When I was 8, I was walking down the action figure aisle with my dad. As I gazed upon the seamless displays of toys, my eyes fell upon a C-3PO glistening in its shiny gold paint. At the time, I had never heard of Star Wars (Mind you, this was at the tail-end of the Star Wars dark age in the 1990s when there were almost no toys or products to speak of. The C-3PO I saw was the beginning of the return.) but I was very much into robots. So, as an avid robot lover, I asked my dad what that was and if I could get it. His response was along the lines of, “Oh, that’s C-3PO from Star Wars. I think you’re old enough for that.” If he knew what would happen next, he probably would have never let me get my first Star Wars figure.
Within a week, I had also gotten R2-D2. Playing with the two droids was odd since I didn’t know what either one sounded like or what their backstory was. But I can assure you that the two of them had some grand adventures even if they had nothing to do with Star Wars. Shortly thereafter, my dad finally tracked down Star Wars: A New Hope and thus officially began my Star Wars action figure collecting. With this article, we shall go through the past 20 years of Star Wars figures leading up to the recent release of The Force Awakens figures. Now, mind you, this is only a part of my collection and not an exhaustive presentation. Let’s just say I would need a lot more space if I were to show my entire collection. Now, without further ado…
1995: The Return of the Figures
It is a fact that there few to no products released during a certain span of time following Return of the Jedi. This was a dark time for Star Wars fans as they had almost no books and toys to collect. Nevertheless, with the publication of Timothy Zahn’s incredible Heir to the Empire, the products were coming back. Here’s a shot of the original set. Note that Leia was included into this set later and that I considered myself a bit of a painter back then and tried to do the Toy Story 2 restoration to some of my figures. These were quite simple and also very hard to find at the time. For the next few years, though, the main molds for the figures would be used for a variety of figures. Luke and Han always had the same head regardless of the figure. They did not bother messing with the mold until much later. Figures during this era were $4.99 apiece.
1996-1998: The Special Edition
Shortly after the 1995 releases, Kenner must have realized they could still sell Star Wars stuff without there being a movie in theaters. They therefore expanded the Star Wars line to include some more figures. Of course, when the Special Edition was released in 1997, a plethora of action figures hit the market. It was at this point that I could not keep up. So I had to pick and choose which ones I wanted. You’ll notice that the detail is much more enhanced (the Leia’s don’t look like men!). Yoda included the backpack that Luke carries him around in while the Dagobah Luke was sold separately. In fact, Luke could not stand properly without the backpack. The Jawas’ eyes actually glow when you hold them up to the light. But, with any run, this one hit its end in due time. Tarkin and the spy from A New Hope were the last figures I purchased from this era at around 90 cents apiece.
1999: Figures can talk!
Yep, that’s right. Star Wars figures could talk! With the arrival of The Phantom Menace, Hasbro included computer chips for each action figure. When the chip was scanned by a Commtech Reader (you can see that under the destroyer droid), the lines from the chip could be heard. The inclusion of the computer chip made the $6.74 price tag more than worth it. You can certainly see an evolution with this line. The figures were much more poseable, which made putting Darth Maul into fighting moves much easier. Detail was insane as well. You just have to look at the C-3PO to see that. You will also notice the battle droid on the STAP. That one was actually an Episode I preview that was released before the actual Phantom Menace line. And the last bit of information on this one pertains to the Sebastian Shaw Anakin Skywalker standing next to Qui-Gon. This one was in a series of flashback action figures in which you had a little card that showed you what the character looked like before and after. By the release of Anakin Skywalker (2001), the commtech chips were no longer offered with the toys but the price remained the same.
2002: Using the force
First, figures could talk. Now they can use the force… with the help of magnets. Hasbro included a number of magnetic variations into their Attack of the Clones line. You’ll notice Obi-Wan is hanging onto the assassin droid. And, in fact, you could run around the house with that droid with Obi-Wan dangling for dear life (trust me, I tried it). However, the magnets were not as strong as Obi-Wan’s. That’s one reason why Anakin’s arm is somewhere deep inside my Attack of the Clones box… along with the Tusken Raider’s head. Lightsabers had a tendency to fall out of the Jedi’s hand. Oh, and I don’t know what the lightning is all about with Aayla Secura. It came with her and looked cool, I guess. But hands down, one of the coolest toys was the Jango Fett action figure. Not only could you remove his helmet and play shenanigans to Kenobi with his cable, but you could also fire a missile out of his jet pack just like the original Boba Fett. Did I also mention that R2 can blind you with his light because he can. Beware!
2005: Revenge of the Sith
This was the peak of Star Wars figures during the prequel era. These figures had a good balance of detail along with some fun slashing action. I was disappointed with the Emperor, who does not wear the awesome fighting robe from his duel with Yoda. But it’s sort of full circle with C-3PO, whose appearance looks much like it did in 1995 (albeit more detail) with the shine. These were a good line… even if they may have gone a bit far with the “Anakin battle damage” action figure.
2006 to the Present: End of an era
With the end of Star Wars as we knew it, the action figures started dwindling down. I more or less went into retirement since my interest had turned to video games and I did not have the budget for both. I occasionally purchased the random figure here and there, but I mostly just looked. Hasbro also seemed to see that they needed to release different items. So they turned to the EU. In particular, Knights of the Old Republic and Genndy Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars. Cad Bane was probably the only figure I bought during Lucas’s Clone Wars run. Otherwise, this was a pretty dead decade for me with collecting.
2015: The Force Awakens
Well, I just had to come out of retirement for the new movie. These new figures are fun, but they are not nearly as poseable as their predecessors. It’s unfortunate really. It’s almost a step back to the days of 1995. They’re still fun, but the Black Series for the 3 and a half inch line seems to be where all of the poseable figures are going. Those are a bit too expensive for my taste. I will say that I got the X-Wing primarily because you can actually remove Poe’s helmet with that set. The single figure has his helmet permanently on and obscuring his face. Also, BB-8 is in the back, but he isn’t removeable. That’s probably a good thing since someone should always stay with the ship.
Do you collect Star Wars figures? How long? Do you have a favorite line? Do you collect other Star Wars stuff? Let us know in the comments.