Do You Remember Return Of The Jedi Presto Magix?

Friends, when Star Wars: Return of the Jedi was released to theaters on May 25th of 1983, there were already a couple of things rabid fans could buy. Off the top of my head I can remember that Kenner had released action figures for the then third and final film in the Star Wars trilogy. I am sure that many of you had similar experiences of standing in the toy aisle looking at the likes of figures such as Klaatu, Emperor’s Royal Guard, Gamorrean Guard, Admiral Ackbar, and Bib Fortuna… and just wondering who the heck these characters were. I naturally was ecstatic to see this new wave of Kenner action figures and after stretching my Father’s patience by studying each and every new character, I finally decided that my first purchase from the Return of the Jedi line would be Bib Fortuna. As this was long before the internet of course, I had no idea what role the Twi’lek (or even that was what his species was called at that point) would play in the film, although the photograph provided on the blister card led me to believe the character was definitely a villain.

“Wise choice, Vic.”

Another collectible that I recall included the Star Wars: Return of the Jedi Official Collector’s Edition magazine, which included a breakdown of the story as well as an incredible amount of behind the scenes information. I obviously did not read the story portion of the magazine until after I had seen the film for myself, right after I begged my Father to take me back to the toy store so I could buy Admiral Ackbar.

“You should have chosen me first.”

After the film had been released you couldn’t swing a Kowakian monkey-lizard without hitting some type of merchandise for Return of the Jedi. Books, records, pencil toppers, activity books, stickers, and of course Presto Magix sets. The last one is something that I recall seeing in great quantities at the local K-Mart stores in my neck of the woods. They were incredibly affordable ways to spend a rainy afternoon, plus they managed to license everything from Dynomutt, Laff-a-Lympics, Masters of the Universe, The Dukes of Hazzard, Batman, Thor, and Star Wars of course.

VIDEO AND ARTICLE IMAGE PROVIDED BY PhakeNam.

Generally for a couple of bucks you could create your own stories with some of your favorite TV, Film, and comic book characters. Although you had to be absolutely sure where you wanted to apply the rub-on transfer decal, because once they were on the background card you couldn’t remove them. There were box sets available too, these not only provided more decals to choose from but offered a much larger background card to apply them to.

For a breakdown on more Presto Magix sets and fun, why not take a couple of minutes and watch the esteemed Weird Paul‘s review?

VIDEO PROVIDED BY Weird Paul.

Every Book Has a Story Too!

In my previous article that I hope you had a chance to read, I shared six childhood toys from my youth that I fondly remember, and thankfully still own. This time, I have the pleasure of sharing with you some books that bring back memories as profound as any toy!

Every Book Has A Story Too - TRON - The Transformers - Gremlins - Javier Ojst

“This is the story of The Gift of the Mogwai. You can read along with me in your book. You will know it is time to turn the page when you hear the chimes ring like this…”

Let’s’ Begin Now:

As I started pulling this treasured Read-Along Book out of the safety of its protective plastic bag, it tore at the spine and effectively separating itself from the whole book. It is a sad exhibition of how fragile paper can become after 35 years. An easy fix, but I could almost visualize the adorable Mogwai named Gizmo on the cover shedding a tear as he observed me delicately trying to repair the tragically torn book. Me, a 42-year-old adult, trying to hold my childhood memories together with scotch tape and lots of hope!  Sure, I could purchase another book on eBay without having to mortgage the house, and in much better condition than the one that just fell apart in my hands- but darn it- that isn’t the one I owned as a child. This musty smelling one is, and it must be salvaged and preserved.

Read-Along Books were inexpensive substitutes for owning the home video version of the film, which, believe it or not, could easily cost upwards of $30 in 1985. These books included a 7-inch record with word-for-word story narration, dramatic character dialogue, authentic sound effects, and musical backgrounds. Even though the books were about animated features and movies mostly suitable for the entire family, the dialogue wasn’t watered down.  It was edited as not be a full-blown 200-page novelization, but the content stayed true to the films. I can still read these short books today to get that quick nostalgia shot, manifesting itself for the world to see as an ear to ear smile and a twinkle in my Lasik-operated eyes.

