DIORAMA WORKSHOP: ECHO BASE BACTA TANK DIORAMA FEATURE

Big thanks to Diorama Workshop for featuring my Echo Base-Bacta Tank diorama! Diorama Workshop is an indispensable resource for Star Wars diorama builders. I’ve been using Frank’s FREE templates and print outs for years and it’s a thrill to be featured!

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Custom Clone Wars Turbo Tank


In the past few years I have been able to pick up, on separate occasions, two massive Clone Wars Turbo Tank vehicles. Both of them are incomplete and I only paid maybe $20 for each of them. I couldn’t resist the price and it is a truly impresive vehicle. But I had never come up with any plan for one of them, let alone two. Apart from using one as a background for taking some action figure photos I basically brought them home and parked them under a “garage” at the bottom of one of my Star Wars room displays. I was actually considering selling at least one of them when a completely different project suddenly occupied my brain.

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A few years ago I had painted a custom Mon Calamari officer using a Power of the Force 2 Admiral Ackbar. Now the Mon Cal was one of Admiral Raddus’ staff as seen in Rogue One. Recently I had an extra Ackbar figure on hand and thought I would paint a second officer for Admiral Raddus. But as I began setting my desk up for some painting I suddenly lost interest in the project. I dont love painting entire figures and I’m not that great at doing it. Wethering, yes. Full repaints, not so much. The thought of starting this new figure was just not interesting to me so I put the figure aside and looked at my “Star Wars room to do list” that I keep on hand. I had a note that just said, “more Endor soldiers.” Hmmmm….I started rummaging through my greeblies and accessories and found a spare cloth Endor soldier trenchcoat. I put it on the Ackbar figure, thought it looked pretty cool and came up with a big idea:

Finally do something with the Turbo Tank AND assemble a team for it.

So that’s what I did.

This turned out to be one of the biggest custom projects I had ever tried as the plan was to paint the tank, customize it’s overall look by removing the rear section from it, add a bunch of greeblies to it and as I said, create a crew for it. I was worried about how the painting would turn out but since I had two vehicles I could afford to ruin one of them.

After removing the tires (They’re designed to be removed and reinstalled, a fun little add on feature for when your Clonetroopers need to change a flat tire) I taped off the chassis and bare wheel axles with painter’s tape. I also covered some of the more interesting sections of plating so that they would contrast with the green paint I would use. I think I ended up using a hunter green mixed with a little black.

I used an orange/brown mix of paint for the bottom portion of the tank to give a similar appearance as seen in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story with the AT-ACT and cargo ship. Next I added various shades of weathering. In fact, except for some silver and red paint pens the entire project was done with regular dollar store acrylic paint.

I wanted the Turbo Tank to be more than just a new paint job so the next plan was to begin adding accessories and greeblies. A friend who used to collect GI Joe and Jurassic Park toys gave me a ton of parts he didn’t need and this is where I went to town, adding all sorts of accessories.

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I added sections of handrails that fit just perfect along the top of the vehicle.I drilled holes into the tank for the handrails to fit into. I added more railings and a few search lights in a few other spots too. It gave it a nice, junky look, much like the AT-TE that “old Captain Rex” and his fellow clones used in Star Wars Rebels.

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It’s all about the greeblies

Continuing on the outside of the vehicle I added extra laser cannons, a Kenner Millennium Falcon radar dish and two different action figure versions of the red tank that Baze Malbus has slung onto his back in Rogue One.

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The rear of the Turbo Tank has a removable module that can act as a sort of shelter. I removed this in order to add some extra firepower. I have had in my collection the quad guns and gunner’s chair from the Kenner Millennium Falcon and really wanted to use it so I glued it in place where the module would have been. I then added some paint and weathering to it. The new green colour of the tank had me thinking of “camoflague” so I added a few pieces of weathered “netting” to cover the gun turret. The material is actually anti-slip padding for carpets.

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Vintage Kenner Quad Cannon & Gunner’s Chair

Inside I added various data pads, laptops and even a clip board and coffee mug to help fill in the fairly empty interiors. These various accessories were usually grey and monotone so I added red, green and yellow paint for buttons and lights.

The last bit of customizing was to add a few Rebel Alliance stickers I bought on eBay.

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It was daunting to take on a job this big but I’m very happy with how things turned out, especially when I took it outside for some photos.

Next step: put together some teammates to go along with my new Endor Mon Cal figure.

Stay tuned!

