FT: Michael, thanks for joining us here on Fantha Tracks to talk Star Wars, collecting and RetroBlasting. Could you share your earliest Star Wars memories with us?
MF: Sure. My earliest Star Wars memory is being on a visit when I was 4 years old to some friends of my parents. They were there for a card game night or board game night or something 1980s adults did for fun in wicker and chrome pipe breakfast chairs. Anyway, the husband had this state of the art front-projection television with the sectional couch and the external projection unit on the floor with the color guns. And somehow he had a copy of this movie called Star Wars, with no commercials since it was still a few years away from its TV premiere. He said I’d probably like it. So I sat in the center of the big couch and he turned the movie on, and in that moment, my childhood totally changed. I literally forgot about the Dukes of Hazzard and Spider-Man overnight.
A few days or weeks later (hard to say), my mother and I were in a Kroger’s grocery store near our house in Nashville, Tennessee and a display of Star Wars figures in Return of the Jedi cardbacks were on the end of an aisle. The movie was a few weeks from release so the stores were starting to get all the merchandise. I chose Chewbacca and R2-D2 with Sensorscope.
MF: Well, after I saw Star Wars, I had a summer collecting figures as my mother found them in stores. Then Return of the Jedi came out and we went to see it. There was no opportunity to see The Empire Strikes Back in 1983 that an almost-five-year-old could arrange. Instead, I was compelled to piece the story together from my Read-A-Long cassette and book, and the strange toys the kid next door had – a big walker, something with a chamber that Darth Vader would sit inside, and a white furry monster with giant slapping hands. Then in November 1984, The Empire Strikes Back finally came out for rental on VHS. A few weeks before I’d gotten one of the complimentary promotional posters advertising the video release. I still have it. My father brought the videotape home that cold autumn evening and I watched it completely enthralled.
FT: What’s your favourite Star Wars film and why?
MF: The Empire Strikes Back. It is the Star Wars universe fully realized with the least amount of ret-con pollution. The original Star Wars didn’t have the budget. It was a risky experiment with an excellent script that’s reach exceeded its grasp on a technical level. The Empire Strikes Back was as strong a script with the budget to realize the technical challenges and make a seamless galaxy far away. Return of the Jedi‘s story suffered in many ways I won’t go into here, but needless to say, what it had in technical achievement, it diminished somewhat in many areas of the screenplay.
FT: The Mandalorian Season 2 is about to arrive on our screens, and with future projects in the pipeline, is there anything Star Wars your looking forward to?
MF: I had been really excited by Rogue One in 2016. The trailers were extremely promising. To date, it is the only “modern” Star Wars film I own, but admittedly it is not the film I had hoped for as the actual movie was so extremely different from what the trailers had promised. It has not held up to repeat viewings for me, now knowing behind the scenes what the film could have been.
I was not a massive fan of the prequels, though I do own them alongside The Clone Wars TV series (which is far superior). I found the Sequel Trilogy truly unwatchable, I found Solo forgettable. All that to say, I didn’t sign up for Disney+, so while I’ve heard The Mandalorian is decent, I won’t be watching it unless there’s a disc release.
In truth, I don’t think any attempt after Return of the Jedi has matched the mastery of Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy of books. Zahn’s trilogy was the best post-OT story the fans could hope for. Between that and the West End Games Star Wars Roleplaying Game, looking back over the past 37 years since Return of the Jedi, I think Zahn and West End Games was the zenith of inspired Star Wars world building.
MF: Yes. Avidly. From 1983 to 1985. After Chewbacca, it was random finds like Hoth Luke and a pointed search for Boba Fett. That summer on my fifth birthday was Jabba the Hutt, Emperor’s Royal Guards, and other figures like Hammerhead and Cloud Car Pilot. The rest of the summer and fall was the hunt for Jedi Luke, Gamorrean Guards, and others. Christmas that year was the X-Wing, Y-Wing and Ewok Village. 1984 was the Scout Walker, the Rancor, the Landspeeder, the Darth Vader TIE Fighter, the Millennium Falcon for my sixth birthday, and a lot of figures!
FT: Have you managed to hold onto your original figures?
