The other day, I was overcome by a wave of nostalgia as I was perusing the shelves of my local toy store. I had to reclaim a lost piece of my childhood. I just couldn’t help it.
In honor of May 4, aka STAR WARS Day, I treated myself to Hasbro’s amazing STAR WARS Black 40th anniversary “Legacy Pack,” a semi-reproduction of Kenner’s infamous Early Bird Kit with the same art and a similar display platform. This new incarnation also includes a 6-inch Darth Vader figure in special throwback Kenner packaging. Very cool.
So why does this mean so much to me?
For those not in the know about the origins of the Early Bird Kit, when STAR WARS came out on May 25, 1977, the Kenner toy company was caught off-guard. George Lucas’ Sci-Fi fantasy was beyond an instant hit — it was a bonafide box-office phenomenon. Kenner, who had licensed the tie-in line after Mego passed it up, was unprepared to meet the explosive demand for STAR WARS toys. In fact, they were in a panic because they would not be able to accommodate legions of ravenous children by the most important shopping period of the year: Christmastime. Thus, the Early Bird Certificate Package — or Early Bird Kit — was born; basically, a promise in the form of cardboard sleeve from Kenner to kids: Anyone who bought this colorful placeholder item with pictures of the planned STAR WARS action figures would be the first to receive four of them in the mail once they were ready in early 1978. Stickers and a “Space Club” fan club membership card were thrown in for good measure, and the rest is STAR WARS history. Pure genius.
I never had the Early Bird Kit, but I always wanted it. Like most kids, I patiently waited for the figures to arrive in stores. By then, STAR WARS fervor was beyond fever pitch; it was still killing it at the box office and I had seen the movie easily 7 or 8 times (a conservative number compared to many of my friends). I had gotten my hands on pretty much anything that had the movie’s logo on it, plus a few notable STAR WARS knockoffs, like my “Space Sword” stand-in lightsaber (which had championed many a battle against Darth Vader, aka my older sister). I had THE STAR WARS SKETCHBOOK and had leafed through issue after issue of Famous Monsters and Starlog to get every ounce of information about the film that I could. And I had seriously worn down the grooves of my John Williams double-disc STAR WARS soundtrack and THE STORY OF STAR WARS, complete with music, sound effects and narration.
I had all but forgotten that the Kenner STAR WARS action figures were still on their way. Then, the good news came.
I remember the day distinctly: My buddy Billy and I heard from his neighbor Mike that the Kenner figures were finally available — and at our toy store! We freaked out. I ran home, tripped up to my room, and grabbed my Marie’s Dressing jar packed with quarters, nickels, dimes, and pennies. There was the loud echo-patter of Keds slapping on pavement as we raced on foot to the store a few miles down the road. Yes, we ran the entire way, and I was praying that the toys would still be there — and that I wouldn’t drop my jar and splatter my life’s savings all over the sidewalk. Luckily, once we arrived, a good selection of figures hadn’t been snatched up yet. With the approximately $10 in change that I had, I chose Han Solo, Chewbacca, Darth Vader, and the Stormtrooper; two good guys and two bad guys. I still have ’em.
Cut to present day: We’re all on the precipice of the 40th anniversary of the release of STAR WARS, the film that changed my life for the better. Exclusive commemorative items are starting to flood stores. I’m trying to be super selective about what I consume, but seeing that Hasbro reproduction of the Early Bird Kit hit me right in the “feels.”
I had to have it. So I plunked down $39.99 with the rationale that I’m buying a plus-sized version of a lost piece of my childhood.
The Legacy Pack comes with an interlocking, tiered peg-stand to display all 12 first-wave figures, along with a double-sided cardboard backdrop that allows you to choose either the classic figure line-up illustration, or an X-wing vs. T.I.E. fighter action shot. Although the cash-hemorrhaging concept is to collect all of the brand-new, repackaged STAR WARS Black 40th anniversary edition 6-inch figures for the Hasbro version of the Early Bird display, there’s one glaring problem. Yes, it’s an expensive proposition. But more importantly, I don’t want to crack open the awesome throwback blister-on-card packaging to put them on display! Couldn’t they have created better access packaging (like Diamond Select‘s Retro Cloth Mego recreations) so collectors can have it both ways?
My solution: I put my vintage 3 3/4-inch figures — the ones I played with when I was a kid and still have — on display in front of the new Early Bird packaging (see photo below). Now, my STAR WARS Early Bird Kit nostalgia is front and center as I get to display all 12 original figures just for my inner child. Plus, my wallet is overjoyed.
Of course, when my vintage figures are not on display, I keep my collection in my original Kenner STAR WARS mini-action figure collector’s case. It’s the only logical place to keep them safe and sound. Right?
For the record: In addition to about 24 original figures from the STAR WARS and EMPIRES TRIKES BACK collections (I was too old for “dolls” once the RETURN OF THE JEDI tie-ins came out), I still have the remains of my Death Star playset, Landspeeder, X-wing, Cantina playset, and Hoth playsets.
What’s my collection worth? Probably not much. They’re well-worn from countless imaginary adventures in a galaxy far, far away. I’ve never tried to sell ’em, and I never would. They’re priceless to me.