Kenner’s Star Wars Playsets, Part 2: From Icy Trenches to Ewok Campfires

In the first part of this series, I discussed the playsets of A New Hope. Onto the next batch!

Darth Vader's Star Destroyer Action Playset box

Darth Vader’s Star Destroyer Action Playset (1980): This one has always been a bit of an ugly Nuna. Not because it’s a bad playset, but because personally I’ve always considered this to be a ship and not a playset. And the Star Destroyer doesn’t look like the Executor at all. The toy can roughly be interpreted as the bridge of Vader’s Super Star Destroyer. The box has an ominous reddish hue and it shows Boba Fett, Bossk, and IG-88 standing on the ship/playset. A picture on the side of box does the same (and even adds Dengar). On the back of the box you can spot a lot of the action features of the set, explained by black and white artwork. Another issue that makes this set rather odd is that most of its features never appear in The Empire Strikes Back.

Darth Vader's Star Destroyer Action Playset

The general layout of the playset resembles the command bridge of a Star Destroyer. There are two crew pits on the side of an elevated central ledge. Many pegs are present to pin down your figures. Both pits have a blue door, leading to nowhere, at the back of the ship/playset. The elevated part does present one action feature straight from the movie: Vader’s meditation chamber, also known as Qabbrat. One figure (Vader) can be seated inside the pod, which can light up and can emanate a reddish light. (I do wonder if the Max Rebo Band ever released a single with the lyrics: “Vader, you don’t have to put on the red light.”) Though Vader isn’t the easiest vintage figure to sit down properly, it’s a cool feature. The other thing that hails more or less from the movie, is a rotating platform where Vader communicates with the Emperor. The communication device in the set is a weird red plastic curtain, that can be slipped into the ceiling of the ship. The back of the box has interesting information about it as it says that Vader uses this device to communicate with the Grand Vizier. This info hails from an earlier draft when Sate Pestage (used later in the Expanded Universe) warns Vader about the Emperor’s incoming message. Proof of this can be found in the “Official Collectors Edition” of Empire. The next action feature is just as weird. There are two pegs on the ceiling that allow you to hang your figures upside down. Did Vader have a Wampa for a pet inside his Star Destroyer? The box even shows a Death Squad Commander figure hanging upside down. The best explanation is that it is supposed to be some kind of containment field, like the one seen on Geonosis to capture Obi-Wan. Another strange, but nevertheless cool feature is an escape hatch. One may wonder where it might lead to, but escaping is something your Rebel figures always had to do. The large laser cannon in front of the ship can be rotated and a kid’s arm fits perfectly underneath to fly the Star Destroyer around the room, terrorizing family members by the dreaded Imperial threat.

Darth Vader’s Star Destroyer Playset may not have many features from the movies, it still is a neat Imperial set that can house a lot of your Stormtroopers and Commanders.

Imperial Attack Base Playset

Imperial Attack Base (1981): This is the second playset of Hoth on our call sheet. Once again, something doesn’t sound right. Why are the Imperials hiding in trenches on Hoth? Is this Vader’s Fortress of Solitude? The set surely was inspired by the events on Hoth, but the playset itself came from the imagination of the designers at Kenner. The name implicates that the Imperials are attacking, while the box shows the Imperials defending their base against the rebels. In France this playset was released while the Tauntaun wasn’t yet available. According to Stéphane Faucourt, author of History of French Star Wars Merchandising & Marketing, 1977-1986, this caused parents to go on wild Bantha chases trying to locate the elusive snow lizard-toy.

Despite its awkwardness, it is a very cool playset. It’s got an exploding ice bridge and an exploding command post. A figure can be launched to simulate another explosion and a rotating and clicking cannon can be manned by a figure. The effect of the snow on the plastic base is nicely enhanced by footsteps. The Imperial Attack Base may not be derived straight from The Empire Strikes Back, it’s designed as a great toy. If you find it in loose condition, you may want to check if all the pieces of the command post are included.

