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.
When Star Wars debuted in 1977, one of its many interesting aspects was the vast amount of different robots, or as they’re known in a galaxy far, far away: droids. It was only the beginning of what all these unique droids would have to offer to our beloved universe. Each movie would introduce its own number of new mechanical beings, from the medical droid 2-1B in The Empire Strikes Back to the innocent-yet-tough BB-8 in The Force Awakens.
Kenner realized that the droids from Star Wars would make great action figures. They looked weird and they were mysterious, since most of the droids’ functions weren’t explained until the late ’80. After having released R2-D2 and C-3PO in their first wave of action figures — nobody would want to miss them — Kenner decided to release three more droids in their second wave. In this installment of The Vintage Vault, we’ll look back at the vintage droid action figures from A New Hope and a playset that enables you to construct your own.
See-Threepio (C-3PO): Released in a “shining gold finish” (as explained on the first figures’ cardbacks), Kenner’s C-3PO was a great rendition of the protocol droid. The figure has the classic five points of articulation, but isn’t able to hold any accessory. Kenner was able to add the gold-plated finish by using a new process of vacuum metallization. The original C-3PO action figure was released on Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back cards. After Kenner’s updated C-3PO (with removable limbs!) was released, the original was phased out of production.
C-3PO was released in many countries; in Japan, where the figure was released by Takara, features a differently sculpted head (it’s a bit more puffy). In Italy, he was named D3BO and in France he was called Cispeo (Z6 PO). C-3PO’s card shows a photo of the protocol droid in the control room, overseeing Docking Bay 327 aboard the Death Star. Finding a loose C-3PO with firmly attached limbs and a beautiful gold color isn’t always that easy, although the figure itself isn’t that hard to find.
Artoo-Detoo (R2-D2): R2-D2 was one of the four action figures that was part of the legendary Early Bird Package, which allowed people to pre-order the first action figures around Christmas 1977. R2-D2 is 2 ¼” and has movable legs and a head that clicks. Artoo has three points of articulation and a sticker that shows details in front and on the back on his body. The action figure doesn’t include all of the droid’s details — among the missing features is his retractable central leg. R2-D2’s card features a photo of the droid during the ceremony on Yavin 4.
Artoo was featured on both Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back cards. In Italy, R2-D2 was called C1P8, and in France was named Dedeu (D2 R2). After Kenner released their new R2-D2 (with sensorscope), this original figure was set out of production.
Arfive-Defour (R5-D4): Originally bought by Owen Lars from the Jawas, R5-D4 experienced a malfunction (“a bad motivator!”), which would change the history of the galaxy. R5-D4, or “Red,” has the same body as Artoo-Detoo’s figure, but with a different head sculpt that makes him a bit taller. The sticker of this droid is colored differently, but it has the same details as Artoo’s. Just like with R2-D2, this droid’s central leg is missing and his head makes a clicking sound.
R5-D4, who is the only other astromech released in the vintage line except from R2-D2, was released on Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and Tri-logo cards. Its card features a beautiful photo of the droid being inspected by Luke Skywalker.
Death Star Droid: While R5-D4 borrowed heavily on the R2-D2 figure, Kenner used C-3PO’s body as the basis for the silver-colored Death Star Droid. Strangely enough, this droid never appears aboard the Death Star in A New Hope. A black RA-7 protocol droid does appear aboard the Death Star, but this droid is found aboard the Jawa sandcrawler and was named 3B6-RA-7 in “What’s the Story” on StarWars.com. The figure almost features the same legs and arms as C-3PO, but his body and his head are different. It has a silver plated finish with black markings on his head and arms.
This droid was released on Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and Tri-logo cards. It features an airbrushed photo of the droid’s appearance aboard the sandcrawler. Although the Death Star Droid isn’t the hardest figure to find, it’s difficult to find a loose one with beautiful black markings and stiff limbs. Fun fact: The prototype of the Death Star Droid’s head used to be a lot more insect-like.
Power Droid: This droid may be one of Kenner’s most remarkable vintage action figures. Power droids (commonly known as “gonk” droids for the sound they make) have appeared in many Star Wars movies and have gathered loyal fans. The airbrushed photo on the figure’s card features the power droid aboard the Jawa sandcrawler, but the figure itself looks more like the unnamed power droid seen in the Lars homestead. The photo on the card has a pink hue, which makes it stand out among the other cards. The power droid was packed sideways because otherwise the blister would have stuck out too far.
The figure itself is beautifully sculpted. Underneath its body are two legs that can be moved and make a clicking sound. The figure also has a rubber antenna (that can be removed). Two stickers are found on the droid: one in front — with the droid’s photoreceptor — and a thin white sticker that goes around the body. The Power Droid was released on Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi cards. It never made it onto a Tri-logo card, though it seems it was miscarded on a Tri-logo Ugnaught card.
The five vintage droids from A New Hope can also be found in rare and expensive three packs. R2-D2 and C-3PO can be found with Chewbacca in the Android Set, while the three other droids were collected in the Droid Set. Canadian Star Wars coloring books somehow feature artwork based on the Kenner prototypes of the Death Star Droid, R5-D4 and the Power Droid.
Droid Factory (1979): The Droid Factory is a playset first released in 1979. This unique construction playset wasn’t really based on any scenes from the movie, but it offered a lot of play value. You could imagine it as some part of the sandcrawler’s inner workings. The Droid Factory is a plastic base with a ramp, a movable crane and many different parts. The playset enables you to create your own droids and, most important of all, to create R2-D2 with a central leg. (This was the only way to acquire R2-D2 with his central leg during the vintage years!)
The playset comes with “Droid Maker Blueprints,” a booklet that shows some of the possible combinations of the parts, including the infamous Monster Droid, which was included in The New Essential Guide to Droids (2006). Other buildable droids include Mechano Droid, Tracto-Droid, Quad-Pod Droid, and Rollarc Droid. Of course, you were able to create a lot more droids by combining pieces. The large amount of accessories (over 50 pieces) make it hard to find a complete and loose Droid Factory. The playset originally included a sticker sheet, a small booklet, and a Kenner form regarding replacement parts (which could have proven itself quite useful with this set).
The Droid Factory was released in a rectangular box featuring several Jawas and a few constructed droids. While the front photo doesn’t feature a kid playing with the toy, some photos on the side of the box do. The Droid Factory was released again in 1980 with a different photo that included Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi. In Canada, this playset was released in 1980 and translated into French as “Usine à Robots.” The base of the Droid Factory would later be used for both renditions of the Jabba the Hutt Dungeon Playset.
The Droid Factory was also released by Palitoy in the UK, but that version differed from the Kenner set. It was released with a different yellow-and-dark-blue base that didn’t include a moving crane, but a primitive conveyor belt. The Palitoy bases are made from a thinner plastic to reduce production costs and the plastic probably wasn’t durable enough to support Kenner’s crane. (Cardboard even had to sustain the base at the bottom.) The parts themselves are identical to the ones included with the Kenner Droid Factory.
For fans of these pioneer droids, check out Gentle Giant’s Jumbo Kenner figures that include all of the droids in this article, even a special Droid 3-pack, styled exactly like the vintage one.
Sources: The Star Wars Collectors Archive, The Ultimate Guide to Vintage Star Wars Action Figures, trilogo.info, Star Wars Character Encyclopedia: Updated & Expanded.
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, to the Build the Millennium Falcon magazine and has created character names and back stories for What’s the Story? and Rogues Gallery.