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.
Kenner’s Millennium Falcon was one of the spaceships that was designed early for the 3.75”-line of action figures. The Star Wars Collectors Archive website mentions that Kenner employees had to work pretty hard to finish the wooden patterns that were used to create the steel production molds so that the ship could be sold on time at Christmas, 1979. Then again, employees had to destroy thousands of new Falcons in 1984 when interest in Star Wars had waned.
Since the ship could almost be regarded as a character and continued to play an important role in the sequels, almost every kid wanted this toy. It measured about 53 centimeters long, and compared to a figure of Han Solo (about 10 centimeters tall) was almost four times too small. If Kenner had built the Falcon on a 1:1 scale with the figures, it would have been about 190 centimeters long. Hasbro almost achieved this with their “big” edition of the Falcon in 2008 which measured about 82 centimeters. Of course the cost of such a behemoth would have been unthinkable in the late ’70s, and despite her smaller size Kenner’s toy turned out to be a superb rendition of the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs.
It will take any fan just a few moments to notice that the toy is based on the Falcon’s appearance in A New Hope. The ship stands on three landing gears, and while all three are retractable, the forward gear can be used when simulating flight or it can be hinged into an opening. The cockpit is where one can easily see the repercussions of a scaled-down toy. It can only hold two figures instead of the four we saw in the movies, and it isn’t even an easy fit. The canopy can also be removed, something we advise against doing.
The biggest asset of the toy is a large living area that can hold a lot of action figures. Although Kenner misplaced this area compared to its location in the movies, it was the only place that offered enough room and playability for the figures. There were several pegs to position your figures, and Luke Skywalker could train with the remote — which was a black ball hanging on a cord and a support arm. Sounds pretty crude, but we all knew what the system was. This particular place could also be covered up by a false floor in order to hide your figures or weapons from Imperial inspection, and the floor could be attached to the removable roof cover of the living area when not in use (a neat feature that personally took me years to discover).
Another compartment had the holographic table where you could play an imaginary game of Dejarik (though there were no holo figures). The gunner station for the top quad gun was also situated in the play area, and it connected to a rotating chair that seated figures and made clicking sounds.
The rest of the ship remained fairly consistent with the version seen in the film. On top of the ship was the dish-shaped (well at least until the Battle of Endor) rotating rectenna radar. A small opening rested between the forward mandibles, and on the side of the toy was a compartment for the large “C” batteries that produced a weird “battle alert” sound. Putting the Falcon together was (at least according to my grandparents) not an easy task, since many parts still had to be assembled and a lot of stickers (described as “really exciting” on the instruction sheet) had to be attached.
Perhaps the greatest asset of the Falcon is that the toy combined both ship and playset. Since the Falcon herself was never updated, additional features from other movies (top hatch, medical bunk) weren’t included with the ship. It’s a classic toy that can still be found because a lot of kids used to have one. But finding a complete piece (remote, ramp struts, and support arm) in good condition (without discolored plastic and stickers) will be more difficult.
The toy came in a large box with an instruction sheet and a sheet of stickers retailing for $29.99. Over the years it was released with three different photos on the cover. The first photo (1979) featured stormtroopers patrolling outside the ship; a boy can be seen playing with the toy as well. On the side, some of the action features are shown in photos of the smuggling compartment, the holographic table/remote, the gunner station, and the cockpit.
This box was released again in 1980 with the logo of The Empire Strikes Back, but a new photo was issued and a second box was released in 1981. The scene on this box depicted Cloud City along with a lot of different figures, including Dengar, who was never seen on Bespin. The second box was released again in 1983, but with the Episode VI logo. A third photo was issued and the final box was sold in the same year, this time featuring figures from Return of the Jedi. This scene is less reminiscent of the movie because it had Nien Nunb on Tatooine, and the heroes are getting ready to face Boba Fett, Ree-Yees, and Wooof (the “Klaatu” figure). It also showed a prototype version of Luke Jedi Knight with a blue saber and a black cloak. All US boxes had line art of the front photo on the backside (to save production costs), and the photos of the Falcon‘s features were never updated with new releases.
Because of her star quality, the Falcon was released in most countries around the world where the toys were available. Canada released its first edition in 1979 in a fully-printed bilangual box with the designation “Le Navire Spacial Faucon Millenaire.” An exclusive release with figures of Han and Chewie was also sold by Sears with The Empire Strikes Back logo — the offer was available in 1980, 1981, and 1982. The Canadian Falcon had the original 1979 photo on the box, but was later updated with logos from the two sequels.
Palitoy (UK) released the Falcon with the first photo, but instead used the logo from The Empire Strikes Back.
In France the Falcon wasn’t released until 1982, and it came in a UK box with a French notification sticker and The Empire Strikes Back logo. Stéphane Faucourt notes in “History of French Star Wars Merchandising & Marketing” that the toy caused issues for retailers because it was expensive and the box took up too much space on their shelves. In 1983, the Falcon was re-issued in a bilangual box and sold in several European countries (content on the box was in English, French, Dutch, German, and Italian) with a cover that featured a Bespin photo and an Episode VI logo.
The Falcon was also released in Mexico by Lili Ledy with the original photo of Tatooine. The Halcon Milenario Vehiculo was nearly the same as the Kenner one, but the blue parts were a bit brighter. The back of the box featured line art, but with colors added to the figures.
If Kenner’s line of Star Wars toys had continued, a special one-man cargo handler vehicle that could fit between the Falcon‘s mandibles was planned to be released. This ship was later named the F-LER (Freight-Loading External Rover). Hasbro continued to use the original mold of the Falcon with a couple of adaptations for its line of modern toys until the release of the “big” Falcon in 2008.
The vintage Millennium Falcon is one of Kenner’s crowning achievements in the Star Wars vintage line. Each self-respecting toy museum should definitely reserve a prominent place for this particular toy. Enjoy the gallery below.
Selected Reading: starwarsvintagetoys.co.uk (the instruction sheet images), 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?