Bandai’s 1/48 Star Wars AT-ST: Inside The Big Giant Head

The release of Star Wars in 1977 had completely renovated the landscape of my imagination. Before seeing that iconic movie, my concept of science fiction movies had no problem with plastic looking spacecraft wobbling across the screen on wire, skewing along through space at odd angles. After Star Wars, nothing short of Lucas-like visuals would do. 

Trouble was, in the late 1970s, there was nothing else to match, really. Others tried to jump on the bandwagon, but the rest of the industry simply had not caught up with the new paradigm George Lucas and ILM introduced. So the only real choice was go back and watch Star Wars again… and again… and again… or wait for a new movie.

Being a fairly sheltered kid, I was not aware of the sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, until just a few months prior to that movie’s release. It came out in the later part of May, 1980. I was just finishing up 7th grade. My parents, being ever helpful, insisted that movies were for the summer – no the school year. I’d simply have to wait a few weeks.

Slow As Molasses

Of course, the waiting only made the time drag on even more. My friends were all going to see the movie, and thus I virtually became a ghost, trying to hide from the talk of the movie. I didn’t want to know… I wanted to be surprised by the movie. But the huge plot twist… you know the one…. was just too big to hide. Finding out Luke’s lineage only made me that much more eager to go see it.

The days dragged on and on. It was worse than the wait between Thanksgiving and Christmas, really. While Christmas presents waited to be opened for everyone, in this case, I was the only one NOT getting in on the fun.

Finally school let out, and I was so excited about finally going to go see ESB.

And then it happened. “You’re going to Grandma’s house.”

Making Do

Now – I loved my grandmother. I still do, though she’s been gone more than a few years. Each summer, I’d spend a week or two with her and my grandfather. They lived in a small, rural community. Days were spent playing in the woods, swimming in creeks, visiting with cousins, and of course eating huge mounds of Grandma’s cooking. Biscuits, roast, fried chicken, fresh vegetables, and more cakes and pies than you’d need to feed ten people. 

So it wasn’t a trip I dreaded.

But now? Right now?

I went, for two weeks. Grandma even took me to the store – Woolworths I believe it was – and let me pick out several of the ESB figures. Day after day, I’d play with them, having no idea of the full underlying story, and why everyone was dressed for cold weather. And who was this Boba Fett character?

I actually constructed my own little storyline, trying to imagine how it all went. It was based it on what friends had told me, and what I saw in the commercials.  (Sadly, I totally missed the boat on all plot lines, except that one big one…)

Though I enjoyed my stay at Grandma’s house, the time finally drew to a close. My dad came and picked me up. I proudly told him that I now had enough cash to pay for a movie, courtesy of Grandaddy’s generosity.. and I wanted to go see this wonderful movie. Dad nodded. “We’ll see about getting you there this weekend.” 

More waiting. But I could already smell the popcorn.

Little Stompy

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A few things puzzled me about the movie, having not seen it. A key area was why so much seemed to be focused on ice and snow. I saw a few magazine images of large, walking… things… stomping about in the snow. My hope was that these were the good guys, as they obviously seemed so large that nothing could stop them.

I also saw a photo that made me laugh. It was just an image in a teen magazine, but it showed a spindly legged bipedal walker, and it seemed to have the most enormously oversized “head”. It looked comical to me, and of course whose side it was on, and what its purpose was, remained a mystery until I was finally able plant my rear in a theater seat, feet firmly stuck to the floor, and see it all for myself.

Of course, the little chicken-legged walker was the AT-ST, or All Terrain Scout Transport. It was basically the light scout unit for the big giant AT-AT walkers. 

Building The Interior

Bandai has beautifully captured this odd little vehicle from the Star Wars universe. As with the other kits from their Star Wars line, the detail is gorgeously cast, and shows great attention to the details which keep it faithful to the “real thing”.

The kits interior is richly detailed, with loads of greeblies, dials, boxes, and other items that make painting and weathering quite fun.

I started with a prime of dark gray, using a mix of Badger’s Stynylrez Gray and Black Primer. I wanted to “pre-load” some shadowing with a dark undertone, but not so much that it took excess paint later to cover up. Over that I added Tamiya’s XF-66 Light gray. This was then followed with a heavy drybrush with Vallejo Sky Gray.

For a gray interior, this three-step combo work very nicely in my opinion. It provides some subtle built-in shadows, well-defined highlights, and yet they all blend together and appear to be “all one of one sort” to quote a friend.

