Star Wars Death Star Playset
Four stories of figure-scaled fun, the Death Star from the original Kenner
Star Wars line was the Rolls Royce of action toys in 1978. Combining
several scenarios from the movie, and yet keeping things generic enough for
open-ended play, this was the dream dollhouse of a galaxy far, far away.
Oddly enough, it's also an unrepeated phenomenon in the Kenner toy line -
something which very few Star Wars vehicles or playsets can claim. Many of
them have been replicated in the more recent Hasbro toys, or replaced with
new molds of the same item. The closest Hasbro has come to the Death Star
has been a pair of "mini playset segments" - one depicting the hexagonal
detention block corridor (which I'll admit is cool, and it's not a feature
replicated here, even if it is saddled with a missile launcher that has
absolutely zero bearing on anything that ever happened in that scene) and
one with slightly cheesy rendition of Luke and Leia's swing over the chasm.
And that's it. C'mon, Hasbro, where's the love for the original Death Star
(A spare second floor is shown in some of the photos below.)
Not that collectors who have one in reasonably good shape are complaining
in the slightest, mind you. And maybe, just maybe, the original Kenner
Death Star is a snapshot in time. I can't imagine, in this day and age,
anyone releasing any kind of playset which features, as one of its killer
apps, a trash masher where you can threaten to squish your action figures.
Can you imagine the outcry? (Then again, we get frivolous missile
launchers these days...)
The aforementioned "garbage compactor" - not seen here as it's sadly
missing from this specimen of the Death Star - was a self-contained orange
"tank" with clear plastic windows, a pop-open door at one end, and a
vise-grip-like twist knob on the other end; twisting that knob would move
the attached plastic wall of the garbage compactor inward, squishing the
chunks of foam rubber "garbage," the included green rubberized dianoga
creature, and any action figures lucky enough to be trapped in there with
it. Until - voila! - the pressure of all that stuff pops open the door on
the opposite end, allowing our heroes to escape. This whole assembly fit
in a gap left on the bottom "floor" of the Death Star.
A black plastic elevator - a nifty, fairly-robust-for-a-toy mechanism which
could be sent to any floor and featured a classic smoked-plastic rotating
door - can also be found on the ground floor. By lifting it to another
level of the playset and then twisting its control lever, the elevator can
sit on whatever floor is desired. The second floor features two control
consoles (controls provided by colorful decals) and a "trap door" hatch
leading to the trash masher. For an outer "wall," a printed piece of
cardboard is provided, depicting (more or less) the red-and-black computer
control area that Luke and friends commandeered before launching their
attempt to rescue Princess Leia.
The third floor features two narrow catwalks, one of which can be withdrawn
to recreate the "swing across the chasm" scene. Absent from this specimen
is a plastic rope-like gadget, hung from the bottom of the next level up,
which could hold Luke and Leia as they swing across. The other narrow
catwalk again features a groove for another cardboard outer wall.
The top floor features two major locations glimpsed in the movie; the
majority of this floor is taken up by a rotating Death Star laser cannon;
obviously not the superweapon, this one is modeled on one of the "ground
emplacements" seen blasting away at Rebel fighters during the movie's
climactic battle. An action lever lets the Rebels get their revenge though
- hitting it activates a spring which disconnects the cannon and leaves it
"damaged." (The rotating mechanism that holds the cannon until then
features a chair for one action figure.) Behind the elevator, however,
lies the tractor beam control mechanism, along with a narrow catwalk where
Ben Kenobi can carry out one last act of Jedi sabotage. Topping off the
whole structure is an open honeycomb of a "roof."
Has fan/collector insistence on more accurate models killed this Death Star
faster than a proton torpedo? Maybe. But maybe time has obscured the
memory of just how accurate parts of this plastic behemoth are. Even
pieces such as the support struts that hold up each floor show attention to
detail: they feature the "staggered rounded rectangle" motif found all over
the movies' Imperial architecture, and some features of the playset, namely
the cannon and tractor beam controls, are better-than-passable replicas of
those locales on film. The catwalks and floors have molded "deck plating"
patterns (and plenty of foot-hole pegs to keep figures in place), and all
these years later, for a toy scaled for action figures, that transparent
elevator door is still just damned classy. Attention to detail was paid in
full, with interest.
The elevator moving/locking mechanism.
In any case, unless Hasbro continues further down the path of nostalgia (as
seen with their recent ranges of figures with vintage-style packaging), the
Death Star playset remains a gem known only to diehard collectors and to
those of us who were among the first generation of Star Wars consumers.
Like the movies in their original form, it's a relic of Star Wars'
past. (Dare I say an elegant toy for a more civilized age?)
theLogBook.com webmaster / editor-in-chief
Very special thanks to Andrew Wester and Dave Thomer for making this article possible.