?After dominating toy aisles and coveted Saturday morning commercial time throughout the late ’70s and mid-’80s, demand for Kenner’s line of Star Wars action figures and vehicles ground to a screeching halt and quickly fell out of favor despite numerous attempts to jumpstart the toyline with new characters and background stories. However, with the coming of the ’90s came a Star Wars renaissance of sorts with Kenner leading the charge with an all-new line of toys. But Kenner wasn’t the only toy company reigniting the public’s nostalgia with the legendary franchise. Galoob — one of the largest toy companies during its ’80s/’90s heyday — combined the popularity of its Micro Machines line with the scope, diversity and epic nature of Star Wars, all of it culminating into the memorable (and incomparable) Star Wars Micro Machines Collection!
Highly reminiscent of Kenner’s miniature die-cast Star Wars Micro Collection of the past, Galoob churned out a number of vehicles and miniature figurines in multi-packs, meaning that one could build an army or a fleet of battleships and starfighters in a short amount of time. But like the main Micro Machines line, the tiny vehicles were nothing without the playsets and, in standard fashion, Galoob pulled all the stops when it came to special features and details that bordered on the obsessive. There were plenty of playsets out there (enough to recreate an entire planet), but there were some that truly stand out from the rest in regards to creative design, mechanics and pure fun. Check out 10 of the greatest Star Wars Micro Machines playsets!
10) Dagobah Playset
“Plastic? Tiny? My playset this is!” Right off the bat, this playset should definitely evoke memories from those that owned the original Dagobah playset from Kenner’s The Empire Strikes Back series of toys. While this playset may not have the spongy “muck” of the original, Galoob more than made up for it by retaining Yoda’s hut and the Dark Side Cave while adding the Dragonsnake Bog — complete with a dragonsnake that can actually spit out the set’s included R2-D2 figurine; not to mention that the lever on the playset let one recreate the scene from the movie when Luke Skywalker raises his submerged X-Wing from the bog’s depths. The only issue with this playset is the included Yoda figurine which some genius designer had permanently seated onto a boulder… unless he initially meant to mold a tiny Frank Oz crouching behind the rock operating him. Time constraints, what are you gonna do?
9) Battle of Endor Playset
Don’t let any preconceived notions based on the Battle of Endor’s ultimate outcome breed any disdain towards this playset — it’s one of many prime examples of Galoob’s penchant for action features. Just like from Return of the Jedi, the push of a button releases the logs to bring down AT-STs and the adjacent trees have logs that actually swing down on strings (and it wasn’t a cheap, weak swing either). What’s also fun about this playset is that — by approaching it on its own merits divorced from Star Wars — it can easily blend in with any standard Micro Machines playset; you can practically call it “Secret Government Conspiracy at Mt. Rolling-Logs-of-Death.” While all these things are well and good, the inclusion of Boba Fett and Yoda — granted, in his corporeal form — figurines raises an eyebrow. But given George Lucas’ tendency to constantly make changes to the original trilogy, we might just see Boba Fett ravage Endor soon enough.
8) Cloud City Playset
As the Star Wars Micro Machines toy line started building momentum, Galoob began to get a little more creative in their playset offerings. Eventually they released playsets that doubled as large-scale vehicles and space stations which in essence felt like you were buying two toys in one. Of them, the Cloud City playset managed to capture one of the most fondly remembered moments in The Empire Strikes Back. The top of Cloud City came off like a lid and opened to reveal separate little rooms, all of them from key scenes in the film. The torture chamber, the carbonite chamber, the Ugnaughts’ incinerator — it was all here in a smaller scale. But the oddest addition to this playset? The inclusion of a Lando Calrissian figurine molded to look like he’s being choked by Chewbacca. So now you can have Chewie cutting off Lando’s oxygen anytime, anywhere!
7) Battle of Hoth Playset
The trip to Cloud City may have been memorable and made for a good playset, but it’s the Battle of Hoth that stood out and became a defining moment for The Empire Strikes Back. Naturally, it’s a no-brainer that best part of the film be immortalized in the form of a plastic playset — and it hits all the right marks: Echo Base (with hangar room for vehicles)? Check. A spring-loaded shield generator? Check. A miniature AT-AT? Oh god, check! Add to that that the whole thing came with a near-complete set of the main characters, the Battle of Hoth playset was one of Galoob’s strongest entries in the collection. And yes, that’s a wayward Stormtrooper that’s managed to find his way to the snowy terrain of Hoth (did Galoob’s design team even bother to watch the films?).
6) Rebel Transport Playset
Like the aforementioned Cloud City playset, the Rebel Transport playset doubled as a vehicle as well. While it wasn’t in actual scale with the rest of the miniature vehicles, the fact we had a larger vessel to act as a flagship for our living room floor space armadas was good enough. The Rebel Transport is basically a shell that pops right open to reveal a small war room, cargo hold and rear engine room. The set also featured an unloading ramp and docking bay that could house one vehicle. Included with the set were your standard rank-and-file Echo Base Rebel troopers and General Rieekan, who looks as though he just ran some Just for Men through his once-gray locks; staving off the Empire and mid-life crisis.
