Between 1999 and 2009 Lightsabre.co.uk brought news, fanfic, podcasts and much, much more to the masses. Our eightieth guests were the team behind one of the UK’s biggest and best Star Wars sites – James Burns and Adam Lamping from Jedi News.
Lightsabre – Guys, welcome to Lightsabre.
James – Hi Mark, thank you for the kind introduction.
Lightsabre – Where did your interest in Star Wars begin?
James – Well my interest began when my Aunt took me to see Star Wars in December 1977 at the Odeon in Southend. I loved the first film and whilst I don’t remember where I saw The Empire Strikes Back I was fortunate to go to the premiere of Return of the Jedi with a friend at the Dominion in London. I loved the figures and had quite a few. At the time of making Empire my father was working as a double-glazing Salesman and sold some windows to somebody working on the set at Elstree (we don’t remember what position he held) and that year I got a Lucasfilm Christmas card signed by the ‘maker’ himself. My parents divorced in 1986 and my father threw out all of my figures (ouch!!!). I read the Thrawn trilogy in the early 90’s and my wife to be loved the new Star Wars fiction coming out and read every book. In 1996 we got married and my wife bought me a vintage Ewok; from there on I’ve collected ever since (much to my wife’s dismay at times).
Adam – My story is quite similar; my Dad took me to see Star Wars at our local cinema in a town called Spalding in Lincs., which has long since shut down and according to him, I already knew a lot about the film, happily pointing out characters and vehicles, much to the annoyance of those people around me, I’m sure! I got to see Star Wars and Empire as a double-bill in Skegness and my Dad again took me to see Return of the Jedi whilst staying with him in Brighton. During that time, I’d been collecting the figures (though not as many vehicles as I would have liked) and various books and magazines, although my interest waned in the few years after Jedi, largely down to the fact that I felt it would hinder my chances with girls! With the release of “Heir to the Empire” and “Dark Empire”, my interest was rekindled, by which point I was less concerned about other people’s opinions and happy to pursue collecting as a hobby and it’s gone on from there.
Lightsabre – In 2007 you launched Jedi News. And in a few short months it became the UK’s highest profile Star Wars collecting site. How long was the gestation period for Jedi News?
James – Adam and I had been discussing it for nearly 18 months. We’d both been writing and reporting for another UK site and we weren’t happy with the quality of the site or how it was run. We sat down in Q4 of 2006 and really started to put things together, including the style and layout of the site.
Adam – I think that the other thing to say would be that although we had been talking about it for a long time, it really took us putting a stake in the ground in terms of giving ourselves a target to aim at for things to finally happen. If we’d not done that, there’s a good chance that we would still be talking about it! I’d also like to say that we’ve been overwhelmed with the response to the site and it has more than exceeded our expectations.
Lightsabre – You’ve forged close ties with Hasbro and a number of other licensees. How did you develop those relationships?
James – This is something I’ve worked really hard to do over the last few years. Living in London does have its advantages since a lot of the offices for the Star Wars licensees are all fairly local. I make regular calls to the relevant product managers and try to meet with them two or three times a year and regularly converse via e-mail and phone. We help each other out and it’s very much a mutual relationship; they may need help promoting a specific line or product and we’re able to try and ensure people are aware by giving the items away in competitions or show photographs. Sometimes we’re even asked for advice on products that may not be coming to the UK and we may suggest trying to bring them here. The Clone Wars decal Gunship is a good example, I took it to the product managers at Hasbro that weren’t aware of the product and after they made some calls and investigated further they were able to bring the product in as a Toys R Us exclusive.
Adam – James is so good at that side of things that I tend to leave it to him.
Lightsabre – With new product still being released off the back of the 6 films, what unreleased material would you like to see produced?
James – I still want to see a proper Jabba the Hutt released with throne, for me this is one of the biggest omissions from the modern era and much needed. I’d also like Hasbro to revisit some of the pop-up displays they’ve made such as Jabba’s Palace and the Cantina. I think these could be made on thicker cardboard and also bigger – at the right price point and including a figure or two these would sell very well.
Adam – It’s something that keeps cropping up, but I would like to see more playsets. I thought that the diorama set that Pride Displays released a few years ago had a lot of potential so I was disappointed that the A New Hope display was all that came of it. I’m excited by the rumour that Hasbro are talking to Sideshow about working together to provide playsets and dioramas for collectors, and I’m really hoping that something comes from that.
Lightsabre – The new TV shows start soon. Do you worry of the potential for licensing overkill, a’la The Phantom Menace, or do you think Lucas Licensing has learned from prior mistakes?
