TRN Round Table returns with various members of the network and our friends gathering to share opinions on a given topic. It’s May the 4th as we are posting today’s feature so it’s time to talk Star Wars! From the original Kenner action figures to modern marvels, Star Wars has always been known for it’s toys. We’ll be playing show-and-tell today with each member of the round table telling about their favorite Star Wars toy. Check out our selections below and be sure to leave a comment with your favorite!
Bespin Luke Skywalker and Hoth Han Solo
When I was a kid, my mom had a part time evening job in the jewelry department at K-Mart. My dad would take my sister and I up there from time to time to see her when she was working. The Empire Strikes Back came out in May of 1980. At the time, I was ten years old and had seen the original movie and four dozen times (a feat that is impressive because it we didn’t own a VCR and it was pre-streaming).
A few months before the movie came out (it’s been forty years so my memory is a little fuzzy on the timeline), my dad took us to the store on evening. When we got there, my mom said she had a surprise for me and led me back to the stock room. There, still in the boxes, were all the Star Wars toys and action figures that were debuting on the shelves the next day. I was allowed to open all the boxes and go through all the toys. There was no internet to read spoilers or watch trailers over and over so I had no idea what was going to be in the new movie. I didn’t know where or what Hoth was, or Bespin, or an AT-AT and what the hell was a Tauntaun? What was an Ugnaut? Who was Lando Calrissian? WHO IN THE WORLD WAS YODA? The blurbs on the back of the boxes and action figure packs gave you just enough information to be interesting but still cryptic.
I sat in that store room for probably forty five minutes looking and reading. I was SO excited for the movie. Up to that point, the only glimpse I had seen was the Boba Fett action figure mail-in offer that required four proofs of purchase. And NOBODY knew what his role was going to be. When it was time to leave, my mom told me I could pick out two action figures and she’d buy them for me with her discount and bring them home with her. I picked out Luke in his Bespin fatigues and Han in his Hoth gear. I still count that as one of the best days of my life.
Give Eric a follow on Twitter at @Eric_Vardeman, and you can find his retro memories right here on TRN! His weekly column, Way Back Wednesday, is awesome too. He looks back at the songs gracing the Top 40 list from 37 years ago in 1983! He is also a frequent guest on the TRN Situation Jukebox podcast.
Endor Princess Leia
I was born in 1978, so I didn’t see the first Star Wars film in the theater. I watched the first two on laserdisc. Return of the Jedi was the first Star Wars film I vividly remember seeing in the theater, and I fell hard. Say what you will about the Ewoks, but I was the right age for them. And Leia had already joined Wonder Woman as one of the women I’d most like to be when I grow up.
I have a much more robust Star Wars figure collection in childhood part two than I did in my first. Back then, I pretty much just wanted Princess Leia. I had a Hoth Leia, and she was cool. But when I saw Endor Leia (or Poncho Leia, as I called her then) on the card at the store, I had to have her. She had it all: a cool helmet, blaster, belt, and a cloth poncho.
I was a nervous kid, especially when making the transition from home to school. To help me with my anxiety, my mom suggested I put a small toy in my pocket. That way, when I got nervous, I could stick my hand in my pocket and feel it. So when I got Leia, she went with me everywhere, because she was the perfect size to carry around with me. I usually kept her blaster in my toy box, and sometimes I’d leave her helmet. Sadly, though, it was my desire to take her on adventures with me that led to her demise.
In the summer, carrying toys in my pockets was more about adventure than it was anxiety. One fateful day, I was hanging upside down on my swing-set, and I guess Leia fell out of my pocket. I headed inside for lunch, not knowing my tiny plastic friend wasn’t with me. Marooned on the grass planet of my backyard, I don’t know how long she was there before my dad ran over her with the lawnmower. He came in with a few pieces of her poncho, and I knew what had happened. I was devastated, but it taught me to always secure my pockets, or at least empty them before hanging upside down.
I don’t remember why, but I didn’t get another Endor Leia. I remember feeling guilty about it. I tried playing with Hoth Leia, but she just didn’t have the pizzazz the other one had. Endor Leia was always in the back of my mind as the missing piece of my childhood.
When my husband and I started dating, he took me to a vintage toy shop his friend ran, and after the second or third trip, I finally asked if he had an Endor Leia. Sure enough, he did, and she wasn’t that expensive. (I guess not everyone lost theirs in tragic lawnmower accidents.) Brad bought her for me, and a wave of nostalgia rushed over me. It’s cheesy to say, but it’s like she’d come home, even though I know she wasn’t the same one I had. That Leia has been on several adventures with me, including to meet Princess Leia herself, Carrie Fisher. Here’s a photo of Endor Leia in her natural habitat, next to my photo with Carrie Fisher.
Follow Stacey on Twitter at @geeky_vixen and visit her article archive right here on the website. You can also listen to her on The Retro Network Podcast Channel on several Roundtable Review episodes and as a Situation Jukebox champion.
I have been a Star Wars fan since I saw those big letters scrolling up the screen when my parents took me and my brother to see the first film in the theater as children. It was only natural that the Kenner Star Wars action figures would quickly become one of my favorite toy-lines for many years. Imagine (or remember) a time before even the VCR, and certainly well before the DVD or DVR, when you couldn’t just watch a movie or show whenever you wanted and as often as you wanted. A kid who was obsessed with Star Wars took whatever exposure to the film he could get whether that was books, magazines, records, trading cards or, best of all, action figures. We used our imagination and those little action figures to recreate scenes or play out new ones. I am so glad that George Lucas made that brilliant decision to sell action figures as part of his merchandising strategy (and I bet he is, too) because they provided hours and hours of enjoyment during my childhood. Of all of my prized Star Wars action figures, I think my favorite has to be Boba Fett.
