Worst to First: My Star Wars toys


As classic as the original trilogy of Star Wars movies was, who are we kidding? The lasting love many of us have for George Lucas’ space opera series has at least as much to do with the associated toys we managed to get our hands on. After all, Star Wars and its immediate sequel The Empire Strike Back, were released at a time when home video had not yet become prevalent. Even when Return of the Jedi hit theaters in 1983, mainstream U.S. consumers were still a year or two away from thinking of watching movies at home as something that could be a common occurrence. Without the ability to constantly revisit the movies, we reinforced the existing stories we’d seen on the big screen and invented more stories of our own through the time-honored tradition of play.

George Lucas famously held onto licensing rights when his contract was written up for the making of the first movie, and we all helped to make him a very rich man. In a sense, we are guilty of creating the circumstances under which the reviled prequels happened. But nobody was actually prepared for how popular Star Wars would become. The movie opened as a ‘B’ feature and got kicked out of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood after just two weeks because of a pre-existing contract. Kenner secured the licensing for creating toys, but couldn’t produce them fast enough, leading to kids going to Sears and coming home with a piece of cardboard promising them a set of action figures once the darn things got made. My parents wouldn’t buy us a piece of cardboard, but as soon as the figures were actually in the store they happily let us choose one. I don’t think they quite understood at the time that wouldn’t be close to the end of it.

For several years these were some of my favorite and most coveted toys. I didn’t come close to collecting it all, but I sure feel like I got my share. Join me as I rank my favorites!

I’m going to start with the vehicles and play sets I personally had, beginning with the worst and working up to the absolute best, I’ll choose my ten favorite action figures and then you can judge my childhood toys from the comfort of thirty-five years later.

Vehicles and Playsets

8. Twin Pod Cloud Car


This is the hunk of junk that went a long way toward convincing me that some of this stuff was a ripoff. After seeing loving photos of it in the Sears catalog I marked it as something I really wanted for Christmas. After all, look at it. The unique design and cherry red color was really appealing and it was a new vehicle from the best movie in the series. Unfortunately, unlike the vehicles I’d gotten up to that point, the Twin Pod Cloud Car had no lights or sounds that could be produced by pushing a button and did no tricks of any sort. While that meant you didn’t need any batteries, it also meant a toy that really was just a piece of plastic. In addition, it was really light, lacking the heft and substance of the earlier toys. To top it off, the bright red color on the box was not matched by what you found inside, which was more like a dull industrial orange. Big disappointment.

7. Droid Factory


I don’t remember for certain, but I’m pretty sure I got this toy by saving up Kenner proof-of-purchase emblems from the boxes of my other Star Wars toys. Although the overall quality of the toy was pretty low, with some of the plastic being a little flimsy and the design being uninspired, this was actually a pretty fun toy. I was always a fan of toys that let me use my imagination to build different stuff and that was the main appeal of the Droid Factory. This was one of those Star Wars toys that did not originate at all from something you actually saw in the movies. There’s no suggestion in the original movie that the Jawas actually build droids, just that they fix and re-sell them. It’s only now, having typed the word “Jawas” and having seen the gross cultural stereotypes in the prequels that it has occurred to me that the word looks a little too close to “Jews.” Considering that they’re depicted as swarthy, unscrupulous businessmen just out for a buck, that kind of makes me uncomfortable. Kenner apparently didn’t make back enough money on this toy, because a few years later they repurposed the mold and sold it as “Jabba’s Dungeon.”

This dungeon set came with three really unpopular action figures, so we can look at it as a double dump. If you remember, in Return of the Jedi, Jabba’s dungeon included a section for the torture of droids which had displeased him. So if you own both versions of the toy, what you’ve got is a really dark lesson in the nature of a self-aware existence. First you create life…then you torture it.

On the bright side, if you were one of the many kids who managed to lose or break your R2 D2 action figure, you could build a new one with the Droid Factory playset…and then torture it.