Star Wars Rebel Base Expansion: 10 Years In 25 Seconds

The centrepiece of my Star Wars room is my rebel base.  It’s amazing to think that every time I think that it’s finished or that “I can’t find anymore room” I end up coming up with another way to add more X-wing fighters. The base started as a single tabletop display featuring the original Kenner Millennium Falcon and a two Target exclusive vehicles: a Y-wing fighter and an X-wing fighter. Little by little as my collection grew I would find ways to expand things just enough to fit whatever new vehicles I ended up with.

A SHORT HISTORY OF MY STAR WARS ROOM

“From small things mama, big things one day come…

-Bruce Springsteen

I’m an original trilogy era kid who saw Star Wars for the first time with my brother and aunt in the summer of 1977. I was nine and a half at the time and like so many other kids I was all in when in came to Star Wars and all the merchandise that went along with it. By the time Empire Strikes Back hit theatres in 1980 i was almost 13 years old and although I loved the movie, I wasn’t playing with toys any more and had moved on to punk rock, Maple Leafs hockey and girls. It wasn’t until the Power of the Force launch in 1995 that Star Wars toys became a part of my life again.

We had a office-style room where my Star Wars collection was first displayed. This then became a nursery in 1998 for our second child. My collection was small but still on display in my son’s nursery:

In 2001 I moved my small collection into a spare room and the rest is history.  You can see how the room started out as a tv room where I was given explicit instructions by my wife and my mother in law that certain items had to remain.  Things like lamps, photo albums, a couch. I dutifully nodded my head in agreement and then slowly (over a few years) I removed all of these so-called “must have.” The last thing to go was a leather recliner that wouldn’t even recline because it had to be pushed against a wall. The only non-displaying furniture in the room now is a small desk I use to podcast, run this site and work on projects.

These photos are from around 2010 to maybe 2012 and are a good example of how my collecting slowly began to grow.  I wish I had photos of when I first set the room up in 2001 but I didn’t start documenting it until social media began to take off. To see my Star Wars room how it looks today, click here.  

Snapshot: The Star Wars Room Spring 2022

I’ve been taking photos of the changes I make to the Star Wars room since roughly 2012, even though the room has been full of Star Wars stuff since 2001. (I wonder what it looked like then?). It’s fun to go back and see the progress over the years. This is what the collection currently looks like and to paraphrase a certain little, green Jedi Master: “always in motion is the Star Wars room.”

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LED Lights/Eyes Mod – Power of the Force Jawa Action Figure

The Power of the Force Jawa action figure from the 1995 Star Wars line has a cool feature where there is a “window” on top of the figures head. When light is shone into the window the Jawa’s eyes light up just like their onscreen versions. In this video we show you how to add LED lights to the figure so that they can light up instantly

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Changing As A Collector

I feel like I should insert a Simpson’s Troy McClure joke here: “Hi, I’m Mike MacDonald (Mike Tarkin, Mac….). You may know me from such podcasts as The Sandcrawler.” Why is that important for you to know? Well, from 2016 to around September 2021 the Sandcrawler podcast and website was a very big part of who I was as a Star Wars collector. It was where I talked with my friend, Dengar Dan, about recent purchases and to bounce ideas off of each other and generally screw around while recording. I would like to thank everyone (on behalf of myself and Dan) that supported The Sandcrawler, either by listening to the podcast or helping to contribute to the website. We never expected much from our show when we started yet we ended up with a pretty good-sized audience and made friends with more than a few of you and for that we will always be grateful.

Throughout the first half of 2021 we both began to feel that something was wrong either in the Star Wars collecting world in general or within ourselves as collectors. We also both had to deal with how busy we became after the first Covid pandemic and worldwide lockdown in 2021. The decision to end The Sandcrawler was pretty much based on the fact that we were both becoming busier in our real lives and that lack of product, distribution issues and higher prices were causing us to feel “less than enthused” about Star Wars collecting. We closed things down and I’ve spent the past six months or so trying to come to terms with my Star Wars fandom and my Star Wars collecting.

We all know about the crazy wait times and higher costs for Star Wars figures these days. Reporting on Hasbro announcements and their multi-months release schedule became depressing for me. Also, I’m Canadian and prices have become nearly impossible to rationalize. A single carded Star Wars The Vintage Collection figure currently costs anywhere from $19.99 to #21.99 (pre-tax). Vehicles and play sets are equally expensive (Tantive IV Corridor=$69.99, General Merrick’s X-wing-$185). I understand that prices for virtually EVERYTHING have been rising over the past two years but buying an action figure has always taken second place to real life expenses and I found myself simply not buying as many figures as I used to. When you’re doing a podcast and can’t comment on a particular Star Wars figure because it was too expensive to buy or too far down the road for it’s release date, the podcast suddenly becomes a, excuse the phrase, bitch-fest. Star Wars collecting has always been fun and through most of 2021 it stopped being fun.

