A regularly updated blog about my vintage Kenner Star Wars toy collection. Some stuff that I've recently acquired; some stuff that I've had since I was a kid. Some rare, some common, but all sharing the warmth, charm and character of the "first generation" of Star Wars toys - the ones we played with as kids in the late '70s and early '80s.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Star Wars Action Display Stand

The Action Display Stand has a sad place in my collecting history. As we all know, the ADS was originally available as a mail-in premium. Kids (or their parents) sent in Proofs of Purchase along with a cheque for shipping and handling, and Kenner supplied the Action Display Stand by return post.I can vividly recall collecting the Proofs of Purchase required and having my Mum send them away with the cheque, and then... nothing. Of course this was in the days of outrageous long-distance charges, and of course no internet or email, so there was no economical way to contact Kenner Canada in Erin Mills (or was it Don Mills?) Ontario - that was in another province!! - so I never got my Action Display Stand. Boo-hoo.

Of course today with the magical intarwebs anything is available, just add money... I picked up this Action Display Stand in around 1995-6 by mail order from someone in Saskatchewan. Again, it took a long time coming, but after a nasty email from me a package arrived... it was the Action Display Stand I'd waited over 15 years to get ;-)

Of course, everyone is familiar with the figures that live on the ADS - the first twelve Star Wars Mini-Action Figures. The ADS came with a decal to stick on the front that labels each spot on the stand for a particular figure. Later versions of the Stand came with individual name labels so collectors (kids) could label each spot as they liked, for any of the 21 figures then released.

Above we see the Stormtrooper, Death Squad Commander (note, NOT the "Star Destroyer Commander") and the infamous "vinyl cape" Jawa. The VC Jawa was the first release for this figure but was changed early on by Kenner to have a richer-looking cloth cape accessory to "add value" to a figure half the size of the others but selling for the same price. This is a figure I've had since I was a kid, and back then I agreed with Kenner in feeling a bit ripped off to have a tiny figure with a cheesy plastic cape. Glad I hung onto him though!

Threepio and Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi. Hard to find Threepios with tight limbs nowadays and mine is no exception, they're looser than... a very loose thing (keeping it PG). Apparently something to do with the plating process on plastic, once the limbs are "snapped" (moved) they'll always be loose. Ben is the grey-haired version. A bit of tearing on his cape, unfortunately.

Darth Vader, Sand People (sic), Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Chewbacca. I've had all of these since new, too. Nothing too interesting about the first three here but the Han Solo is the "small head" variation, changed mid-run to a version with a larger head. Like the VC Jawa, the small head Han is sought after but is not nearly as rare. My original Chewbacca came with a greenish bowcaster accessory that used to be prized as an "early-bird" variation, but I think that the advent of Internet info-sharing has somewhat debunked this. In the mid-'90s I came across another Chewie with the same green bowcaster and sold the weapon on for $35 - which was a lot of money for a gun, especially then. 

Princess Leia Organa and good old R2-D2. Artoo has had a replacement decal (boo! hiss! yes I'm working on getting another original) but he's also been owned by me since new. Decals were fragile and lots of play wore them off - and they didn't take well to water either. Working on obtaining another one with a better original decal.

Have to add just a word about the name of this item. Yes, there is one word that's out of place, and that is "action". Turn a lever and the four figures connected to it by gears under the stand will pivot in place. WOW! This must have really got kids revved up back in the day. It's a wonder so many of these survived in working condition rather than being smashed by tykes outraged at what Kenner called an "action" feature ;-)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Speeder Bike Vehicle

One of my best Star Wars memories is from 1983 - seeing Return of the Jedi in the theatre for the first time. The movie hadn't yet opened in our hometown here in Canada, but was already playing in theatres about three hours away in Minot, North Dakota. Our family (Dad, Mum, me and my four-year-old sister) made the drive down to Minot for the weekend to see the movie. Needless to say we were blown away! Not only by the movie, but by the plethora of tie-in toys already lining store shelves...

We did buy a bunch of toys (Ewoks mainly) but of course one of the coolest scenes in the movie features the Speeder Bike chase through the trees on the Forest Moon. I never did get a Speeder Bike at the time but one came up on eBay a couple weeks ago for a great price so I pulled the trigger.

