Back in the mid-1970s, George Lucas’s visionary deal to retain merchandising rights for Star Wars when signing on the dotted line with 20th Century Fox would go on to make him a fortune. But what was your first prized trinket from the galaxy far, far away? The folks from Fantha Tracks reminisce.
In the UK, Star Wars was greeted with the same excitement that had been experienced months before in the US. What fans in Britain and other territories also experienced was an initial lack of toys. Famously, Kenner sent out the Early Bird gift certificate box with a promise to send figures as soon as they were available.
Palitoy, a respected and ever-present toy producer at the time, held the licence in the UK to manufacture the same first 12 action figures. Soon production lines at its Leicestershire base would be struggling to keep up demand with the 3 ¾ inch range of action figures that would litter the bedroom floors of children throughout the late 70’s and 80’s.
Over the years – and largely depending on when you were born – your first toy connected to the saga would vary.
Beyond that much-prized original 12, further Star Wars figures were released, mail aways were introduced and each subsequent film would bring with it a new range of figures, ships and accessories.
The modern day is a much more confusing time to be a fan, with multiple waves of figures. Do you choose the basic range, multi-packed versions with different accessories, black series – of various scales – the 12 inch range, Titanium selection? The list is endless.
Wherever you joined the party, whatever your first treasured toy, one thing unites us all. A love of Star Wars can be as strong in someone who discovered it last year as one who was there from the beginning. As much as a child of today might envy ‘pioneering collectors’ of the 70s and that first range of toys, seasoned fans can look on with envy as a new generation gets to experience what they did all over again.
I was born in 1970 so when Star Wars arrived in the UK I was the perfect age to see the galaxy as it sprawled into life for the first time on the silver screen.
Naturally, I collected the Marvel Comics adaptation and Topps cards, but it was the Palitoy action figures that would become my main focus.
I was raised in a small market town with no cinema. To see Star Wars, my younger brother Martyn, mum and dad travelled half an hour in our bottle green Morris Minor to Wellington in Telford and queued in the chill of February ’78 to see the spectacle at the Clifton Cinema.
Back in my hometown of Newport a few weeks later I saw my first Star Wars figures hanging from pegs on a toy stall at the indoor market. If memory serves me right there were three to choose from. Princess Leia in her white vinyl cape was joined by Ben (Obi Wan) Kenobi and the hero of the hour Luke Skywalker. They were priced 99p each.
I chose Luke and my brother, then aged 4, wasn’t too happy that his options were an old white bearded man or a doll. A few tears later and my Luke and his Ben were in the bag.
The cartoon drawings of ‘the first 12’ on the back teased the future toys I would collect. And I am sure I am not the only kid that was a little disappointed when the Jawa did not have glow in the dark eyes as alluded to on the 12-back list.
Even as a seven-and-a-half year old I thought it curious that Luke had a yellow lightsaber rather than blue and would frequently ‘borrow’ Ben’s telescoping laser sword to improve Luke’s aesthetic.
The hours of fun we had with what developed effectively into a joint collection are so memorable. In time we would amass an army of stormtroopers (six in total) as well as the remaining characters in the initial line. We even had a vinyl-caped Jawa. Actually, when we first saw the cloth-caped version in WH Smith in Telford we dismissed it as an error at first.
Yes, the collection grew as the films were released – and my favourite would change like the weather – but there was always something special about that first Luke Skywalker action figure.
When Star Wars first came out, there was not a lot of merchandise available for my parents to buy after the movie was released. However, sometime in 1979 they did buy me and my siblings the Star Wars Read A Long Story Book with 33 1/3 RPM record. This record included the story along with sound effects from the movie. With the instructions to turn the page after “Artoo-Detoo Beeps”.
My brother, my sister and I listened to this so many times that we decided to play act to it instead of just sitting and reading it. My brother did the male characters, my sister, since she was the youngest, did C-3PO and I play acted to Princess Leia. We usually played in my room, because of the bunk bed. We would jump around using the bunk bed for many parts of the story including space ships and the Death Star.
I sure wish my Mom or Dad were able to take pictures or videos of those times. Unfortunately, all that’s left are the memories.
My first memories of Star Wars – and I was 6 when I first became aware of Star Wars – are sprinkled with a liberal dose of 70’s fashion, three channel TV, Radio 1, my Dad’s 3 litre Ford Capri, Spangles and flares. We may be forging on towards the third decade of the 21st century, but to me Star Wars will always be very 70’s and inherently British.
For kids of my age, the average school day felt like 18 hours, the first four weeks of the 6 week summer break felt like 4 months and the final 2 weeks like 2 days. It was always hot in the summer, knee-deep with snow in the winter and any excuse to bunk a day off feeling ‘ill’ was there to be taken, because those Star Wars Weekly‘s weren’t going to read themselves, were they?
My first ever Star Wars anything was a comic, issue 6 of Star Wars Weekly, soon to be followed by the novel and the double vinyl album, both given to me by my uncles. All very cool, but what I really wanted to get my hands on was one of those awesome Star Wars figures everyone in the playground was talking about. I was an Action Man kid. My gran even knitted him a cricket jumper, and I made a bat out of a lollypop stick, but he was too big to take to school. A Star Wars figure would fit nicely in my parka pocket.
