I half-expected Matt Damon to come into the shot in a spacesuit. This film captures DUNE and it has been a long time coming for us fans and the next generation of fans.    

The opening to DUNE 2021 is very odd compared to the other productions. It shows Chani's tribe attacking Harkonnen spice mining with Lasguns and it allows us to hear some voiceover by Chani to introduce some of the DUNE universe and how the combat of DUNE will look, but it is out of place and gets DUNE 2021 off to an odd start. Connected to this is the way the scenes are linked together, which in most cases is they are not linked together causing the pacing & flow to be off for me. Another element that was off was the look of Arrakeen. It does not look like a city and more like a futuristic citadel that belongs in another film. Then there are some of casting choices in this film: Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho, Josh Brolin as Gurney Halleck, and Chang Chen as Dr. Yueh.
Okay, no work outside of the Sci-Fi Channel DUNE Miniseries has been been able to breath life into Duncan Idaho and Gurney Halleck characters in the way read in the pages of DUNE. When compacting the beginning of the DUNE story, these characters are lost in both the 1984 and 2021 versions. However, while Jason and Josh are good actors, there was just something off about their portrayals of their characters in a way that I cannot explain fully. Then there is Dr. Yueh. He is a critical character of the DUNE universe due to his betrayal of House Atreides causing the downfall of one of the great houses as well as the death of the Duke and thousands of Atreides. In the 1984 film, Dean Stockwell gives the character life along with more foundation for his horrible actions. That does not exist in the 2021 version and the actor does not bring the character to life or even out of the shadow, harming the overall story. 

As someone who has read the six-book series several times, the world that Frank Herbert created in 1965 is a masterclass in worldbuilding and DUNE is a rich universe of galactic politics sex, murder, war, religion, power, combat, ecology, and drugs. Shame that nearly none of that universe was in DUNE 2021. The elements I mentioned were all there in small scale, but without the epic scale of the universe of DUNE to frame them. This film is like a beautiful meal that is served on a tea dish. Nothing is mentioned of why and who the Mentats are, we do not see the Emperor, the Spacing Guild (who look like Daft Punk in this film!), the Butlerian Jihad, the lack of thinking machines, and even the spice itself. 
Sure, there are references to all of this in the filmbook scenes, but there is no weight to the words and the world of DUNE 2021 seems to orbit around three worlds in the vastness of the Imperium. Oddly, these elements of the wider DUNE universe are there in style and look, but not in words and actions...like they are waiting for the next part of DUNE. Simply put, DUNE 2021 needs to be enjoyed by audiences that are already familiar with the DUNE universe, because this film does not give you really anything and this could hurt the ability for the 2021 film to mint new fans to the series. 

How Does DUNE 2021 Compare to DUNE 1984?
The 1984 film was how I was introduced to the world of 10,191 and it served as my imagination foundation for the world of DUNE. I've seen the 1984 DUNE over a dozen times and in all of the major cuts of the film. I think it is only right to compare the 2021 film to the 1984 original. For some of the major characters, like Lady Jessica, Paul, Chani, and Duke Leto; we have much talent in both films and what is interesting is that the actors take different angles on the characters. The Lady Jessica is more like a mother to Paul in the 2021 film than in the 1984 film with the 1984 Lady Jessica is more Bene Gesserit with the calm appearance and emotional control. 
This applies to Duke Leto, who is more like a father to Paul than the more royal Duke of the 1984 film. Both films have issues with bring Duncan Idaho and Gurney Halleck up to their roles in the book and both are searching for their moment. The new film has a more fleshed out and active Duncan Idaho than the 1984 take, while Gurney Halleck is more angry without the soul of Sir Patrick Steward's version. Paul and Chani are closer in appearance to the characters of the book than in the 1984 film. What is ironic is that Kyle MacLachlan was 24 during the filming of DUNE and Timothee Chalamet is 25. Both actors are good as Paul, but Dave Bautista, David Dastmalchian, Javier Bardem, and Stellan Skarsgård kill it their respective roles in the film. Both films have amazing designs that show the world of DUNE in different way, but the Ornithopters in the 2021 film are stunning and feel very real, causing them to be one of the best designed fictional aircraft of all time. The Freman are a real highlight here and they are very much closer in the book in the 2021 film by far.
However, there are some major differences and some where the 1984 film is superior to the 2021 film. The design of Arrakeen is far better in 1984 than 2021 along with the Spice Harvester, but these are minor. There three scenes that were in the 2021 and 1984 films that we need to discuss. The scene with the Gom Jabbar in 1984 is much better by far with better acting and presentation. This is also true of the scene where the Duke and company are rescuing the crew of the Spice Harvester during the worm attack. The 2021 has superior SFX and is closer to the book, but the fire and command of  Jurgen Prochnow's Duke Leto is very superior in that scene and fills the cockpit of the golden Orthinopter beyond the limited SFX of that time. After the plot is unfolded and the attack successful placing House Harkonnen back in command of Arrakis, the Baron is confronted by a drugged Leto with a poison tooth. The original 1984 scene is much better in terms of power, emotion, and creepiness. Part of this is likely due to the actors playing Dr. Yueh and it is clear to me that Dean Stockwell is superior in the role. Of course, the 2021 Dr. Yueh part is much more cut down than the 1984 or the book.    

 Should You See DUNE 2021?
You're still here?! GO! Go see this movie in the theater in IMAX and be delighted in a masterclass of filmmaking and escapism. It has been a long time coming, but we fans of DUNE finally have a movie worthy of the words of Frank Herbert.  

17 September 2021

Military Sci-Fi Toys: The Kenner Star Wars MICRO Collection (1982)

The world of science fiction, cinema, and even the toy industry all changed when Star Wars was released in May of 1977. For a time, the brainchild of George Lucas dominated the toy stores and allowance money of kids of my generation due to the awesome offerings by Kenner. While its seems that the iconic and nearly holy Kenner toyline was nothing but a raging success, there were some failure among the various Star Wars toylines, and one being the subject of this installment of Military Sci-Fi Toys, the Star Wars MICRO Collection from 1982. 