5) Star Destroyer Playset
For a playset that didn’t have much space to work with, the Star Destroyer playset knocked it out of the park. Seriously, this toy is absolutely bursting with features, detail and miniature figurines and vehicles. For starters: the crane! The hapless Tantive IV snapped snuggly into place within the crane’s grabber, and the crane itself fully swiveled and was able to move up and down. Another neat feature was the hidden hangar for Darth Vader’s TIE fighter. Plus, the addition of the swiveling turrets adorning the sides of the playset were a very nice touch that made the whole thing look more “full,” if you will. And regarding size constraints, the designers pulled off a pretty nice-looking command bridge even if it has been scaled down considerably. Even so, why complain? This is still a remarkable playset certainly deserving the praise.
4) R2-D2 Transforming Playset: Jabba’s Palace
During the entire run of the Star Wars Micro Machines toy line, there were two Jabba’s Palace playsets. One was in a similar vein to the Battle of Endor and Battle of Hoth playsets in that it was flat and included an action feature that was a part of the terrain; in this case it was the Sarlacc Pit Monster and a swiveling worrt (that Muppet-ish frog-thing for you non-Star Wars folk) outside a rather small Jabba’s Palace. But the one playset that did absolute justice for the almighty Jabba’s pleasure palace was the R2-D2 Transforming Playset. Pushing Jabba’s dais forward opened the latch on the trapdoor that sent your figurines plummeting into the rancor pit that included, obviously, a rancor. The neat part about all this was that the rancor actually had its own separate room with a sliding door just like the one from the movie; you could even have the door crush the rancor too, although, regrettably, the set did not come with a miniaturized version of everyone’s favorite corpulent and tragic rancor keeper, Malakili. The set’s final feature was a “docking bay” to house Jabba’s sail barge. Overall, a very nice set that would please the vain Hutt himself.
3) C-3PO Transforming Playset: The Mos Eisley Cantina
The aforementioned R2-D2 Transforming Playset was one in a line of playsets shaped to look like the visage of various Star Wars characters. Busting open their craniums, the somewhat grisly gimmick revealed a playset that was either displayed upright or flat on the ground depending on the location. In an ironic fashion, the fussy and well-mannered C-3PO opened up to reveal the drunken and cutthroat vice den he wasn’t even allowed to enter: the Mos Eisley Cantina. Like the Dagobah playset, the C-3PO Transforming Playset is reminiscent of a Kenner Star Wars playset that preceded it. In this case it’s the Creature Cantina Action Playset from the ’70s, since both have a swinging door action mechanism and another that knocks Greedo to the floor. But unlike the original playset, this iteration of the Cantina included Docking Bay 94 with the Millennium Falcon… which can be conveniently accessed via a staircase that connects both establishments together (Galoob’s disregard for established continuity strikes again!).
2) Millennium Falcon Playset
At the time of its release, the Millennium Falcon playset was the largest set available, and also one of the hottest toys during the holiday season of that year. Opening on hinges, one half of the Millennium Falcon consisted of the ship’s interior as seen in A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, albeit exponentially expanded. Regardless, the set had plenty of neat features, like the Dejarik holochess table (sans holomonsters), secret compartments in the floor to hide figurines, a rotating cannon that shot missiles, and — perhaps the best of all — an oversized mynock figurine to wreak havoc with the ship’s power cables and such. The other half of the set consisted of a rotating hangar bay that held three ships, and also sported a functioning crane to grab them. While the Millennium Falcon from the films didn’t have the adequate space to house Luke’s X-Wing, my best guess is that Galoob was offering two playsets in one: the interior of the Millennium Falcon and a generic Rebel Alliance base of some kind.
1) Star Wars Double Takes Death Star Playset
Remember when I said that the Millennium Falcon playset was the largest set at the time of its release? There was an even larger playset on the horizon, one that rode the waves of the Star Wars boom during the release of the Special Edition Trilogy. And it came in the spherical form of the Star Wars Double Takes Death Star Playset! Galoob had placed all their toy mechanics know-how and flair for meticulous design into what many would call the company’s crowning achievement. Granted, it was kind of a bitch to put together, but the end result was amazing: a Death Star that opens to reveal a multi-tiered reproduction of Mos Eisley and the Lars Family Homestead, the latter having the charred remains of Owen and Beru molded onto the desert floor. The set showcases a number of key locations from Mos Eisley as well as a very small part of the Death Star which acts as the top of the space station when the set is converted back to its original form.
Another highlight isn’t the toy itself, but the artwork adorning the box. It’s common toy industry wisdom that great box art sells, and this one is no exception. The artwork slapped onto each and every package was painted by none other than the prolific Ralph McQuarrie — the man who practically designed the universe of Star Wars as we know it. Overall, this was a toy unlike any other, but if there was one thing that could’ve made it even better, it would’ve been John “Micro Machines Man” Moschitta, Jr. dressed as a Jedi doing the commercial spot. “MaytheForcebewithyou!”
*All photos used are from Jad Bean of Star Wars Micro Machines.