Monday, July 6, 2015


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 ...)

Back then, kids and fans didn't care about the scale or articulation of the toys, they were just happy as hell to have them.  Having seen the truly amazing Star Wars films, the action figures allowed fans of all ages to recreate their favorite scenes at home. 

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. . .


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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  1. Ha ha great article! Those painted Adventure People “prototypes” are better than the finished Star Wars figures. They could have saved a lot of money there. Kenner had really painted themselves into a corner when the second movie came out featuring the Tauntuans. They could have improved the leg articulation on their new run of figures, but no, a far better solution was to put a slot in the beast’s back and a pair of generic legs moulded on to the saddle. The consumers had already swallowed the Early Bird Certificate and were ready to swallow anything now.

    1. Yes, as I recall, Bernie Clifton was popular at the time. There was a similar problem with the Kenner Biker Scouts and speeder bikes for RotJ but I remember a friend using a lighter to soften the knees and hips and bend them into the correct pose. He managed to get the figure to sit correctly-ish (the feet didn't quite meet the pedals). But it was a damn site better looking than the legs being stuck straight out infront.

    2. Speaking of the Biker Scouts and speeder bikes, the original Kenner commercial for them was epic (for a kid), will be talking about them in part two of the article along with a couple other vintage figures and then the 90's versions. Maybe I will try the lighter trick in a video on the article, thanks for the tip! Cheers!

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  3. Totally agreed, Mr B - and, frankly, I think the Star Wars figures were a cash-in-driven, utterly cynical, insult to children: give them a piece of roughly-StarWars-shaped plastic, barely indistinguishable from some blob-faced knock-off, and as long as it has the logo on, they'll buy it.

    That facts that SW figures were derived from the safe-and-chewable-by-two-year-olds Adventure People, and that Kenner sold children an empty box, are new to me, but absolutely not surprising.

    Obviously, SW could have been better made, benefiting from even a little of the quality, detail, sophistication, and ingenuity of Microman and Micronauts... but, nope, Kenner very obviously didn't think children were worth it.

    "They're rubbish" was what I thought aged 10, and I still do.

    1. { ^ *The facts* - sorry, lots of typos still}

      And to add - even those Adventure People prototyped SW figures look vastly more detailed and *caring* than the eventual results.

  4. The reason why the Star Wars figures were 3 & 3/4 inch tall is, I think, because they wanted to incorporate as many of the vehicles from the film as possible. I read that somewhere, (most likely in The Star Wars Action Figure Archive by Stephen Sansweet).

  5. One simple comment - I think it was Starlog magazine that ran a "Be the Next John Dykstra/Specila Effects Master" contest. You were supposed to use the Kenner figures to show your skillz. Arguably, it was not set in stone: the prime winner was some sick Cali kid who built an entire Star Destroyer using model parts and orange juice cans [for the circular shapes]. Secodn runner-up used the Kenner figures alright - but used an Xacto knife and some awesome posing skills to make a diorama of Han Solo blasting Stormtroopers.

    This would have been around 1979 or so - and one awesome contest it was.

    But yeah, the "cheats" won the contest - because the figures could not be used as-is. Always thought that was messed up.


    1. You're referring to an issue of FAMOUS MONSTERS. Winners were shown in issue 151.
      1st Place = TIE Fighter hangar. (Could be from a Star Destroyer, could be from the Death Star; story doesn't specify)
      2nd Place = Forest scene with Han shooting Stormtroopers (figs cut up and reposed into action/fighting poses--like a super-articulated figure could do)
      3rd Place = Darth Vader TIE parked on ground with rebels fleeing (had a custom Tantive IV rebel trooper and some more resculpted poses)
      4th place -on = not very good, really. Just recreated scenes.
      Special Mention = kid was making a massive Millennium Falcon almost to 3.75" scale.

  6. Hasbro designers specifically said this was a "vehicle" driiven line. And to sell SW vehicles for an 8" or larger line would have been extremely pricey during a time of "stagflation." The point of the series was not to make great action figures but to make fun vehicles and provide kids with action figure to go along with them. At no point did the designers intend to provide "crap."

  7. 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 ...