It’s our great pleasure to welcome Jake James, owner of the impressive, most impressive ‘The Jake James Collection’ to Fantha Tracks.
FT – Hi Jake, thanks for joining us here on Fantha Tracks.
JJ – Thank you, it’s quite an honour! To be quite honest, this is my first interview!
FT – What’s your earliest Star Wars memories?
JJ – I’d have to say being six years old and seeing some of the early merchandise for Star Wars that was released such as trading cards before I saw the film in 1977. Undeniably, Star Wars left a huge impression on me from the start. In fact, I think it ruined a lot of other 60’s and 70’s sci-fi shows and movies, because to be honest, it was so far advanced than anything else at that time.
FT – When did you begin collecting Star Wars figures?
JJ – My very first action figure was the Death Squad Commander, followed soon by the rest of the original figures. I remember Christmas in 1978 getting many of the starfighters and landspeeder. In all, I had most of the early Star Wars figures and ships and of course the Millennium Falcon and Death Star playset that I spent countless hours playing with. I ended up with quite a bit of figures and a playset from The Empire Strikes Back but only a few figures and the speeder bike from Return of the Jedi as I suppose I was getting older by then and into other things pre-adolescents are interested in. It was the return of The Power of the Force line in 1995 that re-ignited my passion for Star Wars figures. I began collecting these figures and vehicles, and well, the rest as they say is history.
FT – Your collection comprises of 3¾ inch modern figures, do you collect any vintage, Clone Wars, Rebels, Resistance or Mandalorian figures?
JJ – I used to collect Micro Machines, Action Fleet, and the 6” Black Series, but have since liquidated them from my collection to focus solely on the 3.75” line, which has always been my passion. I do have a modest collection of vintage Star Wars figures and ships, mostly mini rigs. Most of my original larger ships were given away a long time ago. Several years back, I let go of my animated Clone Wars figures, with the exception of a few items. Legions of Clone Troopers and Battle Droids were sold off for next to nothing. I just didn’t have the room to display both animated and realistic versions of these armies.
Unfortunately, that meant letting go of so many awesome individual Clone Troopers that did not have a realistic counterpart in the regular line. I do keep some Rebels and Resistance figures as a few can pass close enough to the realistic figures to fit in. As for the Mandalorian, I am super excited for the release of these figures. There is so much amazing potential from this show, I can only hope the toy line can keep up with what is sure to be a huge demand.
FT – Within your collection, I spotted a custom pilot figure with a Jarek Yeager head and some members of Blue Squadron. What other customs do you display?
JJ – I am not skilled nor anywhere near talented enough to produce some of the amazing custom figures you see in other collections. I have a few that I bought from these true craftsmen, but most of mine are purely head swaps or simple repaints or perhaps accessorized with left over pieces of gear. Many are displayed, but most are just background characters that fill up the dioramas. I continue to hone my skills, but it’s mostly to fill in gaps from non-produced figures. There are also some repainted vehicles, but again, nothing too fancy. Other custom items are also featured such as Hole in the Ground Productions, Twelfth Parsec, and many others. They have been able to produce some truly amazing accessories that we would not otherwise be afforded from the big toy companies.
FT – Was army building always on your mind or how did this interest develop?
JJ – No, I never set out to be an army builder. Originally, I was more of a one of each collector with perhaps a 6-12 man squad of troopers at most. I think it was when I got into posting my collection on Facebook that I turned to army building. Perhaps it was the inspiration that I drew from seeing so many other awesome collections out there. Somewhere along the line, building armies took off and perhaps, just maybe, it got a bit out of control.
FT – How do you decide which figures you would like to army build?
JJ – I like to think I’m an equal opportunity army builder. I started out building up the Imperials, Rebels, Clones, and Battle Droids. I would focus on one specific trooper and build them up until I felt it was sufficient and then move onto another (i.e., regular Stormtroopers, then Sand Troopers, etc.). At some point, I would rotate back around and decide that the troops needed additional numbers and start over. Somewhere along the line, I expanded the army building to Jawas, Tusken Raiders, various gang members, the Naboo Guards, Gungans, Bespin Guards, etc. The same routine would follow; build up, move on to another, and eventually revisit and build up again. It wasn’t only figures either, I also began building up starfighter squadrons and land-based vehicles. After all, troops need transportation too. Slowly, over a long period, the collection grew into what it is today.
FT – Which have been the most challenging figures or ships to acquire?
JJ – I’d have to say those that were in limited release or those that became instant hits on the secondary markets like the Jedi Temple Guards, the Old Republic Troopers, and the Dark Trooper Droids. Army building isn’t cheap and paying MSRP is bad enough. Trying to build at secondary market prices can be quite inhibitive. But sometimes, you get lucky and can find some great deals. I find that toy/comic conventions can be a great source of older figures at decent prices to bolster one’s armies.
FT – Have any proved elusive so far?
JJ – Honestly, not really. Granted the brick and mortar selections are dismal as compared to a decade ago when shelves were heavily stocked and plenty of figures could be found at good prices. Today, most of my new buys come from the internet such as Entertainment Earth, Amazon, Dorksidetoys, Disney, and others. It seems to take much longer to acquire troops in any real quantity today, but due to the increased prices of the figures, that just means I have to spread out my collecting to keep it affordable.