SEE the pictures, HEAR the record, READ the book!

I’d spend hours reading these books as the narrator guided me through crucial parts of the films I loved but didn’t own. The artwork varied in quality from book to book, but these stories enthralled me to no end. They also kept me from bugging my mom and helped me pass the time in lieu of friends. Got to love that Tinker Bell chime that let you know it was time to turn the page!

Read-Along Books were around since the mid-sixties, but circa 1987, tapes substituted the included seven-inch records. As a child, the simplicity of sitting down with a book containing the written form of the films you loved and having them read to you was a very comforting feeling. There was never a fear of reprimand for not knowing or mispronouncing a word. It was a child’s safety zone, my safety zone.

I also had Big Looker Storybooks from Marvel Books featuring my beloved Transformers and Golden Super Adventure Books with the runner-up GoBots.

Although these didn’t contain a record, for $1.50, you had arguably better-crafted Transformer stories than the animated series that made the franchise a worldwide pop culture phenomenon. In my honest opinion, the Transformer books had beautiful artwork. You can only imagine how a child’s eyes lit up with these books in their hands, just taking everything in. A special shout-out goes out to artists Earl Norem and John Speirs, who did the artwork for these fabulous storybooks.

The Transformers - Earl Norem - John Speirs - Javier Ojst

Exciting Action From The High-Tech World of GoBots-Mighty Robots, Mighty Vehicles!

GoBots hold a special place in my forever nostalgic heart, but they were never like the Transformers. If you had the money, why go with RC Cola if Coca-Cola was available? And no, we’re not going to talk about Pepsi. Yech! The changing from vehicles to robots was less complicated with the GoBots, and the animated show was undoubtedly for an even younger audience than the already juvenile Transformers. The books followed the same pattern of simplicity, with the artwork leaving much to be desired. At the time, the books were inexplicably more expensive too. Of course, they entertained me as a kid, but I could sense the lopsided gulf between the two franchises even at a young age.

Return of the Jedi - Javier Ojst

Watching Star Wars: Return of The Jedi in theaters in 1983 as a five-year-old was an experience I hope never to forget and forever be able to recall whenever I find myself with “a case of the Monday’s,” and a little down in the dumps. I remember sitting in those huge theater seats (huge to a five-year-old), and witnessing the vile, gangster Jabba The Hutt and his enormous pet Rancor. The Speeder Bike chase scene on the forest moon of Endor was and still is exhilarating. You also had the second and final confrontation between Luke Skywalker and his father, the evil Darth Vader. Plus, the Emperor’s force lightning that sounded like an electricity charged explosion struck me with terror, making me sink into and try to disappear in my seat. These are all memories ingrained in the deepest recesses of my mind.

The Return of the Jedi Giant Collectors Compendium: Heroes, Villains, Creatures and Droids transported me back to the movie theater; stuffing my brain with info about all my favorite characters and providing me an in-depth look at ROTJ before the existence of Star Wars encyclopedias, the extensive Expanded Universe and of course the internet. Inside, I learned about the henchmen’s names in Jabba’s palace: Ephant Mon, Hermi Odle, Elom and his guards Klaatu, and Nikto (no Barada for those The Day the Earth Stood Still and the Evil Dead: Army of Darkness fans). The compendium and a blue plastic ROTJ wallet with R2D2 and C-3PO on the front went with me everywhere. Both have survived all these years, with the compendium still conserving the scotch tape used on numerous occasions to keep it from falling apart (Thank you, mom!). In almost immaculate condition, the vintage wallet remains as I carried it in 1983: without as much as a dollar bill or even a quarter inside. But who needs money when wonderful memories feed and tend to your heart and soul?

