Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Coming To You From A Galaxy Far, Far Away...

When I started this blog, I made a promise to myself: No Star Wars toys. As much as I love 'em, they're not quite the kind of vintage toys I want to discuss. Besides, there are many other blogs and web sites devoted to the figures and they can do a much better job of it than I can. But now I'm going to break that earlier promise, just this one time. That's it. One post about some Star Wars toys that I've got and then I'm leaving them alone.

Those who don't care about any toys produced after the 1960s, you might want to avert you eyes.

First, a prologue. I grew up with Star Wars. I was born two years before the movie came out and while I missed it in 1977, I caught a re-release in the theater right before Empire Strikes Back came out. I saw that second film and Return of the Jedi upon their initial releases. Growing up, I had the action figures, I had the ships, I had the carrying cases, I had the toy blasters and early light sabers. I dressed as Luke for Halloween and trick-or-treated with a friend dressed as Vader. Generally speaking, I was geeked-out a Star Wars fan as any little kid with no autonomy over his life or source of regular income could hope to be. 

But eventually, I kind of grew out of the toys, and like so much of the stuff I played with, they disappeared into the backs of closets and later were uncovered and given to the younger kids living next door. 

Recently, however, nostalgia reared its mighty head and about two years ago, I slowly began revisiting some of my favorite Star Wars toys. At the same time, I discovered some vintage figures I never knew about when growing up, and that launched a whole new obsession.

These days, I've got two small Star Wars collections. The first is made up of the original 12 figures released in 1977. The second consists solely of vintage U.S. and Japanese R2-D2 toys. Neither is anything special compared to some Star Wars collections out there, but they weren't easy to put together, either, and I'm rather proud of them.

First up, the original 12 figures, all released in 1977: Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Princess Leia, R2-D2, C-3PO, Darth Vader,  a Tusken Raider, a Storm Trooper, the Death Squad Commander, and a Jawa. They're displayed on a collector's stand that came out in 1977.

These were all about nostalgia and recapturing a piece of my childhood. My rules of acquisition were fairly simple: Figures had to be loose so I could display (and... ahem... play with) them, but otherwise, I wanted them to be as mint as possible. All accessories had to be original. I didn't worry too much about getting the rarest or earliest variations; instead, I went after the versions I remembered having as a kid. So my Luke has yellow hair, not brown. Obi-Wan has a white beard, not a grey one. And Han absolutely has a small head. (Fellow Star Wars collectors will know exactly what I'm talking about.)

The collection of R2-D2s was in many ways a much tougher -- and expensive -- collection to put together.

R2 was always my favorite action figure, and I knew I wanted to have the variations: the Power of the Force R2 with the pop-up light saber, the Droids Cartoon version (also with a pop-up light saber),  the sensor scope R2, and the version of R2 that came with the Star Wars Droid Factory and features his center leg.

At the same time, I discovered the various R2s produced by the Japanese company Takara in 1978. Having never been to Japan, I'd never even heard of these toys when I was growing up. When I finally did discovered them, it was instant love. The toys are all intricately detailed, but not necessarily accurate -- which I think is great. I'm not a big fan of hyper-accurate toys; I don't think they leave as much room for imagination, whereas more abstracted toys are just waiting to be imprinted by the kid playing with them. (For instance, I think the Mego figures are way cooler than the McFarlane figures.) Takara's R2s also strike a perfect balance between the familiar -- "It's R2!" -- and the exotic -- "But he's kinda different looking!" -- that really appeals to me.

My collection of vintage Japanese R2s isn't quite complete, but it's close.

First, I've got the die-cast, missile-firing R2. True, the droid never had a missile launcher in the original movies, but who cares? Everything's cooler with a missile!

This toy came in two different boxes, and I was able to snag both of them. I like to keep the toy that came with the window box inside its box -- I just think it looks really cool. I also left the stickers on their sheet and the missiles on it's sprue. Luckily, the toy that came with the rarer black box already had its stickers applied and all missiles removed and ready to launch, so I can have my mint-in-box version and a version I can play with. Perfect!

I've also got the Film Strip Viewer R2.

It's also die-cast, but this version's larger than the missile-firing cousin. It features a bunch of slides depicting scenes from Star Wars that can be viewed by looking through a small, round window just underneath the droid's dome. Rotating the dome changes the image. And if that wasn't cool enough, this R2 also has a rear-mounted, flip-down double missile launcher. Again, every toy is cooler when armed to the teeth!

