I’ll be counting down the days until I see The Force Awakens with a series of remembrances and observations about the franchise. Today, of vinyl capes and non-launching missiles; Star Wars on the toy shelf.
Early on, I was a terrible Star Wars fan. Because after not even wanting to see the movie in the first place, I then decided I wasn’t all that interested in the toys.
Not that there were a lot of them available that first Christmas. Kenner notoriously misjudged the demand for their Star Wars action figures and didn’t have them ready for Christmas 1977. So they sold an early bird kit that pretty much amounted to a bunch of cardboard promising you action figures as soon as they were ready, honest. And so great was the mania for all things Star Wars, kids begged for these things, trading instant gratification on Christmas morning for eventually gratification sometime that following spring.
But I wasn’t too keen on getting an empty box for Christmas, especially not when there were Micronauts to be had. Because man, Micronauts were my jam. And while Star Wars was undeniably awesome, the toys, when they finally did arrive, just weren’t as cool as Baron Karza and company. Han had this giant head and the lightsabers were these plastic tubes stuck in people’s arms and everybody was wearing these vinyl capes that made them look like tacos. Somehow, my sister ended up with some figures and the landspeeder, while I scored these awesome Micronauts city building sets with wind-up monorail cars and all kinds of cool futuristic panels and domes and stuff. Advantage me.
I’d still play with the Star Wars figures with my sister, but she wasn’t as into the story as I was. When I’d have Vader come stomping along, she’d turn it into him dropping by to visit Luke and Leia for dinner. The happy couple had a “special” child: the Jawa figure, which, given where the Luke/Leia relationship eventually went, was a remarkable bit of prognostication on my sister’s part. As time went on though, she lost interest in the toys, and they eventually migrated their way into my room as it dawned on me that there was a second movie coming, and likely a lot more of these figures on the way.
The Empire Strikes Back was when I really got the action figure bug. I was snapping them up like crazy, and did the same when Return of the Jedi came out. I even had multiple Ewoks. My Darth Vader action figure case was stuffed to the gills with little plastic people, each bin carefully labelled with the names of its occupants. Then I eventually got some display stands and had my small army arrayed on my bookshelf, tiny plastic guns and now proper lightsabers firmly in hand. I never went in much for the spaceships or accessories, but those figures were my shrine.
And at the head of my pantheon was the royalty: the 12-inch versions of Darth Vader and Boba Fett. Now Vader was cool, but Boba Fett? Boba Fett was awesome. He had bendable joints and a little magnifier in his eye you could look through and he just looked like a total badass. I now had my totem, and that figure would accompany me to college, through multiple apartments, and to this day stands watch over my bedroom. Maybe a little worse for wear, but still cherished.
The post-Jedi lull in all things Star Wars hit my toy buying as well, but when the resurgence in the early 90s happened, I made up for lost time. Seriously. I snapped up those awful, steroid-laced new action figures. I was buying Micro Machines like my dad owned stock in the company. I had unopened action figures hanging on the wall, because they were mint on card and going to be worth a fortune one day. I had multiple versions of X-Wings so I could have every member of Red Squadron. I’d buy variants, special editions, reprints, to the point I was physically running out of space for it. The Phantom Menace only kept the fire going, because now there were all new characters to buy. Plus I couldn’t just have the Qui-Gon Jinn action figure, I need the version that came with this vehicle, and the one that came in this set with Darth Maul, because they were all different, and didn’t I love Star Wars enough to own them all?
Then, during one of my moves, I realized I had a box of Star Wars toys I literally had not opened since I’d packed them in the previous move. They were just taking up space. They weren’t out on a shelf, they weren’t getting played with, they were just possessed. Things I knew I had and that was that. And the insanity of all of it hit me. This was around the same time I was working through my prequel denial and coming around to the idea that loving Star Wars didn’t mean loving all things Star Wars. And that also meant not having to buy all things Star Wars.
And so the great purge began. I started shedding toys, giving some away here, selling some there. A few years ago, the last of the action figures finally went, sent away to an eBay bidder, and with that, I was mostly clean. Just my 12-inch Boba Fett remained from my great hoarding. And I was okay with it. I didn’t need physical reminders of the films to remember how I felt about them. No amount of plastic could take the place of hearing that opening fanfare, of seeing that opening crawl. They were just things. They couldn’t compete with memories.
Nowadays, I’ve bent that rule a little. I have a ridiculous amount of ships for the X-Wing Miniatures game, but at least I play with those constantly, and they have a purpose beyond simply existing as a Star Wars thing. I have a couple of Funko Pop! figures because I liked the way the looked, not because OMG STAR WARS MUST HAVE. I have plenty of hats and t-shirts, but those are practical. But every once in a while, I’ll wander down the toy aisle, and see the array of figures on their racks, and remember when rifling through them to find the one you didn’t have was like a quest for the Holy Grail. And I’ll miss it just a little. That’s when I’ll go home and watch one of the movies or listen to the scores and remember I don’t need those things. Star Wars isn’t on a shelf. It’s in me.
Besides, I need the money for board games.
The Twelve Days of Star Wars