What was the Kenner Star Wars MICRO Collection and Why did Kenner Make this?
In the summer of 1982 while some of the most iconic movies of the decade we were being released, Kenner would release one of the oddest members of their legendary Star Wars toyline: the MICRO Collection. This was a diecast line of painted 1 1/4inch tall static action figures with accompanying vehicles and playsets to match the scale being presented. Some modern Star Wars collectors have nicknamed it: "the Lilliputian Star Wars Collection". According to Kenner sculptor Rudy Vap, his vision for the MICRO Collection was centered around the concept of showing the true scale of the Star Wars locations seen in the first two films. Unlike the primary toyline centered around the 3 3/4th inch figures, the MICRO Collection was envisioned by Mr. Vap being a collectible more than a true toyline. 
For many toylines, one of the key questions is in what scale should the line be designed around? Kenner's Star Wars nearly four inch figures soon became the standard of the industry and it was smaller than most action figures at the time. This scale for the action figures was done due to the heavy focus on the iconic machinery of the films, like the Millennium Falcon, X-Wing, and the TIE fighter. In order to build and sell these vehicles for the figures, they had to be in a scale that allowed for a marketable price point, playability, and shelve space at the retailor. 
However, the environmental set pieces of the Kenner line were limited, lacking in structural integrity, and expensive. This was the pièce de résistance of the MICRO Collection, it could display the grandeur of Cloud City that the 3 3/4inch line could not. Given this, most of the MICRO Collection was centered around an location from the films with four-to-eight 1 1/4th inch miniatures packed inside. Several of the location pieces were combined into a boxset called an "World" with three World being released in 1982. In total, the MICRO Collection topped out at nine playset locations, four vehicles, and the mail-away "Build Your Own Army" offer of six diecast painted figures for the Hoth World location. For modern day collectors of the MICRO Collections, one thing really shines through about the MICRO Collection is its level of detail and craftsmanship. While the paint does indeed peel off easily with the miniatures, the other all construction and presentation of the playsets, coupled with the damage feature, is first rate.  
The Different Between the "Micro Collection" and "Star Wars Micro Machines"
Given the brief length of time that the Kenner MICRO Collection was out in the toystores, there is some natural confusion between it and the 1990’s Galoob Micro Machines Star Wars collection. One interesting difference is when Galoob and Kenner got their licenses from the Studio. Kenner was in on the ground floor when Star Wars was an unproven concept and was predicted to be a bomb. However, Galoob entered into the Star Wars world well after the brand was established and a cultural icon…that was in demise and waiting for Episode I to lit the fire again. 
During an interview with Starwars.com, the chief designer for the micro machines line was Jim Fong and recalled that when Galoob got the license for Star Wars, it was during a time when Star Wars was old news and no one was really that interested in the license, which allowed Galoob to acquire it for their micro machines line. Much like the sacred Lego Star Wars line, it seems to be a match made in heaven. Fong recalls that when Galoob got the license that it was during a slow sales year at the company and the company itself was downsizing. However, the tri-pack of classic Star Wars vehicles was a massive success and turned the company around after the 1994 launch of the Star Wars Micro Machines line. During the first year of run of the line, Galoob would launch a line of micro-figures (sold in “packs” of around 9 micro-figures) and a series of environmental playsets based on locations in the Holy Trilogy. Unlike the 1982 Kenner MICRO Collection, these would be success and playsets would be designed and released for years. However, unlike the previous MICRO Collection, these micro-figures would not fit into the vehicles. Some of the Mirco Machines playsets would directly correspond to the MICRO Collection and this gives us a window into what the MICRO Collection could have done with the ROTJ film locations. 

The Historical Context of the MICRO Collection
At the time of release in 1982, Kenner itself was spinning down their TESB toyline and was deep in production for the ROTJ toyline. Given this, the company was willing to take some chances with the monumental success of the Star Wars toyline in general and the MICRO Collection was a symbol of that risk taking. Also, during this time, we can see the trend of miniatures for role playing games and tabletop gaming, like D&D, Battletech, and the Star Trek combat simulation game by FASA exploding onto the hobby market. I can remember walking into hobby and gaming stores, and seeing walls of unpainted miniatures and some painted examples during the 1980's.  It is likely that Kenner saw this trend with miniatures and decided to tap into that market with some interesting results. We have also remember that in 1982, the Masters of the Universe and G.I. Joe: Real American Hero had been released and they were a real threat for the Kenner domination over the toy market. This also the time when the 2nd Generation of home video game consoles was on the market and was in its prime with machines like the ATARI 2600, the newly released (in 1982) 5200 and ColecoVision and VecTrex machines. 

Why FWS Will Never Discuss the Kenner Line in Full
There is no military science fiction toyline that has generated as much cold-hard cash and impact than the original trilogy Kenner toyline that ran from 1978-1985. It altered the entire toy industry to this very day and few toyline since have even come close to the power of the Kenner line. I lived through the Kenner Star Wars toys and I had many...but Legos were the toys I loved and Kenner Star Wars toys were just a prop to occupy my time. Many of my generation love and worship the original Kenner line and if they had a time machine, they would certainly go back and buy original figures and vehicles. Given the amount of love and nostalgia associated with the Kenner line, there are hundreds of websites and videos detailing in masterclass levels every aspect of the original Kenner line. With this in mind, FWS has decided NOT to devote a full article on the original Kenner line itself. There is just nothing we could say about this much mined topic to be of any value. Only the MICRO Collection of original Kenner line peaked my interest enough to devote some digital space to it. To me, Retroblasting continues to covered this topic better than I could ever.   

