They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. They also say that flattery will get you nowhere. So, then, does that mean that imitation gets you nowhere? Well, this is a very good, and very important question. What does it have to do with a model kit, you ask? Plenty, as you shall see, Padawan…
When Star Wars first hit the silver screen in 1977, it set off a chain reaction that is still going today, and in many ways, is stronger now than ever. However, at the time, I doubt anyone could have foreseen that the franchise would survive for 40 years. At that time, there was nothing in the visual entertainment world that had lasted that long; heck, TV wasn’t even really that old (on a popular level) at that point! To think that an empire of movies (yes, pun intended!), comics, books, TV shows and every other conceivable type of merchandise would not only come to be, but persist strongly into the future was beyond anyone’s imagination.
However, the film was wildly popular, and there was no lack of short-sighted greed on the part of companies looking to cash in on the Star Wars craze. Of course, there were a good many companies that did things the right way, and paid their licensing fees before turning out action figures, lunch boxes, birthday party favours and whatever else they could think of. While a lot of the merchandise might be cheapish, and look odd or kitschy now, it is at least legitimate (for better or worse). Not everyone, though, was so eager to follow this path. Just like with anything else, there were multitudinous examples of “homage merchandise”; those products that did everything from hint at their association with Star Wars to outright ripping it off.
One thing that was cool, and surprising, was that models were included in the licensed products produced for Star Wars. That shows how important modelling was to kids (and young adults) back in the day. Just the way animes are often supported by model kits in Japan today, there were many examples of the iconic ships and fighters from Star Wars ending up in Styrene form. While rather crude and severely limited compared to today’s offerings, the original Star Wars kits were pretty cool for their day.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it wasn’t just five-and-dime toys that ripped off Lucas’ masterpiece. There were a lot of different bootlegs, and one of the strangest series comes from Japan. I don’t know what the licensing rules were back then. Clearly, they’ve been fixed now, as Bandai can tell you. It seems that it wasn’t always possible to get a Star Wars licence to make kits of the main ships. However, little things like copyright laws and intellectual property rights didn’t stop the Crown plastic model company from coming up with some oh-so-Lucas-esque models.
One of the more interesting, and bizarre, of these is the (wait for it)… X Fighter. Yeah. It even hurts to type it out, believe me. You read it right, the “X Fighter”. When I first saw this thing at a nostalgia show I couldn’t believe my eyes. However, I was seeing it right, and I knew then and there I had to have it.
So, what is the X Fighter? Well, let’s take a look! Set your time machines back to the late ‘70s/early ‘80s and get as much disbelief as you can afford to suspend; let’s do it!
First thing’s first. I have to say that the box art is very, very nice. It has a simplified “TTA” vibe to it (sci-fi nerds will know that that means Terran Trade Authority) with stark colours but surprising softness. The colours are bold and the technical detail, where used, is impressive in its’ geometric complexity. The art is clean, eye-catching and BIG! It fills the whole box top, with a surprisingly small amount of Japanese text coming in low on the right side, in a nice, stark black banner. If you don’t know the subject, then it passes for a very competent period piece, looking a lot like many sci-fi novel covers of its day.
It doesn’t take long, though, to realize that there’s more going on here. The first, and debatably most obvious, indication of something being amiss is the very large “Star Warrior” title in the upper left third of the box. Amazingly, the folks at Crown didn’t steal the Star Wars font; I am actually surprised by this. They did, however, allude powerfully to the tapering, scrolling letters so strongly associated with the title and text at the start of the film. To drive things home, right underneath the title is a very simple description of the kit: “X Space Fighter”.
What? What does that mean? Does it fight Xs from outer space? Does it fight for space for Xs? Is it a prototype? Is it a fighter from “X Space” (like, another dimension)? Of course, it’s instantly obvious what they mean, and none of these interesting possibilities are true. It’s a space fighter with wings shaped like an X. “Oh…” you say, and that’s more than enough.
The rest of the illustration rains down the body blows of copyright infringement like a malevolent prize fighter. The X Fighter itself is front and centre. Just look at it. I mean… really?
- Four round engine pods? Check.
- Four wings in an X formation, under the pods? Check.
- Single, heavily framed, aerodynamic cockpit? Check.
- Beam cannon on every wing? Check.
- Red markings of unclear origin? Check.
- Exposed technical detail? Check.
- Luke Skywalker? Nope. Surprising, actually!
If that’s not enough, check out that strange round object just above the Japanese writing. Its’ some kind of weird, mechanical looking moon. Its surface is covered in what appear to be either plates, or Mayan hieroglyphs (which would be waaay cooler). What’s with that odd recessed window/dish in the middle? It must be a “Deth Starr”! That’s right, by putting the main reflector for the cannon on the equator, this thing clearly separates itself from that other, American Death Star completely. Right? Well, if that’s the case, then, what the what is that thing at the top right that’s shooting at the X Fighter? It looks like a mini version of the moon, but with mechanical holly leaves sticking out its ears.
