I grew up not really a Star Wars fan, but a Return of the Jedi fan. Born in '79, it was the only movie of the trilogy I actually saw in theaters. Between crying out of fright over Jabba or pretending I could shoot lightning out of my hands like the Emperor if I tried hard enough, it wasn't until a year later that I saw Star Wars on video, and then The Empire Strikes Back, which at the time was way over my head. Now I can clearly recognize the second film as the best, and can see why so many people were kinda pissed off when ROTJ came out. This was the kiddie movie. Fortunately, at the time, I was a kid.
Growing up that way, I never developed the hatred of Ewoks and the last film in general that a lot of fans seem to have. Course, compared to the new flicks, Return of the Jedi looks like a masterpiece. And even if it's nowhere near as smart, sophisticated, or just plain good as it's predecessor, it'll always be my favorite Star Wars movie. That's partly because I adored the green lightsaber, partly because Leia got half-naked, but mostly because every last one of my best childhood memories root back the marketing blitz that came when the finale hit theaters.
Today, we take a look at some of the best toys inspired by Return of the Jedi. If you've been reading the site, you'd heard me talk about Star Wars toys the way other people talk about their families and their cool cars. Well, these are the ones I'm specifically talking about. These are the ones who hit my memory bank with a frying pan and throw me back into long forgotten birthday parties, Christmas mornings, and toys my mother bought me whenever I fell off my bike.
I used to fall of my bike on purpose a lot.
The Imperial Shuttle had to be the best vehicle in the entire line of Kenner toys. A monstrous ship that stood around two feet tall, with electronic sounds and wings bigger than my head, it topped every kid's want-list for a solid year back in '83. It was also one of the most expensive toys out there, being sold in boxes large enough to house a family of raccoons, and weighing around 7 or 8 pounds. Much like deluded fat ladies who place personal ads, the Imperial Shuttle was big and beautiful.
About three years ago, I found some schmo who was selling all his vintage Star Wars toys - still in the original boxes - for half of what the retail price stickers said. I ended up buying this thing which I loved so much as a child for a mere seventeen bucks, even though it sells now for well over a hundred. It was a triumphant moment. After we finished the large sale, the guy told me he thought it was 'sad' that I'd spent all that money on old toys, and said that he didn't want to bother going through his closets to find the rest. I responded with a detailed list of links to completed eBay auctions showing him the grave mistake he had made letting go of a 10,000 dollar Star Wars collection for 600 bucks. I felt like I had just blown up Alderaan. Winning is fun.
The ship might've been a little too big for what it was - it didn't hold many action figures, didn't really do much other than look great. It did, however, have a giant removable top wing which became a great practice tool in learning how to throw a boomerang. I was convinced I could make the top wing return to my hand if I threw it in just the right fashion, but in reality, all I was doing was denting the shit out of my centerpiece toy. But you know how kids are, we're torn between the desire to love and the desire to destroy. There's no gray area - you're either building something up or setting it on fire. I just wish my parents bought me more Go-Bots so I would've had crappier toys to beat up when I was feeling destructive.
Sy Snootles & The Max Rebo Band, the musical trio found in Jabba's throne room, also got the nod to become toys. Now kids everywhere could stage their very own alien rock concerts, culminating with someone getting fed to a giant dinosaur who conveniently lives under their soundstage. These are some of the most sought-after figures in the series, in part because they were only sold in a three-pack and fewer kids received 'em, but also because they look a whole lot different than the other guys in the series.
Sy Snootles was the female lead vocalist - if you've seen the movie, you might remember her as that yellow chicken-thing with the big pointy tits. Unfortunately, they removed her tits when it came time to make an action figure. Why does Leia get to keep her tits, but not Sy? She's got pride too. Droopy McCool was the flutist, a grayish pig-like creature who was allowed to keep his tits even though he's not supposed to have any to begin with. Kenner must've really hated Sy Snootles for some reason. Maybe she was taking bids from Mattel under the table.
Max Rebo was the best, by far - a fat blue elephant who sat inside a giant piano. You'll only really get to see these guys if you check out the pre-special edition version of the movie: the real version of it. When Lucas dolled it up for the reissue in the late 90s, he added seventeen-thousand computer-generated alien musicians and a friggin' Weequay playing the drums on Jabba's pots and pans. To some of us, this was like the Catholic church deciding to redo that pesky fifth commandment with a holy order to adorn your car with Jesus bumper stickers.