I can’t remember the name of the shop I got that first figure from. I don’t think it’s even a shop anymore, but I remember very clearly that the first figure I got was Death Star Droid. An odd choice, as the other figure in the shop was Greedo, and the first time I saw Star Wars, me and my Dad had arrived late and sat down to the Han and Greedo face-off (yes, Han shot first). Looking back, why I chose DSD I don’t know, but I have a sneaking suspicion I thought he was actually See Threepio (or C-P30 as I insisted he was called to all of my fellow year three pals).
I still have my original figure. Like many DSD’s over the years, his limbs became loose, to the point that he would no longer stand up, so I wrapped some cotton in the joints to tighten him up and tried to take good care of him. After my folks passed away and I came into some money I bought my best friends collection from him, something that meant a lot to me as we spent whole summers playing with our shared collections as kids.
These days I’ve got a sizeable collection, built over the decades since I first stepped into that dusty old shop on Rugeley Road, but very few things in the collection mean as much to me as that old chrome-covered boy does.
Megan Zomboracz Cullinan
As a child, I really had no clue what Star Wars was. All I knew was that I had R2-D2 Underoos, and I called him Arty-Dooty! But I never had the chance to play with any Star Wars toys.
It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I became a fan, when the Special Editions had just come out and The Prequels were soon to follow. I was overwhelmed with what was out there to buy! I had a part-time job, so I was able to indulge in a little Star Wars spending, however. I remember scouring the local department stores for any deals I could find. I mostly was interested in the action figures, especially of Leia and Padme. So, I was able to amass a small but proud collection of these amazing female characters!
As an Original Trilogy child (or old git) my first toys were the Palitoy figures. I can’t recall exactly when I got my first figures, but it may well have been for my 6th birthday in April ’78. By then I’d been to see the film (in a family trade off I had to go and see Pete’s Dragon with my younger sister) and was getting the comics ‘put by’ at my local newsagents.
Memory eludes me now (see the earlier ‘old git’ comment), but my first figures were Luke, Darth Vader and a Stormtrooper. I still have my figure collection from that time, all showing the tell-tale signs of a childhood filled with re-enactments and new story lines, and here is the line up of those very same figures. Now, pass the Wurthers Originals.
As a collector now I have amassed a large collection of Hasbro figures but it all started with a visit to Chessington World Of Adventure in 1999 and my first purchase, a then brand new character – Darth Maul.
What’s now seen as a very basic figure started my collecting bug and my interest in the Star Wars universe which has grown and grown over the years
I was born in 1977, but my first contact with Star Wars was some time later. I do not remember if it was with 6 or 7 years, or with Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi, but I do remember that my first Star Wars item was a promotional item from Nescau, a powdered chocolate, which was toasting Darth Vader’s mask.
It was a simple mask, and I played a lot with my brother. I would put it on, become the villain and start chasing the good guys. It took me a long time to get another Star Wars item because I lived at the countryside, and it was difficult at the time for these items to arrive, and when it arrived it was too expensive.
Only years after I went back to collect Star Wars, but that’s when I discovered the comics and books, I preferred them to the action figures.
It was Christmas 1977 and Star Wars had not even hit the cinemas here yet, but I remember my sister and I opening our presents in our parents bed (I would have been 4 and she would have been 8 so my memory is pretty fuzzy) and I was slightly bemused to receive an LP from my parents – it was Star Wars on one side and 2001 on the other. I played this album over and over again and actually did not realise that 2001 was a different film, so I thought it was all Star Wars!
I loved that album but later on in the next year on a day out to Broadstairs, in Kent, my life was turned upside when we went in a toy shop and there were Star Wars action figures. I can still picture them hanging on the peg and I spent ages looking at each and everyone in true amazement.
Eventually I was told that we had to leave but, joy of joys, I was allowed to pick a figure to take home. This was a tricky choice, but in the end I chose to go for the character who had absolutely petrified me when I went to see the film (maybe I had beaten my fear by the end of film and I a felt this was my trophy). Yes ladies and gentlemen, that day I took home the mighty Chewbacca. I have always loved those original figures and when I wasn’t playing with them I had them on display in my room.
When I had children they were handed down for them to play with and they also treated them well, which means that 40 years on (nearly) that original Chewbacca can still come out to play!
As a child growing up in Northern Ireland in the height of the troubles, trips out to toy shops were far and few between. The other problem was availability of anything let alone Star Wars, so when the trips actually happened you grabbed whatever you could. It is with that in mind my first toy bought isn’t an obvious one for such a rebel girl.
At the age of 5 my Grandad took me to the Rinka toy shop in a small seaside village called Islandmagee. It was there that my Star Wars obsession began with gusto. I was allowed 2 toys, lucky for me they had 2 toys in stock!
The first was the Pallitoy Imperial Troop Transporter, it was amazing! It had 6 sounds that included C-3P0, R2-D2, a stormtrooper blaster sound and movement noises! I had to have it! Of course, figures were not included so I chose a stormtrooper. With my choices made I was ready to go, however my grandad spoilt me and bought a figure for the stormtrooper to capture – it was Luke Skywalker!
I spent hours playing with my new toys with fellow Fantha Tracker Andrew Walker, we built Tatooine in the sandpit and the box it came in was the imperial base.
It wasn’t until recently that I decided to clear my parent’s attic and bring my toys to my home in England! When I went through the boxes it was there in all it’s glory and still in the box! It brought me back to Northern Ireland with such happy memories!