Monday, August 3, 2015

Adventures in Hoth Adventuring

Ron writes:

One of the fun things about collecting old Star Wars junk: No matter how long you've been at it, there is always something new to discover.

A few weeks ago, after I posted my Hoth Ice Planet Adventure Set artwork to The Empire Strikes Back collecting group on Facebook, a discussion started on the topic of the differences that exist between the toy's American and Canadian incarnations. It was initiated by collector Matt Fox. Prior to that I was not aware of the existence of a unique Canadian version of the toy.

The piece I own is the master artwork for the playset's backdrop. Of that I have no doubts. But if that's what it is, why does the Canadian backdrop look so much different? Among other things, the Canadian art lacks the guns on the sides of the AT-AT heads. Even the AT-AT that sticks out of the cardboard backdrop is without guns on the Canuck version, as you can see by referencing Scott Bradley's great website devoted to Canadian Star Wars product. The Canadian art is also less detailed in some areas.

Matt thought the Canadian artwork might have been repainted. It's a reasonable assumption. But to me that seemed unlikely: the placement of the elements match the Kenner artwork too closely for it to have been wholly redone. Also, repainting the entire backdrop would have been quite costly and time consuming. I don't think Kenner Canada would have bothered with all that. But what happened? Clearly something happened. Was the Canadian art modified...or what?

The discussion spilled over into the Rebelscum forums, where Scott helpfully pointed out that early mock-ups of the toy featured AT-ATs which, like the Canadian artwork, lacked those side guns. You can see one of those mock-ups here. Maybe the guns were added relatively late in the design process?

Scott also pointed out that Kenner Canada product was often based on early design material derived from the Stateside parent company. Which makes sense: Kenner Canada would have needed that early material in order to ramp up development of their own products.

As you can glean from the RS discussion, what Scott (and now I) think happened is that Kenner sent Kenner Canada reproductions of an early version of the artwork I now own. At that point in time the AT-ATs in the art had no side guns, and the rendering lacked some of its finer details. Nevertheless, that early version is what Kenner Canada used to develop their product. Later on the folks at Kenner went back and added some more details to the painting, including the guns. And that later, more detailed painting is what was used to generate the Kenner backdrop. But none of those late modifications are reflected on the Canadian version.

So in all likelihood the Canadian version of the Hoth Ice Planet Adventure Set preserves an early iteration of the Kenner artwork. In doing so it provides a glimpse into the production process that we wouldn't otherwise have access to.

By the way, "Hoth Ice Planet Adventure Set" is a pretty unwieldy name for a toy, isn't it? It's also a bit misleading. The product consisted of a plastic base that was stolen from the equally misleadingly named "Land of the Jawas," a flimsy cardboard backdrop, and an impotent little cannon that looked something like a Roomba with a satellite dish on top of it. Where, pray tell, was the "adventure"?

Kenner could have gone with the more prosaic "playset." But that term, it must have been felt, failed to do the product justice. No, in the minds of Kenner's marketing team, a toy of this quality surpassed "play" and staked a reasonable claim to "adventure."

It reminds me of the time I got my girlfriend a box of Cracker Jacks for her birthday. "It's not candied popcorn," I said, "it's starch-based commitment drenched in caramel-colored love." She let me keep the prize.

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