Where Does the MICRO Collection fit into the Entire Kenner Line?
Among the most iconic and most profitable toylines of all time, the original Star Wars Kenner line that ran from 1977 until 1985 is counted along side Barbie, Hot Wheels, and Lego. Like all successful toylines, not everything in the collection is a smash hit and Kenner has two lines that did not survive: the 12inch dolls and the MICRO Collection. It seems that once Kenner deviated outside the realm of 3 3/4inch figures, it was destiny to fall. That is how the MICRO Collection seems to fit within the narrative of the Kenner Star Wars toyline...however, there is another way of viewing the MICRO Collection among the complete Kenner line: as a symbol of how much Kenner had mastered the universe of this galaxy far, far away in plastic. 
What I mean is that the playsets based around the nearly four inch figures did not or could not represent the location of Baspin nor Hoth in its full scale. But, the MICRO Collection could and did. Besides a lame Sears-exclusive cardboard "Cloud City Playset" issued in 1980, Cloud City was ignored in favor of other locations in Empire in the main toyline, but was a key location for the MICRO Collection and we got to see and work within Bespin via the Lilliputian-scaled plastic world. In addition, the attention to detail and clever features were symbols of the Kenner MICRO team being passionate for the project with the skills to bring their vision to the market. To me, that is how the MICRO Collection fits within the larger Kenner toyline. Side note, Michael of RetroBlasting recently commissioned a upscaled version of the MICRO Collection from Joe Dickerson and it is in the prototype phase.   

The Overview of the Kenner MICRO Collection
The entire 1982 MICRO Collections amounts to 70 die-cast metal miniature figures, nine playsets (combined into 3 World sets) and four vehicles. Besides the mail away “Build Your Armies” offer from Kenner of Hoth themed Snowtroopers and Hoth rebel soldiers, the die-cast metal miniatures figures were packed in with the vehicles or playsets and not sold separately. Each of the miniatures were painted but were prone to chipping and rubbing when played with. The Bespin, Hoth, and Death Star playsets were combined into three massive World sets with all of the figures. 
Three out of the four vehicles, the X-Wing, TIE Fighter, and the Snowspeeder all were fitted with this “battle damage” feature that allowed for the vehicle to break apart, but the pieces were connect via wires and the vehicle could be restored at the press of a button. Every playset and vehicle had some very cool features that were not present on the larger scale playsets and these features show off the love and attention paid to the MICRO Collection by Kenner. Some elements of the playset could explode, spring-loaded doors, and a the carbonite-freeze chamber could swap the Han Solo miniature with an miniature carbonite frozen Han Solo. Very cool. 
There is the entire line:

- Millennium Falcon (Sears Exclusive) w/ 6 figures
- X-Wing w/ 1 figure
- TIE Fighter w/ 1 figure
- Rebel Snowspeeder (JC Penny Exclusive) w/ 2 figures

- Bespin Control Room w/ 4 figures
- Bespin Gantry w/ 4 figures
- Bespin Freeze Chamber w/ 8 figures
- Death Star Escape w/ 4 figures
- Death Star Compactor w/ 8 figures
- Hoth Generator Attack w/ 4 figures
- Hoth Turret Defense w/ 6 figures
- Hoth Wampa Cave w/ 4 figures and the Probe Droid
- Hoth Ion Cannon w/ 8 figures

What Happened to the MICRO Collection?
From everything I could read, the people at Kenner that were involved with the creation of the MICRO Collection believed in their vision of a smaller Star Wars play world for kids and collectors...sadly, no one else did. This toyline did not last a year. It was born and died in 1982, taking down the prototype Return of the Jedi MICRO Collection as well. If the Kenner Star Wars toyline enjoyed so much success and praise, why did the MICRO Collection crash and burn in less than one year? The plain fact is that we do not know preciously why the Kenner MICRO Collection failed…we have only assumptions. It is assumed by most that parents and kids were unwilling to invest their cash into another Star Wars toyline when there was a massive line of figures and vehicles designed around the 3 ¾ inch scale that they already owned figures for. 
Then there was playability, some kids got the idea of the MICRO Collection with its toy soldier favor, but most did not and rejected it out-of-hand, especially at the price point of about $8-$15 per set ($22.62-$42.44 in today’s money) about $32-$37 set ($93.53-$104.67 in today’s money) for the Death Star World and the Hoth World combined playsets. For some perspective, the Millennium Falcon vehicle cost $26 ($73.56 in 2021 money) new in 1982. While the MICRO Collection was awesome in its details and the cool battle-damage feature, you could not change the figures from the static pose and that limited play to kids used to adjustable figures. Within a short amount of time, the MICRO Collection was not moving at the original price point and discounts were made…and then again…and again. Then the line was cancelled and the remining stock went on deep discount with some pieces at 70% off of their original price tag. This is when some buyers got into the line and scooped up the entire collection on the cheap. By some accounts, boxed examples of the MICRO Collection could be found on the store shelves until 1987!      

The Lost MICRO Collection Prototypes
Despite the hard work by the people at Kenner, the MICRO Collection died on the vine, and just as new product was coming to the Hoth and Bespin playset lines. The Hoth Bacta Chamber and the Bespin Torture Chamber were both far enough in development that there are boxed prototypes of both. Besides these, there are several cancelled prototypes that were cut down in different stages of development. The Bacta Chamber would have been added to the Hoth World and the Bespin Torture Chamber would have rounded out the Cloud City World. These were the closest in the cancelled prototypes. For the addition to the Death Star World, Kenner would have added a playset from Return of the Jedi: The Throne Room. This set was far in development and would have made a nice addition to the Death Star sets. Coming with two versions of the Emperor, Vader, Luke, two Royal Guard, and a rumored royal Dignitary. This was next closest in development, with several plastic mockups of the set in several levels of detail. 
Three new World would have been added for the Return of the Jedi and Empire Strikes Back: the Forest Moon of Endor, the Dagobah Swamp, and Jabba’s Court. The Endor World would have had the Ewok Village, the Bunker, and rumors point to the shuttle landing pad or the forest. Wax molds for Ewoks, Biker Scouts, and Rebel Commandos have been located for the Endor sets, but no mockups of the playsets, only text and some production art. Jabba’s Court was farther along with a Jabba throne (complete with a slave Leia!) mockup, a Droid Dungeons, and likely a pit set. Lastly, the Dagobah swamp would have been in the MICRO Collection scale with Yoda’s home, the “grotto” where Luke confronted Vader, and possibly, the X-Wing swallowing bog. There is only one prototypes of an new MICRO Collection vehicles and it was close to completion: Boba Fett's Slave-1. We do not have any information on ROTJ vehicles though, but it was likely the Imperial Shuttle, A-Wing, and the B-Wing would have been likely targets for production.  