After we ended the podcast the first thing I did was to go through my checklist of multiple pre-orders and began cancelling. I also made a few general collecting decisions. I was determined to get back that feeling of joy I had when buying action figures. The first pre-order I cancelled was for the reissued Rogue One figures from The Black Series. Rogue One is probably my favourite Star Wars movie and I planned on getting the entire crew in one big order. Instead I decided that Black Series had never been a priority for me (I have some, less than 15) and I would whenever possible focus on my scale of choice: 3.75 inch. I then cancelled the “Bad Batch” themed 4-pack of clone troopers since none of the figures were actual members of the Bad Batch team. The 4-pack was basically repaints of existing clone figures and I have a ton of clone troopers already. There were other figures that I would normally have bought multiples of for army building like the Offworld Jawa, Hoth Rebel Soldier and Remnant Stormtrooper but because of the cost I either settled for a few extras or in some cases passed on the figure altogether.

I also decided that whenever possible I would stop collecting carded figures and only buy figures that I could find use for in my collection. I was already primarily an opener and I felt that the expense of keeping a carded figure seemed a luxury and wasteful. At the time I had roughly 100 carded figures so I began opening and/or selling off ones that I felt were no longer worthy of staying on the card. Since The Vintage Collection first hit in 2010 I had wanted to have modern carded versions of the first 21 figures released during the original Kenner run of figures. After twelve years there were still holes in that collection of Original 21 and as I’ve said because of the cost I couldn’t justify continuing to buy carded figures. This was a tough decision as Hasbro released an updated Tusken Raider and two droids; Power Droid and Death Star Droid. All Original 21 figures and all candidates for multiple purchases since I could easily army build the Tusken Raider and as a big fan of droids I would have at least bought one carded and one opener of both. Instead I cancelled my Tusken Raider pre order and opened both droids. I’m glad I did as I really love that new take on the Power Droid. Another focus I had was to have at least one carded version of each line or sub-line. That focus went out the window after buying a few of the Gaming Greats line. I decided they weren’t worth keeping carded and stored in a closet so i donated them to my company’s Christmas toy drive. I’ve probably reduced my carded collection to about 60 now and will reduce it further. It’s not easy to always stick to this new approach and I’ve already broken my new rule when I picked up the Droids TV show versions of R2D2 and C3P0. What can I say? I collect with my heart first. I never owned figures from this line back in the 80’s and I really love how colourful and bright the artwork is. They look great in my Kenner display.

It’s disappointing to have to make these decisions but in the long run it helped me to realize that I’ve never been a completist collector and that it would be more than ok to have holes in the collection.

With no podcast and website to maintain I thought what I needed to do was to basically scale back (BIG TIME), my Star Wars fandom. And it was a good thing for a little while as I had more time for just chilling in the Star Wars room with no agenda or schedule. I did a few projects like expanding my rebel base display (pics of my room are available here and I plan on adding more) and creating a custom Kenner Star Wars wall display. At the same time I was posting photos on social media as usual. What also began to happen is I would hear from people that they missed The Sandcrawler and a lot of the content from the accompanying website so I decided to basically make a scaled down version of that. Sort of a “same great taste, half the calories” sort of thing.

I’ve returned to posting Hasbro/Star Wars news and even live tweeted their May the Fourth event. Hasbro’s new PR team, Rogers & Cowan PMK was kind enough to add my new site to their list of Star Wars sites so folks can expect to find glam shots and product information in the News section.

I’ll also continue the tradition we started at TheSandcrawler.net of full-sized photo-based reviews of Star Wars figure collectibles (an epic saga should be viewed WIDESCREEN whenever possible, not in a little Instagram square) and will slowly add posts about the goings on in my Star Wars room.

So thanks for visiting my corner of the galaxy, I’m excited to see what the future brings!

Mike Tarkin

May 4, 2022

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Hoth Echo Base Diorama

February 2021

Way back in August 2019 I had decided it was time to add an Echo Base diorama to my Star Wars room. I tried adding a separate section to my larger rebel base display but it bugged me that it was obviously set in a different climate.  Those white, snowy walls just didn’t look right with the Yavin-like atmosphere of the rest of the display.  I decided months later to move it to it’s own location in my Star Wars room and then I just procrastinated for over a year.  This was going to be something different for me since I wanted to have ice walls separating different rooms from each other. I wanted a hallway for a Wampa attack;  a bacta tank room, a control room, a spot for a couple of tauntauns and of course the main hanger for my fleet (um…two) of snowspeeders.  