The Boba Fett action figure was first made available only through a mail-away offer in 1979. The offer was presented before we would even see him in The Empire Strikes Back for the first time, though the character was technically first introduced in the infamous 1978 Star Wars Christmas Special. Many don’t remember that the bounty hunter actually made an appearance in a cartoon segment where he pretends to befriend Han, Chewie, Luke and Leia while secretly plotting with Darth Vader to trap the Rebel Alliance. [He would later be inserted into a scene in the Special Edition version of A New Hope, but that doesn’t count since it was released in 1997.] Based on the Christmas Special cartoon and his upcoming larger role in 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back, Kenner made Boba Fett available by mail if you sent in four proof-of-purchase seals from other Star Wars action figures. Here is a TV commercial promoting this special mail-away offer…
The Boba Fett action figure was originally intended and advertised to have a spring-launched rocket-firing back pack, but it was removed for safety reasons prior to shipping any of them out to customers. He still had his back pack, but the rocket was firmly attached to it and did not launch preventing it from shooting into someone’s eye or being swallowed by a small child. It is reported that some prototypes with the rocket-firing back pack have made it out into the market and have become quite valuable and highly sought-after due to rarity. I was more than happy with my Boba Fett just the way I received him back then. My brother and I both sent in our proof-of-purchase seals and eagerly anticipated the arrival of our action figures. Boba Fett was extra special because you could not buy him in stores; you could only get him though this special mail-in offer. I think that is partly why Boba Fett always remained one of my favorites. We couldn’t wait to see what role the bounty hunter would play in The Empire Strikes Back since we received the action figure about a year before the film was released. He didn’t let us down. Boba Fett was pretty badass in the movies (until he later screamed like a girl, slammed into the side of Jabba’s barge and was swallowed by the sarlacc in Return of the Jedi). Another plus is that, since he wore a mask, his action figure looked more exactly like the character on-screen in the movie. This is an advantage that the action figures for Darth Vader and the droids had over those with human faces like Luke, Han and Leia. I still have my original well-played-with Boba Fett action figure over 30 years later (see picture). He sits on my desk next to my computer and is another reminder of how much I still love Star Wars (and the ’80s).
Of course I had Star Wars figures while I was a kid. They traveled from my childhood home, to Grandma’s, to the babysitter’s, all encased in the Darth Vader head carrying case. Many a figure fell behind the washer and dryer. The worst is the one that melted behind the heating unit at church. The Force may be strong but there is a force even stronger in that building.
No, the story I tell today is not mine. It is my brother’s. He is two years younger than me and was in Kindergarten, maybe 1st Grade at the time of the story. I was born in 1978 and he in 1980 but Star Wars toys were still present when we reached the ages of interest. Unlike toys today, one brand could stay on the shelves for years without a brand new movie to promote. Every kid wanted Star Wars toys for Christmas. Especially every kid at his class Christmas party before the break.
The night before his class Christmas party my mom sat down to wrap the Star Wars figure, Chewbacca, that she bought for one of the kids in the class. The random “boy toy/girl toy” exchange at school. Alas, Chewie was no where to be found. She looked and looked and looked. At some point she asked my brother if he had seen it. Maybe he wanted to help wrap the gift. He excitedly had an answer. “Right here in my hand!” My mother, relieved, walked over to reclaim the toy. Which was loose in his hand.
In his childhood innocence and with age appropriate understanding my brother heard my mom say she bought a Star Wars toy for his party and interpreted that as a Star Wars toy for him. This revelation came late at night in the 1980’s. There wasn’t a 24 hour store open that also sold toys. No Walmart or Target. Nor would these stores be open before school. Which meant he had no toy to bring.
My mom went with the only option remaining. She called school in the morning to say my brother was sick and couldn’t go to school. He didn’t care. He had his new toy. And an extra day of Christmas vacation. Problem solved. Or so she thought.
I came home from school with leftovers from my brother’s Christmas party. Some cake, cookies, probably random trinkets. And a gift. A brand new in package Star Wars figure. While this should have been an even gift exchange, one kid brings in a gift for one other kid to receive, the theory is that the teachers brought in some extra gifts in case any kids forgot. Well, what is more tragic than a child to sick to attend his class Christmas party? Such a tale of woe. The only way to rectify and cheer up such a depressing time is with the Power of the Force.
My mother accepted this defeat. What is there to do at this point? Every kid got a toy. No one was left out. My brother unknowingly pulled a fast one. Sometimes you let the Wookie win.
Death Star Space Station
My favorite Star Wars toy is something I’ve never owned. In fact, I didn’t collect Star Wars figures at all as an ’80s kid! So why am I here? Why would I choose the Death Star Space Station playset as my favorite Star Wars toy? The reason is it was practically my gateway into the world of Star Wars. My parents brought me along to dinner at a family’s house that I had never visited before. I believe the family’s father was a coworker with my dad and they had a couple kids around my age. It was circa 1983 which would’ve made me 7 years old at the time.
My first viewing of any of the Star Wars movies wasn’t until the following year at my birthday party, when we rented the VHS tape AND VCR from a local store. That movie selection was likely triggered by my prior interaction with the Death Star Space Station during that dinner visit. Down in the basement, the playset was setup along with plenty of figures that were stored in a Darth Vader helmet case. The multi-level play was really appealing to me and has been etched in my brain ever since. I can’t tell you the name of the kids or the family’s last name we visited that night back in ’83, but I can tell you that my short experience with that playset really motivated me to seek out Star Wars and for that fact, the Death Star Space Station will always have a place in my heart.
Jason is the co-host of the flagship TRN Podcast, as well as a host/producer for several other podcasts on TRN. He can also be found rediscovering everything that was cool in the ’80s at Rediscoverthe80s.com. Hit him up on twitter @RD80s.