MF: Yes. My mother had an abusive stepfather in childhood that burned all of her toys in the backyard when she was at school. She vowed she would never force her children to part with any toys they did not want to. She kept her word. As a result, I retained all of my Star Wars toys from childhood (not including the few things I actually LOST in childhood, of course.)
FT: Perhaps you experienced the feeling before understanding the meaning of fatigue. Could you share your tale regards Brown Luke?
MF: Sure. Because I didn’t see The Empire Strikes Back until its VHS release, I didn’t know how all of the figures fit into the story. Bespin Luke Skywalker in the brown fatigues was a total mystery to me, but I became fascinated with him because I knew nothing about that version of Luke, so he became my ultimate quest as a kid. The Empire stuff was tough to find in the Return of the Jedi era. The figures were available, but not easy to run across.
I ended up with him sometime in early 1984 while I was still in Kindergarten, and at least 8 months before I would see The Empire Strikes Back.
MF: Yes. Barring some obscure variants. Example: I do not have “red bar” R5-D4, “hollow tubes” Tusken Raider, or “Orange Hair” Luke Skywalker (original), or Tri-Logo Boba Fett – things like that.
FT: What’s your favourite Star Wars vintage figure?
MF: Luke Skywalker in Bespin Fatigues. Honourable mentions include Luke Skywalker in Hoth Battle Gear, IG-88, Boba Fett, Biker Scout, Bespin Han, and Squid Head.
FT: Which other franchises vied for your childhood attention, and have you managed to keep hold of them?
MF: In 1984 and 1985 as Star Wars began to fade, Transformers made a concerted effort for my attention, but it rapidly ticked me off after Christmas 1984, and our relationship became very rocky. Transformers and I became distant and finally broke up in the aftermath of the 1986 movie. 1985 was spent wrapped up in Voltron and M.A.S.K., and while both of those were far more successful than Transformers in giving me something to think about in a post-Star Wars world, I was still buying the figures right into the 1985 “clearance” period. It was a sad time.
FT: Were there barren collecting years between childhood and adulthood and if so, what brought you back into collecting?
MF: Around 1987, I convinced my parents that we needed the 10th Anniversary plate collection from Hamilton. I also pulled my Star Wars toys out of the attic. They’d probably only been up there a few months, but it felt like an eternity. I started going to flea markets (boot sales) and buying figures I hadn’t been able to find a few years prior. While they were missing accessories, I finally found Hoth and Bespin Leia, Dengar, 2-1B, TIE Fighter Pilot, and Imperial Snowtrooper. I even bought a Death Star playset off a school friend for $2 in the fifth grade.
In 1989, I found a boxed Cloud Car in a small toy store in Nashville and bought that as well. Yes, I opened it because Star Wars to a 10-year old back then wasn’t yet a collector’s item, even though I was literally collecting them. In 1990, we moved to the UK and I started buying them off my school friends. So I guess I never actually had barren years, oddly.
FT: You are an avid vintage collector of various franchises; can you share these with us?
MF: Yeah. I have collected a large number of vintage properties. Masters of the Universe, G.I. Joe, Transformers, GoBots, Buck Rogers, Centurions, Defenders of the Earth, The Real Ghostbusters, Filmation Ghostbusters, StarCom, RoboCop, A-Team, Knight Rider, Gremlins, Karate Kid, Visionaries, TRON, M.A.S.K., Robotech, Voltron, Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Battlestar Galactica, Black Hole, Bravestarr, Adventure People, Eagle Force, Robo Force, Legend of the Lone Ranger, Zorro, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Kenner’s Adventures of Indiana Jones, Blackstar, Sectaurs, Dragonriders of the Styx, Clash of the Titans, Willow, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Action Force, Rock Lords, Bucky O’Hare, Dick Tracy, Wheeled Warriors, Bionic Six, Captain Power, COPS ‘n Crooks, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Batman (1989), Batman: The Animated Series, Super Powers, Secret Wars, Mego Pocket Heroes, Dukes of Hazzard, Crystar, Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, Thundercats, Silverhawks, Rambo: The Force of Freedom, Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos, Galaxy Rangers, Superman: The Animated Series, Thunderbirds, Space Precinct 2040 and classic Doctor Who figures from Character Options – and I’m sure I’m forgetting some.
