?If you grew up with the original Star Wars trilogy you are well aware that for a time Kenner was king. Showing an amazing blend of faith and foresight, the company picked up the license for Star Wars before anyone could have possibly imagined how huge it would be, and how it would forever change both movie marketing and the toy industry in general. From 1978 to 1985, Kenner dominated the toy world with their various action figures, vehicles and role-playing items from George Lucas’ game-changing space epic.
After a period of dormancy, Star Wars toys came back with a vengeance in 1995, but many toys that were originally released in the 1980s have come back onto store shelves better than ever before… with a few exceptions. Focusing mainly on playsets (the red-headed stepchild of the toy world), today’s Daily List examines what great Star Wars toys Hasbro hasn’t gotten around to re-releasing as of yet. Even though most of these probably never will be available again, that doesn’t mean you can’t make like the end of Return of the Jedi and celebrate the love.
10) Ewok Assault Catapult
?One of the good things about the prequels is that they let the Ewoks off the hook. Beloved by furries everywhere, the spunky merchandising ploys have now been eclipsed on the lameness scale by Jar Jar, the various bullshit pod racers and Dexter Jettster (seriously, fuck him and that horrible waitress droid who is pushing Jawa Juice in that insufferable Episode II diner scene). The point I am making here is that although Star Warriors love to ridicule the Ewoks, they did inspire some decent toys — including this catapult that lets you hurl plastic rocks at loved ones and shitty things. These are kind of tough to get cheap these days, but I’m tempted to scour eBay to buy one so that I can throw a boulder at my Taun We figure. Why the hell did I buy that anyway? Moving on…
9) Land of the Jawas
Once you get over the sexual subtext that the above commercial is lousy with, you’ll be struck by the sheer cojones that Kenner had in the 1980s by releasing toys aplenty with flimsy cardboard backdrops. Starting with the whole Early Bird offer to the Cantina and Jabba’s Palace mail-away offers from the 1990s, these cardboard bits of fun are the product of a simpler age. They are primitive to be sure, but so charmingly low-tech that they lets kids imaginations run wild. If the shape and concept of this toy looks familiar to you, that’s because Kenner recycled the mold for their Hoth Ice Planet adventure set (with an Empire-specific new background, natch). Cheap? Yep! Easily destroyed? You betcha. Incredibly awesome? Without a doubt. Given the advances in the production of action figures over the years it would be a fun idea to re-release these sorts of sets via mail-away so that collectors could juxtapose recent figures with these retro relics.
8) Imperial Troop Transporter
Thanks to some brilliant design work by Ralph McQuarrie, stormtroopers became iconic sci-fi bad guys. It’s hard to improve upon perfection, but the Imperial Troop Transport manages to make the troopers even cooler by giving them a cool ride. (Even if the toy is basically the galaxy far, far away equivalent of a boardwalk tram car). This was one of the vehicles that Kenner insisted existed just off-screen of what was seen in Star Wars. Frankly, I always thought that line was just company rhetoric to further milk George Lucas’ cash cow. But this I can totally imagine being real. You’ve seen how lazy storm troopers are when they are on the job, do you really think they are going to walk to the Death Star commissary by themselves?
7) Ewok Village
Those of you who were irked at the tenth entry on this list may want to skip ahead, because more Ewok love is in store here. As the badass UK commercial embedded above indicates, this toy is pretty crammed with play possibilities. Even if you hate the idea of Ewoks (don’t get me wrong I think they were a misstep — but Return of the Jedi has lots of other problems that are equally, if not more so, worthy of your hate) you’ve got to admit the idea of being able to burn action figures at the spit is pretty fantastic. Not to mention terrifically un-PC. I can’t imagine this action feature being issued in a toy today. While you have a better chance of getting Lucas to publicly admit that Phantom Menace was terrible than having this playset released again, it’s worth noting that it did in fact get an unexpected reissue — as the Sherwood Forest playset in Kenner’s 1991 Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves line. Although many of you wonderful nerds probably already knew that. I’m not sure if I should applaud or pity those of you who did.
6) Chewbacca Bandolier Strap
?Frankly I’m a bit surprised that this toy hasn’t become a fashion staple amongst hipsters. That said, I can’t imagine any young Star Wars fans wouldn’t want to transport their figures around on this. Perhaps Chewie’s recent Clone Wars appearance may inspire Hasbro to dust this concept off for a new generation.
