The Saga of the Original Star Wars Action Figures

From the Alliance for American Manufacturing

Editor's note: We originally ran the blog below in 2015, ahead of the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Now that Star Wars: The Last Jedi is in theaters, we're resharing the piece. Enjoy — and May the Force Be With You.

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, Star Wars toys were Made in America.

If you’ve stepped into a retail establishment of any kind in say, the past six months, you have probably been inundated with Star Wars-themed merchandise. It’s all part of the massive money-making blitz surrounding Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which opens on Friday. 

It is unfortunate — but sadly, not all that surprising — that most of the toys and T-shirts and gadgets and other tie-ins are made overseas. You can find some Made in America gear if you really look (Tervis is selling Made in America tumblers, for example) but most of the stuff lining the shelves in the big box stores is manufactured outside of the United States.

It wasn’t always this way. The toys for the original Star Wars film came from Cincinnati-based toymaker Kenner Products, who produced action figures, vehicles and playsets in the Queen City. 

And while it’s hard to believe now, Kenner landed the Star Wars contract only after companies such as Mattel and Mego turned down the opportunity to license the tie-in toys, since no one expected the movie to do well. As the Cincinnati Enquirer reports:

At that time, toys from television properties, such as Kenner’s “Six Million Dollar Man” doll, worked because of the lengthy exposure of TV, but movies weren’t in theaters long enough.

Kenner designer Jim Swearingen, a University of Cincinnati graduate, recalled reading the “Star Wars” script and telling his bosses they had to do these toys.

The designers knew they wanted to make toys of the spaceships, but the usual 8- or 12-inch dolls would make that impossible, so they instead created 3 ¾-inch plastic action figures that would become the new industry standard.

The Kenner action figures and other toys brought in $200 million in sales, the Enquirer reported, and are now highly coveted among collectors (especially in the box!).

Early Star Wars merchandise even was chronicled in the documentary Plastic Galaxy: The Story of Star Wars Toys. Kenner’s Star Wars action figures were added to the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2012.

Kenner no longer is in business; Tonka bought Kenner in 1987, and Hasbro bought Tonka in 1991. Hasbro now is the official licensee of many Star Wars toys, including for the new movie.


Reposted from AAM