FT – Which is the largest Battalion within your collection?
JJ – I would have to say that the largest, aside from the legions of Imperial Stormtroopers, it would be my 501st Clone Troopers. While I do have a large collection of all the Clone units, the 501st is definitely my favourite. I have more of them compared to my other Clones along with a considerable number of support vehicles.
FT – How many figures and ships make up your collection?
JJ – I must admit, I’ve never actually added them all up before. I do maintain a very extensive and detailed account of my collection, but not in a manner that allows for easy computations. But, for the first time and for this interview, here are the totals (not counting the figures and vehicles that have already been given away or sold off).
-Action Figures: 8,397
-Space Ships: 323
-Ground/Air Vehicles: 536
-Play sets: 49
FT – Collecting demands space, especially when ships are involved. Could you tell us about the toy room you designed to house your collection?
JJ – When we built our new house out in the middle of the West Virginia Mountains, the original plan was for the full basement to be the new toy room. But with rising construction costs, the basement got nixed. Fortunately, we found that there was a large space available above the garage that did not originally show up as a room in the plans. With some modifications, we were able to get that added into the construction with amazing results. Provided with this new space, I looked at a lot of options such as cabinets and display cases. In the end, I chose to go with adjustable shelving along the walls with 24” deep shelves that could accommodate the ships without them sticking out over the ends. With the shelves adjustable, it provided me far more leeway in getting the most space available in the area I had to work with. In the middle of the room, I used four large standing shelf systems that are bridged with full lengths of thick plywood to provide an area for larger dioramas. All in all, I think it utilizes the space to the maximum. Still, not everything is on display. Many figures are still boxed up and I have 11 Death Star play sets that are awaiting a re-paint and a place to set up as one large space station diorama. More on that build this spring!
I learned a long time ago, I don’t have the space to keep EVERYTHING. As newer model figures or vehicles come out, I simply replace the older version. Often that mean just giving these away or donating to charity. Over the past few years, I’ve begun selling at a local toy convention (JediCon-WV) each June, though I sell these for super cheap just to get them out of my house. I have never been in this hobby as a money-making venture. I think if I’d had my fun with it, I’ll let it go and allow someone else to enjoy it. My wife has noticed that I end up coming home with more stuff than I sold; I think she’s on to me!
FT – With an open display, how do you maintain their housekeeping?
JJ – I’m often asked about the dusting; I just reply, what dust? That’s weathering! Fortunately, the toy room doesn’t get much dust. I vacuum a couple of times a year. As for the displays, they get modified about once or twice a year and get a quick wipe down during the resetting of the dioramas.
FT – What does Mrs James think of your collecting exploits?
JJ – I couldn’t be a luckier man! My wife and I have been happily married for 25 years. She is quite supportive, if not entirely understanding of my obsession, I mean my hobby. I’ll admit, I do occasionally get ‘the talk’ about excessive spending, but she has remained a staunch supporter of me from the beginning. She has her hobbies, and I have this, so it just works out.
FT – Do you have any favourites amongst your collection?
JJ – That’s a hard question to answer. I don’t know that I have a particular favourite aside from the collection as a whole. I sometimes just enjoy sitting in the room and looking over the dioramas as I plan out new scenes. There is so much to love, it is hard to pick a favourite. I do however, like a recent conversion I made where I took an old Batman Forever Batcave playset and repainted it into Vader’s Castle on Mustafar. It was a fun project and I think that it turned out rather nice, considering my amateur skills.
FT – Do you have any tips for anyone considering army building?
JJ – Don’t do it! As Master Yoda stated, “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will…” However, if you feel you must, I recommend taking it slow. Focus on what you love. Don’t expect to build up your armies overnight, army building can be very expensive. It takes a long time to accumulate, so shop around, find good deals such as lot sales. Most of all, do not allow yourself to be in a competition with anyone. This is YOUR collection for YOUR entertainment. You have nothing to prove to anyone else. If it is not enjoyable and fun, then you are doing it for the wrong reason.
FT – What’s next for your collection?
JJ – “Always in motion is the future.” Just when you think you’re at the peak, Lucasfilm decides on another movie or show. I never imagined that Star Wars would still be going so strong at this point with so many new media ventures on the horizon. All this means new toys and I often wonder where it will all go. I may have to resort to rotating dioramas and returning certain sections to storage in order to make room in the future.
With all the responsibilities that come with being an adult, I like to think I’m still a kid at heart, still fascinated by the world George Lucas created. I’m pushing 50 now and hope that I’ll be around to enjoy Star Wars action figures for a long time yet to come.
FT – Where can we find The Jake James Collection online?
JJ – I’m on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/JakeJamesCollection/ Please feel free to drop in and look through the pictures and photo albums.
FT – Jake, many thanks for joining us here on Fantha Tracks and sharing your experiences. We look forward to following your collections development.
JJ – This has truly been an honour, thank you so much for allowing me to share some insight into my collection. May the Force be with you!