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)
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
- Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi
- Han Solo
- Sand People
- Death Squad Commander
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.