Recently at The Palitoy Exhibit talk in Coalville, former Palitoy Chief Toy Designer Bob Brechin posed a question to the audience: “Was the Palitoy Death Star the greatest toy playset ever made?” I’ve owned one of these for a number of years and fully appreciate their significance and legacy, but was not overly forthcoming in my response.
The reason being is simple – Kenner / Palitoy made a lot of great toy playsets, and choosing one to be the best would be near impossible. It was clear though that many of the attendees were in agreement with Bob, and were very passionate about the product.
Over on theswca blog, Yehuda Kleinman wrote an amazing article highlighting the differences between the Death Star sets released by difference licensees. I would urge you to check that out first as it covers different areas that this article does not, such as box and print differences. Reading this and other sources on forums or similar, there has always been a claim that the cost of plastic in the UK was too high at the time to produce the Kenner playset which would eat into the profit margin for Palitoy. Taking into account the payments to Kenner, Palitoy needed to create a playset which used a lot less plastic.
This was put across to the Palitoy employees at the aforementioned talk but they didn’t fully support it, instead referring to the lack of availability of the tooling required to produce the playsets. I always wondered why we had a Palitoy Millennium Falcon, which used a lot of plastic, if costs were the sole reason (on a side note Roger Morrison the tooling manager believes that the Palitoy and Kenner Falcons should be different due to mould variations used).
The impetus for this article was born from regularly rearranging of my displays and for the first time I sat down with the Palitoy Death Star and studied it. I am shocked to say that there was so much I never knew.
I’ve settled with ‘segment’ to describe the many areas of the Death Star. For this shot I have removed the ‘sliding’ trash compactor walls so you can see inside.
On the top you have the entrance to a gangway which leads to another segment together with the back of the plastic chute leading down to the trash compactor. There is not a lot happening there but there is a lot going on at the bottom.
It is divided in two by a nice shiny side and a grimy, messy side designed to simulate the trash scene. Look closely at the trash, what do you see?
That’s right! The dianoga, which is included as an extra figure in the Kenner playset.
I’ve now added the ‘sliding’ wall back in so that the whole trash area is gone and the door to escape through has disappeared. What a transformation!
This area is great. First you can see the other side of the escape door, not many of these doors have survived in loose sets. Next to it you have Stormtroopers arriving who are clearly ready for action to blast our heroes. There is a door to simulate an elevator but unlike the Kenner version there is no lifting platform. Lots of detail and ‘danger’ signs and lights make this area very realistic – even the polished floor looks cool, I use it as a hanger for my diecast ships. There are painted vents, controls boards and monitors to add to the storylines you could play out.
Just above we have the entrance to the trash compactor which our heroes, or Stormtroopers I suppose, could be pushed down to be squished. I wonder how many vinyl cape Jawas were pushed down these chutes?
I love the representation of the whole Death Star painted on the wall, I guess it was similar to a “you are here” map found in many malls.
Upstairs we have a ladder of sorts with entrances to two further upstairs segments, a nice monitor on the wall for a character to look at and see…well, nothing.
Stormtroopers guarding two doors, one leads to the room with the ladder, whereas the other is the other side of the gangway from segment one. I like this as many children like me would not have been able to afford, or be allowed by thrifty parents, army builders. Look at the painted panel at the top of the wall too for an extra trooper.
Downstairs we have six Death Squad or Star Destroyer Commanders. Six of them! Ok, so I have no idea who the Death Squad were and given that there are no Star Destroyers on the monitors what are those guys doing? Perhaps they are taking it in turn to say “the Rebel Base will be in firing range in 7 minutes.”
I love this whole scene though, and it plays homage to the movie very well. X-Wings, TIE Fighters, Darth Vader’s TIE, possibly a Y-Wing, and if I didn’t know any better I’d say there’s one ship that looks remarkably like a B-Wing in the centre top monitor which didn’t appear until Return of the Jedi.
Downstairs we have more Stormtroopers rushing to the hanger area before the blast doors close. You can easily picture those doors closing if you tried. You can!
And right at the bottom, two lonely Stormtroopers riding the elevator up. Almost as realistic as some of the matte paintings.
From the top down we have the shooting cockpit. My cockpit is incredibly clear, most of these have turned brown with age. Beware, most of the clear ones out there are reproductions.
The two cannons on either side of the cockpit are Kenner X-Wing canons which sit in a plastic base which can be rotated around. Who knew that’s all the Superlaser was.
The base of the Death Star will not be often see for obvious reasons. Before the Palitoy Vinyl Cape Jawa was confirmed it had collectors very excited as you can see the Jawa clearly here, and on the box, with a plastic cape.
Finishing off the Death Star were 6 x 1″ clear round stands that were used for figures to stand on. These are fairly common to find as they were available in many of the Action Force sets such as the Headquarters Playset and Enemy Battle Gear packs.
And there you go, the Palitoy Death Star. Is it the greatest toy playset made?
Photos (c) Richard Hutchinson, Vectis Auctions, Jason Smith