Birmingham, England. March 1985. It’s a cold, rainy afternoon as 5-year-old me trudges home from school alongside my soggy, cup of tea-craving mum.
We pass by a bargain-basement high street store, wherein no item costs more than 50p (around 75 cents). The window presentation pulsates with dingy randomness—it looks more like a set from TV’s Hoarders than a retail outlet. Yet an all-consuming, excitement-fueled grin engulfs my face. The reason?
Star Wars figures.
Hype surrounding 1983’s Return of the Jedi had all but subsided, at least in terms of merchandise. But Crash, Bang, Wallop—my local, frightfully-named discount shop—offered a MASS array of toys. Star Wars toys. Even better, each one cost a mere 25p...!
Was I concerned that my pals were more interested in Transformers and Masters of the Universe? Not in the slightest. Hell, I loved that stuff, too. But Luke Skywalker, Bobba Fett, R2-D2 and C-3PO, collectively costing my rain-ravaged mum a solitary pound...? According to my (highly scientific, meticulously researched) cash spent/nerdiness gratified ratio, it was the equivalent of buying George Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan lunch, only to learn the latest, most obscenely badass Jedi Knight goes by the name of OBI-BEN McCOOL-SAN.
Little did I know these reduced-to-clear toys could be worth a fortune in years to come. Not least if I’d maintained original packaging (rather than shredding the badboys to pieces in an action figure-induced frenzy).
It all comes down to this: Star Wars is among the shiniest beacons of collectability. Ahead of making his 1977 sci-fi odyssey, George Lucas famously turned down 20th Century’s $500,000 directing fee in favor of 100% licensing/merchandising rights. I’m sure Fox executives thought he was bonkers; lo and behold, Lucas’ gutsy move saw them miss out on billions of dollars.
This pioneering deal unleashed an assailment of Star Wars merchandise, and a steady pace of production has since been maintained. Kenner instituted the initial surge, with Hasbro taking charge in the early 1990s.
Cut to Present Day, and almost every character associated with Star Wars has earned action figure representation. Here are some (but certainly not all) of the more befuddling examples:
Attack of the Clones: Better than The Phantom Menace. Probably. But this much is certain: Both boast their share of misfits making fleeting appearances. None more so than Elan Sleazebaggano (AKA Elan Sel’Sabagno), whose Episode II contribution involved the attempted sale of black market cigarettes. Alas, his vending skills fell short of Glengarry Glenn Ross standards; after recognizing Obi-Wan Kanobe as a potential buyer, Elan Sleazebaggano found himself a profit-bereft victim of Jedi mind-trickery.
Sorry, Elan. Earning cash selling Death Sticks is for closers.
Return of the Jedi’s original line of toys included the Rancor Keeper (real name Malakilli, according to the action figure's packaging). How this came to be is anybody’s guess; the shirtless salad dodger couldn’t possibly have been less significant a character. His solitary on-screen appearance sees him bawling his eyes out after losing his monster. Boo-bloody-hoo.
CHEWBACCA (BOUNTY HUNTER IN DISGUISE)
What happened between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi? Why, that’d be Shadows of the Empire, a multimedia project designed to explore commercial potential of a motion picture release without, well, an actual movie. Focusing on the rescue of Han Solo from Jabba the Hut and Bobba Fett, Chewbacca was among Shadows of the Empire’s more severe fashion casualties, donning the guise of the bounty-hunting Snoova. Pitiful physical appearance made even his name seem (vaguely) cool… But an action figure was whipped up, fans purchased it, and yet more moolah reinforced Lucas’ bank balance.
Not even cinematic triumphs are free from the clutches of “daft/trivial characters becoming toys.” Willrow Hood’s defining moment in Empire Strikes Back? A (barely) one-second sprint across screen following announced evacuation of Cloud City. While holding a waste paper basket. Or an ice cream tub. (Perhaps even an ice cream maker, if Internet forums are to be believed.) Regardless, Willrow’s defiant embrace of the unknown contraption snagged himself an action figure.
What list of Star Wars-related oddities would be complete without a Phantom Menace-featuring miscrant? Gragra was a Mos Espa street vendor in Episode I, and Jar Jar Binks tried to steal food from him. The podracing Sebulba gets hit in the face thanks to Jar Jar’s failed fleecing (by the actual food, no less) and Gragra was never seen nor heard from again. Unless, in a fit of dumbfounding madness, you splashed cash on his action figure.
Yup, more Attack of the Clones guff. But this wasn’t the result of opportunist toy manufacturers…oh no. The librarian was immortalized as a figurine due to public uproar! Even Hasbro thought plastic representation of the Jedi Archivist was going too far, but Star Wars fans—never shy to exhibit supreme feats of loyalty—partnered with online retailer Brian’s Toys to ensure she who called Obi-Wan a liberal communist could stand proud amidst comprehensive toy collections.
MOMAW NADON (AKA HAMMERHEAD)
An action figure that looks totally different to its on-screen inspiration? Sure, why not. Hammerhead was one of four aliens produced by Kenner during 1978’s second wave of toys. However, Lucasfilm provided the designers with no more visual reference than stock photos. Thus, Hammerhead was released with an incorrect color scheme, missing uniform details, and no staff. A pseudo Ithorian…does it get any worse? Oh yes. For example:
LUKE SKYWALKER (MOISTURE FARMER VERSION)
Tons of Luke Skywalker variants have lined store shelves since 1977. Depicting the character’s many guises, it’s fair to say some are more…heroic in nature than others. None less so than this one, packaged alongside an otherworldly moisture-farming mechanism. Because no Star Wars toy collection is legit without acknowledgment of the tedious tasks keeping Luke busy early in A New Hope...
YARNA D’AL’ GARGAN
Remember that large, six-breasted lady seen strutting her stuff in Return of the Jedi? Y’know, the one inside Jabba’s Palace? Nope, me neither. But Yarna D’Al Gargan’s solitary scene of booty-jiggling sauciness (or lack thereof) was deemed deserving of action figure acknowledgement. No further comment.
The least surprising inclusion on this list (despite Vegas-favored odds for most excruciating) is the Holiday edition C-3PO, released in 2002. It’s just like “regular” C-3PO, only with an ill-fitting Santa robe that rivals Billy Bob Thornton’s “Bad Santa” for Christmas-begriming ghastliness.
Star Wars I Love You, But You're Bringing Me Down.
Or at least, some of your toys are really bloody weird.
Now, where was I...oh yes. About that Jedi librarian--