This is the first of what will hopefully become a series of installments here on Galactic Academy. I’ll be looking back at moments in collecting (who’da guessed?) both as they happened for the community at large, and for me in particular. It should be a fairly interesting way for me to not just enlighten people about some interesting moments in the history of collecting, but to also to sate the few readers I may have who are genuinely interested in the man behind the posts.
Gentle Giant has a reputation for being a frustrating company for collectors. Despite having the potential to create truly outstanding products, they at times make decisions that leave collectors scratching their heads, and despite having some truly excellent customer service reps, they can be plagued by bad communication. In 2007, Gentle Giant was coming off of one of their biggest PR nightmares to date: the botched release of the Blister Exclusive Blackhole Stormtooper bust. Limited to 1000 pieces, at the time a very small edition size, it was to be made primarily available through an event at Blister, in Japan, with a small number of pieces set aside to be sold on Gentle Giant’s website. Well, when it came time for the sale on Gentle Giant’s site, the website could barely handle the traffic. The bust wound up being oversold, and many collectors got e-mails from Gentle Giant saying that their orders had to be cancelled. This left a sour taste in people’s mouths, especially since the bust skyrocketed in value afterwards, up above $300.
Needless to say, collectors weren’t exactly salivating at the prospect of seeing any more exclusives anytime soon. While fans would expect exclusives at Celebration IV, a massive convention celebrating Star Wars’s 30th anniversary, and San Diego Comic Con, outside of those no one was hoping for any more exclusives. Gentle Giant had other plans. At the New York Toy Fair in February 2007, they unveiled the pieces that would form the base for their world tour: the Clone Commander busts.
5 exclusive busts at 5 different events throughout the spring and summer of 2007: Commander Gree for Celebration IV in LA, Commander Neyo for a Blister event in Japan, Commander Bly for a Forbidden Planet event in England, Commander Cody for SDCC, and Commander Bacara for Baltimore Comic Con. Along with the Clone Commanders, an animated maquette of R2-D2 and Yoda would be available at each stop on the tour. By the time of the announcement, I had heard of rebelscum.com, and as such was privy to the news coming out of Toy Fair for probably the first time ever. I had yet to start collecting busts, but I was excited for these five: my Clone Trooper focus had already begun to materialize, and these guys looked cool. Beyond that, I had already somehow convinced my dad to take me to Celebration IV, so I knew that I would at least be able to get Commander Gree. The others, I would come to find out, would pose a more interesting challenge. Of course, having no busts at the time of the announcement, I wasn’t terribly invested at that point in getting them all. More established collectors were understandably annoyed, especially because of the rhetoric coming out of Gentle Giant. Calling it a “world tour” made a lot of collectors feel like Gentle Giant saw themselves as rock stars, which in turn made them feel distanced from the company. Actually creating a tour poster featuring the Max Rebo Band didn’t do anything to alleviate those feelings.
As everyone eventually came to learn, all of the busts would be made available to people who couldn’t attend the event: 500 of each would be held back for individual purchase, with 500 more held back for sale as a set. 2007 was the first year of Gentle Giant’s Premier Guild. Essentially, for $50 you would get a “free” gift and the ability to try to purchase event exclusive items. Trying to solve the problems that beset the Blackhole Stormtrooper sale, Gentle Giant switched over to a raffle system: any member of the guild could put their name in the proverbial hat, with those chosen being able to purchase the item. It was, in all honesty, probably a better system than what they had before. The busts would be in high enough demand to ensure that Gentle Giant’s website would crash if they just had everyone take a stab at them at once. Still, having to pay $50 for the ability to enter a raffle for the chance to buy something you wanted didn’t sit well with some people, and when I eventually did join the Premier Guild after Celebration IV I knew enough to make a pithy comment about the rabbit hole I was going down.
Celebration IV was the first stop on the tour, and Gentle Giant went all out. On top of the world tour exclusives, Gentle Giant also had an exclusive Darth Malak bust, Spirit of Yoda bust, and, though it was sold at the starwarsshop.com booth, a Boba Fett animated maquette, based on his appearance in the Holiday Special. Beyond that, they created a one of a kind Elvis Trooper bust, based on the cosplayer of note. Of course, that last one was raffled off for charity, and in the end a collector won it, so no one was terribly peeved about that. They even had the Elvis Trooper at their booth for most of the convention, and he was more than happy to take photos with people, including me and my cousin, even though I hadn’t quite learned how to smile on cue.