FT: With some kind donations from fellow collectors George Aitken and YouTuber Tony Roberts of YouTube Channel Analog Toys combined with your own Action Force hunting. How do you compare the UK’s Action Force with it’s US counterpart G.I. Joe?
MF: I find Action Force to be VERY well thought out. The figures appear to perfect the needed posing for soldiers in a 5 points of articulation configuration. I’d have given anything for the Imperial Stormtroopers to have had the same arm poses as the Action Force troops, so the would have held their blasters convincingly.
Comparing it to G.I. Joe, there are areas where the Palitoy team brought more potential out of the G.I. Joe designs – sometimes aesthetically such as with the SAS Panther, and other times adding real function into an otherwise boring vehicle – specifically the Z-Force ATC vs the G.I. Joe APC.
But this is little wonder when you see what Palitoy did with their Death Star playset vs. the Kenner one.
FT: What is your most prized action figure collection piece?
MF: Well, I’ve had the Mail Away Boba Fett still in his baggie with his mailer box, paperwork, and Kenner apology note since 1994. Found him in a comic shop in 1994 for $75. That seemed like a king’s ransom then, but seeing prices now makes me realize I have a real gem there.
A few other prized collecting accomplishments in my collection are the Last 17 Power of the Force figures, both a carded and complete loose examples of The Blank from the Dick Tracy line, a very clean and complete Cyborg from the Super Powers toyline, an original 1981 Popy Beast King Golion (Lion Voltron) in its original Japanese box with all of its accessories. I have the complete Palitoy Death Star, the very rare Robotech SDF-1 figure playset, the equally rare Filmation Ghostbusters Ghost Command playset, and most recently the three main hero figures from the Galaxy Rangers line. I also have a custom all-chrome Sky Patrol Conquest fighter jet from G.I. Joe, a one-off by a very talented customizer, that I absolutely adore, and a custom of Sarah Jane Smith from the Doctor Who episode Planet of Evil that was made for me by a very, very good friend who lives in Cornwall.
FT: Is there a holy grail which has eluded your collection so far?
MF: Hmmmm…. Well, I still need a Kraken from Clash of the Titans. My friends (who are the RetroBlasting crew) always chide me that I need the Eternia playset from Masters of the Universe, but I hate that thing… A “Wonder Bread” He-Man might be a fun find, but not for the prices they’re demanding these days.
FT: Is there a vintage action figure range which you would like to collect but have not gotten around too?
MF: Star Musketeer Bismarck would be great, but I cannot afford it even when I find it. Mego’s Planet of the Apes, a few of the Mego Superheroes, Mego Star Trek – ok we will say 1970s Mego to sum that up. I’d also like to get more into Micronauts, Spiral Zone, Starriors, and Rock Lords at some point, but there’s only so much time and money in a lifetime.
FT: While vintage is the mainstay of your collection, do you dabble in any modern figures?
MF: I do have very focused collections of Star Wars Black Series (some ESB stuff only), a sizeable group of movie-inspired Marvel Legends figures from the Marvel films, and the aforementioned Doctor Who figures from Character Options that go from the Hartnell figure all the way to the 13th Doctor. I presently have every version of the Tardis from that line and intend to keep that going as long as they make them. I also have an assortment of modern Transformers (Masterpiece and “CHUG”), Empire Strikes Back-related Vintage Collection 3.75” figures and vehicles, and a collection of 25th Anniversary G.I. Joes. Most recently, I’ve been getting into the Masters of the Universe Origins line, which is shaping up to be a very exciting toy series.
FT: Modern figures cannot compete with our nostalgia for vintage figures borne from childhood memories, however the production detail potential finds me a little envious of today’s kids. When visiting stores I have an irresistible temptation which can only be satisfied with a cheeky wander down the toy aisle. Attempting to omit the persona of an uninterested pop-culture ignorant father or uncle figure simply trying to grab something which will hopefully pacify a young family member’s playtime, all the while masking my enthusiasm and sweaty hands. How do you play cool, especially when there might be other parents with kids in the immediate area?