The box design is pretty cool but of course the flap-style boxes that Kenner used for this toy (and for others like the Hoth Wampa and mini-rigs) often do not age well... as the flaps often get smushed down and creased as on this example.

Box top illustrates the various play features. One of the genius features of the toy is the spring loaded "T-bar" that holds the rider to the bike, by pressing down on the tops of the legs of the figure in the seat.

Inside the box, the toy parts have never been removed from their bags. With loose examples, the "speed flaps" at the back of the bike have often been lost over time as they are small and easily detached from the body. On this example, of course, they are present as the toy has never been opened.

Brochure included in the box.

Biker Scouts check out the contents of the box... obviously checking to make sure all parts are present...

"It's got the speed flaps - high five!!"

I love the Speeder Bike toy so I'm kind of sad that this one will never get taken out of its packing. The "blow-apart" feature is pretty cool and I'm sure a ton of these toys were catastrophically destroyed after impacts with backyard giant redwoods.

Kenner also continues to amaze me with the clever ways they designed toys to accommodate the barely-articulated action figures of the era. I mean, have you ever thought about what life would be like if you couldn't bend your knees? Think about riding a bike, or driving a car, or even sitting in a chair... practically impossible! On the other hand, Kenner designed some amazing toy features taking this into account... the Tauntaun/Dewback trapdoors and the spring-loaded Speeder Bike T-bar, just to name two. The subject of future blog musings, no doubt.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Creature Cantina Action Playset

One of the original toys I had as a kid was the Creature Cantina Action Playset. It's a pretty cool representation of the Mos Eisley cantina where Luke and Ben met Han Solo and Chewbacca for the first time. The box art for this piece is great, also. The droids are waiting outside (victims of the droid racism of the cantina proprietor), but Luke is inexplicably outside, too - underage?? Ben's about to cut off somebody's arm, and at the quiet corner table, Han has just shot Greedo (first!!)

Here's my current interpretation of the scene. Unfortunately my set is missing the rubber band that wraps around the door tops to make them swing open. I can recall as a kid never being able to make that work right.

There's some very nice detail on the decals and cardboard backdrop. The set also includes some of the ubiquitous lever-operated rotating platforms that figure in so many Kenner playsets.

Over in the corner there's a conversation underway... perhaps Greedo mocking Han over his small head? There is an action feature here too. Stand a figure on a small button (just to Greedo's left) and rotate the platform where Han is standing... this trips a trigger underneath and bumps the button, sending the figure tumbling over. You gotta shoot first to make it work...

Here's another angle on the playset, showing the front door to the joint. Luke is sulking outside because the bar is out of blue milk. Watch out for the Stormtrooper!

Interestingly, Kenner apparently reused the playset base (with a new backdrop) for their later Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: The Early Years / The Real West  toy line. Also, kudos to Kenner for marketing a playset about drinking. People actually smoked in the cantina too - horrors!!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Darth Vader's Star Destroyer Action Playset

One of the oddest playsets in the vintage Kenner line has to be the Star Destroyer playset. As we will see below in a review of the play features, this is a toy that doesn't seem to be able to make up its mind as to what it is. Is it a vehicle? maybe - it has "landing gear", and a handle underneath that the child on the box illustration appears to use to make the ship "fly". But it is obviously far too small to be a Star Destroyer, or even a reasonable representation of the bridge of one. Is it a playset environment? maybe - it has several different elements - the command pit, a space for Vader to communicate with the Emperor, and his meditation chamber - but these things were all very separate sets in the movie. And what is up with the Death Squad (pardon me, "Star Destroyer") Commander hanging upside down from the ceiling???

Obviously you know a toy is gonna be super-cool when it has pictures of bounty hunters on the box.

Box reverse has line drawings illustrating the various play features. Vader's meditation chamber closes down and lights up red, Vader bows before the holographic "Grand Vizier" (Emperor?), action figures duck out the escape hatch (into outer space??), Vader rotates around on his platform, bow cannon rotates and makes "laser clicking sounds".

Little kid flies the playset through outer space. Like I said, weird.

As usual I've set up the toy to replicate the box photos, down to the DSC hanging from his ankles. I know, super-nerd.

Vader describing the job to the assembled bounty hunters. But where are Zuckuss, 4-LOM and Dengar???

"You are free to use any methods necessary but I want them alive - no disintegrations!"