Turret and Probot Playset

Turret & Probot Playset (1981): Another playset from the ice world of Hoth, but this time of the Rebel Alliance. It comes in a box, shaped similarly to the one of the Attack Base, but this time the Imperials are charging the Rebels. This playset is also pretty straightforward. It’s got a plastic base with lots of pegs and on one side you see a large white pole sticking out of the “snow.” The Arakyd Viper Probot, launched from the Stalker in the first scene of The Empire Strikes Back, needs to be placed on top of the pole so that Han and Chewie can discover it and the Probot can “destroy” itself by pulling an action lever. The set was the only way you could get a Probot figure, which has moving arms and a removable ‘head’. The Turret, technically known as a Golan Arms DF.9 Anti Infantry Laser Battery, is also removable and has an opening door, an opening hatch and it clicks when turned. Personally, I always thought the Turret really looked cool and was a perfect way to represent the Echo Base defenses. Kenner could have improved the playset if they had chosen to make the pole for the Probot removable. It now always sticks into the playset and that sure looks strange if you want to position your Probot elsewhere.

Turret and Probot Star Wars playset

Dagobah Action Playset (1981): An entire planet turned into a single playset! Kenner released a few different boxes for this set and in 1982 they also included a Jedi Training Backback for Luke to carry Yoda around. The box shows the features on the sides. Dagobah is one compact playset, build on top of a plastic brownish base. The base is really detailed and you can see some small sculpted critters, like a frog or a lizard. One of the Kenner designers even edged the name of his daughter on the set.

Kenner's Dagobah Action Playset

Yoda’s home is the central piece of the playset. Just like in the movie, it’s got a low ceiling and it has a table. For Yoda, its size is just fine. It would have been cool if Kenner had chosen to make the tree removable. It might have been easier to position your figures inside the tree. Outside the tree, you can recreate several of Luke’s adventures on the bog planet. There is a small swamp that you can use to ‘swallow’ your figures. The foam that is used to simulate the swamp will probably have deteriorated by now, so you might have to swap it with new foam. The effect is simple, but awesome. Another feature is a lever that holds Luke so he can stand upside down with Yoda on top of his feet or even use the Force to levitate himself, two supply cases and even R2-D2. A lever, cleverly disguised as a rock, will cause two small poles to move. The two cases and a small cylinder for R2-D2 are included in the set (and will be the pieces you’ll be looking for in a loose Dagobah Playset). The last feature is found on the other side of Yoda’s home: the domain of evil where the dreamlike confrontation between Luke and Darth Vader took place. The two figures can be put onto separate platforms that you can move to recreate the duel. Dagobah is a unique playset, but according to the story, you just can’t use a lot of figures with it. It would make little sense to use Amanaman, General Madine or Lumat on Dagobah.

Kenner's Rebel Command Center Action Set

Rebel Command Center Adventure Set (1981): This was the third playset, exclusive to  retailers, sold by Sears to sell action figures (the others were the Cantina Adventure Set and Cloud City). The box shows the play options of the set, which are few. The Rebel Command Center is the last playset to use the plastic base of the Land of the Jawas Playset. Once again, there is a little cave and an action feature, used to “launch” figures. The new element in this set is a nice carton background, showing the North Hangar 7 of the Echo Base with the Millennium Falcon. The artwork also shows a tauntaun with a rider, several T-47 Snowspeeders, a Rebel base transport and X-wing Starfighters. On the bottom of the small cave you can now also see a small amount of weapons and accessories, which are part of the cardboard backdrop, folded underneath the playset. The three figures included in this set were Luke Hoth Gear, R2-D2 with Sensorscope and the AT-AT Commander. The Rebel Command Center may be a simple playset, but it’s not that easy to find.