6. Darth Vader’s Star Destroyer

I’m going to rank Darth Vader’s Star Destroyer playset relatively low based largely on overall value. This is one of the first toys I remember buying for myself, and I have a hard time feeling like it was actually worth the $20 in 1981 money I spent on it. Like with the two toys discussed above, the star destroyer featured portions which were made of very flimsy plastic and the spots where they were joined seemed to be tiny trails of melted plastic, creating an unsightly ridge. I was pretty unimpressed by having to do a little more than “some” assembly. The positives which allowed it to be this high on the list made the Star Destroyer a useful part of everyday Star Wars play. It was an environment for the characters to inhabit and interact in, and since it didn’t really look like anything specific I was able to pretend it was the Death Star if I wanted to. Part of what sold me on it to begin with was a number of bells and whistles, including Darth Vader’s meditation chamber, the pad where he talks to the hologram of the Emperor, an escape hatch, and a clicking laser gun for shooting at other ships. These features were helpful in providing story ideas when I was putting my action figures through their paces. Still not one of my better purchases, though.

5. Land Speeder


This might have been the very first Star Wars vehicle I ever received, and despite the fact that the plastic involved is again a little thinner than that on the higher quality Star Wars toys, it definitely has its share of positives. Because this was basically Luke’s car and an open-air conveyance at that, your action figures could easily walk right up to it and have a conversation with whoever was driving it (for some reason I remember C-3PO being at the controls an inordinate amount of the time). It also featured a pop-open trunk where you could keep a couple of those easy-to-lose guns. My childhood bedroom had a really cheap thin blue carpet that allowed the land speeder to roll along really nicely, so sometimes I’d pretend it could double as a speed boat. This rolling function was pretty novel among Star Wars toys, which was nice, but unfortunately the land speeder was neither aerodynamic nor heavy enough to maintain a good head of steam. Typically, like in the first movie, the land speeder would come out and get our heroes from one place to another and then they’d jump on a space ship and kiss the land speeder bye-bye.

4. Empire Scout Walker


This was just really cool looking and helped to even out the battle of my bedroom floor between the rebels and the Empire. The Scout Walker could carry one of your imperial antagonists and boasted four different laser cannons for torching any Ewoks who might show their furry little heads. Although again this toy didn’t have any lights or sounds, it did have a fun walking action that could be operated manually with a button by your thumb and of course encouraged lots of kicking and stepping on unwary action figures. Jawas, in particular, make a sound like a fart when the Scout Walker steps on them. The overall quality of the plastic was a little better than on some of these other toys, but I personally found that it took a few seconds longer to re-set it into a stable standing position than would have been ideal. Still, this was a fun toy that helped restore my faith in the Star Wars toy line a little.

3. The Millennium Falcon


When it came to being excited to get something for Christmas, the Millennium Falcon ranked pretty high up in my kid life. My family traveled to see my Grandparents that year, and I could see the gifts all wrapped up in the back of the station wagon. Nothing looked even close to big enough to be the Millennium Falcon, which caused me just a little chagrin. So when I saw the huge wrapped box with my name on it Christmas morning it was a true surprise and one of those moments parents live for around the holidays.

The reality of the Millennium Falcon toy was more of a mixed bag. On the plus side, it featured a unique alarm sound, clicking laser cannons, plenty of space for action figures to sit and interact, and IT WAS THE MILLENNIUM FALCON! On the minus side, some of its moving parts weren’t very reliable. The ramp door which allowed figures to run up into the passenger area to make a quick retreat was constantly coming loose and falling off. It got to the point where I just stopped opening the darn thing. And anyway, the ship had to be sitting up with its landing gear down and in place, but at least one of the rear landing legs was really loose and couldn’t hold much weight without collapsing up into its flight position. Because of this, my Millennium Falcon pretty much exclusively made crash landings on its belly. The Falcon’s large size was both a positive and a negative, allowing for lots of play inside its walls and making it an effective carrying case for my figures if i wanted to move to another part of the house (a practice my parents usually discouraged), but also making it a little unwieldy for flying around unfettered throughout the house. The fold-down hand grip helped in this a little bit, but any such venture required consistent two-hand operation.

