Twenty years ago, Kenner (purchased by Hasbro in 1991) released their first “modern” Star Wars action figures. After providing a sneak peek in 1994 with the diecast Star Wars Action Masters, Kenner declined to re-release some of their vintage figures after some heavy consideration. However, they did release a “Toys R Us” exclusive Classic Edition pack in 1995 which included Luke, Han, Darth Vader, and Chewbacca.
“The biggest discussions we had was about the importance of balancing the needs of collectors with those of kids,” explained Tim Hall, team leader of Kenner’s Star Wars design in 1995. He also mentioned “the heroism and excitement that kids want in toys today.” This would translate itself into figures with beefed-up torsos and biceps.
The first wave was released on reddish cards with Vader’s helmet as the signature sign of the line. A rather small photo was shown on the front of the card, while the back offered a biography of the character and a lineup of the other figures and vehicles. The figures were released in many countries (resulting in small variations on some of the cards), and had six points of articulation (except R2-D2). Kenner would soon replace the early long lightsabers with shorter versions.
Let’s have a look at those first nine “modern” Star Wars action figures that were released in the Power of the Force line — dubbed “Power of the Force II” by fans to avoid any confusion with the similarly-named vintage line.
Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi: Featured a removable soft plastic robe and a lightsaber. The stance of the figure itself was quite stiff, because it couldn’t stand without support of the robe. Ben’s face wasn’t that bad, but it showed little resemblance to Sir Alec Guinness. The best feature was probably the removable robe that enabled it to sit down properly in Luke’s landspeeder. Also noticeable were his huge hands that almost looked like paws.
Chewbacca: Chewie is one of the most infamous figures from this wave. He received a more correctly-sculpted bowcaster than his vintage figure, but looked very bulky. The first Chewie figure that could move his head (just a tiny bit), it included an enormous heavy blaster rifle that was never seen in the movies and was about the same height as the Darth Vader figure.
Darth Vader: Armed with a lightsaber and had a removable hard plastic cape that was attached to his neck. Vader was just too beefed up, even for bodybuilding and weightlifting champion David Prowse, who wore the Vader suit during most of filming. Vader’s removable cloak would enable him to sit properly in the TIE fighter and his bodysuit was nicely sculpted.
Luke Skywalker: Came with a lightsaber and a grappling hook blaster that never appeared in the movies. His head didn’t look anything like Mark Hamill and his upper body was too muscular. Where was the slim farmboy who first appeared at the Lars Homestead? When Mark Hamill saw this figure he said, “That’s supposed to be me? I wish!”
Han Solo: While the likeness may have been closer to Harrison Ford’s than the vintage figure, the Corellian scoundrel nevertheless suffered from gigantism. His torso and arms were huge compared to Solo’s appearance in the movie. Han was armed with his trusty overgrown DL-44 and a blaster rifle that never appeared in the movies. The color of Han’s shirt did lean closer to the one in A New Hope, as did his dark blue pants.
Stormtrooper: The Imperial stormtrooper was armed with an E-11 and a large blaster rifle slightly resembling a T-21 Repeating Blaster. This figure also featured a mini-helmet (sculpted after the A New Hope stormtrooper), a muscular torso, and an action-like stance that made it nearly impossible for the figure to stand. Just like Chewie, this was the first stormtrooper figure that could move his head.
R2-D2: Although more recently released R2-D2 figures feature accessories and more detail, this was quite a decent figure for its time. It was the first Artoo with a sculpted body (instead of a sticker) and a retractable third leg that was available on a blister card.
Leia: Because Leia wasn’t shown on the first cardbacks, a lot of collectors initially thought the figure was rare. This figure came with a Defender Sporting Blaster and another assault rifle never seen in the movies. It also had a removable cape and skirt that allowed it to sit down properly.
C-3PO: Threepio was initially wanted by collectors since he was the last of the nine figures to be released. Our favorite goldenrod had a metalized body, although he didn’t feature his silver-colored shin plate or come with any accessories. This is not an extremely terrible figure, though the torso is too muscular and the head is too narrow. Still, he was able to sit down decently despite a wide stance.
It’s very easy to badmouth these figures today, but in 1995 they were on top of the toy chain. They featured more details than the vintage figures, had a bit more articulation, and received more accurately-sculpted weapons. Even more important, they were new Star Wars action figures, something fans had been craving for a decade.
Sources: Star Wars Galaxy Magazine no. 4 (1995), The Action Figure Archive (1999), The Ultimate Action Figure Collection (2012).
Tim Veekhoven (Sompeetalay) from Belgium is president and co founder of TeeKay-421, the Belgian Star Wars fanclub. He has contributed to Star Wars Insider (Rogues Gallery) and has written four character back stories for “What’s the Story?”