Adam Parker takes a look back at the 12 releases from Kenner Large Action Figure line released between 1978 and 1980.
In 1978, following the success Kenner had with their 3.75” action figure range, they embarked on widening their toy line with a Star Wars Large Size Action Figure range. The figures ranged in size from 15” to 8”, the initial launched included six characters. These were C-3PO, Chewbacca, Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and R2-D2.
R2-D2 and Darth Vader early highlight from the Large Action Figure line
The Large Size Action Figure of R2-D2 was a great representation of the character and is almost screen accurate in its appearance. The large scale allowed for a dome that shines with the same luster seen at the end of A New Hope. R2-D2 came accessorized with two Death Star plans that can be accessed in a secret compartment in the rear of the figure. The plans themselves do not match any screen seen images but have a strong art style of their own as futuristic circuit boards. Certainly a fun accessory to steal from the Empire before passing from figure to figure and then smuggling away secretly in R2-D2.
The Darth Vader figure sculpt was excellent. The detail in the chest piece and belt helped stand the Large Size Action Figure apart from the less detailed 3 ¾” range. Darth Vader came with a fabric cape and lightsaber as accessories. The light saber was made of a clear red transparent plastic with a black painted handle. The handle itself does not resemble the screen used lightsaber this is a small issue for an excellent accessory. Having it cast from a transparent plastic added to the special effects for the weapon shown on screen. Darth Vader’s helmet is cast from two pieces which adds to a close representation to what was shown on screen and helps make him appear armored.
The scale came with limitations for the Large Action Figures
C-3PO as with R2-D2’s chrome dome was painted with metallic gold paint gives a great look of the figure. The lack of articulation for the figure makes it look more robotic than the character shown on screen. Darth Vader similarly suffered from the restricted articulation of only five points however the quality of the sculpts and look of Darth Vader sets it above C-3PO. C-3PO did not come with any accessories. When R2-D2 and C-3PO were originally released they were both US exclusives to the J.C. Penny stores in the first year of release. Beyond the US none of the Large Size Action Figure had a store exclusive release.
Kenner’s 3.75” Chewbacca was much better represented in plastic than the Large Size Action Figure counterpart. The look of Chewbacca cast from solid plastic at the large scale did not look right. To their credit Kenner did the best job possible with the sculpt of the hair, and the representation of the character’s face is very strong. Chewbacca’s bandolier was also on the tight-fitting side and looked a little small for the figure. It contained plastic ammo cartridges that clipped on to the bowcaster included with the figure. This is a nice touch and now on the vintage market a Chewbacca with a full set of accessories is harder to find.
Putting the Ken in Kenner
Sculpted hair was also an issue for the Luke Skywalker figure. All the male Large Size Action Figure suffer from hair sculpt issues, Luke and Han most significantly. The figures come off with a look similar to the Ken doll from Hasbro’s Barbie range. The face sculpt is ok, but shows the limitations on this scale with capturing the likeness of an actor, the Han head sculpt was much more successful. The Luke figure came dressed in his farm boy outfit the same as the first 3 ¾” figure. The outfit is a good example of soft goods from the range. Luke also came with a range of accessories including a blue lightsabre, belt and grappling hook. The light sabres handle is a much better representation of what was shown on screen than Darth Vader’s. This is more than likely due to the extra screen time the weapon receives. The grappling hook was a nice addition enabling you to act out one of the most dramatic scenes from A New Hope.
Princess Leia finished off the first wave release of Large Size Action Figure and is the only figure in the range with realistic hair. The figure came dressed in the white gown from A New Hope and her hair was styled in the classic bun look from the film using two brown ring shaped pieces of plastic often termed hair ‘donuts’. The marketing and packaging of the figure called the hair style Star Puffs. The accessories of the figure steered the marketing of the figure to what was traditionally the female toy market with a hair brush and comb. Changing the hair style of Leia was prominently featured on the packaging. In the late 1970s toys often fell squarely into two camps boys and girls with very little cross over from a marketing point of view. The Large Size Action Figure Leia figure was marketed towards girls as a female character was rarely seen in a range of toys marketed towards boys. Growing up the Leia figure was part of my collection and was enjoyed for many hours adventuring with G.I Joe’s standing in for Han and Luke. Many examples of the figure on the secondary market have lost the original hair donuts but there are solutions on line using plumbing parts as alternatives to create that original Star Puffs hair style.
1979 and new year and a new wave of Large Action Figure releases
The Large Size Action Figure range extended in 1979 with a second wave of releases Han Solo, Ben (Obi Wan) Kenobi, a Stormtrooper, a Jawa and Boba Fett. The Han Solo figure has similar pros and cons to the Luke Skywalker figure. The sculpt of Han Solo’s face is a much better likeness. Han also came accessorised with his smugglers blaster and the medal from the award ceremony in Yavin. The medal is a nice touch as any adventures could map out Han’s full journey in A New Hope from selfish smuggler to rebellion hero.
