I’ve wanted to do something special for my two thousandth post on Fantha Tracks and what better way to do it than to celebrate arguably the greatest movie and toy ship or vehicle of all time The Millennium Falcon. (Does the title make sense now?)
The Falcon holds a special place in my heart as one of two ships I remember owning as a kid. The other was Darth Vader’s TIE Fighter. I would have received my Falcon during the Christmas of 1983. I remember applying the stickers, destroying the box and assembling the pieces although there’s no way I would have had batteries.
Years later during a conversation with an Aunt she informed me that it was purchased from a store in Sunderland, most likely Joplings, due to the great difficulty my mother and her had in acquiring one. All the stores in Gateshead and Newcastle, which were much closer, were sold out and as my mother doesn’t drive she called stores all over the place leaving messages for callbacks if new stock was to arrive. As soon as this store in Sunderland called, my Aunt headed straight down in her car and collected it to much relief.
The Millennium Falcon was designed by toy engineer Mark Boudreaux, who still works at Hasbro to this day. He has been the inspiration for all of the incarnations of the Falcon, one of the most recent being The Big Millennium Falcon (BMF) which measures in at over 2 feet long. There are many video interviews on YouTube where he highlights his passion for ships and vehicles when creating products.
One of the earliest references to the Millennium Falcon toy is this awesome mock-up made in styrene which you can read about here on theswca. Be sure to check out the article too on the wood pattern for the Falcon here the detail is just truly staggering and showed the pride the guys at Kenner had in their work. The Falcon was very well engineered and to this date I cannot think of too many that are broken. I’ve heard stories of children under 5 throwing vintage Falcons down a flight of stairs and they’ve still remained intact!
Today, loose Millennium Falcons are pretty easy to pick up although few have the Jedi training ball and arm which is pictured at the bottom of this photo, or as Kenner states the “remote force ball for simulated lightsaber practice”.
This ball is frequently reproduced so be careful when picking one up. The Falcon features loads of play features such as the cockpit, the smuggling area, swivel cannons, landing ramp, retractable landing gear, seated areas… so much packed into one ship. And don’t forget the realistic BATTLE ALERT sound.
Collectors often comment on how the smuggler’s compartment clips into the roof. I don’t think I was aware of this as a child, but it is clearly an intentional design, unlike some of the more dubious recent discoveries.
The Falcon was first released in the US and Canada in a Star Wars box in 1979, the only countries to have it available back then or ever released with a Star Wars logo. Production was in full swing to meet the insatiable demand from children to have a huge spaceship for their heroes to have adventures in. This early advert from the Sears Wishbook shows how prominently advertised it was, and at a very reasonable price – $24.77. I love in this advert the fact that both Snaggletooths (Snaggleteeths?) are shown in the shot to shift the old stock.
The difference between the two boxes is plain to see with the US version sporting a cheaper white box design with a graphic on one side and line art on the other, whereas the Canadians printed on both sides ensuring the multi-lingual rules were followed.
Palitoy in the UK did not release the Falcon in a Star Wars box. I initially wondered if this was due to cost, after all there is a lot of plastic in this beast, but at the recent Palitoy talk Roger Morrison the former tooling manager, discussed the fact that they had difficulty getting the required tooling from Kenner. Often the tooling would arrive damaged due to wear and tear and Roger discussed the need to make new tooling for the top of the Falcon which should in theory give rise to a Palitoy variant, even if the difference would be minuscule.
Kenner must have been delighted that the Falcon featured so prevalently in The Empire Strikes Back. Quick repackaging jobs meant that for little cost the vehicle could be sold for a few more years yet. It was re-released in 1980 in the US and Canada, featuring the same shot, but this time sporting the new movie logo it continued to be a hit.
In the Canadian market there are also three very tough special offer boxes to track down, one released each year from 1980. All three feature an offer which was available exclusively to shoppers at Sears for a free Han Solo and Chewbacca action figure. According to Scott Bradley’s website, focusing specifically on Kenner Canada, the first sticker offer was the same one featured on some of the 21 backs advertising the then unknown Bossk. I’ve not seen any examples of the 1980 (left) or 1982 (centre) stickers on Falcon boxes.
By 1980 Palitoy were ready to introduce the ship to the UK market. They also exported these to Europe, most notably France where Meccano stickers were added.
In 1981 Kenner refreshed their box design to feature more of The Empire Strikes Back range of action figures. Interesting to see that the Bespin Guards feature so heavily on this shot. The background has a Sears Cloud City Playset feel to it.
In 1983 the final versions of the Falcon were released. Kenner Canada stayed with the artwork from the first release of the Falcon but Kenner USA released a third version which also appeared on Lil Ledy Mexico boxes. This time figures from Return of the Jedi were promoted.
Back in Europe, Palitoy ended their production run using the artwork from Empire with the double-sided bilogo box found throughout Europe. Noticeable variants have been found in France with the Meccano import sticker.
Although I prefer the Imperial Shuttle, and would have loved to have a proper Kenner Imperial Star Destroyer, I have to acknowledge the Millennium Falcon as the greatest ship made due to the playability features. Kenner scored a home run with this one, although it was very sad to run of the destruction of hundreds of these in the mid 80’s due to falling sales.
Photos (c) Richard Hutchinson, theswca.com, Cranston Herald, The Imperial Gunnery Forum, Vectis Auctions, Sunderland Echo