James – Right now I think we’re seeing too much product. Hasbro alone is releasing about 250 figures this year of which quite a lot are re-packs. In my opinion this is too much, I agree there needs to be core characters on the pegs at all time but 250 figures is just too many. I think a more realistic amount is about half of that. It’s getting very difficult for even hardcore collectors to keep up and whilst the number of licensees grow so does the number of products. We have (in no particular order) Sideshow – 12” line, Premium Figures, Statues and Dioramas, Medicom 12”, Kubricks, Hasbro – 3¾“ figures, Unleashed, Lightsabers, Galactic Heroes and Potato Heads, Master Replicas – Scaled, Full-size, Helmets and Power FX Lightsabers, Chubbies, Gentle Giant – Busts, BustUps!, Statues and Maquettes, Attakus, Koto, Nikko, LEGO – Regular and UCS Sets, Books and Artwork – I’m sure I’ve missed a few and that’s just off the top of my head. That’s a LOT of products… If I was Lucas Licensing I’d scale back a bit otherwise the bubble may just burst like it did in 1985. I think the products should slow down until the launch of the new Clone Wars TV show and then again until the launch of the live action TV show. Please don’t get me wrong the products are great but there’s just too many of them and it becomes too expensive and puts things out of reach of a lot of collectors and it’s at this point that people start to lose interest.
Adam – I think that James has summed things up perfectly. I wouldn’t have a problem in buying any of the products that he has mentioned if money were no object. Sadly, it is and I know that there are very few people out there who could keep on top of everything. For me, the crux of the matter is that when collectors have little chance of getting the things that they want, they lose interest and at that stage, you run the risk of seeing the brand die.
Lightsabre – It was very clear at Celebration Europe that there is a very healthy communal spirit in the UK Star Wars community, better than ever before. What part can sites like Jedi News and Lightsabre play in pushing this even further?
James – I think we all play a pivotal role in the UK Star Wars community. The licensees and retailers come to us now and ask us for help and advice, I’m amazed at some of the calls I get; a few weeks ago I had a call from a journalist writing an article for the Independent on Sunday, she wanted my opinion on the collectability of Star Wars products in the UK (the article was published a week later). Jedi News is a communal voice and we can reach out to all the UK fans asking for their opinions, a place for them to meet like-minded people in the forums, to trade and share ideas products/merchandise, to help people out with advice and to make friends. It’s also important that we work together; whilst we have a large vibrant community here in the UK we don’t all want to be doing the same thing and stepping on each other’s toes. I think that balance exists between the sites you mention and we all seem willing and able to work together.
Adam – In my opinion, each of the sites help to contribute to the UK Star Wars community by keeping fans here up-to-date on the various goings-on in the Star Wars universe and by maintaining a level of interest in ‘the brand’. While that continues, Star Wars will remain prominent in people’s minds, although I also think that it has now become such an integral part of fan’s lives that it may well become self-propagating to the point that Star Wars will go on forever!
Lightsabre – Star Wars sales are going up year on year. Why do you think this is? Quality of product, a continued love of the saga or something else?
James – As more and more people from our generation have children we are introducing them to Star Wars and they are growing up with it. We now have our children wanting to collect and buy the merchandise and I think that’s a good reason as to why sales are growing. It was so great to see so many families at Celebration Europe, to date we’ve not seen that at any of the US Celebrations. Also, the product is getting better; the figures are more lifelike and have more of a playability value for a younger audience. The love of the saga is growing too and the events surrounding the prequel trilogy and the 30th Anniversary have all helped to fuel this.
Adam – I couldn’t agree more. My wife and I are expecting our first child and I very much look forward to introducing he/she to Star Wars and buying them toys from the movies. I also think that in today’s culture, it is more acceptable for adults to collect toys, so that there are now more people than ever buying, whether it be the kids for playing, or the adults for collecting purposes (and maybe a little playing as well!)
Lightsabre – Which of the myriad Star Wars characters do you feel the most affinity for?
James – I think I’d have to say the Jedi. They are the peacekeepers of the Galaxy. They are there to prevent war and defend peaceful nations/species against evil tyrants and the Empire. I like the whole back story, how their intricate lightsabers are made, how their trials are conducted etc.
Adam – I’m inclined to say Obi-Wan Kenobi. I like the fact that he’s painted as a very noble character, and is someone who is reliable and can be trusted with matters of the utmost importance. Of course, it might also have something to do with being born on the very same day as Ewan McGregor!
Lightsabre – Tell us something of your other interests outside of Star Wars?