The Other Attempted MICRO Collections
When Kenner was developing the MICRO Collection in 1981, the initial rollout of the concept was to be with the most successful franchise in their inventory: Star Wars. Once the Star Wars MICRO Collection, being the vanguard force, established a beachhead, Kenner had plans to rollout two more MICRO Collections: Super Powers and Indiana Jones. During this time, Kenner was spinning up the Adventures of Indiana Jones toyline based around 3 ¾inch figures (I had some of these back in the day) and they devoted some effort into scaling down the world of Dr. Jones to less than two inches. 
Much like the Star Wars MICRO Collection, we would have seen the environments presented in Raider of the Lost Ark rendered in much grandeur than the Kenner playsets we did get and with great playset interactivity pieces. According to some that have seen the Kenner mockup material for the Indiana Jones MICRO Collection, there would have a playset with a rolling bolder and one with intercepting the Ark on the Nazi truck, complete with a drag-capable Indy miniature. The work on this was mostly confined to concept art and a single converted Luke Skywalker miniature into an Indiana Jones with a whip. Then there is the Super Powers MICRO Collection prototype. 
Super Powers was the name of the 1984-1987 Kenner DC action figure and vehicle toyline that attempted to capitalize on the success of the Super Friends ABC cartoon based on the DC Justice League. DC themselves heavily promoted the Super Powers toyline in comic adverts and even a tie-in comic limited series. There are prototype miniatures of the Riddler and Batman, who were converted Vader and Luke miniatures with some playset locations in the early mockup stages. However, this leaves me with some questions. The Kenner Super Powers figures did not come out until 1984, some two years after the Star Wars MICRO Collection was released AND cancelled all within the same year. Why was there work on a Super Powers MICRO Collection undertaken? Maybe a better question would be when was the work undertaken to bring the DC Heroes and Villains in the dicast two-inch scale?      

The Legacy of the Kenner SW MICRO Collection
When the MICRO Collection came out in the summer of 1982, there was not much of an impact made, save for the lack of profit on Kenner’s balance sheets. For years, the MICRO Collection was marked down and waited for their fate while gathering dust. At the time, there were fans and collectors of the line and they moved in and bought the deeply discounted line. Another impact at the time and it is a legacy of the MICRO Collection is that some kids got the MICRO Collection toys by mistake instead of the full-sized toys. This was mentioned repeatedly on boards and comments when the MICRO Collection was discussed. However, some became fans of the line via these mistakes. 
The other legacy is the micro-sized toylines owe a big debt to this vanguard of the trend and the loss it suffered. The micro machines Star Wars is one of the legacies of the MICRO Collection. Another legacy is the workmanship that went into the MICRO Collection playsets, and this commented on by modern day collectors. One legacy I witnessed is that elements of the MICRO Collections were used in Westend Games RPG as gaming pieces given their scale and already painted. Lastly, the lasting legacy is that the MICRO Collection is one of the lost lines of the classic Kenner toyline and one of its rare failures. Unlike the failed 12inch doll line, the MICRO Collection showed some passion, thought, and talent of the Kenner team and it is true shame that we never got to see the ROTJ MICRO Collection toys.  

The MICRO Collection Today
Since the invention of the internet and video-hosting sites, fans of Star Wars and toy collecting have created cyberspaces for discussion and dissection of this iconic toyline. Some of the websites and channels cover the MICRO Collection from 1982 in some way or fashion. Some collectors that lived during the time of Kenner have been rediscovering the MICRO Collection and buying examples of it. Others that are getting into vintage collection have also been venturing into the waters of the MICRO Collection. Currently, there is a market for the MICRO Collection and boxed examples go for solid money with the most expensive being the exclusive Millennium Falcon and the Rebel Snow Speeder selling in the hundreds of dollars all the way up to thousands. However, many consider the Kenner MICRO Collection to be one of the accessible collections in the entire line due to its scale and size of the line. When I called around in the DFW Metroplex to vintage toy stores, they had a few MICRO Collection items and they informed me that these toys came in with much less frequency then the regular Star Wars toys. Some stores confused the MICRO Collection from 1982 with the Micro Machines line in my experience, but said demand for these smaller Star Wars lines were much less than the other full-sized toylines. 

Next Time on FWS...
In nearly all modern military organizations, MILSIM paintball and AirSoft teams, online shooters, and even toys; military camouflaged patterns are used for weapons, uniforms, and vehicles. Patterns of tans, greens, browns, and yellows are used to allow soldiers and vehicles to blend into the background. While camouflage has been used humans were hunting and gathering, the practice of blending was rare once civilization and professional military organizations were established. However, during the Great War, it finally was made very painfully clear that the old garish uniforms of the past were dangerous in the era of modern warfare. In the next installment of the Barrack, we shall be exploring and explaining military camo in a few months time.  

