Two Years and Counting: Gentle Giant Jumbo Star Wars Action Figures Keep On Rolling

At the 2010 San Diego Comic Con I came across something remarkably familiar.

It was a Stormtrooper action figure sure enough. Four primitive points of articulation… hmm, how retro… a lot like my old Star Wars guy! Hey wait, it was my old Star Wars Stormtrooper, only something had changed. Indeed it had. This was my first glimpse at Gentle Giant’s new big idea: faithfully recreating the vintage Star Wars action figures of the 70’s and 80’s, but with a twist… instead of the original 4″ size, send them skyward to a jumbo 12″ scale.

The premise here is fairly sound. Take the old toys, make new molds at the enlarged scale using precise laser scanning technology, package them in a way that closely but not completely approximates the original toys, and watch the collectors go wild.

The Gentle Giant Jumbo Stormtrooper

The Gentle Giant Jumbo Stormtrooper

But back to the comic con floor. Here I was face to face with the goods and to be honest I wasn’t sold. Now keep in mind I’m a decades-long fan of vintage Star Wars toys. So the Stormtrooper seemed like an admirable effort to me but at the same time possibly falling short in some areas that I was intimately familiar with.  Was the black paint detail off in the browline?  Maybe the white plastic appeared a little pearlescent and not enough stark PVC white?  Somehow I was punching a few too many holes in the newcomer to be put over the edge.

So I walked away with no purchase and no real plans to get involved going forward. Turns out this was an error on two levels. First of all it was my first time at San Diego Comic Con so I really wasn’t all that keyed in to the idea of a convention exclusive, which this was. That Stormtrooper which I believe was $70 at the con is now going for upwards of $200 on eBay. Second, what was causing me consternation at the time was not so much that the toy fell short of my expectations, it’s that I just wasn’t ready for it. With some time under my belt I’ve become fairly enthused about this line and where it’s headed.

So what’s happened since that day in Summer of 2010? Gentle Giant has released a steady stream of the jumbo figures, starting with the original 21 characters from the first Star Wars movie, and is now criss-crossing their way through both the Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. If they drive it all the way to the end zone, they’ll have a total of 92 individual releases.

Are they all perfect? Well it depends on what you’re looking for and what your history is with the original toys.

The sculpted details are superb.  Let’s remember, these are laser-scanned replications of the original item.  So not much chance there’ll be an error in the molds.  I’ve noticed that Gentle Giant has opted to sharpen, deepen, or even embellish some details in their upscaled sculpts, but not to a degree that I’d call drastic.

The plastic that the new Gentle Giant figures is molded from isn’t a precise match to the original items but it’s not a bad alternative.  I’m guessing the material chosen for these toys is more durable and shatter resistant than the vintage figures.   Who’d argue with that, right?

Color reproduction is by and large spot on with a few liberties being taken to no great avail.  With one remarkable exception.  The Sandpeople jumbo figure that Gentle Giant released features a green-tinted vinyl cape which I can only imagine is a production error that Gentle Giant would very much recant if they could.  The original Sandpeople cape is a perfect match to the light khaki color of the Sandpeople figure’s molded body and limbs.

If there’s one area where the Gentle Giant jumbo figures has suffered to date it’s in the paint details of their ‘human’ characters’ faces.

Comparing faces of Kenner's 1978 4" Leia (left) and the Gentle Giant 12" counterpart.

Comparing faces of Kenner’s 1978 4″ Leia (left) and the Gentle Giant 12″ counterpart.

What I find particularly memorable in the original human Kenner action figures like Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia is the unique paint style that made up their eyes and eyebrows. In other words there was a look that comprised the vintage Kenner ‘face’.  What distinguished that look?  It was a heavy-handed, oversprayed effect that gave the tiny faces character even from a distance.   It wasn’t perfect but it’s the style that Kenner stuck with, so it remains intrinsically part of that vintage aesthetic.  What Gentle Giant has done for their human characters is to refine those facial lines creating a look that’s much more exact.  I understand why they’ve done this but I’m not sure I agree its for the better.  If there is one area that you’d want to faithfully reproduce in order to keep the feel of the original character, I’d argue that it’s the face.

[As an aside: the first look at Gentle Giant’s newest ‘human’ figure, the Jumbo Lando Calrissian (their Star Wars Celebration VI exclusive) just went public a little over a month ago. It looks incredible, face included. So who knows? Maybe Gentle Giant has intuited their way to correct themselves along the way.]

It shouldn’t go unsaid that the creatures, the droids, and the cloaked humans (i.e. Darth Vader, Boba Fett, etc) that Gentle Giant has taken on are all hitting extraordinarily close to the mark. And if that’s your thing, you’re in luck.  By my count its only 28 humans to an impressive 64 non-humans in the original vintage action figure run.

Looking forward, the path to 92 should be an interesting one for both Gentle Giant and their fans for a couple of reasons.

First, as previously mentioned, Gentle Giant is making solid use of the convention exclusive angle to keep things lively.   Already released in fairly limited numbers (apparently averaging around 1,000 units per character), there have been and will certainly continue to be some characters in the offing that are only available through conventions like San Diego Comic Con and Star Wars Celebrations.

Gentle Giant's SDCC 2011 Exclusive Vinyl Cape Jawa

SDCC 2011 Exclusive Vinyl Cape Jawa

Some convention exclusives have fared better than others, but at the very least Gentle Giant has scored grand-slam home runs with their Boba Fett (Star Wars Celebration V) and Vinyl Cape Jawa (SDCC 2011).  Clearly the Gentle Giant marketing team understands the products and the people that crave them.  If they apply their lessons well, they’ll continue to shake the earth with these unique releases.

The second reason the future of this line is an exciting one is that the material that remains to be produced is arguably more exciting than the material that’s already been done.

The beginning of the project brought to market the most popular and well-known characters in the Star Wars trilogy.  Many of the characters to come may be more obscure than the Lukes and R2-D2s, but it’s these characters that frequently own cult followings more passionate and vocal than the mainstream crowd.  It’ll be exciting to see how Gentle Giant prepares for this shift in dynamic.