Many times before on Collectibles from the Outer Rim, I’ve written about the “dark times” for Star Wars fans, back when the original trilogy had faded from memory and the prequels still felt like an impossible pipe dream.
The ripple effect was severe. The Star Wars universe never really died, obviously, but for a several-year stretch, it bordered close to dormancy. The toys were gone from stores, the spinoff cartoons were off the air and, for a while, I’m sure a great many of us felt like we were the last Star Wars diehards left. (Too bad we didn’t have the Internet to tell us otherwise back then!)
As such, any signs of life from the Star Wars universe meant the world to us, no matter how small, and no matter how far apart from our usual beds of interest.
Enter: West End Games’ roleplaying figures.
Back in 1989 or 1990, I visited a gaming store in one of our local shopping malls. That store most famously sold super-expensive pool tables, so no, the 10-year-old version of me wasn’t there with even the passing pretense of buying anything.
Actually, the real reason for this sojourn was to play their Ms. Pac-Man machine, but someone else was bogarting it. Browsing their store shelves merely so I wouldn’t look creepy hovering over some stranger, I stumbled upon a goldmine of Star Wars roleplaying game paraphernalia.
Until that point, I wasn’t even aware that there was a Star Wars roleplaying game. This wasn’t something you’d see in Toys “R” Us, after all. The library of guidebooks wouldn’t interest me for a few more years, but my eyes immediately fixated on one particular series of items: Boxed sets of tiny metal figures, which could be used as “tokens” for roleplayers.
Their intended purpose mattered little to me. These were technically Star Wars figures. In some strange way, Star Wars toys were back in stores!
To this day, I have no idea how the little metal figurines played into the roleplaying game. That was never important to me. What was important was the chance to line my bedroom shelves with all-new Star Wars figures, even if they were monochromatic and barely an inch tall.
The set pictured above is the exact one that I purchased as a child. The Mos Eisley Cantina Adventure Set, featuring ten characters that I immediately recognized from A New Hope.
There were several similar boxed sets available, including ones that featured far more popular characters, like Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. I’ll be honest and say that had that old gaming store carried one of those sets, I would’ve went home with it. At the same time, I’m glad things turned out the way that they did.
The beauty of these miniatures was that they so often hit upon characters that had never received any sort of merchandise before. While I’d be hard-pressed to name many Star Wars characters that haven’t become action figures in 2016, it was a whole different ballgame in 1990. Finding out that the cantina’s “devil dude” was named Labria was cool as heck, but actually owning a Labria figurine? I was absolutely gleeful!
Slowly but surely, I built a small army of those figurines, collecting them as if they were Kenner’s action figures. For a month or two, I must’ve hit that gaming store at least once a week, always on the lookout for another set.
Now sure, you couldn’t really “play” with these figures, at least not in the rough-and-tumble way we usually mean when talking about kiddy toys. That didn’t bother me. They were still Star Wars figures, and they looked amazing on the shelves of my childhood bedroom.
At that point in my life, none of my friends were still into Star Wars. To some degree, even bringing up Star Wars was a social faux pas. So no, this wasn’t a collection that I bragged about, nor one that I even mentioned aloud. It was all super private.
I’d throw on the old Return of the Jedi videocassette, line up my metal miniatures, and spend the afternoon totally oblivious to how lonely it all was. The Star Wars universe was like my secret friend. As much as I love the absurdly immense camaraderie fans enjoy in 2016, I have to admit, I kinda miss that.
If you’re interested in learning more about West End Games’ miniatures — and more specifically how they worked with the actual roleplaying game — check out this previous feature.
Looking to start your own collection? You’re a bit late for that, but all of the sets are still frequently found on eBay. They’re rarely cheap, but man, where else are you gonna find a tiny metal Muftak?