Response from licencees was lukewarm at best with several, including Mego Corporation (one of the most powerful toy companies in the 70s with their 8” figure line), passing but Bernie Loomis, president of Kenner, saw an opportunity. “I liked the name Star Wars [and] I liked the robots,” he said. Fox executives sold the company rights to all Star Wars toys in perpetuity, a deal made over Lucas’ strenuous objections. “We’ve lost tens of millions of dollars because of that stupid decision,” he fumed in 1983 to Dale Pollock, as recounted in Skywalking. When his lawyer Tom Pollock negotiated Lucas’ deal for The Empire Strikes Back, part of the agreement was that he got all merchandising rights back, so Fox couldn’t sour any new deals.
|George Lucas (left) and Bernard Loomis
With the licence in hand, Kenner began designing the range and Loomis made a key decision which would change the industry forever. Realising Star Wars would be vehicle dependent and it would be prohibitively expensive to scale the spaceships to a twelve inch doll (the size of Steve Austin’s figure and Action Man), Loomis apparently held his fingers apart and asked “how about that big?” The measurement - three and three quarter inches - was agreed upon and allowed Kenner to create affordable ships and playsets for the figures.
|The Early Bird Certificate Package (with the boxed four figures that
were sent later)
|Top - the Jawa sandcrawler playset
bottom left - the droid factory - bottom right - Luke's Landspeeder
|top - the Dewback (figures not included in pack, no doubt)
bottom - the Cantina playset
Star Wars figures were produced across the world by other companies, many of whom were subsidiaries of General Mills - PBP/Poch in Spain, Meccano in France, Toltoys in Australia, Lili Ledy in Mexico, Glasslite in Brazil, Clipper in Belgium & Luxembourg, Parker in Germany, Harbett in Italty and Brio/Playmix in Scandinavia. The licence in the UK was held by Palitoy, a name I knew well from Action Man.
|ad in Star Wars weekly issue 5, March 1978
|A kids toy, made of card - no wonder surviving examples are highly sought-after (and expensive!)
|Black Falcon logo developed by Suzy Rice (who also designed the Star Wars logo) and Kathie Broyles
|The 12-back series
|the 12 back card (left) and 20 back (right)
By the end of 1978, Kenner had sold more than 40 million figures for gross sales in excess of $100m. Sales in 1979 again topped $100m and the original toys (which ran from 1977 to 1979) were succeeded in 1980 by Kenner’s The Empire Strikes Back line. In total, there were 20 figures in the original line, 30 were added for Empire (1980-1982), 31 for Return Of The Jedi (1983-1984) and 15 appeared as part of the Power Of The Force line (1985).
|The full line-up
Bernard Loomis was inducted into the Toy Industry Hall Of Fame in 1992. The Star Wars action figures were added to the National Toy Hall Of Fame in 2012.
|Part of my Stormtrooper army
|My original figures, from 1978
|Han and Chewie
|My three 'best' Stormtroopers
|"These aren't the droids you're looking for..."
"Hang on, you're not Ben Kenobi - and hey, we're standing on the wrong side!"
Skywalking, by Dale Pollock
Deadline interview with Tom Pollock
BBC interview with Bob Brechin - Star Wars and Action Man: The rise and fall of Palitoy
The groundbreaking history of Star Wars Toys (io9)
The Hollywood Reporter
Interview with Bernard Loomis by D. Martin Myatt
The Making Of The Empire Strikes Back, by J. W. Rinzler
Star Wars: From Concept To Screen Collectible, by Stephen J. Sansweet
2017 marks the 40th anniversary of Star Wars, which was released in the US on 25th May though it didn't hit the UK until 29th January 1978 (following a 27th December release in London). I was lucky enough to see it in early 1978 and it remains my favourite film to this day.
To mark the anniversary, I'll be running a year-long blog thread about the film with new entries posted on the first Monday of each month.
May The Force Be With You!
Find all the entries in the thread here
Find all the entries in the thread here