As with the prominent version of 3.75” Jawa figure the Large Scale Action Figure came with a fabric cape and was sculpted beneath in a cape as well. The Jawa is accessorised with a bandolier that closes the cape shut and a blaster rifle. A lovely touch is the Jawa’s eyes which are two transparent bulbs of amber plastic. Rather than standard painted eyes. These add an extra flourish of realism to the characters seen on screen. Overall the Jawa is a strong figure in the range.
The brilliance on Boba and the stiff Stormtrooper
Of all the male humanoid figures Ben (Obi Wan) Kenobi is the best in the range. The head sculpt of the figure is excellent as are the fabric clothes. The figure comes equipped with a yellow lightsabre using the same cast as Luke’s accessory. The Ben (Obi Wan) Kenobi figure is now much harder to find than most of the other figures. The Stormtrooper suffers from the same missing neck issues as the vintage 3.75” figure. Beyond the lack of neck the sculpt is of a good standard but doesn’t hit the heights of Darth Vader. It also only had six points of articulation, had it been more poseable it would have been a much more dynamic figure. Darth Vader and C-3PO can get away with less articulation when being posed due to their less physical roles within the film, but with the Stormtrooper it hampers the figures overall look significantly.
The high point of the range was Boba Fett. Released in 1979 prior to The Empire Strikes Back making the character an unknown quantity on release. I received a Boba Fett for Christmas in 1982 I was rapidly approaching my fifth birthday and my world revolved around Star Wars. I had no idea who Boba Fett was as I hadn’t seen Empire Strikes Back in the cinema and it wouldn’t be released on video in the UK until 1984. That didn’t matter I loved him! The figure came equipped with a rocket pack, an excellent gun with shoulder loop, a cape and also Wookie scalps! If any accessory released with a figure has been a mission statement for a character it is the Wookie scalps. Chewbacca is known to rip peoples arms out their sockets when he loses a game. Boba Fett kills Wookies! I have no doubt the inclusion of Wookie scalps fired many a young imagination as to the capabilities of the character. The articulation on the figure is amazing and far beyond any other figure in the range. With sculpted armour there were no clothes to hinder his freedom of movement which helped with poseability. Being released in 1979 alongside the Strormtrooper it is a shame both were not articulated in a similar way.
The end of the Large Action Figure range and what could have been
One final release came for the range in 1980 the tallest of all a 15” IG-88. This was the only figure packaged in an Empire Strikes box. The figure came equipped with two guns a large and short rifle. Unfortunately, these were held only loosely by the figure and would often fall out. The sulpt of the figure is great, although only seen fleetingly on screen it is very close to the images that have been released over the years of the character. Along with the rifles IG-88 can accessorised with four small plastic grenades that fit into the bandolier. As the last in the range IG-88 is the hardest of the Large Action Figures to find especially in complete condition mainly due to the small accessories and lack of grip in the hands.
Kenner had plans to take the range further including a prototype Lando Calrissian figure whose sculpt was streets ahead of the humanoid head sculpts seen earlier in the range. There were also plans for several outfits from The Empire Strikes Back for the previously released Han, Luke and Leia figures. These included Hoth Han, Bespin fatigues Luke, Bespin gown Leia and also an X-Wing fatigues Luke outfit. These were all planned as figures in new outfits. Kenner also planned a series of outfits that were to be sold at a mid price point as accessory packs for people with existing figures. The range of planned outfits have few links to the films other than a Ceremonial Outfit for Luke from the medal presentation on Yavin. Most of the other outfits have a unique disco late 1970s feel. The outfits include Arctic, Poncho and Flight Suit outfits for Leia. The mid price ranged outfits really have a feel like Kenner did not know exactly who to market the range at. The outfits passed through pre production planning and were all green lit for release before the Large Action Figure line was cancelled as a whole. Had they made it to market they would undoubtedly have been some of the quirkier releases from Kenner.
The Large Action Figure range is sought after by many collectors and while most of the range can be acquired reasonable easily without too much expense unboxed figures with all there accessories are much harder to find and demand significantly higher prices. While the range only lasted two years and all the figures posses a certain charm there are one or two examples of figures that are exceptional. R2-D2, Darth Vader and Boba Fett would sit happily among anyone’s collection of great Star Wars merchandise.
Adam Parker loves baking, pugs, Doctor Who, Star Wars, fell walking, real ale, concise crosswords, comic books, reading, podcasts, gamming, cinema, conventions, cosplay and teaching Biology. His wife thinks far too much plastic enters the house than leaves, but has happily let the man cave move into a larger room. He was interviewed by the BBC during Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary and has met every living actor to play the Doctor. He fulfilled a childhood dream at Celebration Europe 2016 when he met Mark Hamill. Find him on Twitter and in the RetroZap Facebook Group.