These days, toy manufacturers – including Hasbro, makers of the current line of Star Wars toys – have to pack an exclusive figure or something similarly enticing in with a vehicle in order to lure consumers and collectors in to buy the vehicle. But for the original Kenner Star Wars line, the Millennium Falcon was the first toy designed – even before the figures.
Kenner’s designers had to come up with the Falcon first for a very simple reason: the scale of the vehicle would determine the scale of the figures. Prior to Star Wars, it was generally accepted that action character toys aimed for boys were along the lines of the foot-tall G.I. Joe toys. Obviously, a Millennium Falcon scaled for that kind of figure would have been less an action vehicle and more of a piece of furniture. With a certain price point in mind for the Falcon, the vehicle was scaled down until it wouldn’t cost Kenner too much to produce and wouldn’t cost mom and dad too much to buy – and that, more than anything, determined the 3 3/4″ scale of the figures that would fit inside it.
On the inside, the plastic version of the Millennium Falcon tries to pack in as many major features from the first movie as it can. The cockpit is its own self-contained area, and seats two – barely (Chewie requires a bit of squeezing to fit at the controls). The rear section of the ship, with its removable lid, packs a number of scenes into a small space. Specific scenes represented include Artoo and Chewie’s gaming table showdown, Luke’s lightsaber training session, hiding in Han’s smuggling compartments, and manning the Falcon’s battlestations after the escape from the Death Star.
The lightsaber training remote is a tiny black gizmo that looks a bit like a disco ball, hanging from a string that itself hangs from a rod attached to the “wheel well” for the starboard landing strut. To put it in perspective, the “remote” is tinier than the little holographic Princess Leia that kept an R2-D2 reissue from hitting the store shelves just a few years ago. (I guess kids were just harder to choke in 1978.)
The gunner’s seat falls back on Kenner’s preferred way of making sound effects in the ’70s – a ridged ring around the base of the seat catches a tiny flexible plastic flap on the bottom of the seat, producing a clicking sound as the seat and the gun turret turn. The seat itself is a nifty idea, it just takes a bit of maneuvering to make sure the occupant of the seat is actually in position (if he or she isn’t, you’ll know soon enough – an incorrectly seated figure falls right out of the chair). To be fair, adding some batteries and pressing the button on a compartment opposite the cockpit also produces a sound, though I’d hesitate to call it a sound effect – it’s like the buzz you get from the board game Operation, at a slightly higher pitch.
The “smuggling compartment” is simply an asymmetrical area that can be covered with a thin plastic “hatch” corresponding to the same area. The hatch wasn’t hinged and could easily be removed altogether, making it a prime candidate to be the first piece of any given specimen of the Millennium Falcon to be lost.
The game table area can barely fit R2-D2 and a couple of other figures, assuming of course that they’re standing. Even if you’re not going to let the Wookiee win, you could at least let him sit down. (The shape of the rear wall of the gaming and smuggling compartments was defined by the “engines” on the outside of the ship, more than anything.)
A colorful printed cardboard background effectively hides the reality that the rest of the Falcon is largely hollow plastic.
There’s even a dandy cargo compartment that can actually hold stuff – and before anyone gives Kenner grief over a perceived lack of detail in the original Star Wars toys, the exterior sculpting is very detailed – even the seldom-used cargo hold has sculpted detail inside it.
The two rear landing struts could be pushed back up into the body of the ship; the “wheel wells” for the rear landing gear was incorporated into the interior compartment design. The forward landing gear folded down on a hinge, and could be used to “fly” the Falcon by hand.
It’s one of the most important toys, from a design perspective, in the entire Star Wars range (even though it didn’t appear until months after the first figures arrived), and it’s surely a testament to the Falcon’s importance – even evident only in the first movie – that the entire line of Star Wars toys to follow, right to this day, was determined by the need to make this ship both compatible and relatively affordable.
Very special thanks to Andrew Wester and Dave Thomer for making this article possible.