Dinosaur Time - Peggy Parish - Arnold Lobel - Javier Ojst

I used to be crazy for dinosaurs. They were all I used to think about (that and the Dukes of Hazzard). They ruled the Earth millions of years ago, but they also ruled and possessed my thoughts, dreams, and seemingly controlled my actions at a particular time in my childhood. When the school I attended, Pembroke Pines Elementary in South Florida had a Scholastic book fair, the only books I ordered were about dinosaurs. I also got a cool frogman scuba toy, but that got boring, real quick. Once in the water, it just flopped and turned over and didn’t swim as gracefully as I imagined it would. But back to dinosaurs:

Giant reptiles thundering across the ground we now live on, with their fossils possibly buried underneath our feet. Dinosaurs became my gateway to fictional giant creatures known as Kaiju, like Godzilla, Rodan, Anguirus, and the three-headed dragon King Ghidorah. What could be cooler than a dinosaur? A dinosaur named Godzilla that could breathe nuclear fire, of course! C’mon, Stick with me here!

My earliest memories of figuring out what I wanted to do with my life involved me becoming either a Paleontologist, Archaeologist (thanks to the Indiana Jones), or a combination of both. My love for dinosaurs waned when Jurrasic Park was released in theaters in 1993. Honestly, I can’t recall what I was into by then, probably sports, wrestling, and Super Nintendo, but it wasn’t dinosaurs anymore. If I were, I’d probably be somewhere in Arizona dusting off fossils with a little brush while wearing a wide-brimmed hat to protect me from the infernal sun. Or down in the jungles of Central America not drinking the water, and unearthing ancient Mayan pyramids and not telling you about any of this. So, in that sense, I’m pleased I didn’t follow that path.

Wrestling Superstars - Daniel and Susan Cohen - Javier Ojst

As I carefully handle the now frail book published in 1985, hoping it doesn’t suffer the same fate as The Gift of the Mogwai, I’m transported back to a time when pro wrestling was all too real for me.

Kayfabe: The term used to describe the illusion that professional wrestling is not staged, i.e., REAL.

Is wrestling fake? Well, no, but it isn’t easy to explain what that means. Is it predetermined? Yes. Was it amazing in the ’80s? You better believe your power slam it was! In 1985, the book Wrestling Superstars, written by Daniel and Susan Cohen, made it all seem legit like Pro Wrestling Illustrated, The Wrestler, and Inside Wrestling magazines presented the grappling game. How could a seven-year-old doubt a magazine, or a book? Could a book’s contents be filled with lies? I acquired this gem at a Winn-Dixie supermarket checkout lane after begging my mom to buy it for me. The cover features color photos of Hulk Hogan, The Iron Sheik, Sergeant Slaughter, and Wendi Richter plus promising “action packed photos” inside! Unfortunately, the images inside are a dismal black and white.

“It’s hot. It’s chic. It’s hip. It’s now. It’s the sports spectacle sensation of the ‘80s. What is it? Why, it’s professional wrestling, of course!” -Opening sentence for Wrestling Superstars by Daniel and Susan Cohen.

The book contains over 30 wrestlers and divides them into Good Guys and Bad Guys. There is a small separate section about women’s wrestling and an even smaller one covering the sport’s legends, famous venues, organizations, and magazines. The biographies within walk a tightrope between truth and embellished fictional accounts that wrestling is renowned for.

Not yet familiar with wrestling magazines and no internet for at least a decade, this book became my wrestling bible. I poured through the pages learning “insider information” about the stars I loved and those I loved to hate as the book proclaims on the back cover. A couple of months ago, I was shocked to find out there is actually a volume 2! Worth $5 plus shipping, don’t you think?

Thanks for reading! My other articles for Pop Culture Retrorama are here, and if you enjoy old school wrestling,  you can read my work for Pro Wrestling Stories here.

 

Every Toy Has A Story!

As adults, many of us have fond memories of the toys we used to have as kids. Others, like myself, have been able to hold onto some of those cherished items. Every toy, book, or related article has a story: How it was acquired, the memories it invokes, and why they’re special. I’m happy to share with you some wonderful stories related to 6 toys from my youth I still own.