2. The X-Wing Fighter


These top two toys could be swapped on another day. They were the meat and potatoes of any day playing Star Wars. The X-Wing Fighter was a pretty ideal toy, made with a heftier plastic than many others, but small and light enough to fly around the house relatively safely. It had a cockpit for one of your action figures and a fold-away piece of front landing gear. A battery-powered laser cannon offered both a flashing light and a blasting sound, which any kid can tell you are very important to add that final touch of realism for your outer space dogfight. In addition, the X-wing boasted a “goes to eleven” move in which pressing down on R2 would make the wings swing out into the “X” position the ship was named after. The only real negative I can think of is that the canopy on the ship’s cockpit fell off easily and many of my friends had broken or lost theirs. Otherwise, this was a pretty great toy.

1. Imperial Tie Fighter


Like the X-Wing, the Imperial Tie Fighter was an ideal size for flying around the house and was made with sturdier plastic than most of the toys here. Like the X-Wing, it featured a battery-powered laser cannon with light and sound. So what made me pick the tie fighter for first place when it would have been very easy to allow the excellent X-Wing piloted by the good guys win out? Well, two things: First, I never experienced any nagging maintenance issues with the Tie Fighter. The cockpit canopy always did what I wanted it to, and so did the rest of the ship as long as it had fresh batteries. Even the stems on the break-away solar panels that would sometimes snap off were designed to snap right back on very easily. Secondly, the afore-mentioned break-away solar panels never failed to please as a practical play effect. There are few things as fun as a toy that is designed to be destroyed, but then keeps on ticking. I hope whoever came up with this idea for the toy got a fat raise and a piece of chocolate cake.

Okay, so that covers the Star Wars vehicles and playsets I owned as a kid, but we all know that the heart and soul of playing Star Wars had to do with an effective lineup of action figures. There were plenty of characters who felt absolutely necessary (as a 7-11 year old boy it never occurred to me that Leia might be one of those), but there were others that paid off in being very versatile and useful in filling out the cast of your personal space movies. Between my older brother and I, we had something like thirty Star Wars action figures, which might seem like a lot, but depending on which lines you count is really only about a quarter of the figures that were available. What I’m going to do is to list and say a little something about my ten favorite action figures. Ready? Let’s go…

Next: Action Figures


Posted on December 13, 2015, in 1970s, Christmas, Movies, Nostalgia, Star Wars, Worst to First and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 25 Comments.

  1. Star Wars toys were definitely a staple of my youth. I wasn’t even aware of the infamous Kenner box as a kid. In 1977, my dad was a law student and we had no income. I don’t honestly remember Christmas that year. We were living in student housing and may not have had a tree. I’m not sure if we stayed there or came back home and spent the holidays with my grandparents. I suspect it may have been the latter. I’m going to have to ask my parents what we did for Christmas that year. I’m sure it was relatively low key.

    I received my first Star Wars action figure for St Nick’s Day in 1978. If you’re not Catholic, St Nick’s Day is kind of a warm up for Christmas on Dec 6. There’s a bunch of different ways it is celebrated, but basically we put out our stockings and they were filled over night by St Nick – not Santa – St. Nick. Which is kind of weird since Santa is also St. Nick or something. I got up before anyone else and was overjoyed to find a Luke Skywalker action figure in my stocking. When my mom got up, I was happily playing with it in the dark. She gently asked me not to start without her on Christmas because she wanted to see me open my presents. That seemed odd to me. My present was from St. Nick. Why would my mom want to see me open it? But I complied with her request and waited until she was up to open Christmas presents. My brother did try to set the clock ahead an hour to get them out of bed earlier, but they didn’t fall for it.

    When my brother got up, he opened a Han Solo and my sister received Princess Leia. Like you, we didn’t have a lot of use for Leia or really my sister who would have been almost three at the time. But since she had a SW doll, my parents insisted we let her play with us. So we would let her be Princess Leia who was always captured and waiting to be rescued. We were never in any particular hurry to rescue her. Eventually she would get bored and move on.

    By 1978, Dad was making good money as an attorney, so we were flooded with SW toys under the tree that year. We had all the essential characters; Vader, Chewie, Ben. Both my brother and I got Land Speeders which we loved. Having two allowed for races. They also served as vehicles for non-SW toys. I’m not sure if it was 1978 or not, but eventually I got an X-Wing and my brother got a Tie Fighter. The X-Wing was definitely the preferred space ship. This may be a function of there being two of us. Since the X-Wing and Luke were my toys, I was always playing the hero who blew up my brother’s Tie Fighter. He would have preferred a ship that didn’t self destruct.

