As the holiday season is upon us, great memories of toys past will bring a smile to any Star Wars collector’s face. Perhaps some of us will also smile about the toys we never quite brought home. Here’s the story of how I didn’t get the Death Star playset.
Plenty of Star Wars toys can be found on toy shelves this holiday gift season. As a child in the late 1970s and early 1980s however, it was impossible to walk into your local department store and not find the remarkable line of toys companies like Kenner created for Star Wars.
From revolutionizing the action figure industry with the shift to 3 3/4″ figures, to an array of large playsets replicating the sets and ships from the movies, Kenner became a dominant force in the toy industry for years with the Star Wars license. So prevalent was the toy line on imprinting Star Wars into fans’ consciousness, StarWars.com has created an entire series to examine fandom, and made a “Toy Hunter” the host.
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Whether you were opening presents after lighting the menorah, after pulling them from under the tree, or just because it was cold outside, the odds were in those days something under that wrap was from Kenner. Odds are you have a holiday memory wrapped around finding just the right action figure or ship; or like Jabba the Hutt himself, you wanted Solo and the Wookiee, and they became your favorite decoration.
So how about the one that got away?
Despite not growing up in the best financial situation, I will freely admit I was more than a little spoiled when it came to Star Wars toys. Those smaller figures generally meant they were inexpensive, so getting new additions to the figure stash was a regular event throughout the year. As Christmas approached (around which Ralphie from A Christmas Story will tell you was the “center of the kid year”) the question became what big additions would make their way under the tree?
I was fortunate one year that my dad found the Millennium Falcon toy at a thrift shop or swap meet and brought it home as a “just because” gift. It may have been missing Luke’s remote, but it still became the center of adventures for years, indeed until I passed it on to my son when he was a little older. I remember a big box under the tree that revealed the AT-AT (which I still say as “at at” thanks to the toy commercial) and many an hour went by with those chin guns flashing away at my Rebels.
There was a lesson though that was hard learned, and as a collector still one that I need to remind myself of: You can’t get it all. OK, maybe someone like Gus Lopez can, but I bet I’m not the only one who has that Holy Grail out there that never did end up under the tree, that didn’t show up at the Goodwill, that was not in our hands and later destroyed by our children. What is the one that got away for me?
The Death Star playset.
I drooled, I asked, I hoped; I offered to work for it, I likely broke the spirit of Christmas entirely by actively coveting this toy. For whatever reason though, whether simply too expensive or perhaps being in a rural area known to not get their stores as well stocked as larger cities, Kenner’s Death Star playset never became mine. I kept my eyes open for years, getting out of collecting Star Wars for a while in the ’90s (selling action figures off once paid young Dan’s rent!); yet, that one was still out there, unobtained.
Here I am in 2018, 46 years old rather than the 6-year-old I was in 1978, and still she haunts me.
(Mr. Lopez has quite a Death Star in his collection.)
This is of course the age of the internet. A quick eBay search or email to a collector’s shop would get me one with no more effort than typing in my credit card number. Somewhere along the line though, likely when I was younger and far less financially sound, acquiring the Death Star became a challenge that involved its own rules, imposed and enforced by no one but me: I must find it in person. It must be at least 90 percent complete, though the box is not necessary (I am just going to open it anyway). It must cost me less than $100.
Why do I deny myself this prize, when I have spent well over $100 on other Star Wars collectables (looking at you, Sideshow Toys)? Because the hunt as become the joyful part of collecting. Finding the deal, the unexpected appearance of a classic thing in a normal setting. Like Boba Fett who apparently followed the Millennium Falcon for the months it took to get from the Star Destroyer’s garbage to Bespin when he could have just called the Empire back to catch those Rebel scum, I am willing to bide my time. The thrill of the find, the thrill of fulfilling a childhood want after earning it is nearly as good as being the child who got it then.
And if I had received it in ’78? Would it mean nearly as much to me? I don’t think so. Likely it would not have survived the ’90’s sell off. Worse yet, it would have joined my Millennium Falcon and been played to death by my son who never seemed to take caring for dad’s old toys as seriously as his dad did. Then, it would have been just a thing had and lost.
Now, it is a prize to be found; an acquisition to be curated. It is fandom objectified, a symbol of what those Star Wars toys meant to me as a child, and a reminder of what I love that makes me show up at Target at Midnight for a “Force Friday” event with Hasbro’s new toys.
So around this time of year I certainly think of my family and of delightful memories of Christmas past. I as a collector am fortunate enough in Christmas present to have a spouse who makes some great finds of her own to lay under the tree.
I also look ahead to Christmas future, walking through some junk store somewhere, seeing the tip of a blue cannon barrel, or perhaps the top of a deflector control tower peeking out of a box and realizing: That’s no moon.
What Star Wars holiday gift did you love most as a child? What is your “one that got away” still floating around out there in the sea of collectibles? Let us know in comments below!