23 August 2021

Future War Stories from the East: GALL FORCE: THE ETERNAL STORY (1986)


Both sides of the Pacific Ocean often regard the 1980s as the Golden Age of anime, especially, in the genre of military science fiction titles. In 1986, some of the greatest talents in the industry at the time came together to work on this 1986 OVA title. The talent of Gall Force: Eternal Story were themselves, veterans of MOSPEADA and went on to one of my favorite titles of all time: Bubblegum Crisis. In this installment of Future War Stories of the East, we will exploring and hopefully explaining the oddity that is Gall Force: Eternal Story (GFES)!

What is "Gall Force: The Eternal Story"?
This is a 1986 military science fiction OVA released in Japan on Saturday July 26th, 1986 under the name of "Garu Fosa" (ガルフォース). The name has translated from Japanese is "Gulfs" or "Galls" or "Gals" and "Force" Some sites have said that originally the OVA was going to be titled "Girl Force", but it sounded too funny and it was changed. The origin story of Gall Force is very unusual and involves some of the best in the business at the time. Originally, the entire franchise of Gall Force started off as a back-page photo-comic series in Model Grafix magazine called "Star Front Gall Force" that ran monthly from March 1985 to July 1986 (the same month as the OVA was released). Star Force Gall Force told the story of three Solnoids female warriors (Rabbi, Patty and Rumy) of the Star Leaf cruiser/carrier that are separate from their main fleet and forced to use all of their awesome mecha to defend themselves from the Paranoid fleet and Commander Dohn. 
The characters and mecha were garage kits that became packaged model kits of their own during the run with cartoon-like talk balloons in bad English. From the few imagines I've seen, there was a great deal of talent involved in Star Front Gall Force. However, there some conflict between sources about how Star Front Gall Force came to existence. Some sources claim that female space warrior characters were developed by Kenichi Sodona while working at Artmic studios for their client Model Graphix magazine. Other sources stated that noted writer/artist Hideke Kakinuma was inspired by the first Terminator film (seen more in The Earth Chapter) and created the genesis of Gall Force and partnered with Sodona to develop the photo-comic series for Model Grafix. Only after that did Artmic take notice of the concept and hired Kakinuma and Sodona to develop Gall Force has an anime property. Either way, Kakinuma and Sodona were the primary forces behind bring the garage model kits female warriors, mecha, and aliens into a military science fiction anime. The idea was to scratch build figures and mecha for the monthly magazine as part of a photo serials. It's a pretty cool idea. Similar stuff has run in other Japanese hobby magazines like Hobby Japan, but this idea was truly an anime fan garage kit make's dream come true. The Gall Force Star Front feature ran in the magazine on a monthly basis from March 1985 to July 1986 when the feature film came out. 

The Plot and Setting of Gall Force: The Eternal Story
The OVA literally opens up onto a massive space battle between two fleets of warships near a Earth-like world. We soon learn that one side of this fleet engagement is the (assumed) all-female human race called the “Solnoids” and the amorphic “Paranoids” are the other side, who can reorganize their bodies to take other shapes as needed or even inhabit mecha. While the Solenoid use technology that seems familiar to us and design that are also familiar to most Terran sci-fi cultures, the Paranoids seem to use organic technology. During the space battle, the audience learns that the focus of the Solenoid central fleet is to jump to the 9th Star System and protect the newly terraformed world called “Chaos”. This is to be the new homeworld of the Solenoid due to the loss of their own homeworld at the hands of the Paranoid. The audience also then learns the main focus of the anime, is the Star Leaf, an Kularis class cruiser/carrier hybrid 280-meter-long warship. This vessel carries space combat fighters and mecha, along with a massive mobile planetary base module called “Blossom”. Onboard the Star Leaf is 2nd in command Eluza, 3rd in command Rabbi, along the rest of the crew: Rumy, Pony, Catty, and Patty. The captain of the Star Leaf was on the flagship of the Solenoid fleet when the battle goes down and the order comes to jump to lightspeed to the planet Chaos. 
Just before the jump, a damaged space fighter crash-lands illegally onboard bearing an Ace Attacker and the star character of Gall Force: Lufy. From here, the OVA is told via the major issues the crew of the Star Leaf faces on their journey to Chaos and once on Chaos. During a stop to repair the Gravity-Canceller for the light speed drive, the Star Leaf is engaged by the Paranoids and Lufy defends the ship and is marooned with the ship is forced to jump away and she dies in the hands of one of the space combat Bronze-D class mecha. During this part of the OVA, GFTES descents into an ALIEN rip-off due to the joint Solenoid/Paranoid “Species Unification Plan”. 
This is the major focus of the OVA (and the sequels) going forward and this was a solution dreamed up by some elements within the two warring species to stop the death and destruction of the century-long war between them. It was envisioned that a 3rd race born of a combination of the Solenoid/Paranoid DNA would bring lasting peace, and one of the test subjects of the plan was the Star Leaf. When the creature emerged and stalked the crew, two Solenoids were impregnated: Eluza and Patty. Eluza died due to the experiment and Patty was able to carry the male baby to term in an pregnancy that lasted…a day? The baby grows rapidly and from the reaction of the crew, it seems that babies are not really a thing in the Solenoid society has we would learn in Stardust War.   
Due to damage suffered by the Star Leaf, some of the surviving crew abandons the Star Leaf for the Blossom and they land on the terraformed world of Chaos. Once there, the remaining crew members under Rabbi make a beachhead for the rest of the Solnoid fleet and watch the child grow into a teenage boy. After a few days, the Paranoid fleet shows and attempts to reclaim the child along with the elite Central Guard of the Solnoids military. During this, the remains of the Solnoid fleet arrive and a three-way space battle erupts and the Paranoids are defeated save for their planetary landing force that is attempting to gain access to the Blossom. 
When the Solnoid fleet refuses to withdraw and give Chaos to the Central Guard, a civil war breaks out and during this, Rabbi learns the truth. She overloads the terraforming generators and puts the boy and the youngest member of the crew, Rumy into an escape pod and sends them to a world called Terra. Once safety away, Rabbi destroys the aliens, the Central Guard, and themselves. The world of Chaos becomes a lifeless moon orbiting the blue and green world of Terra. We skip forward thousands of years and we seen that the 3rd race is humanity and the 9th system is the Sol System and the world of Chaos is Luna. This makes the baby of Patty and Rumy the mythological Adam and Eve characters from the major monotheistic religions of Terran society. Wonderful. 
Okay, there is elements of the story that I am skipping over and given how underboiled and overboiled some elements of the story are, Gall Force is terribly uneven and the link to the Adam and Eve myth of the Big 3 monotheistic religions is interesting to a point. Some have linked elements of
Gall Force: The Eternal Story OVA to the reimagined Battlestar Galactica story-arch and I can see it. Some have gone has far as saying that BSG for the SciFi Channel was inspired by Gall Force. When it comes to the two spacefaring civilizations that are war, we know very little. The commander of the Paranoid fleet, Dohn, has been part of the Gall Force franchise since Gall Force Star Front, and the design of the Paranoids is…odd and confusing, however, it is original. 
There is nearly nothing on their society or their motivations and the same is true of the Solenoids. We do not know or why the Solenoids are all females and if there are males in their society. We do know, thanks to Gall Force 3: Stardust War, that the entire Solnoid race reproduces via artificial wombs without the need or desire for sexually reproduction. However, the Solnoid bodies still carry the reproductive organs and the Paranoids used that for the plan to create a 3rd race. We also know that, thanks to Stardust War, that the Solnoids did not originate from their homeworld of Marcis, but from somewhere else in the galaxy. 
At some distant point back thousands of years before Gall Force: The Eternal Story, Marcis was colonized and terraformed by survivors of a world that ended in holocaust and the Solnoid civilization rose from those survivors...for this has happened before and it will happen again. 

