I’ve been an avid fan and collector of Star Wars action figures since Kenner Products issued the Early Bird Certificate Package in late 1977. I bought every single action figure, vehicle, and playset made by Kenner during those early years except for one: the Radio Controlled Jawa Sandcrawler. The Sandcrawler was one of the first widely available radio-controlled toy vehicles, and like the film version it came loaded with features. A bit beyond my budget as a paper boy for the Star Ledger, it wasn’t until I relaunched my obsession with Star Wars collecting in the early 1990s that I finally acquired this highly-coveted grail from childhood.
As a Kenner toy aficionado, I continue to be fascinated by the stages of design and production of the original Star Wars line. Like most of the vehicles made by Kenner, the Sandcrawler was crafted from large wood pattern pieces to form all the sections and faces of the toy. A wood pattern is a detailed model made using advanced woodworking techniques to achieve intricate detail. For toys like the Star Wars vehicles that contain many straight edges and mechanical features, a wood pattern is preferable to clay or wax sculpts — which are better suited for organic shapes.
Surprisingly few Kenner Star Wars patterns are known to exist today, but a small cache were uncovered last year at a shop in Michigan which had produced patterns for Kenner in the late 1970s. During that time, it was common for Kenner to outsource various pre-production stages to outside firms specializing in various steps of the process. The owners of the Michigan shop held on to these handcrafted pieces. After years of negotiations with the owners, a friend and I were able to close a deal on one of the most amazing finds in all my years of collecting directly from the original source, avoiding any middlemen along the way. Among all the great wood pattern pieces uncovered that day, I was thrilled to add the Sandcrawler pattern to my collection!
The Sandcrawler pattern was made at 2x the scale of the actual toy, which allowed the woodworker to achieve fine-grain detail. This detail would eventually get reduced to the scale of the toy in later stages using a pantograph machine; every nook and cranny of the Sandcrawler was carved and milled in this one-of-a-kind piece. The major shapes and features were captured on the base wood pattern, and additional small details made of wood or plastic were attached to complete every aspect of the design. The result was a wood pattern that closely resembled the Jawa Sandcrawler seen in A New Hope.
Wood patterns for large toys can sometimes have the different sides formed as separate flat-patterned pieces, but the Sandcrawler is unusual in that most of the sections were assembled into a single three-dimensional pattern. One exception was the top flap that covers the front section, which was made using a separate wood pattern. All of these pieces were miraculously saved and remained relatively well preserved over the years. Of all the early stage pre-production items to survive, we are fortunate that one of Kenner’s finest works is still around in its original handcrafted form. The essence of the collector’s journey is about channeling nostalgia from childhood into discovery of the unknown, and this journey ended the unveiling of a great piece from Kenner’s history.
Gus Lopez is a Star Wars collector based in Seattle who specializes in rare and obscure Star Wars collectibles. Gus created The Star Wars Collector’s Archive (theswca.com) in 1994, the first Star Wars collecting website on the Internet.