Below the frozen surface of Hoth, General Rieekan addresses the Rebel ranks. The subject is Echo Base. But he’s not talking about surprise Imperial invasions or Wampa attacks. Instead he’s discussing the Echo Base Facebook group – a growing alliance of Star Wars toys enthusiasts. Despite the cold, the battle-weary commander hands the briefing over to the group’s founder Adam Pemberton for details.
A long time ago in a childhood far, far away, Star Wars toys ruled the universe. They were the rocket fuel that fired the hyperdrives of our young imaginations. Who doesn’t remember re-staging the Death Star assault with Tie fighters and X-Wings in the backyards or bedrooms?
Today, this passion still inspires fans to collect the toys. Look online and you’ll find a community of collectors spanning the globe. “It’s mostly 40-something, follically challenged males with facial hair,” jokes Adam to Rebel Briefing.
Ether-Regions of the Force
It can be argued that Star Wars collectors fall into two groups – those kids who had the wisdom to keep their toys, and those whose collections disappeared into the ether-regions of the Force. “I kept mine, and even as a 16-year-old I still liked them from a collector’s point of view,” Adam says.
At the beginning his goal was to grow his collection. But with no collecting community to speak of at the time, he ingenuously offered to buy his friend’s toys. These were supplemented with visits to toy fairs.
Then, in the early 90s, Adam reached a critical juncture in his career – he sold his entire collection on eBay. It’s a decision he still regrets today.
Fortunately, he bought some 12-inch Gentle Giant figures online as a homage to the toys he sold. To his surprise, one came with a vintage Kenner IG-88 as a freebie. “It broke my brain a bit. It felt like the beginning of a new chapter, so I began collecting vintage toys again, especially IG-88 figures.”
It Began with Jedi
Adam’s collecting journey began with Return of the Jedi – it was the first film he saw at the cinema. “The great thing about this era was that all the toys were available, albeit in Jedi packaging. For me, there was no waiting between movies for new items.”
Soon he was buying toys from as far afield as the United States and Canada.
Because of the expensive postage costs, he wondered if there was a place online where collectors could buy and sell Star Wars toys in the UK.
A web search showed little and soon Echo Base was launched. “It began with a gang of my Star Wars friends, plus contacts I made on eBay and through social media.”
That was five years ago.
Today Echo Base boasts 14,000 members. And that’s just for the Vintage group where fans can buy and sell classic toys sold between 1977 and 1988.
This was followed in 2016 by the Modern group where you’ll discover another 7,000 members trading toys from the prequels to the sequels.
The Droids You’re Looking For
So, how does it work?
Let’s say you want a vintage droid figure from A New Hope (ANH). You may be looking for a mint R5-D4 figure on card, a loose Gonk Droid in good condition, or an R2-D2 variant (more on variants later).
Your first step is to join Echo Base.
Once accepted you are free to post what toy you need – in this case on the Vintage page.
Chances are strong that a fellow collector will have the droids you’re looking for and will be happy to sell.
The same rules apply if you want to sell your own toys – you simply post on the relevant page. A Qui-Gon Jinn figure, for example, should be sold on the Modern group.
To prove ownership, every toy must include a photo with the seller’s name and date written on a piece of paper. Private Messaging is also banned without posting on the original sales thread first. When done, you’re free to make contact with address and payment details (using PayPal).
“The rules prevent scamming,” Adam explains. “Unlike other sales platforms, Echo Base allows collectors to sell, buy and trade Star Wars toys safe in the knowledge that reproductions and shady dealings are few and far between. There’s also the added bonus of paying no fees – we don’t make any profit from Echo Base.”
Echo Base Live
In 2016 Adam made the jump from cyberspace to real space with Echo Base Live.
The free fan event at the Kingfisher, Redditch, showcases a cargo hold of vintage and modern Star Wars collectables. You will find everything from carded and loose figures, ships and vehicles, to art and books. All budgets are catered for.
With two events a year, more than 2000 eager fans marched through the blast doors in April to spend their hard-earned Republic credits. “It’s great that people can chat on Facebook, but it’s better when everybody gets together at Echo Base Live. Fans love rummaging and picking things up at the different tables.”
Autograph hunters are catered for too with actors signing names and sharing stories. Caroline Blakiston (Mon Mothma from Return of the Jedi), Tim Rose (Admiral Ackbar), Mike Quinn (Nieein Nunb), Michael Culver (Captain Needa) and Jack McKenzie (Cal Alder) appeared at the October 5th event.
Adam also encourages you to bring toys from home to the free evaluation service – you may be surprised what they are worth.
Most important, Echo Base Live is a fundraiser for charity. Proceeds from raffles and official Echo Base merchandise including mugs, action figure guides and posters go to local causes including the Ronald McDonald Children’s House.
“It’s hard to organise but great fun,” Adam says. “It’s been a great success, especially with fans from other Facebook groups attending. I enjoy seeing younger collectors coming along, and I’ve noticed more female fans joining too, which is fantastic. We should remember that this new generation of collectors are the the ones who will keep our hobby alive. I like to think Echo Base Live helps promote this.”
There are many reasons why fans collect Star Wars toys. Some collect for nostalgia, some for fun and, some for investment.
If you were an 8-year-old in 1978 and lucky to still own the figures and ships from that period, you are fortunate.
But, for people starting again from scratch, they often begin with loose vintage figures before moving on to vehicles. “It becomes about what to collect next, and buying variant figures has become popular.”
All figures – especially those from Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back – have variations ranging from the obvious to the minor. This is the result of toys being produced in different countries and factories. Mexican figures, for example, differ from those made in North America or Europe.
The classic example is the famous Jawa figure with the vinyl or cloth cape.
Vintage Luke from ANH is another toy with different variations – you’ll find him with blonde or brown hair, plus different lightsaber types. His trousers can range from dark brown to cream in colour.
Obi-Wan also shares Luke’s hair issues – you’ll find old Ben with grey or white hair.
“Variants are a fun way to expand your collection. Take IG-88, the figure that set me on my journey to Echo Base. You’ll find a ton of different forms for that toy; many of which I have. For me, chasing down and buying variations of the assassin droid is great fun. You can find all types of variants on Echo Base and live events.”
Unlike the icy Rebel fortress on Hoth, there are no plans to abandon Echo Base anytime soon. In fact, it continues to grow.
He’s under no illusion that Echo Base will allow him to retire early (he’s not in it for the money). Like many fans, Star Wars toys remind him of a special bygone era – the fun and nostalgia of playing with them as a kid. “Men especially are terrible for buying things that made them happy as a child. People simply want that joy back in their lives. Yes you can invest in stocks, shares or saving accounts, but they don’t bring the same joy of being able to display and enjoy your collection. This is much more fun.”
Suddenly, General Rieekan ends the briefing. There are reports that Captain Solo and Commander Skywalker are missing. With temperatures dropping, Tauntauns freezing and Wampas prowling the first marker, Adam is ordered to his snowspeeder to join the rescue mission.