Director George Lucas passed up an extra $500,000 in director fees when he made Star Wars (1977) in exchange for retaining control of merchandising and licensing rights. The move would end up costing Fox billions.
Lucas duly received an offer from Kenner who then began to panic towards the end of 1977 when the company recognised how successful the movie was and realised they had no toys ready for the lucrative Christmas period. As a result, they sold a redeemable voucher called the ‘Early Bird Certificate’ which allowed kids to send off for Chewbacca, Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker and R2-D2 when the figures were available. Kenner sold 500,000 vouchers at $7.99 each. The Star Wars figures line had begun . . .
Eight additional figures soon joined the original four, including Han Solo, Ben Kenobi, Darth Vader, C-3PO and Jawa. In total, Kenner released around 100 figures over a nine-year period, giving full-set collectors plenty to aim for.
It was every parent’s nightmare. A seemingly endless stream of plastic figures that were just affordable individually, but for which you’d need to take out a second mortgage to complete the set.
Dozens of figures were produced in at least two different sizes, along with scale models of hardware from the film and electric guns that emitted a series of ear-splitting death tones – at least until you played with them in the rain.
Several vehicles and playsets were released at the end of the 1970s, including the Millennium Falcon, TIE Fighter, Landspeeder and Death Star.
The Leicestershire-based toy company Palitoy won the rights to releasing Star Wars toys in the UK and even introduced variations that weren’t found in the original Kenner brand.
As the brand wound down in 1985, Kenner began releasing figures under a new brand called Power of the Force. In addition to repackaging many older figures, 15 final figures were added – from a carbonite-encased Han Solo to Luke Skywalker in his Stormtrooper get-up – all of which can now fetch huge prices on the collector’s market.
Ten years after the original Star Wars range ended, Hasbro/Kenner resurrected the line in 1995 with a range of better-detailed but more muscular figures. As well as remoulding several classic figures, they also renamed many to tie in with characters from the new “Expanded Universe”.