Fans of vintage Star Wars toys are probably foaming at the mouth right now after reading the title of this article, ready to rip my limbs from their sockets... but fear not, I too am a huge fan of vintage Star Wars figures.
Last week I posted an article featuring a brief history of the Microman action figures which were released by Takara in the mid 1970's in Japan. In it I explained that Microman and it's international versions, the Micronauts, were the dominate 3 3/4" action figures until Kenner's line of Star Wars toys came around. Microman's sales dropped after that point and Takara started to focus on their 'Microchange' line, which later evolved into the Transformers.
Whilst attempting to express some anger and disappointment over the original Microman toy line being phased out and replaced by 'gimmicky' transforming robots, I said "fuck the Transformers"...
I quickly received some angry comments calling me various rude adjectives. Some readers even asked...
"...fuck Transformers?. How about fuck Star Wars? How did action figures with (at most) five lame points of articulation, who could barely grip their stupid accessories, usurp the actually cool toys just because they *vaguely* resembled characters from a popular movie franchise? Inquiring minds want to know."
OK inquiring minds, here you go.
In the late 1970's, 3 3/4" action figures were still a relatively new thing. Hasbro's G.I. Joe toys were still 12" tall and Mego's line of 8" Star Trek and DC Super Heroes figures were doing moderately well, however their new 3 3/4" Micronauts figures were gaining a lot of attention at the time. The Micronaut's Japanese progenitor, Microman (1974), was technically the first 3 3/4" action figure line to ever exist, but were unknown in the USA, making Fisher Price's 'Adventure People' (1975) the first line in that scale to be released in America.
Sometime between 1976-1977, Lucasfilm and Fox offered the license to design and produce their line of Star Wars action figures to many different toy manufacturers, including Mego, but all of them passed on the offer for one reason or another. . . except for General Mills' subsidiary, Kenner.
With expectations of Star Wars' success being somewhat low in the spring of 1977, Kenner was not at all prepared for the tidal wave of demand that would proceed the opening of the film in the summer. They were so unprepared after the film's release that they actually began selling an empty box called 'The Early Bird Certificate' with illustrations of the characters and a mail away certificate inside that eager fans could redeem for actual Star Wars figures. The figures included Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, and R2D2... but you had to wait until 1978 to receive them.
You might be thinking "What a shitty thing to do!", but back in 1977, if you were a Star Wars fan, The Early Bird Certificate was a must have, even if you had to wait nearly a year to actually physically hold the figures in your frantically shaking hands. They were like drugs.
For one reason or another, Kenner decided to produce their Star Wars action figures in 3 3/4" scale. High oil prices definitely had an effect on the toy market in the mid 70's. Plastic was becoming a lot more expensive, fueling the emergence of the 3 3/4" action figure market. Also, being able to make vehicles, spaceships and playsets in a reasonable scale for a reasonable price would have been a priority. Whatever the reason, Kenner's production staff decided to use Fisher Price's Adventure People toy line as the foundation for their Star Wars figures.
|(A Fisher-Price Adventure People figure that looks suspiciously like elderly George Lucas)|
|(An "Adventure Person" becomes an Obiwan Kenobi prototype)|
|(... and so on ...)|
Remember that this was a time before home video was a standard household appliance. The first VCRs hit store shelves in the USA the same year as Star Wars hit theaters, but the first Star Wars film wasn't even released on VHS until 1982.... so unfortunately the kids who had the action figures were too damned excited about having Star Wars shit in their house to even notice how fucked up some of the toys actually were...
I mean, just look at Darth Vader. He looks like he's been wrapped up in a garbage bag... and his lightsaber... it looks like he's holding a walking stick that's too short and has a dog's cock coming out the other end...
To be continued. . .
CLICK HERE TO READ PART II
CLICK HERE TO READ PART II
Also check out the official trailer for Plastic Galaxy, a documentary about the production of the original Kenner Star Wars action figures as told by the actual toy designers and insane collectors.
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