    The Millennium Falcon was the one that got away. A neighbor kid had it, but we never did. We did get to play with his, so that was something. My parents didn’t like playsets or vehicles. My dad considered them a waste of money for hunks of plastic and the MF was a very expensive piece of plastic. We did get the Death Star which I have to admit was pretty dang cool. In retrospect, maybe cooler than the MF.

    We didn’t have any kind of allowance that would make buying our own toys a possibility. So I never experienced saving up for a toy and then being disappointed by it. As such, I thought the Cloud Car was pretty cool. It would have been cooler if it had some bells and whistles. But it was a two seater which was rare. I just imagined that it had weapons and made the noises myself.

    My favorite vehicle of all was the Snow Speeder. That thing was just cool. We also had some tauntauns and a Hoth playset. I think that was the extent of our expensive hunks of plastic.

    We never did have a Boba Fett. I wonder about the timing of the mail in and why we didn’t participate. Apparently the offer was in 1979 when we were already on the SW wagon. We only got toys at Christmas and birthdays. For me, both occurred within the same week. So perhaps the mail in offer wasn’t available when my parents were Christmas shopping. Surely if we would have seen it on our packages we would have begged for our parents to complete the mail in.

    I will agree that Bespin Luke was superior to the original variety. The built-in lightsabers were lame. Every kid I knew cut off the tip, but that still wasn’t satisfactory. My favorite Luke Skywalker was the pilot who I don’t think had a lightsaber at all. But he was perfect for my X-Wing fighter which I used to blow up my brother over and over again.


    • I sometimes tended to get the toys that my best friend did not have and vice versa. It’s why I never had a Yoda or a Taun Taun. That mostly worked, but I have to admit to Death Star envy. I was a little confused by the presence of two different cantinas and was initially disappointed that I didn’t get the one that allowed you to make characters fall down by pushing a button when you shot them. But in the long run, the set of cantina monsters were an indispensable part of how I played and I’m glad I had them. You could really only spend so much time in the cantina itself anyway.

      At first my brother and I took turns on the X-Wing and Tie Fighters because we wanted to ‘win,’ (we got them both the same Christmas morning) but pretty quickly I realized it was really fun to be the trigger man on blowing the Tie Fighter up. Besides, the Empire had an unlimited supply of those things, so we would just put it back together and fly it around some more.


      • I had a Yoda. I drove my mom nuts asking for one after Empire. My Luke Skywalker HAD to complete his training. Then I saw Jedi and Yoda is like “Complete your training is” and I was like “Wha?!?” He made such a big deal out of completing the training and now it’s complete!?!?

        When I would make my own Star Wars sequel after Empire, it frequently involved rebuilding the Death Star. This is probably due to the fact that the largest playset I owned was said Death Star. But when Jedi started with the rebuilding of the Death Star, I gave myself a lot of credit for having predicted that plot point.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Did you ever think about going to law school, like your Dad? You have the mind for it.


    • My dad greatly discouraged me from going into law. He never liked it. For a while, he gave it up which is why he got into side businesses like the pizza place and video games. But when you have six kids, you have to maximize your income. So eventually he gave up on those businesses and got back into law. My ex wife went to law school. In fact, she stopped being my wife as soon as she graduated (ie as soon as I was no longer the only source of income in our household). From what I observed, law students and professors are a sad, sorry lot. All anyone talked about was their crippling debt and how long it would take them to work it off. That’s even more true today than it was then.


      • My ex didn’t incur a lot of debt from law school, but found other ways to do so anyway. One real problem was that she ended up taking on family law, which meant she was spending her days surrounded by people at their worst and experiencing marital discord. These people were often despicable and untrustworthy in their current states. The whole thing rubbed off on her (or revealed what was there all along) and she started to think I was doing all of the terrible stuff her clients or clients’ spouses were doing. It made her suspicious of me and there wasn’t much I could do to convince her otherwise. You know what they say about proving a negative. When I told my best friends about her suspicions, they all sighed and remarked that she didn’t seem to know me very well. It was a big portion of why our marriage collapsed from my point of view.

        oh yeah…Star Wars!!!