They had an incredibly impressive, life size statue of Jabba the Hutt there as well. Despite those positives, however, a lot of people have rather sour memories of the Gentle Giant booth, myself included. Me and my cousin were both able to preorder the busts we wanted for pick up at the show, but neither of us were able to put an order in for the R2-D2 and Yoda maquette, so trying to get that became the first order of business each morning. Despite numerous attempts, including early entrance thanks to the Fan Club Breakfast and getting in line outside the convention center in the wee hours of the morning before our last day at the show, we were never able to get the piece. Once we got to Gentle Giant’s booth, there was less a line and more of a blob-like circle around the booth. Not knowing where to stand, me and my cousin never got that maquette (In contrast, we both did get the Boba Fett maquette from starwarsshop.com’s booth. They were smart enough to just hand out tickets at the start of the day, so that people could come back at their leisure to buy their item). Despite absolutely adoring the experience overall, and buying several more busts to jumpstart my collection, I can’t help but feel melancholy looking back at my experience at the Gentle Giant booth.
The next stop on the tour was Blister, and for fairly obvious reasons not many people were too excited. Making matters no better was the fact that at 1500 pieces, Commander Neyo was the most limited of the commanders. I had money left over in my budget from Celebration IV, so I put some of it towards the Premier Guild to have a shot at the rest of the commanders. Gree was already selling at over twice retail, so I knew that I would have to have some luck in these raffles if I wanted to be able to afford the rest of them. Well, when Gentle Giant sent out e-mails to the winners of the raffle, I was one of the lucky few selected. Ecstatic is, in all honesty, an understatement. Neyo was selling at that point for $350-400, and I would be able to buy him for $50. It was kind of a big deal. Many other collectors were feeling the same way I did, and many more were feeling a good deal of disappointment. That disappointment morphed into something else, however, as people on the forums began to talk. As people chimed in regarding their luck in the raffle, a pattern emerged: for some reason, the winners that Gentle Giant selected lived almost entirely on the east coast of the United States. Their algorithm was random in what group of people was selected, but the fact that it was geography based and not a random sampling of people from across the world left a lot of collectors pretty peeved. It wasn’t an issue that would happen again with the raffles, but it left many further disillusioned with the raffle process.
Commander Bly was the next bust to be released, this time at an event at Forbidden Planet in London. The event seemed like a good time; Gentle Giant brought in their scanning equipment and ran a contest, with the winner getting a mini-bust with their face on it. One thing that did annoy some collectors was that the president of Gentle Giant, Karl Meyer, was at the event and signing the busts. It’s the sort of thing that might have been innocuous if anyone else did it, but since Gentle Giant was already under scrutiny for their “rock star” mentality, it rubbed collectors the wrong way. I managed to find this video covering the event, figured I might share it.
As for me, Commander Bly wound up being the very last of the Clone Commanders I would acquire. I missed out on him at the raffle, and wasn’t able to find a deal on the forums. I wound up working out a deal with my dad, if I could pull off an A average for the year in science he’d get me Bly. Thanks to a last minute extra credit opportunity (thanks again, Mr. Jones) I managed to pull off that A, so in June of 2008 I finally got Commander Bly.
Commander Cody and Commander Bacara were both made available at American conventions. As Cody got the most screentime, it was pretty fitting that he both get the largest edition size (3500) and be at the largest convention. Bacara was available last, at Baltimore Comic Con. Honestly, as I understand it the releases for Cody went relatively smoothly. I don’t recall seeing much commotion on the forums regarding his release, (at least, no more than the usual grumbling about their exclusivity), but there was apparently some problems with Bacara. Apparently, he was sold in limited supply throughout the con, but at the end there were so many left that the limits were removed and scalpers were able to buy them by the case. I wasn’t able to get either of these through Gentle Giant’s raffles (though the R2-D2/Yoda maquette was eventually raffled, and I did finally get that). I was, however, able to get these at a reasonable price. You see, shortly after joining Rebelscum in 2007, I joined a fantasy football league comprised of members from the Gentle Giant section of the forums. We kept in pretty decent contact, and as it happened a few of the members were able to get extra busts. I was able to work out deals with other members of the league to buy these two at really close to retail, much below the asking price on eBay, say. I worked out a trade for Bacara with our league’s commissioner, giving a Lego Millennium Falcon and $50 for Bacara, the 2nd Jango Fett bust, and the AFX’s Coruscant Clone Trooper, and I made a deal with another member for I believe $65 for Commander Cody. I still view myself as very indebted to those members, without their kindness it would have likely been a few years before I was actually able to complete my set.
After 2007, the raffles, for the most part, went away. Gentle Giant realized that while it did reduce strain on the site, it annoyed customers enough to justify their doing away with. Instead, they focused on actually improving the site (the site still sucks, but, hey, they tried). They also never did anything quite like the world tour again. SDCC and Celebrations still get exclusives regularly, but beyond that they’ve been careful to limit themselves. Trust me when I say the company still has issues that cause collectors a great deal of grief, but the quality of their product still keeps collectors coming back.
– For all the issues the world tour had, it did get me invested in Gentle Giant. At this point, I have well over 50 mini-busts, so I guess they did something right.
– Wanna see my current display for the Commanders? Yes? No? Well, it’s coming.