In an amazing coincidence, Crown’s unwillingness to draw a Tie Fighter stand-in as little more than a “Deth Starr” with leaves actually lends a very (very) slight air of possible potential chances for a shred of legitimacy to the art. Maybe this is something other than Star Wars? Hmm. I’m sure that big planet/moon thing in the background is not supposed to evoke a feeling of Yavin, either.
This fighter, though… That poor bird is doing everything it can to look like an X-wing, and even then it falls flat. Sure, it’s clear that there are some design similarities, but look at those copyright-cheating differences! I mean, the X-Wing doesn’t have rocket nozzles like that! Also, the body is round in cross section, not hexagonal as is the case on an X-Wing. Those wingtip guns, too; they have no semi-circular reflectors on the tips, so they’re obviously totally different. Even the nose is totally different, since this beast has a twin aerial/gun/campfire fork bolted to the top of the radome housing.
On the one side of the box, there’s really nothing at all but a smaller version of the box art and some Japanese I can’t read. It’s the other side of the box, though, that’s totally wild! As might be expected, it’s a cross-sell for other Crown Star Warrior models. Just look at what you can get! First of all, you can get another version of the X Fighter. This one seems to be chased by a slightly more libelous Untie Fighter. Next to that, we see… What the?
You are seeing it correctly; it is a three-legged, trashcan-shaped, dome-topped robot. What makes him cool is that he has a mail slot in him (maybe he’s a piggy bank?) and he has a SUPER SPACE GLOWING HEAD!! How do I know it’s super? How can I NOT? While R2-D2 might have a chromy noggin, this guy’s head looks like a stellar nursery with hundreds of suns being formed from coalescing nebulae! I looked it up, and apparently the name of this kit is “Space Robot Altoo”. Wow… Just like that. No shame, eh? Altoo? Good on ya…
On the other side of the Star Warrior logo is a pair of kits that represent the same ship, but that comes boxed two ways. This ship appears to be a saucer-shaped craft with some kind of short mandible out the front. The turret on the roof and the docking ports on the sides are there to help make it more obvious. In case you still don’t see it (and it’s more apparent from the kit, since the box art isn’t that accurate), the name of this kit is “Star Falcon”. Probably did the Kesser Run in 12 Palsecs…
This is the X Fighter’s box. It is a gleeful bandwagon-jumper dripping in nicely rendered, but hideously and illegally appropriated, visuals. With all this on the outside, just what could possibly await inside?
Opening the box reveals two large bags containing two sprues of silver plastic parts, one of metallic blue plastic and a separate clear rack for the canopy. There is also a small bag containing springs, wires and tires, and a fourth with gears, axles and contacts. There’s also an instruction book, and the decals are inside one of the bags, meaning they’ve kept nice and fresh!
The first thing that struck me when I popped the kit was that, by and large, it looked very little like the drawing on the box. The nose section was very wide and flat, not at all conical as it was depicted. There was also an unmistakable feeling of cheapness. This is not because there was a lot of flash or anything; the kit is actually quite well moulded. No, it was the massive number of very prominent ejector pin marks and the overall look of the plastic. The problem with metallic plastic is the swirling in it. This model is no better (or worse, let’s be fair) than the Monogram metallic bodied cars of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. These always had strong swirls too. The swirls just make the whole thing look bad, giving it a Dollar Store knockoff vibe.
The level of technical detail on the kit also left something to be desired. The exposed techno-panels of the box top are nowhere to be seen, and there are only a few crude examples of “tech-ish” detail to be seen on the fuselage. The wings are flat plates, and the lasers for the wingtips are much larger and heavier looking than on the box. Even more disappointing are the two long pylons on the top of the nose. These are far from the slender, stinger-like cannons of the box top. In fact, they make the nose of the fighter look more like an alligator (or Shackleton MR.2) than anything.
Still, while the pieces are simple, there’s always possibility in a kit. Maybe it can still be made into something interesting-looking, even if it’s not quite like the box?
Instructions and Decals:
Or… maybe not. The instructions are very nice, make no mistake. They are only folded in half, and are, in fact, clearly drawn and clear to understand. It would be nice to speak Japanese, so I could translate what’s written on them, but I doubt it’s important. Besides, there is a smattering of English on there, so it’s not all lost in translation. Of course, the wording is about the only thing not lost in translation. As for the physical form of the kit, you can get a much better feel for it here.
The good thing, for Crown’s lawyers, is also a bit of a downer for we modellers. As you can see by looking at the X Fighter’s build-up, it really doesn’t look all that much like an X-Wing, and sadly, even less like what was on the box lid. Sure, the art makes this ship out as a shameless rip off of Red 5 and his wingmen, but at least it looked cool. Looking at how the X Fighter builds up really shows off how disappointing the final product will be.