I liked some of the additions to the Special Edition Star Wars films, but I'd gladly eradicate them if I meant we wouldn't have to see Boba Fett flirt ever again.
It was only a matter of time before Kenner created and sold a Rancor Monster toy - the creature Jabba feeds his adversaries to. I used to be absolutely terrified of this thing as a child. The movie version, not the toy version. Actually, I was terrified of Jabba too, and everything else in his palace. I don't know many four-year-olds who could roll with the punches when they're sitting in a dark theater watching a 50' screaming dragon bite people's heads off.
They went the whole nine yards with this one - the arms and legs are posable, and a small button on the Rancor's back lets him chomp away on whatever you put inside his mouth. For some reason, I always liked feeding him pennies. I guess it's how he got the great copper sheen.
The Speeder Bike, fashioned after the little scooters everyone uses on Endor to race through the forest, was a neat little toy. I used to run around with this thing making car noises until I crashed into a wall. Not just once, it happened fairly often. Aside from being a good representation of the vehicle from the film, the Speeder Bike had a button you could press to make the entire thing explode into small pieces. I mean, really small pieces. Once you made the thing explode, chances were good that you weren't going to find all the pieces again. I guess that's why they made Speeder Bikes relatively cheap - I must've gone through thirty dozen of the things.
The Ewok Village quickly became Party Central in my little toy world - a place where figures from all lines could get together and have barbecues. Whomever was put 'in charge' of the Ewok Village on a certain day was, by default, the most powerful toy I owned. I usually let Hordak run things because it was amusing to watch him order around Ewoks, who were the delegated cooks and waiters of the village parties.
Three plastic trees held together a large base, big enough to host dozens of Star Wars figures. Well, dozens if you don't want to allow for much breathing room, but dozens nonetheless. It wasn't the type of playset kids actively sought, moreover one you got as a surprise and then fell in love with. After all, most little boys are gonna choose spaceships and monsters over a few trees. But those kids would miss out - you could've probably done more with an Ewok Village than you could with any other toy that's ever existed or will ever exist. The possibilities were endless. Check out some of the features...
One of the trees was hollow, creating an escape hatch so your figures wouldn't have to jump thirty feet to the floor if they had to use a bathroom. Because not every figure was brazen enough to slide down a tree, they had a wooden elevator, string-tied to a high branch. There was also the spit fire, which came in handy when you wanted to make Ewoks cook Han Solo.
There's more, too. The throne C-3P0 sat his gold ass on...a snap-up capture net...a boulder tied to one of the trees for no apparent reason...hell, there was even a railing that ran the entire length of the platform. They don't make toys like this anymore. My sister bought me this for a birthday long ago, and to this day I still thank her whenever I see her. Probably because I still play with the Ewok Village on a daily basis. I like making the Ewoks complain about mortgage payments.
Even though Darth Vader didn't really fly much in Return of the Jedi, Kenner felt it was important to supply him with a new ship. Hey, every kid who was into Star Wars already had a TIE Fighter...no money left in that well.
Come to think of it, Vader didn't do much of anything in the last movie. Seemed like the guy got so bored he tried amusing himself by fitting the word 'master' or 'son' into every sentence he spoke. After two movies of Vader kicking the unholy ass of everyone who annoyed him, he was just a big ol' softy in the finale. I'm surprised candy didn't fall out of his forearm when Luke chopped his hand off. Just when you thought they couldn't kill his mystique any further, they take his mask off, and who's underneath? Something from the Halloween edition of The Eggers comic strip. And then Luke burns his body while everyone else watches a fireworks show. 1983 wasn't kind to the Sith, but here's his new ship:
The TIE Interceptor. Just like the TIE Fighter, only more pointy. This was an extra-special vehicle. With the previous Star Wars ships, your only course of defense against friends who continually wanted to play with your toys was simply saying 'no,' or hiding in your house. Now, with the TIE Interceptor, you could use the wings to poke their eyes out.
If that wasn't good enough, it had electronic sounds! Course, the 'realistic battle sounds' appeared more like a looped playback of the noise made by an electric razor, but kids weren't too picky.