Next up is my rare, mint-on-card Zetca R2. This was made by Takara, and I think the word "Zetca" refers to the particular line, which, according to the promotional blurbs, was made out of a "space age metal." Nice!

I'm not normally the kind of guy who keeps his toys locked into their packages. However, I feel like this guy's survived for more than 30 years in a pristine state; I don't want to be the jerk who rips open the blister pack and ruins that. So in this case, I'm leaving things as they are. However... It also means that I'm looking for a second, loose Zetca R2. Call me crazy if you'd like; I call it having my cake and eating it, too.

I've got another bare-metal R2, the Takara Coin Holder. This was intended for vending machines in Japan, and I bought it with its original, plastic bubble. Incidentally, the only U.S. coins that fit in it are nickels.

Finally, the centerpiece of my collection, the coolest-among-the-weird of Japanese droids: the Takara Wind Up R2-D2.

This toy was originally produced in Japan, and legend has it that George Lucas was so enamored of the robot that he bought a case of them to give out to people connected with the film. He also suggested to Kenner -- who made all the figures in the U.S. -- that they produce the Wind Up R2. The company declined, but did produce a run of them in Canada. Because of all that, they're incredibly rare today, especially with both the front and back stickers.

I'm currently missing two other Takara R2-D2s: the bump-and-go, and the disk-firing versions. One day...

Besides the original 12 figures and the various R2s, I've also got some random, vintage droids and ephemera like pins and patches -- just stuff to flesh out the collection. I'm also thinking of picking up some of the more interesting aliens to come out during the first three movies, but those can wait.

R5-D4. One of my favorites. Without him, we'd never have Star Wars. His timely self-destruction opened the door for R2-D2 to hook up with Luke and, eventually, deliver the Death Star plans to the Rebel Alliance. 

Anyway, that's my Star Wars collection, and this was my one and only Star Wars post. Hope you enjoyed it all. And for the fans of the real vintage stuff -- the tin robots and ray guns -- stay tuned, I've got some doozies coming up.


  1. I saw Star Wars when it first came out. Yikes that makes me older than you! But it was my older brother who loved it. I found an unopened Star Wars Hildebrand poster in his closet after he passed away, but he never got any of the toys (He was too old for toys by the time it came out).

    People were crazy about the movie when it first opened. I recall the lines being very long for weeks after it opened.

  2. What a beautiful and focused collection, and as always a great post full of awesome photos. I was about 9 when Star Wars came out and still remember those days fondly.

    Also, that first photo of your R2 collection, I immediately zeroed in on the wind up R2 and thought "Whoa!"

    Thanks for sharing, now I need to go find some vintage figures to fill some gaps in my collection!

  3. I too am a bona fide Star Wars nerd and your collection has every reason to stir envy Doc--thanks for sharing!

    Really a great set up/presentation too. I think you had great criteria for the original 12. If I were to (and frankly this post is making me heavily consider) try and re-do my collection this would be an ideal system.

    Also why is the Japanese make such better stuff?! ;)

  4. @Chunky
    Definitely fill in those gaps! EBay has really helped keep prices down on most of the figures. I think the most I spent on the Kenner 12 was $27 for Princess Leia. Every other one was cheap -- and I was being picky!

    I had to establish collecting criteria early on or I knew I'd be screwed. There's so much Star Wars stuff, I could be collecting it forever. So I thought about the toys that really spoke to me, the ones that triggered the nostalgia the most. It was definitely the original 12, various droids, and some random odds and ends. I think I might also pick up a sampling of the aliens from at least SW and ESB.

    As for the Japanese making better stuff... I'm not sure, but I've got a theory. I think that the Japanese appreciate pop culture to a greater extent than Americans. I don't mean the enjoy it more -- they appreciate it more. They respect it. Toys, comics, cartoons, none of them are looked down on by Japanese culture. As such, when the time comes to make toys, comics, or cartoons, they put a lot of care into them. Anyway, as I said, just a theory.

  5. nice toys !
    I remember the days the star wars movie was at the cinemas. adults, kids and teenagers were exited about the special effects and the action of sky walker and R2d2. a lot of the people became a collectors of star wars toys and any other space related item seen at the store.
    your collection is 'out of this world'

    thank you for the pics and the information.


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