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The Toys of Star Wars

Posted on 13th December 2017 Plastic History Vintage Star Wars Action Figures

Forty years on from the release of the first Star Wars film, we’re eagerly awaiting the release of the eighth instalment in the series. This year, like so many years, the present at the top of the Christmas lists for children (and adults) around the world is a Star Wars toy. In the 1970s and 80s over 300 million plastic Star Wars action figures were sold, as well as endless toys, clothes, home accessories and appliances! Original Star Wars toys have become prized collectors’ items, their enduring appeal fetching eye-watering prices, and certain items earning their own cult like status. 


“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”


In 1977 Kenner Products, an American toy company, acquired the master licence from Lucasfilm to produce all toys, games and crafts based on the Star Wars films. The company created several lines of toys, the most popular being a set of 96 colourful 3 ¾ inch action figures modelled on the characters of the original trilogy. The incredible popularity of the figurines made the 3 ¾ inch scale an industry standard, still used today. 


Unable to keep up with the insatiable demand for Star Wars merchandise, Kenner sought a UK manufacturing partner. The Leicester-based manufacturer Palitoy, the makers of Action Man, produced and redesigned some of the Star Wars products for the UK market. One of the most famous redesigns, is now one of the most sought-after Star Wars collectibles. 


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“That’s No Moon!”


Kenner’s Death Star Space Station, at nearly 60cm tall, was one of the biggest toys made at the time, but the plastic toy which retailed at $18.00 was considered too expensive for the British audience ($18 would be about $70 today). Palitoy created a smaller, cheaper version from cardboard, which sold for £6.02, or about £35 today. Thousands were sold in the lead up to Christmas 1978, the sturdy cardboard hemisphere with plastic garbage chute and chairs was the must-have toy that year. 


Understandably, the cardboard toy hasn’t had a high survival rate, there are thought to be only a handful that are still in mint condition. In the past few years the Palitoy Death Star Playset has been sold for thousands of pounds, fetching £4800 in 2015. It’s considered the holy grail of collectibles by many, damaged (or well played with) sets held together with Sellotape still fetching a couple of hundred pounds. 



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