Construction starts with… the motor. Sigh. So many Japanese car kits sacrifice realism, full chassis and suspension systems and even interior accuracy for the gimmick of motorizing the final, built up kit. This is, of course, sacrilege and a total waste of potential. I was more than a bit disappointed to find that Crown has saddled the potentially sexy X Fighter with the same reality-and-detail-destroying gimmick. As you can see, the motor is in a large, awkward panier below the (amazingly non-circular) fuselage. You can also see that this panier is indeed the entire lower half of the fuselage! So, you can’t just leave this unseemly add-on to moulder in the spares box.
There’s a lot of work in the motorization of the kit; more almost than the rest of it! What is neat is that the instructions are clear enough and well-drawn enough you can easily get a feel for the good/bad/ugly that is this model. It’s cool that there are two plungers to open the wings, and it’s all connected together. What’s really weird is how the front landing gear just sticks out on a long, skinny bar. This is so you can put the cockpit into the body separately. This whole front section, as you can see in the instructions, is detachable. Much like the nose on Hikaru’s/Rick’s VF-1D in Macross, the whole nose is like an escape pod. However, it’s actually more reminiscent of the old Mattel (I think) Battlestar Galactica Viper toys from the ‘70s. Spring-ejecting cockpits seem to have been a big deal. There are even more springs in the two nose-mounted launchers. These replace the very slender beam projectors from the box, one more disappointing way in which the box’s libelous, buy pretty, design is compromised in the final analysis. Instead of insect-like antennae as depicted, the finished X Fighter has two huge, almost blunderbuss-like firing launchers on its nose! Gack.
The instructions themselves are quite good, and I don’t think there’s much that would improve them. While they are hand drawn, they’re well rendered, and there’s not much that isn’t clear. Some of the wiring and motorizing might be a bit foreign, but I’m sure anyone could do it based on the directions.
As for the decals, they are singularly unspectacular. There’s some red, some yellow and some more red, as well as numbers and big letters proclaiming this as an X Fighter. This last decal seems unnecessary, but it never hurts to advertise, right? The decals are real, though, not actually stickers, like one finds on Bandai Gundam and Star Wars kits. So, score one for the Alliance of Rebellion and the X Fighter pilots out there!
The bigger you get, the more people there are who are going to want a piece of you. This is particularly true in the entertainment industry, whether you’re talking about individual stars or the franchises they appear in. Given that there aren’t too many franchises bigger than Star Wars, it’s really not a surprise to find that there are huge numbers of knockoffs for everything from figures to kits and all other kinds of “(un)licenced” goods.
Still, it is surprising when you find such a practice being undertaken by what is, at least nominally, an above-board company, like Crown Models. This isn’t some fly-by-night company, we’re talking about here, and that’s what made this find and the knowledge of the other kits in their “Star Warrior” series so interesting! There’s no question that this is an unlicensed product, but the effort that went into it, especially when compared to the actual outcome of said effort, is entertaining in itself!
From a modelling standpoint, this kit is very basic, fairly crude and really not quite worth the time it would take to build it. With what I’m sure will be a very poor fit, crude moulding and an over-abundance of unrealistic gimmicks, the X Fighter has all the bad parts of a toy combined with the worst parts of a poor kit. It has unconvincingly coloured plastic, too, so even a non-paint gluebomb would look rather ridiculous. Its’ one of those unfortunate kits that is let down by its designers. Like the Palmer ’70 Vette, the X Fighter is really more valuable as an unassembled curiosity, and a warning to others that just because something looks cool on the box doesn’t mean that it is actually cool IN the box.
The disconnect between box art and actual kit is very staggering in the case of the X Fighter. It reminds me a lot of old Atari 2600 games that used to disappoint. I remember the cover of Asteroids had a really cool-looking, Buck Rogers Thunder Starfighter-esqe design on it. It sucked when the game came up and you were in control of… a triangle; and a crappy one at that. The X Fighter definitely wins the “Crappy Asteroids Triangle Experience Award”, and that’s not one for the display case, believe me.
While the kit might be okay for a young builder, one who won’t care about authenticity, glue marks, bad fit, lack of detail and the unnecessary sacrifices made for pointless gimmickry, I still can’t recommend it. I get the feeling it’ll be tough to work with, and I think there’s more frustration waiting in this kit than it’s worth. I’d be afraid to turn a prospective modelling fan off of the hobby by letting them at this kit.
If you want a good model of the X-Wing, then there are lots, especially now. Go get one of those. If you want a very interesting piece of Star Wars “notstalgia”, then you should pick up the X Fighter. However, just remember, the Force had better be with you if you decide to tackle building this pig.