Kenner’s “First 12” Figures Unlocked the Magic of STAR WARS

The STAR WARS "First 12" action figures, Kenner 1977. (From the author's collection.)

The STAR WARS “First 12” action figures, Kenner 1977. (From the author’s collection.)

Back in May, for the 40th anniversary of Star Wars, I planned to post a photo feature on the “first 12” action figures that Kenner released back in 1978. Instead, I whined about Disney/Lucasfilm not releasing a restored version of the theatrical cut.

My recent visit to the Toys of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s exhibition at the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond, however, inspired me to return to this idea.

Though in the enviable position of holding the toy license to what was rapidly becoming the biggest blockbuster of all time, Kenner Products had a problem as Christmas 1977 approached. It had almost no Star Wars merchandise ready for store shelves.

As a creative solution, Kenner instead issued an “Early Bird” kit with a redemption certificate for the first four Star Wars action figures in the 3.75 inch line, which they promised to deliver by June 1978–a year after the film’s debut.

Under the Christmas tree, then, Star Wars fans in 1977 found no action figures, but an envelope containing:

  • A cardboard action figure display stand and backdrop (with cool artist renderings of the first dozen figures planned)
  • Star Wars club membership card
  • Star Wars stickers
  • Early bird mail-in certificate

Kenner made good on its promise and shipped patient fans the following figures in early 1978:

  • Luke Skywalker
  • Princess Leia Organa
  • Artoo-Detoo (R2-D2)
  • Chewbacca

Eventually, these figures also landed on store shelves that year. The initial run of retail figures were attached to a beautiful card that displayed the “First 12” figures on the back. The remaining “12-backs” were:

  • See-Threepio (C-3PO)
  • Darth Vader
  • Stormtrooper
  • Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi
  • Han Solo
  • Jawa
  • Sand People
  • Death Squad Commander

"This is madness!" See-Threepio (C-3PO) and Artoo-Detoo (R2-D2), Kenner, 1977. (From the author's collection.)

“This is madness!” See-Threepio (C-3PO) and Artoo-Detoo (R2-D2), Kenner, 1977. (From the author’s collection.)


"Artoo-Detoo, where are you?" Princess Leia Organa and Artoo-Detoo (R2-D2), Kenner, 1977. (From the author's collection.)

“Artoo-Detoo, where are you?” Princess Leia Organa and Artoo-Detoo (R2-D2), Kenner, 1977. (From the author’s collection.)


"You are a part of the Rebel Alliance and a traitor!" Princess Leia Organa and Darth Vader, Kenner, 1977. (From the author's collection.)

“You are a part of the Rebel Alliance and a traitor!” Princess Leia Organa and Darth Vader, Kenner, 1977. (From the author’s collection.)


"But I was going into Tosche Station to pick up some power converters!" Luke Skywalker, Kenner, 1977. (From the author's collection.)

“But I was going into Tosche Station to pick up some power converters!” Luke Skywalker, Kenner, 1977. (From the author’s collection.)


"Why I should stick my neck out for you is quite beyond my capacity." See-Threepio (C-3PO), Luke Skywalker, Artoo-Detoo (R2-D2), and a Jawa, Kenner, 1977. (From the author's collection.)

“Why I should stick my neck out for you is quite beyond my capacity.” See-Threepio (C-3PO), Luke Skywalker, Artoo-Detoo (R2-D2), and a Jawa, Kenner, 1977. (From the author’s collection.)


"Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're my only hope." Luke Skywalker, See-Threepio (C-3PO), and Artoo-Detoo (R2-D2), Kenner, 1977. (From the author's collection.)

“Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.” Luke Skywalker, See-Threepio (C-3PO), and Artoo-Detoo (R2-D2), Kenner, 1977. (From the author’s collection.)


"This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight." Luke Skywalker and Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi, Kenner, 1977. (From the author's collection.)

“This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight.” Luke Skywalker and Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi, Kenner, 1977. (From the author’s collection.)


"Fast ship? You've never heard of the 'Millennium Falcon'?" Han Solo, Chewbacca, Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi, and Luke Skywalker, Kenner, 1977. (From the author's collection.)

“Fast ship? You’ve never heard of the ‘Millennium Falcon’?” Han Solo, Chewbacca, Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi, and Luke Skywalker, Kenner, 1977. (From the author’s collection.)


"This is some rescue!" Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia Organa, and Han Solo, Kenner, 1977. (From the author's collection.)

“This is some rescue!” Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia Organa, and Han Solo, Kenner, 1977. (From the author’s collection.)


"Open the blast doors! Open the blast doors!" Stormtroopers, Kenner, 1977. (From the author's collection.)

“Open the blast doors! Open the blast doors!” Stormtroopers, Kenner, 1977. (From the author’s collection.)


"If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine." Darth Vader and Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi, Kenner, 1977. (From the author's collection.)

“If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” Darth Vader and Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi, Kenner, 1977. (From the author’s collection.)


"Remember, the Force will be with you . . . always." See-Threepio (C-3PO), Artoo-Detoo (R2-D2), Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia Organa, Han Solo, and Chewbacca, Kenner, 1977. (From the author's collection.)

“Remember, the Force will be with you . . . always.” See-Threepio (C-3PO), Artoo-Detoo (R2-D2), Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia Organa, Han Solo, and Chewbacca, Kenner, 1977. (From the author’s collection.)


When Christmas 1978 rolled around, 20 different Star Wars action figures were available. Kenner eventually released 96 figures from across the Star Wars trilogy before ending the original line in 1985.

Hasbro later purchased Kenner and resumed creating Star Wars action figures in 1995. By the time of the Star Wars 40th anniversary this year, Hasbro had released thousands more figures spanning the entire franchise.

There is magic to be found, however, in a time when there was only 1 movie (simply called Star Wars) and only 12 figures.

3 thoughts on “Kenner’s “First 12” Figures Unlocked the Magic of STAR WARS

    • Luke X-Wing was one of the coolest figures of the original line… but then, the only Luke figure that I didn’t particularly like was the stormtrooper one from Power of the Force. Head sculpt was horrible – I suppose to accommodate the helmet. Awesome concept, though.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, Luke X-Wing is one of my alltime favourites – being the first pilot figure too. I love all the early Kenner boxes of the X-Wing vehicle where they would use Luke Farmboy as the pilot prior to the release of Luke XWP! Yep, the headsculpt of Luke Stormie is pretty bad.

        Like

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