March 20, 2007
Story by Chris Rhoads (dustrho)

 
INTRODUCTION
When Hasbro designs the images to be used on their card backs that will eventually entomb action figures, have you ever wondered how they come up with those images? Do they use models for some and their imagination for others? In the case of the upcoming Sandtrooper figure (set to be released in the Saga Legends collection), a very lucky Mike Harrison from the 501st Legion was called upon to provide them the image of an accurate looking sandtrooper from A New Hope. The funny thing, though, is that Hasbro never contacted him about it, but instead people noticed that Hasbro used one of his photos from his personal web site.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike regarding this, and also asked him several questions about him in the Star Wars galaxy.

QUESTIONS
How long have you been a Star Wars fan?

Since I could remember, probably around age four or since 1978. My father worked as a truck driver for a toy warehouse and was able to get all the really popular toys before they went to the stores. Not to mention he could get them at cost, and even though he didn't make a lot of money, I had most of the Star Wars toys growing up. I also recall my first experience drawing, because I would try to draw the action figures and vehicles. Star Wars was really my first memory and it was the catalyst for all my creative endeavors. It still is today.

What is your favorite Star Wars movie and why?

I ask myself this question all the time, and it often changes. I think emotionally and visually, I really love Episode III, then ESB. But, overall, I'd have to go with ANH. It's the 1970s vibe that resonates with my childhood. The Sandtrooper sequences, especially the road block scene are really powerful for me. While I don't specifically recall those scenes when I was a kid, it clearly made an impression on me that has shaped my current connection with the film. But for the most part, every scene in ANH is very emotionally charged and classic to me.

What memory relating to Star Wars sticks out most in your mind from your childhood?

I guess it would be the Stormtroopers. As I've said on my web site, when I was five years old in kindergarten, the teacher wanted us to draw a picture of who/what we wanted to be when we grew up. I of course, drew a Stormtrooper. The teacher then picked me and a few other students to get up to a podium in front of all the students in the school and tell them our future career. Of course, they all laughed at me, but even at that impressionable age, I did not care. Sure enough, 25 years later, I became a real Stormtrooper.

Do you collect Star Wars toys, memorabilia and other related collectibles? What is your most prized possession in your collection?

I have a box full of figures that I bought during Episode III frenzy in 2005, and a few other collectable figures, busts, etc. but now I only collect high-quality replica props, most of which I have to finish, paint, etc. to be up to spec. I suppose my most prized prop is my original TE Sandtrooper helmet. I just love the look of it, and even though I could get another, I still prize it above all the other helmets in my collection, which totals seven.

When did you join the 501st Legion, and why did you decide to join?

I actually had the itch to get Stormtrooper armor long before I knew who or what the 501st was. My original plan was to get a set of armor and video tape myself doing silly things in public, then sell a DVD of my antics to help recoup costs. But, during my research phase, I learned more about the 501st and decided that I should join up, and take the hobby a little more seriously. After my first few trooping events, I was hooked. It's one of the best things that's ever happened to me, and everyone in my garrison has become family.

Most Star Wars costumers know that you own probably the best set of sandtrooper armor on the planet (or maybe you just look the best in it!), but do you own any other Star Wars costumes? If not, have you ever thought about acquiring another Star Wars based costume? If so, which one would it be and why?

Thank you! While I certainly prize my Sandtrooper gear, especially since I spent most of 2006 just working on the back pack, I think it can be better. I also personally think I'm too tall to pull off the definitive Sandtrooper "look". Most of those guys were about 5'10", and I'm a little over 6' tall. Anyway, to further answer your question, I have a clean white Stromtrooper that I'm working on the small details for an ESB look. I'd also, hopefully, like to do an Episode III Clone in the future. I'd really like to do General Veers one day.

Are you working on any new projects, and if so what are they?

Episode III Clone armor, from scratch neck to toe. I'm trying not to let anything else get in the way.

What event did you have the most fun at and why?

There were so many, some not official 501st events. One that stands out was when we stormed the Rennesaince Festival in armor. It was the last day, or what they called "The Day of Wrong", and essentially anything goes; hence us in Imperial armor! My first Sci-Fi con, Shoreleave in 2004 was also amazing. I still go every year, but that first year was a blast because I was still very "green" to the whole sci-fi convention thing, and being able to hang out, party and have fun in armor was exciting. I also set my personal record for being in armor that year, which was roughly 12 hours.

What event touched you the most and why?

While I've done a ton of events with lots of young kids, it's difficult to pick one that touched me the most. I think at each event where youngsters are around, there's always a couple of kids who really know Star Wars and their attention to detail and the movies always gives me goose bumps; I see myself in them, back when I was their age. I haven't done a hospital visit yet, so I haven't been brought to tears like you hear often happens.

Besides collecting Star Wars items and costuming, are there other talents you possess?

I'm a musician of over fifteen years. Play guitar, bass, vocals. Proficient at home recording, drum machine programming, music production, touring, everything. I'm a trained graphic/commercial artist but don't do that as a career, instead I work as a certified Apple Technician and Service Coordinator, which in my opinion takes a certain degree of talent.

Now the question I'm sure most of us want answered is this, what was your reaction in learning that Hasbro used a photo of you for their upcoming Sandtrooper figure? How did you learn about it? Did Hasbro contact you for permission to use your photo?

As a professional interweb surfer, I hit up web sites like Rebelscum a few times a day just to see what's new. I don't have any intentions of buying new Star Wars toys or collectables, but I enjoy seeing what companies come up with. That's when I saw the news blurb that linked to images of all the card backs for the new wave of figures, and the one with my photo jumped out. When I clicked on it, to see the larger image, I about had a heart attack. It was like a dream. I was speechless, shaking, it felt like I won the lottery. Once the news got out and I heard that it was the real-deal, I could only describe my feeling as humbled and honored. The reality is that the graphic artist who used my picture did so because he thought all the images that LFL supplied them were unusable. While I was never asked for permission (and that subject opens up all kinds of legal issues), I'm really not going to pursue it. The idea that I'm being immortalized as an action figure... the same kind of Star Wars action figures that fill my earliest childhood memories, is really life affirming. It's as-if my life-long devotion, hard work and commitment to this hobby and to Star Wars has really paid off. Now I get to look forward to signing action figures in 2007!


CLICK IMAGE ABOVE FOR
THE COMPARISON SHOT

CONCLUSION
If anyone deserves to be immortalized on a Hasbro Star Wars card back, it's Mike Harrison. I haven't had the opportunity of seeing it in person, but if you check out his photo galleries on his personal personal website. you'll see just how good his armor really looks. I'd like to thank Mike for allowing me to do this interview with him, and congratulations about Hasbro using your photo. Talk about a great honor that must be for you.