Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

An Imperial Engineer goes shopping

I've got a new hobby these days — trafficking in body parts.

I bought Benny his first Star Wars spaceship and action figure last week. I've been waiting for this day: The future opportunities to buy a galaxy-full of Star Wars stuff was one of the reasons I'd hoped for a son. I have fond memories of imaginary adventures with Luke, Leia, Darth and the rest of the Star Wars gang, who lived in a shoe box under my bed when they weren't launching rebellions or adopting little plastic kittens (Darth Vader had a pink one, of course).

So off I went to Target, where I snatched up a TIE fighter (I'd always wanted a TIE fighter) and went hunting for a little Darth to drive it. Darth Vader is the only Star Wars character Benny knows. He must have picked it up at school, since he refuses to watch the movie. Actually he refuses to watch any movie — we had to practically force him to watch "Toy Story II" last weekend and he gets a hunted look whenever we bring it up now.

Who ever heard of a chid who hates movies and pizzas? And yet Benny dislikes both. And of course, whenever we're part of a casual child-centered gathering, the first thing the hosts do is pop in a video and order some pizza. And Benny ends up behind a chair somewhere, peeking out at the terrifying horror scenes in "Cinderella."

Anyway ... back to point. (And the body parts — I'm coming to that.) So I've got the TIE Fighter, but I can't find Darth Vader. I can't find anybody I recognize except for Obi Wan Kenobi and he has red hair now. Those wretched movies that Lucas produced after the first Star Wars trilogy had messed up all the toys, turning the most familiar characters and ships into weird mutants (Have you seen the new TIE fighter? It looks like an airport terminal.)

I couldn't find Darth Vader, so I settled for a suitably ominous henchman of his, called the Imperial Engineer. Oddly enough, he didn't carry a screwdriver or T-square, but a wicked little rifle. I considered hiding the rifle from Benny, not because I'm opposed to weaponry in children's toys per se, but because I know from experience that those badly molded plastic guns will never stay in the action figure's hands. But I quickly forgot about the gun, because I was too busy starting at the engineer's extra arm.

Yes, there was an extra arm in the package, prominently displayed. I was baffled. Was there a manufacturing problem involving the Engineer's right arm, requiring a spare? But no, it wasn't the Engineer's arm, it belonged to another character. Was it some sort of trophy? That seemed kind of psychopathic.

The answer, which I found on the back of the toy, was that the arm belonged to the Droid, and the idea was to buy all the other weird mutant Star Wars action figures, each with a different piece of the Droid and when you had all the body parts, you could put them together to create a Whole New Character!

Well, OK then. So I took the Engineer and TIE Fighter home to Benny and he loved them. He spent the rest of that Saturday implementing complicated schemes involving them. I thought the Engineer would be traveling the universe in his TIE Fighter, conquering planets and a stuffed animal or two. But Benny is a practical sort, and the Engineer instead spent his time chasing zebras on the African plains with his TIE fighter (which, to me, seems really unsporting). Then the Engineer drove his TIE Fighter to the grocery store and after that (swear to God) to Home Depot. Obviously things are a little slow around the Empire these days and therefore a perfect time to run some errands.

So what about the arm, you ask? I wasn't about to explain the whole marketing scheme to Benny and have him nag me for weeks about buying other guys so he could collect more robot pieces. Instead, I popped the arm into my jewelry box, which has several compartments obviously designed for such a purpose. Maybe next time I'll get a leg. Or a torso. Then Benny's Engineer will have a robot friend.

Maybe they could go to ACE Hardware together.

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