The Historical Context of the Gall Force Franchise
For years, Gall Force: The Eternal Story remained in Japan and was only pirated to the shores of the West. So, I think we should discuss the mid-1980’s Japan anime industry and market at the time of Gall Force’s release. Advances in home media technology exploded faster in Japan than anywhere else and LaserDisc was a common form of home media more than the States and a majority of the OVAs from the 1980’s were in LaserDisc (LD) format. This was also a time in Japan that were Japan was of the key economies in the world and their technologically advancements shaped the world we still live in. This was the time of the “Bubble” as historians have coined it and from 1986-1991, the Japanese extended their economic power around the world with real estate holdings and business ventures. Those business ventures caused Japanese cars, personal electronics, and entertainment to reshape the world and people’s lives. No longer was the label “Made in Japan” to mean junk, but nearly on the level of “Made in West Germany”. I grew up in the 1980’s wearing Casio watches (I still do this every day with my G-Shocks!), riding in Japanese cars (still do as well), and watching anime and buying mecha toys and models. 
To my generation, Japan was not the bombers of Pearl Harbor, but the exports of cool toys, cartoons, and Martial Arts. Kids of my generation were turning Japanese and it was awesome. This was the time in which Gall Force came out. At this time in Japan, the OVA was dominating the anime market since studios and creators could create titles that was not dependent on selling the concept as an entire TV series, which was better for the bottom line due to the difference in the price tag. After all, if an OVA failed, it was one product and not an entire TV series that failed to catch fire. This was also the time when the home console market was strong and some anime titles got a tie-in video game on the Famicom system or gaming computer, like the MSX.   

Gall Force: The Eternal Story in the West
For clarity, there are four waves of Anime/Manga into the West. The 1st Wave came into US shores during he 1960s with Astroboy and Speed Racer and these were the primitive times before the advent of home media as we understand it today. The 2nd Wave of Anime into the West was the one that firmly established the iconic status of Anime/Manga and forged livelong fans like me. Arriving in the late 1970s with titles like Planet of the Battles and Starblazers, but really took to flame with ROBOTECH and Voltron, massive amounts of model kits, manga, and mecha toys. Around this time was advent of home media with formats like LaserDisc, BetaMax, and VHS. 
During this time as well, bootleg titles came from Japan to the west via independent sellers with all manner of quality and translation. These bootlegs and pirated titles were shown at conventions and even on rental tapes at special video rental shops and comic book stores in larger US cities (like Dallas!). The 3rd Wave of Anime into the West came in the 1990s with companies being setup to import titles properly,  cable and regular TV networks airing anime OVAs and series, along with stores carrying anime/manga titles like Suncoast Video in most US Malls. We are presently in the 4th Wave of Anime into the West and this represents the complete and total colonization of Anime/Manga into Western culture. This history of importation of anime directly impacts our discussion of GFTES. In the early days of the 2nd Wave, Gall Force: The Eternal Story was part of those pirated/bootleg titles shown at conventions and sold via back pages in magazines. In the 12th of the American Anime fan-zine called NOVA, there is mention of GFTES from the fan mail section that reads like a printed online discussion. That is only one year from when GFTES was released in Japan! That is most impressive. Around the same time, there was mention of Gall Force: The Eternal Story for sale in the market page in the December 1987 Starlog Magazine. Another pre-US-release example of GFTES came from the program of the 1989 San Diego Comic-Con, where a pirated copy of the OVA was screened for the audience. 
It would be firmly during the 3rd Wave of Anime into the West for Gall Force to be released by the US via Central Park Media's US Manga Corps label on October 20th,1993 on subtitled VHS media for $39 ($97 in today's money) and the much rarer LaserDisc was released on March 12th,1993 for $29 ($57 in today's money). By winter of 1994, US Manga Corps was advertising the coming release of the rest of the Gall Force OVAs in Animerica Magazine, and by the 2000s, the majority of the series was on DVD. The OVA was aired on SciFi Channel on November 9th, 1996 as part of their Saturday lineup. Due to this long history and coming at the right time, GFTES, has enjoyed a following by fans of anime that grew up during mostly the 3rd Wave. For many, it was their first anime and that instilled a certain about of nostalgia associated with the title. Despite this celebration and nostalgia, Gall Force is not currently in print, with the last DVD pressed in 2003 which has driven up the prices. It is uploaded to YouTube if you are interested.  
Why is Gall Force: The Eternal Story Considered Military Science Fiction?
In the 1986 OVA, the open scene is a massive space battle between two fleets of warships firing intense volleys of  missiles and DE weapons. Very soon we learn that this battle is between the Solnoids and the Paranoids and there has been an war going on between the two sides for nearly a century and cost has been high. So high, in fact, that both sides will lose their homeworlds and much of their civilization. All but one character in the 1986 OVA is a member of either the Solnoid or Paranoid military and the movie is packed with tons of warships, mecha, planes, vehicles, powered armor, and weapon of expert design. Much of the other titles in the franchise are the same, with military situations and the characters being in the service.  