Stuffed plush Ewok dolls. You know, for the girls. And for me. Hugs n' kisses, Wickett. Cute lil' guy. The best part about these dolls were the removable head cloaks - sized perfectly to fit over a little kid's head. I loved pretending I was an Ewok warrior, it gave me an excuse to carry spears.
More Ewok toys - the 'Ewok Catapult' and 'Ewok Glider.' Just a buncha stuff prefaced with the word 'Ewok.' The catapult came with plastic rocks that could be launched towards the Stormtroopers, while the glider came with plastic rocks that could be dropped on a Stormtrooper's head. Man, these Ewoks really liked their rocks. Hell, they managed to ward off a huge legion of Imperial troops with 'em! Could you imagine what kind of war machines those little teddy bears would've turned into if someone introduced guns to their village?
By the way, most Star Wars fans hated Ewoks, which were obviously thrown in there to sell toys and make children more interested in the movie. Again, I was a kid at the time, so I've never had any problems with Ewoks. Except the one who died. I really didn't want to have to feel bad for a midget in a bear suit, but there it was. Stupid dead Ewoks.
The Emperor action figure was first issued only in mailaway offers. He came in a tiny white box, sealed in a little baggie. I don't know how many of you have had the pleasure of opening a Star Wars figure that's been sealed in a Kenner baggie, but the plastic smell intensifies by a huge degree. You could easily get high off the stuff. It's probably why I thought Kenner sent me a small dancing clown for the first twenty minutes after he arrived.
Ah, the glorious Force Lightsaber, a life-size replica of the Jedi weapon. I remember it well, but it's not exactly my fondest memory. I used to chase around our old dog with this thing all the time, and on one particular mission, Sparky ran under the kitchen table. I was a lot shorter back then, obviously - short enough to run under the table without having to crawl on my knees. Well apparently, on this day I grew a few inches: as I ran after Sparky, my head smashed against the table, leaving me a crying mess with a lump the size of a Dewback on my forehead. And in my sick, twisted little world...this was all the dog's fault. Nevermind the fact that I was chasing it around the house with a huge plastic sword...it was all the damn dog's fault.
Worse yet, my parents wouldn't let me play with the lightsaber anymore after that. By now I could've been a Jedi, but that damn kitchen table and that DAMN STUPID DOG ruined everything. Now I know how disappointed Obi-Wan must've been when Anakin went sour. By this point in my life I should be able to jump 20 feet into the air and choke people to death by snapping my fingers. Instead, all I've got is a small hairline scar and no more toy lightsaber. I should've been a Trekkie instead.
The commercials for these toys go a long way in explaining exactly why kids were so into Star Wars. They weren't just thirty-second spots featuring ugly kids holding up toys while smiling, no way. These things were literal adventures, the figures doing everything from killing each other to practicing medical experiments on their enemies. It's obvious that they put a lot of effort into 'em, some of the ads had several dozen Star Wars figures posed for battle with little children rambling off an intense prepared script about the fate of the world being dependent on whether or not a B-Wing Pilot could beat up Klaatu....
The ultimate security defense utilized against the Rebels on Endor by the universe-spanning multi-gazillion dollar Imperial forces? Styrofoam cups.
Biker Scout: Stop hiding behind giant pinecombs, you Ewok!
Chief Chirpa: Nub, Nub, Nub Nub, Nub - youuu can't catch me!
Rancor Keeper: We're the two fattest figures in the entire Star Wars collection!
Gamorrean Guard: And the two least-purchased. Coincidence or conspiracy?
Rancor Keeper: The way I see it, people are just waiting to buy us last. They know we're the showstoppers. Once they have us, nothing can top it.
Gamorrean Guard: Let us celebrate by eating pies and people!
Rancor Keeper: So fat...we're phat!
Gamorrean Guard: So large...we're in charge!
Rancor Keeper: I wish I was dead.
Han Solo: Hey! I haven't worn these clothes in like, five years. What gives?
Logray: They haven't made your 'Endor Fatigues' figure yet.
Han Solo: Fine. I'll just finish my crossword puzzle until they do. I need a little help - six letters, two words, for 'Ewok battle cry.'
Chief Chirpa: Nub Nub.
Han Solo: Thanks! Okay - three words, nine letters, for 'Ewok birthday song.'
Chief Chirpa: Nub Nub Nub!
Han Solo: Thank God this is the last film.
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