        • sorry to take the thread off topic there, but I related to the law part more than the toys part since I was in 10th grade when Star Wars was released. My sister and I also didn’t grow up with a lot of material “things” so we never had large toy collections anyway..

          That’s funny that you both have lawyer exes, too! More insight about law and law school some time, in a different thread.


      • What;s ironic was that if, upon graduating high school, I had decided upon law as a career my mom would’ve been thrilled. She wasn’t thrilled with the one I was considering, which was radio. I had been a DJ at my high school’s station for all four years. But when I said I was considering majoring in that in college my mom’s enthusiasm went down. She knew how cutthroat competitive radio really was. I ultimately didn’t pursue radio mainly because I realized that the corporatization of it in the late 90s had sucked the soul out of it and turned it into something that was sterile and uniform.

        I spent a good part of my twenties trying to break into an equally competitive field: journalism. My goal was to break into that and write fiction on the side. Basically be my generations Tom Wolfe. Burned out on that around 28 and realized I’d like to make films. So that’s been my focus since.

        Back on topic.

        I remember my cousin had a ton of those Star Wars toys and figures. Don’t remember specifically which ones. I remember that most of them got thrown out or sold at garage sales. Which was a mistake for at least some of them.


        • “Thrown out” would have been a mistake, but “sold at garage sales” could have been a huge windfall for some enterprising fan. I sold a few things as a kid that I wish I hadn’t.


        • you write better than a lot of journalists today, Jeff…


  3. I never owned any Star Wars toys myself, but I knew kids who had them, so I played with those (especially at this birthday party for this kid Tom when I was in 1st grade; between the Atari 2600 games, the action figures, and the set pieces, it was all Star Wars. This was after “Return of the Jedi” was released). I remember liking the action figures more than the set pieces, and seeing that Lando figure with that awesome smile makes me smile (yeah, definitely remove that cape).
    This is a neat little time capsule here.


    • Thanks for reading, Glustery!
      Lando was badass in my play scenarios in a way that never really materialized in the movies. Not only was he a charming scoundrel like Han, but I imagined his hand to hand combat skills were pretty advanced. Han was a marksman in my mind, but he tended to be a little bloodied after a close quarters fight. Lando rarely had someone lay a finger on him.


  4. I’ve been a huge fan of Star Wars ever since I saw the movie on the big screen at the age of 5. Ever since that moment I’ve been a Star Wars collector, and I can honestly say that Kenner’s action figure and toy line from 1978 to 1985 represents the Heart and Soul of collecting Star Wars. There’s no other way to say it, Kenner created something magical with they toy line during that era. An entire generation grew up playing with those figures and toys, to the point where kids spent more time recreating scenes from those movies and creating new adventures than watching the films themselves.

    We fell in love with the films which made us want to buy more figures and toys, and in return the figures and toys made us fall more in love with Star Wars. What would be the exact opposite of a vicious circle? That would be Star Wars and Kenner.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I came into SW after the movies were out in the mid-80s, so my options for SW toys of my own were limited to peg-warmers lingering where you could find them. My brother and I did each get an action figure, he got Darth Vader and I got… the rancor breeder guy from RotJ! Oh man, that so sucked for me. And later we each got an Ewok. 🙂

    We did get to play with a lot of the toys thanks to having an older cousin and our best friend in elementary school who inherited all his older sister’s toys. He had /everything/. The MF, the X-wing, the land speeder, the snow speeder, the Imperial AT-AT, a bunch of the figures, and a whole lot of the little die-cast mini-vehicles.

    In the end, as much as we loved SW toys, our go-to action figures were our G.I. Joe guys.


    • My younger siblings inherited and mostly destroyed my Star Wars toys. I did eventually get a plastic bag filled with what was left. Josie currently has my beloved X-Wing pilot Luke Skywalker.


