Monday, November 23, 2015

Review: 'Star Wars: The Original Topps Trading Card Series Volume One'

In the days before Star Wars made its VHS debut, the most complete way to gaze at its weird creatures, personable robots, and supersonic ships outside a movie theater was on Topps’ trading cards. Across five color-coded series, you could see C-3PO and R2-D2 hanging out on Tatooine or hanging out on Tatooine from a slightly different angle, Darth Vader and Tarkin glowering against a crudely airbrushed background, Luke Skywalker posing in scenes ultimately deleted from the film, or much clearer views of dewbacks and the stuff inside the Jawas’ hoods than we got on screen (not to mention some genuinely fabulous behind-the-scenes pics). Then you’d toss away that molar-splintering stick of powdered “gum,” peel off those impossible-to-remove stickers, and slap them on your bedroom door to your mother’s eternal exasperation. Sure they were pretty grainy, sometimes blurry, but the cards were right up there with Kenner’s toys and Marvel’s comics for essential Star Wars items in the late seventies.

Considering how essential Topps’ cards were when the world was still shuddering from its first wave of Star Wars-mania, it’s surprising that it has taken so long for them to be anthologized. The wait may have been long, but Abrams Books and annotator Gary Gerani have more than done right by those cards that gave us uncoordinated geeks something to trade while the golden boys flipped their baseball cards. Gerani was one of the guys who convinced Topps to take a gamble on George Lucas’s bizarre new space fantasy so soon after its Star Trek cards had flopped, and his commentary makes a book that could have just been 500 pages of nostalgia-stirring images into a book truly worth reading. His introduction and card-by-card commentaries are written from the perspective of a true fan, and his friendly tone makes all the trivia a fun read (more trivia: Gerani wrote the terrific cult horror flick Pumpkinhead!).

Abrams’ presentation is top-notch too. The waxy dust jacket recaptures the texture of the original card packages splendidly, while the images of those awful, awful gum sticks—intact on the front cover; shattered on the back—reveal a sense of humor too often missing in tributes to a flick that never needed to be taken as seriously as it often is. Initially, I was a bit disappointed that the cards weren’t blown up a bit bigger on the pages and that so much space was wasted on white borders, but considering that their images aren’t of the highest quality, it’s actually probably for the best. We should also be grateful that those low-resolution images were kept true to the original cards and Abrams did not subject them to some sort of “special edition”-style rebuff. Nostalgic authenticity is definitely the name of the game with a book like this.

As a bonus, there is also a small packet of two cards and two stickers tacked to the inside cover, but the big question on original collectors’ minds must be “So is that infamous card depicting C-3PO with a grotesque boner included?” I’m happy to say, yes…yes it is. So feel free to buy Star Wars: The Original Topps Trading Card Series Volume One with confidence. You won’t be disappointed.

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