James – My other interests include spending quality time with my wife and two boys, I also collect all things relating to the rock group Queen and its members and Sarah and I also collect some Disney artwork. That’s a lot of collecting! I support Arsenal and the whole family shares a passion for F1 motor racing (go Lewis go!!!).
Adam – I’m very passionate about football and in particular, Liverpool FC. I try to see them play at home at least once a season (not easy with Anfield being the opposite end of the country), and watch as many games on TV as I can. My wife and I enjoy going to the cinema, although that’s not likely to happen very often once the baby’s born. I also enjoy listening to music and attending gigs, although again, I’ll be doing less of that after next month.
Lightsabre – What’s next for Jedi News?
James – Where do we start?! There’s lots coming, but most of that is still under wraps. We have lots of competitions coming up with some really great prizes – we’ve lined up some special stuff already to coincide with the release of The Force Unleashed. Lightsabre already know about some of the things we have planned for next year as we’re working together on them (although neither parties are ready to spill the beans just yet) and we’re very excited to be working with you on them. We intend to go to as many events next year and get out there and meet the fans; this is really important! We’re happy to answer the fans’ questions where we can and if not pass their questions on to the relevant people and get answers for them. We’re already the UK’s premiere site for Star Wars news and we want to ensure we can maintain that. There’s not been one day since our launch that we’ve not been able to post UK relevant news and that’s why a dedicated UK Star Wars UK site is so important.
Adam – James has pretty much covered everything, but I’d just like to add that we’re looking to make some enhancements to the site in the next couple of months. We wanted to ‘bed’ the site in for a while before making any changes, but we’re approaching the 6 month mark and plan to add in some extra features in the not-to-distant-future.
Lightsabre – Now it’s in the past, what are your feelings on Celebration Europe?
James – Celebration Europe was amazing. It was a lot of work for us having a stand there and raising money for ‘Make a Wish’ [approximately £750 was made] as well as having to cover the event too. It was only two months after our launch and we were a little nervous about how people would perceive us but we needn’t have worried. We made a LOT of good friends at the show, a couple of highlights were Steve Sansweet and the US Hasbro team. We were able to spend 45 minutes with Steve Sansweet which was inspirational and he was very kind and generous to us (since the show we now have an open dialogue with Steve which is fantastic and we can contact him as and when we need to); we also met Derryl DePriest from Hasbro and we’ve now opened a dialogue with the US Hasbro team which has seen us being added to the bi-weekly Hasbro Questions and Answers (first UK site) as well as the recent Saga Legends voting.
The show itself was great, I think Barry did an amazing job and should be applauded. Yes, I know he’s a friend of mine but if he’d done a bad job I wouldn’t have told him that too!!! For me there was so many great things, top of my list was meeting and making so many good friends. People have asked me what I’d change about the event and only three things spring to mind a) make more of the room in the main hall – use it all (although I’m sure that meant more cost to the organisers) b) the Palitoy archive was lost upstairs and should’ve had a place on the main floor and c) add an extra day for the fan club on the Thursday. Roll on Celebration Europe II.
Adam – My wife and I attended Celebration III in 2005 and had a really good time, but for me, Celebration Europe was so much better, and that was largely due to being a part of it, by having the Jedi News stand in the fan area. As James has already said, we also had the opportunity to meet a lot of people and to build up some good relationships with a number of the licensees. To be honest, just being surrounded by so many Star Wars fans was for me the best part; it just made me realise how many people love the movies
Lightsabre – A quick question about our site, Lightsabre. Any comments?
James – I think it’s great offering fans from all over the world a glimpse into the world of so many of the people involved in all aspects of Star Wars. Whilst Jedi News may interview people from time to time we see no real point in trying to copy what you already do so well and in your own unique style.
Adam – What I like about Lightsabre, is that in my opinion, it caters for the Star Wars connoisseur and the more sophisticated reader. The writing is of a very high standard and the site as a whole provides a good mix of material to appeal to a wide variety of fans.
Lightsabre – It’s been a great interview, and thanks for being our guest on Lightsabre. Just one final question. You have a time machine set for the past, allowing you to go back in time and bring back one and only one item of classic original trilogy merchandise back with you in mint condition. What would that item be?
James – For me it would have to be the original Early Bird Kit. This was such a bold idea and actually worked well, giving the young (and old) fans a glimpse of what was coming even though it was essentially an empty box. Who would have believed that Star Wars didn’t see any merchandise for 6 months following its release!
Adam – James beat me to the punch, so instead, I’m going to say the vintage Imperial Shuttle. I don’t ever remember seeing it over here and it’s such a cool vehicle. I was really glad that Hasbro released this again in the modern line.
This interview was originally published on Lightsabre.co.uk on 7th October 2007.