You’ve seen that i love robots and toys. Star Wars toys became a big thing for me beginning 1978 when they became available.
For the general public, the history of Star Wars toys started when the film came out in the USA in May 1977. Kids wanted to play with things from the film.
With the toy rights kept by George Lucas originally the licence was offered to Mego, who at the time produced a range of 8 inch figures for Star Trek and DC super heroes amongst others, but they turned it down. The licence in the USA went to a small company called Kenner. Owned by General Mills.
Kenner was overwhelmed by the response to the film and found that they couldn’t produce enough merchandise for the 1977 Christmas season. They did manage to get out some jigsaw puzzles, a board game and some paint sets. Things that were easily to produce and used existing tooling.
I never owned the board game as far as I remember but I do have two boxed puzzles.
With the lack out merchandise due to the time it takes to develop new plastic toys, the then president Bernie Loomis came up with the idea to sell an empty box. This box came with the promise of four of the upcoming figures being sent in the post when they became available between February and June of 1978. These included Luke, Leia, Chewbacca and R2D2. It also included stickers and an invite to join the Star Wars fan club. They had 600,000 kits available but only half of them were sold.
Initially the had the famous twelve 3 3/4″ figures, which were eventually available in the UK via a company called Palitoy.
This toy company was close to the hearts of many children of the 70s, as they produced a lot of favourites including the likes of Tiny Tears, Play-Doh and Action Man from 1966. Action Man was the British name for it’s American cousin “GI Joe”. Although nearly identical, AM started to develop for the more British tastes including the flocked hair, gripping rubber and hands and my favourites the eagle eyes and outlived the initial GI Joe range in America which actually ended in 1976.
Palitoy also eventually manufactured Care Bears in the early 80s. Cute.
The original 12 back figures which I remember from Pailtoy, featured hand drawn versions of the first 12 figures and three vehicles. I do also remember the die cast versions of the three vehicles.
The Star Wars toys were actually manufactured in the Coalville, Leicestershire in the East Midlands.
Anyway, back to 1978. My first Star Wars figure, if I remember rightly was Darth Vader, followed by Obi-Wan Kenobi, R2-D2, C3PO, Stormtrooper, which had to go with Darth, Luke and so on. I loved the gold chrome body of C3PO and how because of the manufacture you had to be very careful to rotate the arms and legs as I suspect the chrome process meant the paint was still sticky when the bodies were put together. C3PO didn’t officially lose his arms and legs until Empire.
I distinctly remember the light sabers. At least in the UK they were one solid piece of plastic. Originally they were meant to have a thin section which would extend out from the thicker section. But these were changed to be one piece.
I hated them.
I thought these sabers were not authentic, so I remember biting off the thin bit with my teeth to make them film accurate.
Through 1978 I bought what my parents would buy me and I would pick up any missing action figures for 99p from Blyth marketplace until I had the initial twelve. I suspect that the Death Star Trooper and Princess Leia were the last two as I needed to be the completist.
I also remember picking up something that is supposed to be quite rare these days, probably as it was an original Palitoy creation. The Star Wars Destroy Death Star Game.
I distinctly remember picking it up from a shop called Thoms, in Blyth, Northumberland UK. Even though it was supposed to be for two players I used to play with it, due to it’s unique game type.
The idea was that you had some transparent X-Wings and TIE fighters and you’d move them around the board. When you wanted to fire, you would turn the light bulb on and line it up with your ship. You’d then turn the light off and turn the dials which would move the bulb. When you were confident you’d turn the light back on. If the light was under your enemies ship it would be destroyed. It worked very similarly to an etcha sketch but with a light bulb and a vacuformed playing field. I loved it. I’ve no idea what happened to it, but I suspect when I got board, sorry, bored, I probably tried to take it apart as I usually did with my old toys.
I do remember some of the other toys but I don’t remember owning any of the initial Star Wars vehicles to put figures in. I do remember wanting the remote control R2D2, the droid factory and a Bop Bag, which for some reason were quite popular and burst quite easily when you jump on them. I do remember jumping on a few.
By 1978 Kenner had sold 26,106,500 action figures from a total of 20 figures released that year.
I did eventually buy the other eight figures in the series which included Greedo, Walrus Man, R5D4, Luke in X-Wing outfit (to go in your X-wing vehicle), Hammerhead and a Death Star Droid. I loved every single one of these figures, except maybe the Princess. Coz, she was the princess, I didn’t play with dolls!!!… oh how a childs mind works.
By the end of 1978 they we offering a Free “Rocket Firing” Boba Fett Action Figure if you sent in 4 proofs of purchase. Which if I remember at the time were the corners of the card backs if I remember.
I did…. It came.
Imagine my disappointment when I discovered they’d glued the missile in place.
At least I didn’t lose it.
Sadly Palitoy ceased in 1984 when parent company General Mills pulled out of the toy business leaving Kenner the main manufacturer for Star Wars figures and vehicles.
As well as the toys we had a bunch of books and magazines that were available at the time. As well as the weekly magazines we also had official merchanidising such as the Story of Star Wars book.
This book told the story we saw in the cinema but also featured some of the deleted scenes featured in DVD and Blurays of the future. This included the first meeting of Biggs and Luke.
Next blog we will be looking at the music of Star Wars and head towards the Empire Strikes Back for more toys, the Fett and a rubber hand puppet.