Making the Galaxy Smaller: Inside Kenner’s Star Wars Micro Collection, Part 1

Kenner's Star Wars Micro Collection

Kenner’s Micro Collection was a new kind of Star Wars collectible.

Star Wars fans with some mileage will without any doubt remember Lewis Galoob Toys and their successful Star Wars Micro Machines line from the ’90s. Fans often forget that another series with shared characteristics had already been introduced in the ’80s: Kenner’s Micro Collection! Though Kenner was having its biggest success in history with the 3 3/4″ line of Star Wars toys, the designers kept their eyes open for more opportunities. Set to be released in the summer of 1982, the Micro Collection wanted to portray the vastness of the Star Wars galaxy by scaling things down.

Kenner sculptor Rudy Vap remembered that Kenner was able to generate environments to a more accurate scale because of the Micro Collection. Kenner’s vice president Howard Bollinger already envisioned what a lot of people wouldn’t comprehend. He conceived the Micro Collection more as a collectible series instead of being true toys. Kenner designer Mark Boudreaux mentions in From Concept to Screen to Collectible that all the Kenner designers came up with ideas for which characters should come with each playset and their different poses. The Micro Collection was an idea the people of Kenner truly believed in.

Star Wars Micro Collection Hoth Wampa Cave box

Hoth Wampa Cave features.

The Micro Collection figures were painted, non-movable, and 1 1/4″ tall. They were the right size to fit in with larger playsets that would have been too expensive to be released in the 3 3/4″ line. Each playset included four to eight figures and was conceived to connect with other playsets of the same “world.” The boxes of the Micro Collection were designed with great care. They were easily recognizable by their dark red color and their specific Star Wars style logo. The boxes didn’t just highlight the playset, but also the individual figures that were included in the set. The backside showed several features of the toy, as well as other playsets. Each box also included an instruction sheet, a Kenner booklet, and a small promotional leaflet for the upcoming Revenge of the Jedi toyline. When collecting the Micro Collection today, you will notice that loose figures often suffer from paint loss. Even the smallest drop on a hard surface can cause a figure to lose some paint, so you’d have to be careful.

Kenner heavily promoted the Micro Collection in their catalogs and in television commercials, but the line never became a real success. Eventually only nine playsets (divided into three worlds) and four vehicles would be released. When the series was canceled, work had already begun on sets from Return of the Jedi — but why did the line fail? One possible reason is that kids were used to poseable action figures and the figures from the Micro Collection were in fact non-movable, old fashioned toy soldiers set in a specific environment. Another reason is the abundance of Star Wars merchandising and toys. Parents might have felt being tricked by Kenner and couldn’t be persuaded to buy yet another series for their child(ren). And despite the huge success of the Star Wars line, other great toys were starting to compete with the Star Wars toys, such as Mattel’s Masters of the Universe. Unfortunately, the Micro Collection line was never released in Europe.

Here’s a rundown of some of the line’s playsets:

Death Star Escape: The Death Star Escape combines several scenes from the Death Star, including the chasm, hallways, the tractor beam console, and one of the large cannons aboard the battle station. It includes six figures: Darth Vader, two Stormtroopers, a firing Chewbacca, Leia Organa, and Luke in his Tatooine outfit.

The set has three levels, but the lower two just resemble Death Star corridors. The upper level comes with a SB-920 Laser Cannon that can pop-up when you push a button. Just a few centimeters away is the console that Ben used to shut down one of the Death Star’s tractor beams. The side of the main set offers two possibilities to connect a smaller elevator / shaft tower. There is a “working” elevator in the shaft, one of the bridges of the main set is retractable, and there is a small plastic “rope” which you can use to make a figure swing across the chasm. It’s very crude, even more primitive than the rope in the Death Star Space Station playset from Kenner. Catalogs sold Death Star Escape in a white mailer box.

