The Internet is utterly resplendent with Star Wars toys websites. Good Lord. If you are not part of that subculture, you’d be surprised at the research and exactitude displayed by these collectors in cataloging their wish lists. These people track the obscure variations of 70’s and 80’s action figures with the same precision as a linguist researching ancient Etruscan dialects. If you don’t believe me, just google “double-telescoping lightsaber.”
I have no comparable expertise. But I can tell you what I loved as a boy. These two playsets were my favorites, and both might strike someone as odd choices.
The first was the Jawas’ “Droid Factory.” I call it an odd choice because I have never heard another child speak of it. (And the kids absolutely did talk about their Star Wars toys if they were especially prized products. If you received The “Millennium Falcon” or the “Slave-I” for Christmas, you proclaimed that news gleefully at the bus stop immediately after vacation.) I certainly never had heard of it or placed it on my list for Santa.
But the “Droid Factory” was fun as hell. It combined the magic of the Star Wars universe with some of the creativity of Tinker Toys. Look at the pieces below. You could make R2-D2 (or his evil twin) or other droids, including a four-legged bot that could carry a Jawa. You could kinda make something that looked like the Mars Rover. That black thingamajiggy could give you a satellite or a radar droid. And they all had their own specific placement in the factory, to nourish the obsessive compulsive disorder in all of us.
Some other kids somewhere must have liked it, however. After the arrival of “Return of the Jedi” in 1983, the very same toy was released again — only this time it was colored gray, and was marketed as “The Jabba the Hutt Dungeon.”
My second favorite set was the far more recognizable “Jabba the Hutt Action Playset.” That WAS a well known toy and I absolutely BEGGED for it when I was in the fourth grade.
It might seem like an odd choice, though, because … it was a pretty static toy. Neither Jabba the Hutt or Salacious Crumb (yes, that actually was the smaller character’s name) actually moved around much in the movie, having been controlled only by contemporary animatronics or puppetry. Their toys didn’t move much either — only Jabba’s arms could be manipulated, and those only a inch or so up and down. There wasn’t much that you could do with them.
Jabba’s shallow plastic throne could be opened up to double as … the rancor pit, if memory serves. And that didn’t make much sense, because that awful trapdoor in the movie was located in front of him. He didn’t wiggle away his massive heft, invite the wayward to try his throne out, and then spring a booby trap on them, right? Whatever.
But any 80’s kid who owned Jabba could tell you that the real fun was consigning all of your other action figures to be marshaled forth before Jabba, in his “court.” There, they could be questioned, sentenced, whatever. (The good guys always got away.) It was so much fun that all sorts of waylaid action figures found themselves before Jabba — even those from other universes. My “Raiders of the Lost Ark” action figures occasionally wound up in Jabba’s court, for example. (For reasons I can’t remember, Indiana Jones and the “Arab Swordsman” formed a temporary alliance from time to time.)
These were fun toys. If I ever have the wealth and time enough to pursue toy collecting, I’m going to find these again.