5) Dagobah Action Playset
A few years back, Hasbro issued a mail-away Carbon Freeze Playset offer. It was a terrific, if somewhat odd, toy that allowed kids/adult collectors to relive one of The Empire Strikes Back‘s pivotal scenes. The company also released scaled down remakes of the 1980s Hoth sets in the early days of their revamped Star Wars line. Sadly they never got around to reissuing a Dagobah playset. I mentioned earlier the fun potential of using new figures with old playsets (just to clarify: by using, I mean displaying, not playing with while naked and alone late on a Saturday night). Since there have been some terrific Dagobah-inspired figures issued since this toy debuted in 1981, it would be great to have a new playset to accompany these. But there isn’t and will never be. Just trying to use tough love here people so you can lower your expectations, move on and not wind up being a shell of a man like myself.
4) Jabba The Hutt Dungeon
?Originally available as a Sears exclusive, this toy encouraged kids to be complete bastards and torture the shit out of their toys. There’s no way your response to this can be anything other than respect and applause.
3) Tauntaun (With Open Belly)
Realizing that fans desperately wanted to recreate the scene in which Han Solo slits open a Tauntaun to protect Luke as he builds an icy shelter, Kenner released a variant of the beast with an open belly (okay, it was a great way for them to make some extra coin as well). Nevertheless, such attention to detail reinforces how committed the company was to pleasing kids by releasing durable, fun toys with hours of play value. If memory serves, most of my 1982 was spent with the tauntaun here in my possession — much to the dismay of some unenlightened teachers. Oddly enough, when the tauntaun was re-released in 1998 the open belly variant was nixed. You’re guess is as good as mine as to why, I’m just fortunate that I didn’t miss out on this bizarre little action feature during my adolescence. Also I should add that the endless screaming of “WAMPA” in the above commercial thrills me endlessly.
2) Bespin World
Kenner’s Micro Collection playsets were a risky move. Their small size meant that pieces could be easily lost/swallowed. Parents were pissed that they had to shell out for an entirely new (and somewhat costly) line of Star Wars figures when they were already regularly buying the 3 ?-sized ones. There was also the problem of Kenner being in direct competition with themselves. Thus the old adage about having too much of a good thing proved to be true once again, and the Micro Collection line died a fairly quick death. It’s grandiose to say that this is something of a tragedy for toy collectors, but it really was unfortunate. You see, the Micro Collection sets were insanely fun, even despite lacking articulation and much detail. Of the sets that made it on to toy shelves, Bespin World was arguably the best. These sort of small toys later became the domain of Micro Machines (which issued some pretty great Star Wars offerings themselves when they had the license) so there’s no hope of seeing the Micro line revisited. But for the blink of an eye, Star Wars fans had access to sets that were bursting with innovation. Its demise is still taken particularly hard, especially given how much this stuff goes for on the secondary market. Trivia: If I had a time machine, the first thing I would do is travel back to Kiddie City circa 1983 and scoop all these up on clearance. Butterfly effect or not, I need these things in my lame excuse for a life.
1) Death Star Space Station Playset
It’s not surprising that Kenner’s toy mockup of the Death Star tops this list, as the toy is the greatest playset of all time. What often gets lost in nerdy debates that lists like this one bring up is that toys are mainly for kids. And for kids growing up when Star Wars first hit, this massive playset was a revelation. Its various levels and action features meant that you could spend entire days restaging favorite scenes from the flick and creating new adventures. It was the yin to the action figures’ yang. Both worked together so sublimely that the result was pure childhood magic. Like most of the items on this list, Hasbro hasn’t remade the Death Star because if they did it wouldn’t sell that well. Sure, collectors would flock to it, but the mainstream consumers tend to stay away from costly playsets. (If you want proof, just go to any Toys R Us and check out all the Indiana Jones Temple of Akator playsets that are collecting dust there). There have been individual Death Star Escape and Detention Block Rescue sets reissued since the Star Wars line started back up in 1995, but these pale in comparison to the plastic behemoth that is the original Death Star set. I never owned one of these myself, and while I have considered buying one from time to time I ultimately decide against it. Why? Because as much as we try the childhood fun of the Death Star can’t be recaptured by either getting one on eBay on having Hasbro manufacture a brand new version. Of course I thought that before I saw the reissue of the Millennium Falcon too, so what the hell do I know.
Chris Cummins is a pop culture writer and Archie comics historian who has contributed to The Robot's Voice, Den of Geek US, Philebrity, Geekadelphia, Uproxx, and Unicorn Booty. He is the co-producer and co-host of Nerd Nite Philadelphia, and is regularly involved in producing and hosting New York Super Week events. In 2014, Chris began Sci-Fi Explosion, a mix of live performance, trivia and funny clips celebrating the weirdest in science fiction that regularly travels around the United States. He wrote the introductions to the compilations Archie's Favorite Comics From The Vault and (with Paul Castiglia) Archie's Favorite High School Stories. You can find Chris on Twitter at @bionicbigfoot and @scifiexplosion.