Every Toy Has A Story - M.U.S.C.L.E. - Javier Ojst

M.U.S.C.L.E. (Millions of Unusual Small Creatures Lurking Everywhere) was a Mattel toy line based on collectible Japanese erasers called Kinkeshi from the Kinnikuman manga that appeared in Shueisha’s Weekly Shonen Jump from 1979-1987. It also became an anime that ran from 1983-1989. Kinnikuman was an intergalactic pro wrestling/superhero parody with hundreds of collectible wild and wacky characters. The names changed for the U.S. version with MuscleMan and the good guys calling themselves Thug Busters, and the nefarious baddies led by Terri-Bull naming themselves Cosmic Crunchers.

M.U.S.C.L.E. figures were barely an inch and a half in height but brought me many hours of fun. When I moved to El Salvador in 1986, several years passed when I could not watch wrestling on TV because it was simply not available. As a child, I was unaware of M.U.S.C.L.E.’s backstory and just thought that the unique looking characters offered endless story possibilities. Many resembled real wrestlers like Kamala, Terry Funk, Jushin “Thunder” Liger, and even Abdullah The Butcher. Thus, my imagination soared, and I created incredible grudge matches between these tiny wrestlers that the WWF and NWA could only dream of. They also came in various colors and had a small wrestling ring that I even owned, but unfortunately have probably misplaced forever. When I first encountered these tiny mat men in Toys ‘R’ Us, my mom told me I could either buy one small Transformer, two GoBots, or the pack of 28 M.U.S.C.L.E. figures for roughly the same price. It was a no-brainer. None of my childhood Transformer or GoBots survived; in turn, these tiny, pink, rubber wrestlers are nearly indestructible. And, you could grab a handful, put them in your pocket, and take them almost anywhere. Collect them all!

Every Toy Has A Story - Creature from the Black Lagoon - Remco - Javier Ojst

In the early ‘80s, Remco released Mini-Monster action figures from Universal Pictures’ horror icons Dracula, The Wolfman, The Mummy, Phantom of The Opera, and Frankenstein. The play case is something I also owned, but its whereabouts is sadly a mystery. A couple of years ago, at the Santa Rosa Toy-Con in Northern California, I was happy to hear that our friend IseeRobots was gifted one by his wife. What a find!

I had them all, but my lone surviving mini-monster is The Creature From The Black Lagoon-ironically, the only movie of the monsters mentioned above I haven’t seen, but which I own a sealed VHS tape of. Since I couldn’t take my play case to school, a different mini-monster accompanied me daily, and I’d play with it under my desk, hoping neither my teacher nor classmates would take notice. If only back then, we could take pictures and post them on Instagram! Perhaps I should’ve paid more attention in math class instead? Nah. Can’t dwell on those mundane details now, can we?

Every Toy Has A Story - Star Wars Pogs - Javier Ojst

In January of 1997, Star Wars returned to theaters with the now controversial Special Edition, and companies like Pepsico and Frito-Lay wanted a piece of the action. In Mexico and other Latin American countries, products like Ruffles, Lays, Doritos, and Cheetos snacks, are sold under the Sabritas brand, but often tweaked to match local tastes with different condiments and hot sauces.     

In the spring of ’97, I ate an obscene amount of junk food to collect all 100 pogs featuring amazing Star Wars still shots. They were called “Sabri Galacticos” (something I only noticed now while writing this article). After graduating from high school, my obsession became collecting all the pogs instead of socializing with my junior college classmates. I also managed to collect the bulky Star Wars The Power of The Force action figures that looked like our heroes and villains from a galaxy far, far away had taken up gym memberships during their toy shelve hiatus. I don’t think anybody ever understood how proud I was to have gotten all 100 pogs, but I’m happy that I still have them for all to see, and they remain in great shape. I have a couple of doubles so that we can trade later.

