Saturday, September 17, 2011

The "Runabout Rio Grande" Ornament Makes Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Festive!

The Good: Amazing detail, Good light effects, Interesting sound effect
The Bad: Odd choice for sound chip, a bit obscure for casual fans.
The Basics: Well-balanced, well-lit, extraordinarily detailed, the Runabout Rio grande adds value to Star Trek ornaments with its cool light effect and neat sound chip!

Hallmark's Christmas ornaments have become proven collectibles, especially in the secondary market. The franchises that Hallmark has invested in have been strong and reliable, like Star Trek, Star Wars and The Wizard Of Oz. Yes, fans of these things seem to be content to be milked year after year for new and different ornaments and Hallmark has largely delivered with quality, intriguing ornaments. With the Star Trek ornaments, sometimes they have made wonderful works out of obscure starships and the Runabout Rio Grande might well be the magnum opus of the more obscure Star Trek ships.

For those unfamiliar with the Runabout Rio Grande, this was part of a fleet of small exploratory starships dropped off in the pilot episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, "Emissary" (reviewed here!). The Rio Grande, I believe, was the only Runabout from the original contingent of three that survived the series. These little ships were a mix between the short range shuttlecrafts and the long range starships in the Star Trek universe and were primarily used in the first two seasons before the appearance of the U.S.S. Defiant to explore the galaxy and get the crew off the space station. Hallmark's choice of the Rio Grande is a good one, but one that might be a bit obscure for casual fans of the Star Trek franchise.


The "Runabout Rio Grande" ornament faithfully recreates the obscure Federation landing craft in solid white and gray plastic. The ornament, released in 1999, is an incredible casting of the short-range ship with an immaculate paint job and very neat feature. Measuring four and one quarter inches long, two and five-eighths inches wide and one and one-eighth inches tall, the Runabout Rio Grande ornament is a clever addition to the Star Trek ornament line, appearing before a few other, more essential, starships. Like the other smaller ships in the Star Trek universe, this ornament clearly is not in scale with the larger starships in the line. As well, there is added appeal to fans of Star Trek with the voice chip. Still, despite how common it was and how it was not a primary ship, it quickly sold with its $24.00 price tag. As a result, Hallmark had a decent hit on its hand, at least with Star Trek fans.

The Hallmark "Runabout Rio Grande" ornament is made of a durable plastic and has the landing craft on its own, as is typical for Hallmark's starship line of Star Trek ornaments. Like the previous Star Trek ornament release, this one has the date stamped on it, in this case on the top, aft section of the ship like a license plate, though the number is discrete enough to not be intrusive! This ornament plugs into the standard light strand of Christmas lights in order to light up.

The Runabout Rio Grande is detailed incredibly! Runabouts have all sorts of little baffle panels and nooks and crannies and the Rio Grande has each and every one meticulously detailed on the ornament. This ship looks like it was assembled and has exterior panels that could easily be removed as well as a number of surface details and Hallmark gets them absolutely right! As a result, the Runabout Rio Grande has all of the appropriate markings, like the racing stripes on the sides of the ship with the craft's name and call numbers. This includes the same markings on the landing struts or nacelles, which is actually a fine paint job that illustrates just how far Hallmark would go to create a quality piece!

As well, there are molded details, like the tips of the nacelles being molded in red plastic and the warp nacelles themselves having blue plastic that is translucent for the light effect! In fact, the only place Hallmark sacrificed detail for efficiency was on the windows. The front and back windows are painted black and that works fine because otherwise fans would gripe about the detail on the people and panels inside. This looks great; Hallmark did a pretty impressive job with getting the details on this ornament just right for the exacting collectors and fans.


As a Hallmark Keepsake ornament, the "Runabout Rio Grande" has a light function, as well as an audio one! This was one of the few Star Trek ornaments to both light up and play a sound clip. The "Runabout Rio Grande" has a speaker on the bottom surface, as well as a button to activate the sound chip. The Runabout Rio Grande has a five inch cord that is attached to the back of the ornament. This green electric cord is embedded into the bottom, center section and it allows the ornament to be plugged into a Christmas light strand.

Plugging the ornament in (one needs to remove a single light bulb from the strand, then slide the male end from the ornament into the female end on the strand) activates the light effect on the "Runabout Rio Grande." The light effects on this starship ornament are remarkably simple; the warp nacelles and auxiliary thrusters light up. It is a blue and red light effect for the nacelles and the thrusters are yellow. The ship glows pretty well, though the blue is a little more muted than some might light. The light effect is not irresistibly bright.

As well, there is a button on the bottom of the ornament. When pressed, while plugged in, the ornament begins to speak. Michael Dorn actually recorded a special bit of dialogue specifically for use in this ornament. As a result, when the button is pressed, the ornament speaks with Dorn's voice, saying "I wish you a most honorable holiday! Qa'pla!" Michael Dorn, who plays the Klingon Worf and is the actor who has spent the most time on screen in the entire Star Trek franchise makes for a great choice for doing a voice chip and the saying is not even entirely out of character for Worf. The only (semi) issue is with the ship that the chip is associated with. Worf was much more associated with the U.S.S. Defiant than any of the Runabouts. Still, it is a nice touch.


As with all ornaments, the intent of the Hallmark Keepsake "Runabout Rio Grande" ornament is to be hung on a Christmas Tree. And for those creating the ultimate Star Trek Christmas Tree, the "Runabout Rio Grande" ornament is a surprisingly welcome piece, not so much because of its iconic status or recognizability, but rather because of the sound function. The ornament has the standard brass hook loop embedded into the top center of the Runabout, which is the most stable point on the ornament. As a result, the ornament, when affixed to a tree with a hook, hangs almost perfectly balanced from that loop.

This is a generally well-balanced ornament and when plugged in to a light strand, it only has a minimal amount of pitch (less than ten degrees up for the cockpit). It is more or less well-balanced and stable on a tree.


Hallmark Keepsake began delving into the collectibles market in 1991 with Star Trek when it introduced the exceptionally limited edition original U.S.S. Enterprise ornament (reviewed here!). Since then, they have made ornament replicas of almost all of the major starships from the franchise- as well as some real minor ones - and they have all been more mass produced than that first one. The "Runabout Rio Grande" ornament was a fan draw more than one bought by the public at large. It was fans who bought it up, not investors or general fans of science fiction. Still, it was gobbled up rapidly and this one seems to have mass produced, but not in a way that makes it worthless. It is one of the easier ones to find on the secondary market, but it seems to have held its own as far as value goes. One supposes quality does truly pay off!


Fans of the Star Trek franchise, Worf, the Federation and the Runabout Rio Grande specifically are likely to enjoy this ornament and be glad that Hallmark continued creating Star Trek ornaments. Fans of the much-neglected Star Trek: Deep Space Nine are certainly glad about it!

For other Star Trek ship ornaments from Hallmark, please check out my reviews of:
2011 Romulan Bird Of Prey
2010 U.S.S. Enterprise (Star Trek refit)
2009 Klingon Battlecruiser
2008 U.S.S. Reliant
2006 U.S.S. Enterprise (reissue)
2005 U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-A
2003 Scorpion Attack Craft
2001 Deep Space Nine
2000 Borg Cube
1998 U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-E
1995 Romulan Warbird
1994 Klingon Bird Of Prey
1993 U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-D
1992 Shuttlecraft Galileo


For other ornament reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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