Synopsis of Toy
We’d flown from one side of this galaxy to the other, we’d seen a lot of strange stuff, but we’d never seen anything to make us believe there was one all-powerful Force controlling everything. And then we saw Star Wars.
For a toy-crazy kid, watching Star Wars was like sensory overload. There were spaceships and aliens and robots and space stations and laser guns and swords made out of light and…and…and… (this was the part where your head exploded). And at the end of the show, walking out of the theater, you knew only one thing: I want everything I just saw.
It actually took a while for the toymakers at Kenner to deliver, but when they did, they did in a big way. Nobody had really expected Star Wars to be the be-all-end-all of summer blockbusters, but when crowds kept lining up around the block for months after the film’s release, everyone kind of clued in that there was something big here. Kenner scrambled to make puzzles, games, and other tie-in merchandise, but the coup de grace arrived in advance of the 1977 holiday season. With the purchase of a special Early Bird Certificate Package, Star Wars fans would receive the first four action figures—Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Chewbacca and R2-D2—as soon as they were available.
The Early Birds were only the tip of a Hoth-sized iceberg, however. In 1978, the Star Wars toy revolution began in earnest, leading to a run of action figures, vehicles and playsets that would dominate toy wish lists through the mid-80’s. George Lucas’ movie was filled with fantastic creations, and the toy world soon claimed most of them. Han Solo, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Darth Vader, C-3PO, Jawas, Stormtroopers, Tusken Raiders and others soon joined the action figure party, and the bizarre aliens from the film’s Cantina scene followed in 1979.
1980’s release of The Empire Strikes Back brought new characters—Yoda, Lando Calrissian and more—and 1983’s Return of the Jedi added Ewoks, Gammorean Guards, fish-headed Admiral Ackbar and others to the ever-expanding lineup of Star Wars action figures. But as impressive as this gallery of exotic warriors was, the action figures were only part of the Star Wars toy story.
Every star pilot needs a star craft, and the Star Wars line offered some of the best. Luke’s Tatooine Land Speeder featured pop-down wheels, and a later version operated by remote control. The Jawas’ Sandcrawler was another, more expensive remote-control option, but most Star Wars toy craft operated on old-fashioned hand power and imagination. The Millenium Falcon was an early favorite, complete with removable panels, adjustable landing gear and a mini replica of the holographic chess table in the movie. The complete line included everything from Imperial TIE Fighters to Rebel Snowspeeders (with a string-attached harpoon) to Boba Fett’s Slave I ship to the mother of all Star Wars toys, the huge (and expensive) AT-AT walker. And what Rebel squadron would be complete without an assortment of wings: Y-, B-, A-, and the ever-popular X-Wing, with wings that split apart when little Artoo got pressed down?
But wait, there’s more (in the Star Wars universe, there always was). For those who wanted to recreate famous scenes from the movies—or make up some of their own—Kenner produced a line of action figure playsets: the Creature Cantina, Jabba the Hutt’s palace, a Droid Factory, an Ewok Village, Hoth battle sets, and even the first film’s Death Star, complete with elevator, retractable bridge, and the infamous trash compactor. Holes in the figures’ feet let kids pose them on the playsets’ foot pegs, while “action levers” let them perform scene re-enactments.
Star Wars toys were all the rage during the original movie trilogy’s run, and even in movie off-years, the toys kept the spirit of the series alive. After Return of the Jedi, however, the Force took a bit of a break. Special toy lines were created to support the Droids and Ewoks cartoon series in 1985, but neither the cartoons nor the toys hit the lofty heights of earlier years.
But as we all should have learned by now, you can strike Star Wars down, but you’ll only make it more powerful. In anticipation of a re-release of the original trilogy, Hasbro introduced a new series of “Power of the Force” action figures, vehicles and playsets. The new toy line continued with “Shadows of the Empire” and “Expanded Universe,” recreating classic figures and adding new characters that hadn’t been included in earlier sets.
Finally, in 1999, a new Star Wars feature film stormed into theaters. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace gave kids hundreds of new reasons to beg mom for another trip to the toy store, from Darth Maul to Qui-Gon Jinn to Queen Amidala to Jar Jar Binks. 2002's Episode II: Attack of the Clones and the promised Episode III will surely keep Star Wars toys here and hot in the coming years, proving that once more, the Force was strong with this one.
Release History of Toy1977 - Star Wars
1980 - The Empire Strikes Back
1983 - Return of the Jedi
1985 - Droids
1985 - Ewoks
1985 - The Power of the Force (first line)
1995 - The Power of the Force (second line)
1996 - Shadows of the Empire
1998 - Expanded Universe
1999 - Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace
2001 - Power of the Jedi
2002 - Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones