A Brief History Of Star Wars Toys
Star Wars is one of the most beloved series of children and adults everywhere. With a history spanning over 40 years, Star Wars is also one of the oldest series producing toys to this day.
But what were the early Star Wars toys like? How were they different from the Star Wars toys of today? What about the direction that the newest Star Wars toys are taking?
In this article, we’ll answer all of these questions and more. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll be an expert on Star Wars toys throughout the ages.
Early Star Wars Toys
The earliest Star Wars toys were primitive relative to the Star Wars toys of today. Early Star Wars action figures only depicted characters like:
- Luke Skywalker
- Han Solo
- Princess Leia
- Darth Vader
Notable core characters from the early films like Ben Kenobi and Imperial stormtroopers were absent from the first array of toys. Even Darth Vader had to wait for the protagonists to have toys made. Minions and allied characters that were not named had to wait for years.
Even once produced, these early toys were not very interactive. The action figures had no points of movement for any of their limbs, and they were produced from cheaply cast plastic. Most had no more than three colors in the entire toy.
Nonetheless, children adored the Star Wars toys. As The Empire Strikes Back and The Return Of The Jedi were released, the toys gained in sophistication. More subjects were captured in the toy market.
Eventually, toys like spaceships and weapons from the series started to crop up. Toys from the original series included build-it-yourself X-wing kits and iron diecast models of the ships.
Action figures gained in sophistication. Eventually, minor villains like Boba Fett had toys made to commemorate their characters.
It wouldn’t be until the later inter-movie period that the library of Star Wars toys was comprehensive however.
Notably, these early toys did not always follow the canonical appearance of the characters in the series. This discrepancy was caused in part by issues with the number of colors required to manufacture picture perfect toys.
Nonetheless, Star Wars toys were a big hit that were parallel to the films’ success.
Toys From The Inter-Series Period
Interestingly, the time between The Return Of The Jedi and The Phantom Menace was particularly fruitful for the Star Wars toy universe.
Spanning for roughly 15 years, the inter-series period was marked by a massive expansion in the sophistication and scope of Star Wars toys. By the time The Phantom Menace was released, the Star Wars toy universe would be extremely rich.
The inter-series period would see the rise of action figure capturing the likeness of every state of every character. For a core character like Luke Skywalker, an entire panorama of outfits were purchasable as separate action figures.
For each of the main characters, a different action figure was produced to represent them in the environments of:
- Space flight
- Cloud City
Even if the differences between the characters’ equipment in these locales was minimal, there was still an extensive amount of additional material produced to support play in each setting. Dioramas and playsets for every environment in the films were produced.
Every spaceship, minor or major, was captured with a scale model. Entire new genres of Star Wars toy were produced.
Minor characters — including those with no speaking lines or recurring appearances — were captured in toys during this period. At the start, enemies like stormtroopers were the first to be represented.
Eventually, variations of stormtroopers were produced. Similarly, many otherwise forgettable characters — including a man running through the background of a scene in Cloud City — were made into toys.
In the inter-series period, the Star Wars toy universe became a force to be reckoned with. It quickly eclipsed the selection of any other fictional universe’s toy offerings.
Today, the toys of the inter-series period are still everywhere to be found. Every permutation of major and minor character or set from the original series has a corresponding toy. These toys are typically priced the same as when they were produced owing to their continued popularity.
During the inter-series period, the first instances of toys devoted to the Star Wars expanded universe were produced. We’ll go into more detail about these later.
Star Wars Legos
During the inter-series period, the Star Wars Lego universe was spawned. Originating as Lego kits for various Star Wars settings and vehicles, the Lego Star Wars universe would eventually expand to be so large as to warrant films being made.
In principle, the Lego Star Wars universe is the same as the Star Wars universe. But in the inter-series period, the Lego Star Wars selection was limited at first, and poorly fleshed out.
As time passed, the Lego Star Wars universe grew to rival the scope of the toys offered in the non-Lego Star Wars toy space. Today, there are thousands of different Lego Star Wars toys, each of which offers a chance to build a beloved set or scene.
Toys From Episodes 1-3
The release of Episodes 1-3 heralded an injection of new material into the world of Star Wars toys. This time, the toy manufacturers were ready for the demand. Unlike the toys first produced in the earliest Star Wars series, the toys produced for the first crop of new films were detailed and sophisticated.
Knowing that Star Wars fans would want a toy for every aspect of the new films, manufacturers obliged. The entire span of characters and settings was captured at the outset. The release of each new movie was prefaced rather than succeeded by the release of the movie’s toys.
Few stones were left unturned from the start. During this period, inter-series toys experienced a bump in sales, even though no new ones had been produced during the newer series.
The notable toys from this era included new Star Wars branding of older toys or games, including Star Wars Monopoly and Star Wars Uno. This period also saw an expansion of the number of Star Wars video games on the market. The video games were often bundled with toy sales.
By this time, Star Wars toys like costumes and lightsaber props were common.
The original series was subsequently re-released in different cuts, which allowed for an additional infusion of new Star Wars toys documenting the original series.
These toys largely followed the lines set by their predecessors and proved that the original series was still a profitable franchise even though it was nearly a decade old at that time.
Toys After Episode 3
After the entire range of toys produced to keep up with Episodes 1 through 3, there was a lull in the production of Star Wars films. For a long time, there was not even any talk of creating a new Star Wars movie, and many fans assumed that the series had ended.
This rumor did not stop the toy manufacturers from continuing to churn out related toys, however. This time around, the toy manufacturers started to draw from Star Wars’ expanded universe to generate toys.
In a nutshell, the Star Wars expanded universe was a collaboration by many fans and authors who created a continuation and elaboration of the Star Wars story after the movies stopped being made.
The Star Wars expanded universe was not officially endorsed by the people who made the Star Wars films, but for many years it was the only new Star Wars material being produced. Toy manufacturers thus took advantage of the most popular Star Wars expanded universe stories to create new toys.
These toys included characters like:
- Kyle Katarn
- Admiral Thrawn
- Wedge Antilles
- Mara Jade
Importantly, the scope of the toys created to cover these expanded universe characters was relatively limited.
There were only a few expanded universe characters who had name recognition by the broad Star Wars fan market owing to the fact that most of the expanded universe was documented in lengthy novels rather than films.
Minor characters were typically left without action figures. Furthermore, few spaceship toys or dioramas or playsets were created to cover the extended universe. The lack of visual aids to the extended universe is largely responsible, leaving fans to imagine ships rather than see them directly.
The expanded universe toys created in the period after Episodes 1 through 3 were not the most popular Star Wars toys. Today, they can be hard to find owing to the new Star Wars series explicitly refuting many of the expanded universe storylines.
As a result, expanded universe toys are orphans in the Star Wars toy universe and do not share the widespread accessibility of the inter-series toys.
Toys From The New Series
After the lull between Episode 1 through 3, a new Star Wars series began. The new Star Wars series is notable for creating new characters in addition to offering new perspectives on fan favorites.
New spaceships, settings, and interactions have been made into toys as a result. Much like with the toys from Episodes 1 through 3, the toys from the new Star Wars series are comprehensive, right out of the gate.
Every character has a few different toys which represent them. Many characters, including those like Kylo Ren, have several different sets of action figures, each with a different size.
The innovation of including multiple sizes of the same action figure is not new, but it was not as widespread in the toys of the prior eras.
These toys are reflected both in action figure format and also in Lego Star Wars format. On the note of Lego Star Wars, the number of toys continues to increase.
Now that the Lego Star Wars universe has grown into a universe, toys explicitly from the Lego Star Wars universe are created alongside with Lego Star Wars depictions of characters in the “main” Star Wars universe.
Elsewhere in the Star Wars franchise, many new toys are being produced to represent the characters in the many Star Wars video games. These characters, which may or may not overlap with those depicted in the films, are a new source of material for toy manufacturers.
Likewise, many fans are delighted to see their favorite video game characters spring to life in a toy. When it comes to producing Star Wars toys based on the video games, the potential is huge.
Current toy production heavily favors the most recent video games rather than the older Star Wars video games, which were covered by toys produced in the prior eras and then largely ceased.
What’s The Future Of Star Wars Toys?
The future of Star Wars toys looks a lot like the past. As new movies and video games continue to be released, each new round of material will be met by a swarm of new toys which cover the characters who are depicted.
Much like before, the Star Wars films will capture the majority of the toy attention, with the Star Wars video games playing a lesser role.
Inter-series toys are all but guaranteed to remain popular, and it’s possible that with the new generation of Star Wars fans, they will become even more profitable than ever before.
The toys from Episodes 1 through 3 will likely remain in production but are unlikely to be as popular with the inter-series toys in the long run. These episodes aren’t as loved, and the toys produced are not as memorable.
Unfortunately, as the new Star Wars series pushes onward, the toys of the former expanded universe are likely to fall into obscurity. The expanded universe as a plotline is finished, and, as its toys were never very popular to begin with, there is little incentive to continue production.
As for the Star Wars toys of the original series which were produced at the time of the original series’ airing, the future is bright. These toys will continue to gain in value as collector’s items, even if they aren’t very fun to play with.