MF: Oh, I’ve never not gone to the toy aisle when I’ve been in a store. I’ve never once avoided it. In high school, I once got into an argument with an 8-year-old in a toy store over his claim that there were five Star Wars movies (this was 1996, by the way). I even worked at Toys ‘R Us in high school and college. I’ve never been embarrassed by my interests. That’s probably why I fight so easily with people who try to make fun of me for my interests. Anyone that would do so wouldn’t have been a good friend anyway, so I might as well light them up the moment they try to take a swipe.
FT: As a UK collector, I look enviously towards the US believing that it affords easier access to vintage or modern action figure collectibles. Is this the case?
FT: Are there collectibles which are challenging to source within the US?
MF: If it’s modern, name them. The only things not hard to find in the US these days are Hot Wheels. Seriously. As for vintage, the scarce items are ones sold outside the United States back in the day, such as Action Force, Galaxy Rangers, and specific pieces. Some lines just have rare items you can’t easily find anywhere – such as the Robotech SDF-1 playset.
FT: Do you have any tips for people interested in vintage action figure collecting?
MF: Start by collecting what interests you. Don’t try to figure out perceived value. Discover what you’re drawn to aesthetically or emotionally. But don’t treat toys like a religion or your mum. They shouldn’t be an emotional crutch or treated like something that’s keeping your psyche together. And if they are, seek therapy. That’s not a joke.
FT: You also enjoy collecting movie memorabilia, could you tell us how you ventured into this world?
MF: I have always been interested in movies and fascinated by props and models. My interest started with Luke’s lightsaber hilt from The Empire Strikes Back and quickly expanded to Indiana Jones’ entire outfit from Raiders of the Lost Ark. I wanted these things for myself to enjoy. And so the collecting began. By working on and having a tactile experience with reproductions of these artifacts, I feel I can get closer to the experience of being there.
My steel trap memory is also a disadvantage here, because I remember so many weird things from my childhood. That’s how Melinda ended up scouring the Earth for a functional reproduction of Sho Kosugi’s iconic ninja sword from his 80s ninja films for my collection.
FT: Do you have any collecting guilty pleasures?
MF: I have a massive collection of back issues of Mayfair….. KIDDING!!!! In all seriousness, while I do not feel guilty about what I’m about to mention, a lot of people don’t expect me to have an interest in this: I’m a HUGE Kylie Minogue fan, and have been since 1990. I love collecting her albums, I have tour books, posters, magazines, etc. I really enjoy Kylie’s music and I’m still following her career today. It all started with her famous song “Step Back in Time.” Fun trivia – my two favourite songs happen to be Huey Lewis’ “Back in Time” and Kylie Minogue’s “Step Back in Time.” Go figure…
FT: What’s next on your collecting list?
MF: I’m presently collecting a core sample of 1993 Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers for an eventual video feature. It’s not my wheelhouse, but I’m learning a lot about Super Sentai, and I love Japanese storytelling, so the research has been a lot of fun.
FT: The RetroBlasting intro features one of the biggest movie pieces within your collection. Could you tell us how you became the proud owner of a time travelling DeLorean?
MF: I’d always wanted one since I’d been a kid. Obviously, Back to the Future made me aware of the car, but in the mid-1980s I fell in love with the car itself without the time travel connection. So when I got out of graduate school and into the working world, I kept an eye on the classic car ads and finally found one up in Connecticut at a classic car gallery.
I flew up on a one-way flight because I didn’t have the money to have it delivered to me in Atlanta. Looking back, a lot could have gone wrong, but I was still young enough (30) to be stupid enough to take the risk that a then-28 year old car that was notoriously unreliable would drive me back to Atlanta over 1,000 miles.
It was the most memorable 3-day road trip of my life on the backroads of the Eastern United States, and I can say in all honesty there were many unexpected incidents that occurred, but none of them involved the DeLorean not starting. The DeLorean was a champ on that trip. It was an unforgettable experience.
FT: What inspired you to launch RetroBlasting?
MF: Melinda did. She told me I should be using my film degree to make the kind of YouTube videos I wasn’t seeing on the platform. And because I’d been collecting toys my whole life, I had a real starting point between that and my film and editing abilities.
FT: What is the ethos for RetroBlasting?