Is Gall Force: The Eternal Story Worth Watching today?
Until I decided to discuss GFTES, I had only watched Bennett the Sage's review for Anime Abandon...and I wasn't impressed overall. While the OVA is well respected and beloved by Otaku on both shores, I found it quite uneven and disappointing, like a lukewarm Lasagna. The overall mecha design, character design, and some story elements were damn good, but the dialog and potholes are lethal to my sense of enjoyment. And the ever worst, was the technobabble and the names of nearly everything in the OVA. Most of the characters, planets, races, and ship names are the stuff of childish playtime. Seriously, I was naming ships and planets better when I was eight for RPGs than this damn thing made by adults. 
Sadly, the art was there, but the writing was not, and given the art I saw online, I really thought this would be better than it was. In this way, it reminds me of Super Dimensional Century ORGUSS, very cool designs and characters, but bad writing. Given that Gall Force: Eternal Story is the foundation for the rest of the works in the franchise, it doesn't have a good beginning, and the rest of the Gall Force films suffer as a result. However, if you are an Otaku and love 1980's anime military science fiction, give it a watch on YouTube for free and see if your mileage varies from mine. 

The Legacy and Impact of Gall Force
When Gall Force started off, it was a still-photo cartoon in the back pages of an model magazine in Japan in 1985. By the end of 1986, Gall Force was on edge of being a 1980’s franchise with art books, model kits, video games, and an OVA. For ten years, Gall Force was a franchise that was on that edge of greatness, and b 1996 is was over with an attempted remake. Despite the complete unevenness of the franchise, Gall Force: The Eternal Story is well-regarded, loved, and celebrated by people that were induced into anime during the 3rd Wave when Central Park Media released Gall Force OVAs on home media in the 1990’s. While I had missed the boat on Gall Force, there is a generation of anime-lovers that have a strong connection to Gall Force and for some, it was their first anime due to it being aired on Saturdays on the SciFi Channel. Today, there is still a loyal fan base and reviews of the property on YouTube…and there is a disconnect between the two. Many of the anime YouTube reviewers that discuss Gall Force: The Eternal Story praise look, but not the story and this disconnect is very interesting among the American Anime community. At the moment, the Gall Force property is in cold storage and nothing appears to be working on changing that status.  

Wasn't there Sequels?
Gall Force was envisioned as a franchise after the success of
the first OVA and most of the original production team came back to work on the first trilogy. On November 21st, 1987, the next installment of the first trilogy came out: Gall Force 2: Destruction. This centered on the lone survivor of the Star Leaf, Lufy, who was found by another Solnoid warship and revived from being frozen in deep space after 10 years. We see the Solnoids destroy the homeworld of the Paranoids with the new System-Destroyer. With the space weapon of mass destruction possessed by both sides, the future of both sides looks bleak and Lufy goes to defend the 9th Star System and Terra with her new friends. The 3rd and final OVA in the Gall Force: The Eternal Story Trilogy was Stardust War. This is when the final battle between the Paranoids and the Solnoids will be waged and it seems that both civilizations will be lost. Both sides intend on using their "planet-destroyer" weapon ships and end it all with only stardust in its wake. This situation was told to the audience as MAD and it hit the audience with the anti-nuclear weapon message. In this OVA, we learn much of the history of the war and the races involved. With the final battle looming, Lufy and her friends go on a final mission to download the bulk of the Solnoid knowledge and send it to the moon of Chaos. The final ends with a Terran space mission to recover the data. 
Coming in 1989 was the Rhea Gall Force OVA (The word "Rhea" is from Greek mythology and she was the mother of the Titans)  and this told the story of a future Terra that is suffering under a robotic revolution due to the Terrans using the Solnoid knowledge and that technology turning on them. We see a character, named Sandy Newman, that is basically a carbon copy of Rabbi along with others that are designed to look like the ancient Solnoid warriors. All seems lost and the remains of human living in the ruins of the great cities decides to pack up and join the Mars colony and leave Earth to the machines. This story was inspired by Hideke Kakinuma's love of the Terminator film and we can see elements of the Future War of 2029 in these Gall Force OVAs. Rhea Gall Force would give birth to the second Trilogy: The Earth Chapter. This three films were released in the space of one year, ending in December of 1990. 
However, this is not the end of Gall Force. There was yet another installment in the ongoing story and Gall Force: The New Era picks ups after the Earth is liberated from the machines and it enters into the dystopia territory with some health BLADE RUNNER ripping-off with some megacities and cyborgs called "Yumans". Some 200 years after the events of the Earth Chapter, the Earth is rebuilding and recovering from the war against the machines with Mars supporting the reconstruction of the Earth. We see the characters of the original trilogy in a new setting on Mars and on Earth. It seems that a Catty survived and is guiding the new/old members of the Star Leaf to defend the old enemy. There were two episodes of Gall Force: The New Era released in 1991 and 1992. Then there was a four year gap for Gall Force and the intention by AIC with the last installment of the franchise was to reboot the series with Gall Force: The Revolution OVA with four episodes airing from 1996 to 1997. This was a retelling, in part, of the original 1986 story with characters of the same name. 
There were massive changes with the art, story, and the nature of the war. The Solnoids are now locked in a civil war between the "west" and "east" factions. This was never exported to the west, thank the gods, and it can be watched on YouTube with subtitles...which I did for the purposes of this article and I can tell you that while some of the mechanical art is outstanding, the character design is terrible and the cast looks more at home in an episode of My Little Pony: Equestria Girls than a military science fiction anime! It is honestly shit and it killed the Gall Force franchise. 