Kenner's Rebel Command Center

Ewok Village Action Playset (1983): One of Kenner’s last sets is also one of the largest Star Wars playsets: the Ewok Village. The rather large box highlights the options of this set. When this set was released, only two Ewoks from Bright Tree Village were available: Chief Chirpa and Logray. Neither were Han Trench Coat or Luke Skywalker in Battle Poncho. That’s why you can see Han Bespin and Luke Jedi Knight on the box. The rarer Trilogo edition of the playset does show more Ewoks (Teebo and Wicket) and also Han Trench Coat (though without his coat).

Kenner's Ewok Village Action Playset

The Ewok Village consists of three large plastic trees that function as pillars for the village’s central meeting square. The wooden structure of the Ewok village is well created with a lot of details. The meeting place has three fences, a drum and a fire with a spit to roast an Ewok dinner. The playset also comes with C-3PO’s “golden deity” chair that can be carried by two Ewoks. And there is way more. The trees each have their own action feature. One tree has an actual hut that you can use for the figures and it has an opening on top, which you can also use to position figures. The second tree has an ‘escape’ passageway that leads to the bottom of the playset. The last tree features a working elevator that carries figures to the central meeting place. Two more play options can be found at the floor of this playset. The first one is a swinging plastic boulder, attached to the largest tree, used to repel invaders. The last feature is a net underneath the central square. You can pull this net to the ceiling of the village square and it is actually able to trap several figures, just like in the movie when Chewie was thinking too much with his stomach.

The Ewok Village is not uncommon, but it does feature more than 20 accessories. Therefore, it is difficult to find loose and complete. The Ewok Village Playset was later reused as “Sherwood Forest Playset” in the Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves toyline from Kenner, but that one got a different color and it has a lot of greens on top of the trees. Even LEGO’s recent Ewok Village playset seems to be an homage to Kenner’s playset.

Kenner's Jabba the Hutt Dungeon Playset

The Jabba the Hutt Dungeon Action Playset (1983 & 1984): Another Sears playset was the Jabba the Hutt Dungeon that reused the plastic base of the Kenner Droid Factory Playset (see part 1). The base was painted gray, but it still had a (slightly modified) crane. The holes in the base for the droidparts have disappeared to create a more realistic looking dungeon. Quite frankly, the playset doesn’t look at all like Jabba’s dungeon. A dungeon designed like the one in the movie was planned to appear in the Micro Collection line, but due to the unfortunate failure of this series, it never made it past the prototype stage.

Jabba the Hutt Dungeon Action Playset

The Dungeon playset came with Nikto (Lathe), 8D8, and Klaatu Skiff Guard (Klaatu). One year later, Sears released already another version of this set. The base was now painted in a tan color and it included the figures of EV-9D9, Barada and Amanaman. Two different boxes were made and the 1984 edition is more difficult to find, especially because the three figures that came with that version are a lot harder to find than the previous ones.

Italian Jabba the Hutt Kenner display

There are still two rare pieces that deserve to be mentioned. The first one is the “special offer” background, packed with rare versions of Darth Vader’s TIE Fighters and Slave I toys. This cardboard backdrop features a Death Star playground with a landing platform, a view on the equatorial trench and on several hangars. Even more scarce is a background that was never available at retail. It’s a large and beautiful rendition of Jabba’s Throne Room, used in Italy as a store display. Little is known about this item, which would have been fairly easy to produce by Kenner. What a great playset that would have been.

P.S.: Kenner’s Jabba the Hutt is also officially designated on its box as a playset, but a dungeon like throne can hardly be called a playset, so Jabba and Salacious weren’t included in this blog. This set should be considered a figural accessory, just like the Max Rebo Band.

Tim Veekhoven (Sompeetalay) from Belgium does research for and takes care of the Rogues Gallery feature in Star Wars Insider Magazine under the supervision of Leland Chee. He’s president and co founder of TeeKay-421, the Belgian Star Wars Fanclub, he’s an administrator for Yodapedia and has written the back stories for Swilla Corey, Tzizvvt, Wam Lufba and Maxiron Agolerga.

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