Death Star Compactor: This larger Death Star set comes with eight figures (Han Stormtrooper, Luke Stormtrooper, three Stormtroopers, Leia Organa, a dueling Vader, and a dueling Obi-Wan). On the left you can find a turbolift that will lead you to Detention Block AA-23. The control room of the cell block is well-made and leads into the narrow corridor with cell 2187. Just like in the movie, the figures will be able to fall from the corridor into the trash compactor. The compactor comes with small pieces of orange foam and the walls can close when you push a button. At the last moment, the door will spring open so your figures can make their last minute escape. (This is cool.) Another feature is a spring-loaded blastdoor. Death Star Compactor is a fabulous set with many features and manages to capture several scenes from the movie. It’s also one of the harder playsets to find.

Kenner's Star Wars Micro Collection Death Star World playset

The Death Star World playset.

Death Star World: This toy includes both the Death Star Escape and the Death Star Compactor set. There are a couple of options how you can connect both playsets. Death Star World is the hardest to find, though it doesn’t include any exclusive parts.

Hoth Ion Cannon: Hoth Ion Cannon is the largest of all Micro Collection playsets. It includes eight figures, including Han Solo Hoth on his tauntaun, Leia Organa Hoth, Luke Hoth, a Rebel Commander, and four Rebel Troopers. The playset itself is a hollow chunk of plastic (ice), dominated by the large v-150 Planet Defender Ion Cannon. The cannon can be swiveled and makes a clicking sound. Another feature of the set are the hangar doors, which can be opened by pulling the observation tower. You can also recreate battle damage by activating a button. Hoth Ion Cannon comes with two separate computer consoles. When you look at the back of the playset, you’ll see that it’s hollow and can easily double for the Echo Base hangar.

Hoth Wampa Cave: This is the smallest of all Micro Collection playsets, but we shouldn’t judge it by its size. The Wampa Cave is a pretty cool set! It includes five figures: a captured Luke Hoth, a menacing Wampa, Han Hoth, Chewbacca, and the Viper-class Probot. One side of the set has a place for the Probot which can be launched by an action feature. You can attach upside down Luke to both sides of the cave.

Hoth Generator Attack: This is the Imperial set from Hoth. It includes an AT-ST walker and six figures (five Snowtroopers and Darth Vader). The AT-ST can hold a figure and has a detachable cockpit to simulate battle damage. When you place the walker on the playset, you’ll be able to “destroy” it. The (small) shield generator of the Rebels can also explode into three pieces when pushing a button. The base of the playset features a trench that can be used by the Snowtroopers to attack the Echo Base.

Kenner's Star Wars Micro Collection Hoth Turret Defense

The Hoth Turret Defense playset.

Hoth Turret Defense: Hoth Turret Defense includes six figures (Luke on Tauntaun, Han Hoth, a Rebel Commander, and three Rebel Troopers). It’s basically a defensive trench, protected by two turrets. The turrets can explode, they can each hold a figure, and they make a clicking sound when swiveled. It’s a pretty basic set, but still very cool and completes the Hoth World.

Kenner's Star Wars Micro Collection Hoth World playset

The Hoth World playset.

Hoth World: This large playset includes Hoth Ion Cannon, Hoth Generator Attack, and Hoth Wampa Cave. Surprisingly, it doesn’t include Hoth Turret Defense. All playsets can be attached to other Hoth sets in a few different fashions. Hoth World probably is the most common of the larger “World” sets.

Kenner's Star Wars Micro Collection Build Your Armies set.

The Build Your Armies set. Photo courtesy

“Build Your Armies” Mail-Away Figure Set: When you purchased two playsets/vehicles or one large World set, you were entitled to a set of six additional Hoth figures: three Rebel Troopers and three Snowtroopers, one of which manned an E-Web Heavy Repeating Blaster. The offer was shown on all Micro Collection boxes and the figures came in a white mailer box. Getting these figures today in good condition can be quite tricky.

Next time we’ll pay a visit to a city in the clouds, have a look at the vehicles/ships in the Micro Collection line, and wonder what could have been…

From Concept to Screen to Collectible
– The Star Wars Collectors Archive
Tomart’s Action Figure Digest #149

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), is an administrator for Yodapedia, and has written four character back stories in “What’s the Story?”.