Every Toy Has A Story - Hot Wheels - General Lee - Javier Ojst

As a youngster, the action-comedy series The Dukes of Hazzard was one of my favorite shows, and a smash hit for CBS that ran from 1979-1985. The good ol’ Duke boys “never meanin’ no harm” and their cousin Daisy, routinely foiled corrupt county commissioner J.D. Boss Hogg’s shady schemes and regularly left Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane and his deputies in the dust. The show’s highlight was the iconic 1969 Orange Dodge Charger called the “General Lee” evading the law and launching itself over obstacles; ramps seemed to be prevalent in Hazzard County. While airborne, the Duke boys hollered “yeehaw!” sometimes to the tune of The General Lee’s claxon belting the tune of Dixie. At least one Dodge Charger was destroyed every episode due to sometimes irreparable structural damage, with the cars often flipping over. I still get chills seeing the General Lee precariously take flight, and cringe when I see the usual rough landings. For me, few things were more exciting than the General Lee and The Dukes of Hazzard! My parents put up with my obsession but bought a tiny black and white TV for my room so that their viewing of the soap opera Dallas was undisturbed by me watching the Duke boy’s antics. Of course, watching the Dukes wasn’t as fun in black and white, which inevitably led me to turn the knob on the UHF dial, searching for anything else. Thanks to UHF channel surfing, I discovered Championship Wrestling from Florida with Gordon Solie and characters like Kevin Sullivan and his Army of Darkness. But perhaps that’s a story for another time.

One of my cherished “surviving” toys is a 1:64 scale replica of the General Lee released by ERTL in 1981. The front two wheels are missing because a kid in daycare either hated that I had an awesome General Lee, and he didn’t, or he just wanted to test if the toy was as rugged as the car seen on TV. He asked to borrow my beloved toy, but then proceeded to repeatedly throw it onto the ground at what seemed to me full force! The harrowing sound of metal hitting concrete is forever etched in my psyche and still induces plenty of nightmares. Though, as beaten up as it is, that little car is irreplaceable in the nostalgia it elicits in me. It’s still a beautiful thang. Yeehaw!

Every Toy Has A Story - WWF Microphone - Javier Ojst

My love for pro wrestling came at an early age, but I also understood that the probability of me successfully becoming one was akin to entering an asteroid field and surviving like in The Empire Strikes Back. If you want an exact number, that would be approximately 3,720 to 1.

Instead, maybe I could become a promoter, a manager, or better yet, call the matches like heel commentator Jesse “The Body” Ventura. I liked how he always unapologetically took the bad guy’s side and somehow convinced you that his twisted perspective of events was right and that the real bad guys were the two-faced cheating babyfaces! This perspective was so refreshing and something I wanted to emulate.

The 1990 WWF Electronic Sound FX Microphone by Playtime Products was a way for me to practice my mic skills before hitting the big time, or so I thought. I’d study how Ventura called the matches and later, with the volume on mute, replay the tape on my trusty VCR recorder, trying my darndest to imitate “The Body.” Carrying the match without the help of a play-by-play commentator was daunting because Ventura usually fed off their obvious accounts of the action, and then quipped a heelish response! If you think calling a match or any sporting event is easy, turn down the volume and try it yourself. You don’t need a toy microphone as I had, and you’ll gain a renewed sense of appreciation for commentators. That microphone is still with me today, in perfect shape, and it goes for at least $45 on eBay. Mine isn’t for sale though!

Every Toy Has A Story - Tonka Truck - Javier Ojst

That red pickup truck is a sight for sore eyes and is the embodiment of how tough Tonka trucks used to be! In 2020, there is more plastic than steel in most of their trucks, but that wasn’t the case in 1984. All this truck needed was rubber tires to boot, but other than that, it is classic toy perfection. In the unending tomfoolery that constitutes as “boys play,” my best friend and I used to take turns putting things under each other’s pillows only to predictably slam each other’s noggin on a variety of objects. It was all fun and games until my best friend hid that steel Tonka truck under my pillow (who needs enemies, right?) with disastrous results. It made a knot that usually warrants the usage of a frozen steak or two like in cartoons or The Three Stooges. I didn’t retain any permanent damage-many would question that dubious statement- but there it is. That truck has survived everything, and it will probably still be here when I’m gone. In 1975, an elephant stepping on a Tonka truck was used in their commercials to prove their toughness and with the slogan, “A toy shouldn’t break just because a child plays with it.” Tonka tough indeed.