All The Details

Because the interior is crammed with detail, and next began to hand paint all the little lumps, bumps, greeblies and whatnots. Various panels and screens were picked out with black. Some small, diamond-shaped raised panels on both cockpit sidewalls was painted in neutral gray, as were a few other bits. Still other sections, especially some of the raised detail, was painted with sky gray. (All were Vallejo paints.) Though the sky gray had been used for drybrushing, painting it on at full opacity made it almost look white.

I suppose that is the beauty of a nearly all gray interior. No worry has to be given to the colors, really. The key is simply to focus on contrast. Using 4 or 5 shades of gray can really pop, despite how bland the actual palette is.

Other details were picked out with red and blue, the focus being on the any buttons, dials, and gauges. Not entirely pleased with the pain black screens scattered around the interior, I first gave them a coat of some silver paint, but later went back over it with green. I felt that would look a bit more like a data monitor.

A few edges were carefully highlighted with the sky gray again, to really make them pop.

Washes, Stains, And Oils, Oh My!

Yes, I just paraphrased the Wizard of Oz… 🙂

I wanted to really dirty up the interior a bit. The decision was made to employ acrylics for some base stains and streaking, as these would dry really fast. I could then add oils over the top, taking advantage of their ability to be moved around more. I hoped this simple “one-two punch” would yield a nice finish.

Vallejo Model Wash Gray and Blue Gray was used initially, applied heavily thinned with water. I built up color here and there slowly, trying to not only introduce staining and such, but also general tonal variety. Application was via a #0 liner brush, both streaked and stippled on.

A bit of Model Wash Brown was added in to a few areas, to make it appear dirty. Knowing that in real life, crew would be climbing in and out, and dirt would of course get on their boots, I figured this made sense. Plus, you never know when a certain Wookie may jump in your Chicken Walker. 😉

I added in some chipping using a mechanical pencil, trying to create the appearance of many fine scratches.

Getting Oily

Once the acrylics were fully dry and the scratches on, oils were employed. I stuck with three colors – burnt umber, raw umber, and Starship Filth. A dot of each was squeezed out on a bit of cardboard, which allowed some of the oil in the paint to leach out, which would ultimately speed drying time.

Dots and streaks of oils were applied here and there, and then using a small brush barely damp with odorless thinner, I began to manipulate the oils.

While I have been fairly happy with my last few months of acrylic weathering experience, this session reminded my why oils are so widely used – they’re just so darn flexible. They can provide totally opaque spots of color, or be blended back to the barest whisper of a stain or streak. Even a day or more later, they can be manipulated and adjusted with the application of some thinners. Nothing else really comes close. 

Still, that drying time is a factor – thus the reasoning for my acrylic-oil approach to weathering.

In this process, I also added several layers of panel line washing. I applied them at various stages, each time looking for areas to further enhance with shadow. 

Assembling The Big Giant Head

With all in place, I simply needed to snap it all up.

The beauty of Bandai is that it’s fairly safe to paint everything, and then assemble it. This kit is no exception. Just like a kids puzzle, everything clicks in place easily. I’ve built enough Bandai kits to fully embrace the concept “if it does not fit, it’s you… not the kit.” Pegs, tabs, and slots are designed in such a way as to make incorrect assembly a virtual impossibility. 

I fully assembled the crew section, and snapped on all the exterior parts. I’d already had the “waist” and legs completed, so a quick test fit was easy to do. I did resist snapping the crew compartment roof on. I want to explore ways to allow it to be removed, and yet blend into the rest of the model. Hopefully the eventual buyer will be able to pop the top off and look into the fully finished interior.

Seeing The Movie

I finally got in to see the movie, and I recall sitting there for its entirety with my jaw agape, soaking it all in. While Star Wars had been amazing, the effects on Empire Strikes Back were stunning to me. It was obvious they’d had more time to work on techniques, and I’m sure the extra infusion of cash brought in by the success of Star Wars didn’t hurt.

Walking out of the movie, I was in a bit of a fog. The facts that had been revealed at the movie’s end  were truly stunning. The images of the Hoth Battle scene… complete with a few glimpses of the strange little chicken-like walker, were at the forefront of my mind. Of course, there was an excitement too. It was very, very obvious from the ay this movie ended that another one would be coming. 

And I realized when that one came out, I’d be old enough to drive. I could see it opening day! 😀

It isn’t lost on me how repetitive it is to say “you need to build a Bandai Star Wars kit”. But I truly mean it. The detail, fit, and simple fun of building, painting, and weathering them has to be experienced. Even if it’s not in your preferred genre – I highly recommend giving one a go. And if you really like painting detailed interiors, and weathering exteriors, this funny little bird-like AT-ST may be just the ticket.

On to painting and weathering!

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