There was an American Comic?!
During the 1990's, Central Park Media was attempting to form their own media empire centered around imported anime and manga properties that they owned the license for. One of their ventures was the short-lived CPM Comics with titles based on their properties and one of these was a limited four-part series of Gall Force: The Eternal Story. Fellow Dallas-resident Bruce Lewis worked on this comic along with Starblazers: Magazine for Argo Press and it seems that this Gall Force comic was a very similar style and theme to the Starblazers: Magazine. There is so very little on this 1995 comic series on the internet and I cannot even tell you if the CPM Comic is an comic adaptation of the original anime movie or an original story set in the Gall Force: The Eternal Story universe. From the limited information, it seems there is not an proper Japanese manga in the Gall Force franchise. Given the cover art of the limited series, I am guess that it is a retelling of the OVA story with some fleshing out and improved dialog towards an western audience. The comics are available for just over the original asking price and again, since there is nearly nothing on these Gall Force comics by CPM Press on the internet, this is able all I can tell you. However, another property that CPM Press used was Project A-Ko, and I found a review of it and it seems that the series was an completely American comic and a new storyline and art that attempted to be within the anime style. 

The Gall Force Video Games
On December 10th, 1986, few months after the release of Gall Force: The Eternal Story, a vertical shoot’em up genre video game was released by HAL Laboratory for the Famicon disk system (FDS). Unlike the US NES that took cartridges, the FDS was an add-on to the original Famicon that allowed for more complex video games due to the size increase offered by these disks. Some of the more legendary titles on the NES were originally released on the FDS, like the Legend of Zelda and the Japanese-only sequel to Super Mario Brothers. The Disk System was released in February of 1986 with the Gall Force game being released in December of 1986. While the Famicon lasted for years, the apex of the FDS was a short-term add-on and never came to the States. The original Gall Force game is similar, to me, to Xevious, and you as Rabbi, pilot a space fighter to progress through shooting (space) Paranoids to release the other members of the Star Leaf after the level boss battles. It seems that the game was well enough received for two more games under the Gall Force name.  In 1986 and 1987, two more Gall Force: The Eternal Story tie-in games were released of the Japanese ASCII Corporation MSX line of home computer machines. One was called “Gall Force: Defense of Chaos” and it was another vertical shoot’em up with pilot switching. Then there was a graphic adventure game of the OVA for the MSX2 system in 1987 that looks playing of Stancher. Due to the Gall Force 1986 OVA not being exported to the US and the games themselves being on different media or machine types, none of the Gall Force titles came to our shores.

The Battle of the Sexes Among the Stars, Adam & Eve, and the Ending 
Two of the most discussed topics of Gall Force: The Eternal Story is that the entire story is framed around a war between an all-female society and an all-male society and how they cannot come to peace and need another race to end the war. To do this, they embarked on the Species Reunification Plan to form a child that could reproduce sexually with the Solenoids and form a 3rd race. Due to the uneven and under baked setting of the Gall Force franchise, we cannot assume that the Battle between the Sexes among the stars is completely accurate. To make things worse, we do not know the origin or source of the century-long war between the two societies. For these races being locked in this titanic death struggle that cost both races their homeworlds by the time of the sequel, there would be a damn good reason for the war at this genocidal level. 
Then there is the end of the story and the impact of that. We know that Gall Force: The Eternal Story was to be a stand-alone OVA that was to be the only entry into Gall Force. However, it made money and thus, the Gall Force franchise was born along with the confusion. Given the story of the 1986 OVA, the sequel was constructed oddly to fit within the events of the first film and the entries that came after were even worse and more stringy with their connection to the original Gall Force concept. Then there is the whole Adam and Eve element that I think this ending is a rather cool twist, but it is not handled well, especially considering the Chaos = Luna concept. Why the Solnoids would terraform a much small world for their new homeworld when Earth was right there? Given that Gall Force: The Eternal Story is liberally mining the mythological story of Adam & Eve, it is assumed that Terra was not populated with humans and this makes the case more compelling to settle on Earth and not the Moon.  

Did the Gall Force Trilogy Inspire the Reimagined Battlestar Galactica?
After watching the original Gall Force trilogy, I am left wondering if some of the concepts of the first Gall Force trilogy influence or directly inspired some of the core concepts in the reimagined Battlestar Galactica. Okay, there is no direct evidence or a quote from the showrunners, but there are some damn strong connections, especially in the 3rd and final entry in the original trilogy: Stardust War. To me, lacking a primary source on this, but given the amount of chatter online and my own conclusions, I think that someone involved with the Battlestar Galactica show did indeed watch and absorb some of the concepts from Gall Force. Some have stated that the original 1978 Battlestar Galactica is an influence on the creators of Gall Force as well. 

Next Time on FWS...
It is believed by many of Star Wars fans that the Kenner Star Wars original trilogy toyline was a smash hit on every front and it dominated...however, there are some casualties in the Kenner line that are often forgotten by modern audiences and collectors. The two Kenner lines that died an early death were both oddly sized: the 1978-1980 12inch doll line and the tiny Micro Collection line of 1982. In the next installment of Military Sci-Fi Toys, we will exploring and explaining one of the most interesting and bluffingly Kenner toylines of the Golden Era of Star Wars Toys!