From 1978 to 1985, Kenner sold over 300 million Star Wars related toys. This series of toys is known among fans as the vintage line. In The Vintage Vault, we take a closer look at some of the most iconic original Star Wars toys that have delighted fans across the globe.
The Kenner TIE fighter was one of the earliest spaceships designed for the 3.75”-line of action figures. Since the figures were small enough, they could interact with playsets and spaceships. Already present on the cardbacks of the first figures (as artwork), the TIE fighter would become one of the popular ships in the vintage line.
TIE Fighter (1978)
If the heroes had the X-wing, then the bad guys couldn’t be depraved of their proper starfighter. That’s what the designers at Kenner must have thought when they included the TIE to their first wave of ships. The first edition was released in 1978. Though the TIE fighters in A New Hope seem to be muted gray, Kenner’s version was white, similar to ILM’s blue-screen models. It measured 23 centimeters tall, 26 centimeters wide, and 18.50 centimeters deep. That’s about half of what the TIE would have measured if Kenner had built it on scale with the 3.75” action figures (Hasbro did release a large TIE fighter in 2005, 2006, and 2008). The solar wing panels are a bit small, but the toy is still a faithful representation of the Empire’s main starfighter. The size is also perfect for a kid to play with: not too small and not too cumbersome.
The TIE fighter has a few action features. The cockpit fits one action figure and has an opening hatch. A cool feature is that the cockpit seat can be lifted by a lever. The ship also has a laser sound effect (two “AA” batteries required) that can be activated by pressing a button behind the cockpit, and a red LED lights up underneath the cockpit (not the TIE’s laser cannons) and makes a typical whining sound. The final feature is the most spectacular. Pressing two buttons on either side of the cockpit will simulate battle damage by ejecting the solar wings. This system works pretty well, but can become damaged over time. The TIE’s removable parts include two wings, the central cockpit, two hatches, the cockpit seat, and the battery cover.
The TIE fighter has been released a couple of times, though the original photo on the box didn’t change — the spacecraft is shown in front of a blueish background. The photos on the side of the box show the action features and Darth Vader fighting Ben Kenobi. In the same picture, a stormtrooper with Chewbacca’s bowcaster can be seen standing up in the TIE cockpit. The initial release (1978) featured the blue LP (Long Play) emblem and mislabeled the toy as an X-wing starfighter. A second release in 1978 corrected the erroneous content and a third release in 1978 featured a special offer that included figures of Darth Vader and a stormtrooper. In 1979 the toy was released again, but Kenner renamed it as the Imperial TIE Fighter and it no longer had the LP emblem. In 1980, the Imperial TIE Fighter was released with The Empire Strikes Back logo. The toy always came with a toy booklet, an instruction sheet, and the stickers for the solar wings.
The TIE fighter is one of those toys that you’ll encounter regularly, but it’s not always in the best condition. The toy may have yellowed over the years, the stickers may have loosened, or the ejection system might be broken. What’s interesting to note is that the TIE fighter pilot didn’t receive its proper 3.75” figure until 1982, even though they made an obvious appearance in A New Hope. Until 1982, the best choice to pilot a TIE fighter was a stormtrooper, Death Squad commander, Imperial commander, or even Darth Vader himself.
“Battle-Damaged” Imperial TIE Fighter Vehicle (1983)
Very similar to what had been done with the X-wing toy, Kenner also released a “Battle Damaged” version of the TIE fighter. The mold of the toy is nearly the same, but there are some major differences. The white plastic was abandoned for a blueish color and the ship had additional stickers to simulate asteroid or blast damage. The cockpit hatch now featured four slots, while the original TIE hatch had no openings.
The “Battle-Damaged” TIE was sold in a new box featuring the Return of the Jedi logo. It showed the toy in front of an asteroid field, a scene that never took place during A New Hope, but rather during The Empire Strikes Back. The side of the box depicts a boy utilizing the action features of the ship and a rather strange photo where Lando Calrissian and Admiral Ackbar are standing next to a TIE manned by Darth Vader.
Since the TIE fighter was one of the most prominent ships in the classic Star Wars trilogy, it’s no surprise that it was released in many other countries. Canada released the TIE fighter in 1978 in a bi-logo (both English and French) box. England, Spain (“Nave Imperial”), Germany, and France (“Chasseur TIE”) also released the TIE in the same year. After releasing a French edition of the TIE fighter, Miro-Meccano later imported a US release (through Germany) that featured a French nameplate (“Chasseur TIE Standard”) and a legal notice. The TIE fighter was released again in Canada and Spain in 1980 with the logo of The Empire Strikes Back.
The “Battle-Damaged” TIE Fighter Vehicle was also released in a bi-logo box that didn’t feature the photo with Lando and Ackbar (1984). The box came in different languages (English, Spanish, and French) and included a poster instead of a booklet. It was also released in Canada (1983) in a bilingual box that strangely says “La Revenge des Jedi” (Revenge of the Jedi, Jedi in plural form). It’s believed that this toy is the only production vehicle/ship that carried the Revenge of the Jedi title.
By far, the most peculiar foreign release of the TIE fighter is the Brazilian one by Glasslite in 1988. It was released as “Nave Interceptadore” under “Power of the Force” (“O Poder Da Força”) and featured unique box art. It also had a photo of Darth Vader on the front. While the toy itself is basically the same as the other releases, it had a totally different color — a dark gray to a metallic silver. The solar wings had no stickers (the ship itself has some weird ones), but the toy still had an electronic sound (without any light). Glasslite also switched the names of the TIE interceptor (as “Nave Imperial”) and the TIE fighter (as “Nave Interceptadore”).
Darth Vader’s TIE fighter and the TIE interceptor were also released as vintage ships, but those are different ships and are not included in this article.
Selected Reading: starwarsvintagetoys.co.uk, theswca.com, The Ultimate Guide to Vintage Star Wars Action Figures (Bellomo, 2014), History of French Star Wars Merchandising & Marketing, 1977 – 1986 (Faucourt, 2013) and TheManwhoshotLukeskywalker.com.
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), Build the Millennium Falcon, and has written four character back stories for What’s the Story?