Big Discovery: Finding Kenner’s Unreleased Large-Size Star Wars Action Figures
Posted on April 11 2016
It is hard to imagine that during the heyday of Star Wars following release of the film in 1977, that there could be any product considered by Kenner that would not make it to market. Kenner had launched two different series of action figures, one in a small scale designed to fit inside vehicles and playsets and another in a large scale similar to G.I. Joe and Barbie. The small action figures were a smash success, creating a new phenomenon in small-sized action figures that would forever change the toy industry. The large-sized action figures were a more traditional toy, and Kenner had prior success with Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman 12-inch action figures that served as a template for the Star Wars line.
The large-sized Star Wars action figures consisted of 10 characters from the first movie: Han, Luke, Leia, Obi-Wan, C-3PO, R2-D2, Vader, Chewbacca, Stormtrooper, and Jawa. These came individual boxes, and most came bundled with unique removable accessories such as blasters, belts, and boots. For the start of the Empire Strikes Back line, Kenner added Boba Fett and IG-88 to the lineup. Unfortunately, those were the last large-sized figures released to market due to cannibalization from the small-sized action figures and cost of producing the large-scale figures.
Before canceling the line, Kenner had ambitious plans for new outfits and characters. Since it was common at the time to sell separate outfits for large-sized figures as Kenner had done for the Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman lines, the company designed several outfits to be sold separately for the Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia action figures. Two movie-related outfits were planned for Luke: his Yavin ceremony outfit and his X-wing pilot uniform. The plan also called for new outfits beyond those seen on screen. For Luke, this consisted of a flightsuit with leather vest and binoculars. For Princess Leia, the outfits were more fashionable than functional, including a blue jumpsuit, a cold weather fur ensemble, and a leisure outfit with poncho. A small number of handmade prototypes for these outfits were made in Kenner’s Soft Goods department to be shown to retailers and photographed for upcoming catalogs. These toys never made it beyond this initial stage and were never available at retail.
Around the same time as Kenner was planning to release separate outfits for the large sized figures, they were also planning new figures for the upcoming film, The Empire Strikes Back. The idea was to release updated outfits for existing characters and also add new characters introduced in the movie. For the Han Solo action figure, Kenner planned an update that consisted of Han’s Hoth parka along with matching gloves and scarf. Luke and Leia were to receive their Bespin outfits from the scenes on Cloud City. Luke’s Bespin outfit came with a blaster and lightsaber. The Leia Bespin gown was one of the most extraordinary and detailed, with a multi-colored dress similar to Carrie Fisher’s on-screen costume. Leia also came bundled with a blaster, which was a step up from her A New Hope costume where she was only armed with a hair brush. Since the Empire costumes were to be standard issue starting with the new film, the boxes were also updated to reflect the new look. Similar to the fashion outfits, prototypes of all these figures were made in small numbers and box flats were printed for the updated packaging. None of these toys went beyond the initial stages.
Kenner had also planned to introduce a large-sized Lando Calrissian figure. Using the same body template as Luke, Han, and Ben, they started with a plaster sculpt that was a near perfect rendition of Billy Dee Williams. From this head sculpt, they were able to generate a rotocast mold for the figure’s head. The Soft Goods team also created prototypes of Lando’s blue shirt and black pants. The Lando figure was also never released by Kenner.
We are fortunate to have learned about these “lost” figures from Kenner’s internal photography. For years, photos of these large-size action figure concepts were available from Kenner employees and first shown to the world in Steve Sansweet’s book, Star Wars: From Concept to Screen to Collectible. Years later, we were able to track down some of these prototypes from meeting former Kenner employees who had saved examples from their days at the company. After 11 years of finding different large-size prototypes, I was eventually able to assemble a set of the four Empire Strikes Back characters and outfits along with the boxes, as well as the six fashion outfit prototypes for Luke and Leia. Along the way I also managed to pick up the plaster sculpt for the Lando action figure. These are some of the most prized pieces in my collection and serve as a time capsule for what could have been with one of Kenner’s most amazing toy lines.
Gus Lopez is a Star Wars collector based in Seattle who specializes in rare and obscure Star Wars collectibles. Gus created The Star Wars Collectors Archive (theswca.com) in 1994, the first Star Wars collecting website on the Internet.