MF: RetroBlasting is “honest, objective nostalgia” in a fully-scripted, produced, and edited presentation. We talk about our collective experience like true Generation X kids. That means blunt truths with honest, unapologetic opinions, and a healthy layer of sarcasm when applicable. I firmly believe there’s no value in “positivity police” and fan gushing. If you are a channel host that loves and “gets excited” about everything, then I’ve seen every video you’ve made and ever will make with one viewing. In today’s day and age, we’ve got to get past the hype machines, the “influencer” garbage, and we MUST usher in the death of viral marketing.
If these companies want our money, they need to earn it. Right now, they’ve succeeded largely in creating influencer drones on social media who will say anything for free samples and “access.” RetroBlasting truly doesn’t want these companies’ swag. We reject it on a monthly basis. The only value is the truth, and yes, the truth is different from one person’s opinion to the next – but real opinions, positive or negative or mixed, should not be influenced or bought. Ever.
The biggest challenge is getting the fan community to understand that. Most fans are too easily tempted to want the endless party and the “good feels.” It’s time to stand up like adults and stop being man-children in our dealings with these manufacturers and studios.
FT: Could you tell us how the RetroBlasting team came together and how do you work together creatively?
MF: Melinda and I have been together since 2009. RetroBlasting started in 2012. Timothy Ward, our social media admin on Facebook and YouTube, was an avid viewer of our videos and we ended up restoring his childhood R5-D4. After that, he was politely adamant that RetroBlasting was quickly getting too big for Melinda and myself to handle on our own – and he was right. He’s been a godsend to RetroBlasting and he’s an amazing social media moderator, and has grown our Facebook audience by more than 10,000 followers. Some people use the phrase “Jesus take the wheel.” I saw what Timothy was doing and just said, “Timothy, take the wheel.” I’ve never regretted it.
Tim Whitten and Aaron Harper were viewers of the channel that recognized me at the company they work for when I started working there. We quickly became close friends and Aaron started co-hosting the RetroBlasting podcast, Dreamland, with Melinda. Incidentally, Aaron is also the guy who fabricated the wooden hull modification for the G.I. Joe U.S.S. Flagg in the studio.
Tim was the one who pushed for RetroBlasting to “go live” with livestreams. It took a while to figure out because, like with everything at RetroBlasting, we wanted the highest quality in our production and presentation. But the livestreams have become a mainstay at RetroBlasting, and that’s because of Tim.
And I’d be remiss not to mention Dave, who does all of our logo artwork. He’s a true talent and a very inspired artist.
FT: RetroBlasting viewers are rewarded with a blend of thought provoking material supported by crisp presentation, informatively crafted scripts with humorous turns of phrase and honest reviews. Writing, presenting and editing these episodes must demand time investment. On average, how much time commitment do episodes require to nurture?
MF: The big features about a cartoon and toy line can take months to develop, assuming the toys are already in the studio. If the toys aren’t in the studio, it can take several years, like Robotech did. I have to develop the script by carefully watching and taking notes on the series in question and then writing a script, recording that script, adding or modifying any part of that script in post-production as necessary – so it can take as much as two weeks of constant work on some videos if the subject matter is dense or expansive.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Part 2 video liked to have killed me. The Rogue One two-parter was a marathon of production. And the Robotech 4-part feature… well, let’s just say I’m grateful it’s in my rear view mirror now.
FT: How do you determine which subjects you want to cover?
MF: Sometimes it boils down to an interesting hook I think of about a toy or cartoon, such as realizing the Masters of the Universe robotic horse Stridor is a weird toy and I just start thinking up off-beat sarcastic jokes about Stridor and that becomes a video. Other times it’s me wanting to dig into a known series like MacGyver or Voltron and see how it is held together and how it unfurled on TV. There’s a lot of interesting kernels of weirdness in these shows if you’re paying attention. Take for example the overt girlfriend sharing in Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends. You can’t make this stuff up.
MF: It’s a mix of the two. I have a film degree from Syracuse University, and I studied on 16mm film negative and flatbed editing stations (with film cutting guillotines and tape), but I have also learned the demands of a YouTube audience and the demands of the subject matter (vintage toys) and that also guides my production philosophy on these projects. Plus, YouTube itself is always changing and so I’m always ready to adjust our production workflow to ensure the best chance to hold onto our audience’s attention with each video.