"Hey, what's up with Death Squad Commander?" "Oh, you know, just hanging around as usual."

Of course there are pits on either side of the bridge for doing "Empire stuff".

Crazy-ass gun mounted on the bridge of the Star Destroyer (?) It can be removed remotely by a lever underneath the toy, and makes clicking sounds as it rotates.

Inquisitive stormtrooper checks out the secret escape hatch. "Hmmm, I wonder where this leads to?"

Rear view of the playset. Note the back door openings that lead to...?

Hologram of the Emperor slides down to allow Vader to communicate with him.

This sequence shows the different positions for Vader's meditation chamber. First open (above)...


Pushing the button on top of the central part activates the red light. It's actually pretty cool.

I used to think that this toy was pretty lame, and actually posted as much on Rebelscum. But the more I thought about it, and especially after I got one and put it together, the more I think that this set is pretty cool. Not so much maybe for its play value, but for how much is crammed into it. Bounty hunter meeting space? Check. Man-cave for meditating with a funky red light? Got that. Command pit for doing Empire stuff? Yep. Secret escape hatch? Commune with the Emperor? Big-ass laser cannon? Pegs for hanging dudes upside down? Got those too.

And it flies.


Friday, February 1, 2013

Imperial Shuttle Vehicle

One of the last (and greatest) toys released in the Return of the Jedi wave was this absolute monster - the Imperial Shuttle. This sucker retailed for almost $40USD (can't remember what it cost here in Canada) but it's worth every penny of that as a showpiece of Imperial might and technology. I am consistently impressed with the box art and design of the old Kenner stuff and the Shuttle is no exception - it's easy to imagine this ship gliding into a hangar bay on the second Death Star, running lights flashing, and gracefully touching down on the polished deck in front of an honour guard of stormtroopers in gleaming white armour...

ANYWAY... on to the features of the ship. First of all there's the cockpit crew area with room for two figures. The tinted glass canopy swings up neatly to provide access. Note the double-telescoping ramp just behind.

Shuttle in landing position. The wings lock in the upright position through connection with a gear mechanism inside the ship. Many examples will be seen nowadays with these gears broken by careless play. The dorsal fin snaps on and off, and must be removed if the ship is to fit in its box. Always a nerve-wracking exercise to snap off the wing as it's a tight fit with 30-year old plastic...

There's lots of little detachable greeblies on the ship as well. In this photo the wing root guns can be seen, along with the laser cannons sandwiching each wing. All of these are separate snap-on parts and are often missing...

Ship interior with nice decals and pegs for figures' feet.

Rear view of the ship showing yet another detachable greebly - the rear cannon piece in dark grey just above the engines. Cover on right side of hull detaches to provide access to the interior. The piece with the engine stickers folds down to reveal the battery compartment powering the "laser battle sounds" feature.

Welcoming "the Boss" (replication of box side photo). Note ramp that telescopes out.

These photos give a good sense of the scale of the ship. While nowhere close to the scale of the movie model, this is a large hunk of plastic and must have taken up significant space on retail shelves. I reckon only the vintage AT-AT had a bigger box.

As shown on the box, the ship can be "flown" by holding the front landing spar. Pulling the trigger on the spar allows the wings to fold down into flight position, and the rear twin landing gear pieces fold up into the body.

This is one of my favorite vintage pieces. It's funny - when I first got back into collecting vintage (around the mid-'90s) a boxed '84 Shuttle was around a $150-$200 piece. Then in 2002 Hasbro re-released the toy as an FAO Schwarz exclusive at a price point of $99+... and some vintage collectors freaked out. However the new piece, while made from the original molds, was actually quite different with weathering deco and no electronic sounds. In late 2006 it was the modern collectors' turn to pitch a hissy fit as the piece was re-released AGAIN as a Target exclusive at an insanely low price point - less than $60USD! You'd feel a little rubbed if you'd paid $120 for the same item only a couple years earlier... especially when Target dropped its price to $41.88. Yikes. At least you could say that an FAO Schwarz box has a bit of cachet lacking in a Target-branded item... right? ;-)

Anyway, as with all things Star Wars, vintage is best, and I'm glad to have this one in my collection, picked up on eBay late last year for just under $80. Shipping, on the other hand, ended up costing more than half of that again!