  6. I, unfortunately, never had a lot of Star Wars toys. We didn’t have a lot of money, and I was one of 4 kids, so getting a lot for Christmas was kind of out of the question. I had the Twin Pod Cloud Cars, Jabba’s Palace (but not the dungeon) playset (You could open the doors below Jabba and throw another figure in the dungeon, but it was really too small for anything more than that), Boba Fett’s ship (but no Boba), and my favorite, the Dagobah swamp playset. It had a foam swamp, so characters could sink into the quicksand. Objects levitated by pushing on other objects, and it came with Yoda! I got that for my 6th birthday in 1980. My Twin Pod Cloud Cars came the following Christmas. My favorite action figure was actually the Bespin fatigues Luke as well, but the Tauntauns were cool. I had one regular, and one with the belly slit so you could stick poor Luke inside it. I had a few others, but not a whole lot. I always wanted the Millennium Falcon, but never got one. It sucked having 3 sisters.


  7. My favorite Star Wars toy ever was the Death Star Play Set. It was huge and cost a then-princely sum of $50 bucks, but it had so much play value to it. I got it for Christmas one year and I had countless play sessions with that thng, probably for the remainer of my childhood even after Empire and Jedi were released. In second place has to be the Millenium Flacon. So cool…. In third place I would rank the Snow Walker (AT-AT) which was also an amazing toy for its time. Kenner could do no wrong during that era…


    • Wow, you had the Death Star, Millennium Falcon and the AT-AT?
      Hey everybody! After school we’re all playing Star Wars over at Craig’s house!


      • I’ve got a better claim than even having had those three vehicles. By the time I was buying the Return of the Jedi figures, I had 9 (!) Stormtroopers in my possession. Nothing looked cooler back then than having 9 Stormtroopers lined up in Imperial formation. I was always able to stack the odds against our heroes during my Star Wars playtime for some pretty epic battles.

        I was never rich or anything, but my mother and uncle did sometimes spoil me when it came to Star Wars toys. The coolest piece in my collection that I still have would be the Sand Skiff vehicle from Return of the Jedi. That sucker wasn’t released until later in 1985 when I was 13 or maybe even just turned 14. I was done with buying and playing with toys by then, but for some reason I just really wanted it and bought it. I took it out of the box and played with it once or twice, but by that age I felt foolish still playing with action figures so I just boxed it up and stored it away. I am glad I bought it though as it was literally the very last thing Kenner ever released during the vintage Star Wars line and since most people were done buying Star Wars stuff by then it is now relatively rare. And since I barely touched the thing the toy and box are still in nice condition too.


        • Most of my Star Wars stuff is still at my parents’ house and every time my nephew or younger cousin visits they really enjoy playing with them. Although I ended up agreeing sometimes with my Dad when he complained that these were ‘worthless hunks of plastic,’ considering how much actual playtime they’ve seen, they were probably some of the best toy investments my parents ever made.

          I often wished for a larger contingent of stormtroopers, but since I had at least five other rank and file Imperial figures I was able to operate within my own suspension of disbelief.

          I remember going through that transition into an age when toys no longer seemed acceptable. Stuff like Masters of the Universe and Transformers would have appealed to me if I had been just a couple years younger, and I was very aware that I had just missed them.


        • As Masters of the Universe goes, I had most of the main figures, including Castle Greyskull (also had a life-size He-Man sword. I had the power!). As for Transformers, wow, I pretty much had all the figures from generation one except for Thundercracker, but only a few from the next set (after the movie killed off a slew of the originals), such as Rodimus Prime, Blur (“Woo-hoo!”), Kup, and Glavatron. After that, I was done with action figures.


        • My younger brothers and the kids I babysat had a lot of Masters of the Universe, Transformers and GI Joe toys. So I got exposed to it second hand. I actually watched way too much He-Man because one of the kids I babysat was obsessed with it. He would play out all of the cheap animation that got reused in every episode. But my personal toy playing ended sometime between Empire and Jedi. Probably around 81 I would guess because I didn’t have any Raiders toys. So I don’t have any personal attachment to all the toy-based franchises of the 80’s. Transformers, Ninja Turtles, etc are all lost on me.


        • I didn’t realize until a few years ago how cheap the He-Man cartoon actually is. Combine that with the cheeseball city-ness of the live action picture (that didn’t stop me from recording it, just from multiple viewings), and it looks like the best thing about the He-Man franchise was the toys.


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