FT: Each time I hear the RetroBlasting theme, I’m reminded of Tenacious D, who performs this track for your channel?
MF: A longtime friend of Melinda’s, a musician named Dolph Amick who is local to us. He’s really talented.
FT: With your partner in life and RetroBlasting, Melinda – ‘This is not a toy!’ You share your love for collecting. Who is the biggest collector or is this also perfectly matched?
MF: I’m by far the bigger collector. Melinda loves her My Little Ponies, but she’s not a completist. She also loves Lord of the Rings stuff, but again, doesn’t feel the need to have “the stuff.”
FT: Action figures, movie memorabilia and weapons, where are the cross-overs or distinct direction of your and Melinda’s collecting?
MF: Melinda loves history and specifically historical blade weapons. She also loves Sylvester Stallone, so I tracked down functional recreations of the knives from his first two Rambo films for her collection. She is an expert on horror films also, and she tracked down a replica of Freddy Kruger’s glove from the first Nightmare on Elm Street movie. So there are moments of opportunity where I can provide her with the iconic pieces from her entertainment loves, but she’s not like me in that she doesn’t pull in cascades of memorabilia to study and make videos about like I do.
FT: You kindly walked viewers through your collection recently on RetroBlasting. Is this a place of relaxation, inspiration or both?
MF: The studio was certainly a life goal, to finally have my collection all on display where I could see it all rather than constantly dive through the bins and boxes for it. In some ways it is inspirational, but in the past year it’s become such a functional, working studio that there isn’t as much relaxation down here as there first was in 2017. However, I’m presently working to beat back the chaos caused by RetroBlasting and get it back in a condition where I can relax and enjoy it again. At that point, I plan to do an updated video on the studio, as I’ve added a lot to the collection since that first “tour.”
FT: In addition to collecting, RetroBlasting also showcases restoration projects. Could you tell us which has been the most challenging and rewarding?
MF: The most rewarding restorations have been the vintage R5-D4 and R2-D2 figures. And they were also two of the most challenging because of the chrome requirements. The U.S.S. Flagg and the Defiant Space Vehicle were ones that started with a sense of obligation, but by the end, they turned out so well, I ended up liking the toys more than I had originally felt. My perceptions changed a bit, likely because I was proud of the work I put into them.
FT: Are there any future restoration projects on your to do list?
MF: Yes. I’m working on a very special vintage X-Wing restoration, as well as a full restoration on a G.I. Joe Cobra Terrodrome playset. That will be a massive undertaking.
FT: What other RetroBlasting subjects do you hope to feature in the near future?
MF: I’m presently filming a two-part feature on Inhumanoids. There’s a big feature on the Rebel Snowspeeder coming that will be a “Story So Far” akin to my Bespin Luke special. Bionic Six, Batman: The Animated Series, a Star Wars Follies with Analog Toys about the TIE Fighters, a Masters of the Universe Fright Zone tour with Skeletor, a review of the Defiant Space Vehicle, a look at Fortress Maximus from Transformers, and much more in the works.
FT: Do you have any advice for anyone considering creating their own YouTube channel?
MF: If you’re starting your own channel, don’t make it your goal to have 100k subscribers in six months. Make it your goal to be passionate and honest about the subjects you want to cover. Be CREDIBLE in your work. And don’t cut corners. Give each video, regardless of its style or format, 100 percent of your effort. Make each video an experience you would want to watch as much as your audience.
FT: Where can people access your work online?
MF: RetroBlasting’s main home is on YouTube at youtube.com/retroblasting. We can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and our own Retroblasting.com website.
FT: Michael, it has been a great pleasure meeting you. Many thanks for sharing your experiences with us here on Fantha Tracks. We wish you good hunting for future collecting exploits and look forward to watching many more of your, Melinda and the team’s entertaining and informative RetroBlasting episodes.
- Hardcover Book
- Hidalgo, Pablo (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 264 Pages - 11/03/2020 (Publication Date) - DK (Publisher)