It was basically out of my skill set as a diorama builder.  

In February 2021 I took advantage of some down time at work and finally took the plunge. Armed with a pile of styrofoam packing I set to it.  I built a three wall display with a floor out of chipboard and painted it all white. Since the chipboard (very cheap plywood) has a very rough texture  it ended up having the appearance of packed snow that had been walked on.  

First thing I had to do was determine how much space I could afford to give the Kenner and Power of the Force snowspeeders.  Right off the bat I knew this wasn’t going to be easy because those two vehicles take up alot of real estate.  I had been hoarding white styrofoam packaging for about a year and discovered that one piece already had the look of the “garages” that can be seen when Han’s tauntaun comes riding into the base.  I would have loved to have made actual garages for each of the snowspeeders but like I said, there just wasn’t enough room.  

I then added a styrofoam wall to the back of the diorama.  Using a foam cutter/hot knife I cut off about an inch of the front of the styrofoam.  I had to come at it from a few different angles to get it to separate from the larger piece so the result was an “ice wall” with lots of nooks and crannies. In some areas it even looks like the walls in Echo Base that have been excavated with laser tools.  A happy accident! 

 I installed battery operated LED string lights along the outline of the “garage” entrances.  The light “fixtures” are metal screw anchors and the runway lights are accurate to what is seen in Echo Base. A friend 3D printed them for me.  The photo is the original way I set them up, in the final product they weren’t as uniform.

The next step was to start on the bacta room and the command centre of the base.  I used a kitchen cabinet shelf organizer as a way of framing the rooms.  It’s stainless steel in colour and has a mesh top to it.  The grey metal  colour meant I wouldn’t have to cover it up much and the mesh top would be helpful in letting light go through to the bottom (turns out I couldn’t use this feature, but the riser stayed). I cut a piece of insulated foamboard for a wall between the hanger and the base rooms. I roughed in a hallway for a Wampa attack, the Bacta room and a command centre.  I also had a handful of grey pallets that I had 3D printed.  

Using the excellent resources found at DioramaWorkshop.com I printed out doors and flooring for the Bacta Room using an online photo printing service.  Because space was limited I couldn’t take advantage of the entire set of printables that can be found at DioramaWorkshop.com but if you want a very accurate Medical Center then head over to their site and print away!  

I needed my room to be just big enough that I could include a window for Luke’s friends to stand in front of and also have a narrow hallway for the Wampa attack.  I would be using the Bacta Tank play set from the Power of the Jedi line and the medical droids, FX-7 and 2-1B.  Apart from that I would add my own greeblies.  I figured the bacta tank on it’s own tells the viewer what the room is supposed to be so I wasn’t concerned with 100% accuracy.   An added feature was to have the entire room removable from the “base.” I did this in case I ever wanted to redo it or modify it.  

I kept things simple in the hallway that the Wampa attack takes place in.  I added a few lights and a print out of a door.  There are a couple of painted wood dowls attached to the right side wall as conduits.  The big guy is the focus here so I wasn’t going to spend a lot of time complicating it.  

I should mention that any lighting you see in this diorama are dollar store, battery-operated LED strings.  They’re inexpensive, shine brightly and are easy to use.  

The command centre sits underneath the bacta room and again, with space an issue I had to be content with one glass display screen in the front/middle.  The walls were covered with various computer terminals (thanks again to DioramaWorkshop), a 3D printed door and assorted greeblies.  I also ran lights along the ceiling to give it some atmosphere.  

The only part of my Echo Base diorama that has a ceiling is the Command Center.  I have a remote controlled, powered strip of LED lights that shine down from a shelf above the base that adds great lighting to the whole thing.  I’m able to adjust the colours as well so leaving the “roof off” lets me change the lighting by remote control.  

That’s pretty much where I’m at with this project. I’m very happy with how it turned out but there are still a few things I want to do down the road:

• Add a printed background behind the snowspeeders, maybe of the Millenium Falcon docked inside Echo Base.  

•Fix the back wall so that it’s more uniform (not a deal breaker as it’s barely noticable from a distance – kind of like being offstage).

•Extend the front of the diorama out maybe 6-8 inches so that I can make an ice cave sort of entrance, possibly even adding shield doors and a gun turret or two.  

Here’s a look at the final results, click a photo to begin a widescreen slideshow.

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