Ah, the Mailman. Was there anyone more anticipated in the late 1970’s by Star Wars fans? I can remember waiting by the mailbox every day for weeks waiting for him to deliver a certain package. You see, Kenner Products, the company who made Star Wars toys had an incredible promotion that electrified kids all over America: the promise of a brand new Star Wars character from the upcoming sequel, “The Empire Strikes Back.”
Boba Fett was a badass before he even showed up on screen. We got our first glimpse of the world’s greatest bounty hunter on the otherwise forgettable Star Wars Holiday Special, but it was his appearance on the back of Kenner’s Star Wars action figures that made him a household name. Every kid I knew, including myself, carefully cut out the proof of purchase seals on the back of each figure and sent them in with the official order form. Boba Fett was a blue colored warrior in armor with a rocket firing backpack! Before he arrived in the mail he was assured of a place of honor among every Star Wars fan’s collection. Each day was agony waiting for him to show up. Each week that went by an eternity.
Then the day came – intermingled with sales circulars and Publisher’s Clearing House entries was a non-descript white mailer box that contained the dreams of every sci-fi kid in the 1970’s.
Boba Fett had finally arrived.
“The Empire Strikes Back” was still months away but there in the mailbox was tangible proof that the upcoming sequel was going to be the greatest moment of our lives. Boba Fett was covered in weapons, had a signature Kenner laser blaster…and that awe inspiring rocket firing backpack. I couldn’t wait to shoot that red missile right at Luke Skywalker and see if the Force could save him from the sheer brute force of the galaxy’s #1 bounty hunter.
Like Ralphie in “A Christmas Story” ripping open his Little Orphan Annie Decoder Ring with a mixture of awe and enthusiasm, I freed Fett from his mailer box prison. There, nestled inside was the man himself, along with a Kenner collector catalog, that signature gun…and a note addressed to my parents?
NOTE TO CONSUMERS
“Originally our Star Wars Boba Fett Action Figure was designed to have a spring-launched rocket. The launcher has been removed from the product for safety reasons. If you are dissatisfied with the product, please return it to us and we’ll replace it with any Star Wars Mini Action figure of your choice. Thank you for your support.”
Wait, what? Kenner took away his rocket launcher feature! I grabbed the figure, ripped him out of his plastic bag and tugged on the rocket. It was firmly sealed in place. I read the note again. For a moment all the coolness of the figure drained away. He was as ordinary as the other characters in the Star Wars line. Maybe even more so, at least Darth, Luke and Ben had retractable Lightsabers! Yes, his costume was amazing, his helmet the coolest in the galaxy, but he was missing something…that darn rocket launcher! Eventually, Boba Fett would overcome his awkward entrance via toy form into our lives – and he would go on to become a fan favorite for years to come (even if he did die pretty horribly in the Sarlacc Pit). But for that first few moments he was a HUGE let down. The original promised Rocket Firing Boba Fett would instantly become a toy legend. There’d be whispers on the playground from some kid who knew a kid who went to day camp with a kid who was cousin to a kid who ACTUALLY GOT ONE that fired! That somehow one or two original Fett figures had escaped the glue gun at the Kenner Factory and arrived with the launcher intact. But, when pressed, no kid could ever produce actual proof of the elusive Rocket Firing Boba Fett. Rumors persisted for over a decade until Steve Sansweet and Gus Lopez finally put the rumor to rest by doing research and stating unequivocally that the Rocket Firing Boba Fett NEVER shipped to anyone in the world and that there were currently only a handful of unpainted samples in existence. Kenner never did reveal exactly why Fett was robbed of his action feature, but one legendary explanation goes something like this:
Right before Fett was scheduled to go into mass production a young child was playing with his Battlestar Galactica Colonial Scarab Vehicle, a modular space ship that never actually appeared on the popular television show.
The Scarab Vehicle, like most of the ships in the Battlestar Galactica toy line, fired a small rocket almost identical to the one that Fett had in his backpack. Urban Legend says the kid fired the rocket accidentally into his mouth. While the kid never actually choked, the perceived danger was enough to make not only Mattel take away all of the rocket firing features in the Galactica line, but also convinced Kenner to sonic weld the rocket into Fett’s backpack and remove the firing mechanism. A dark day for kids all over the world, let me tell you. Whether that’s true or not, or whether Kenner simply cut the rocket for costs may never be known.
The Mail Away Boba Fett promotion was a runaway success with untold thousands of Star Wars Bounty Hunter Figures being shipped to happy kids all over the galaxy. The promotion let Kenner know that kids were primed and ready for a brand new series of toys for the Star Wars sequel. The Mail-Away event was so successful that Kenner would go on to mount many more similar campaigns throughout the original Star Wars toy line.
Next up was the chance to add the mysterious Bounty Hunter Bossk to your collection. A large lizard, Bossk was the perfect monster to add to your collector case.
For some reason Kenner had a thing for mail-away bounty hunters as Boba Fett and Bossk were followed by 4-LOM, a character whose name was somehow switched up at the Lucasfilm Offices. Originally named Zuckuss, the 4-LOM mail-away was especially popular as the toy pictured on the back of the package featured a thick coat and overlay belt that was irresistible to toy collectors.
4-LOM (Zuckuss) also featured an original sculpt for his gun that every kid spotted instantly. C3-P0 featuring removable limbs was a short promotion that many kids mailed away for, though the figure itself would be packaged on many different cardbacks before the Kenner line ended. During the Star Wars/Empire Strikes Back toy era there were also mail-away promotions for 2 different display stands. Not quite as exciting as new characters, but fun items to get in the mail none-the-less. Every trip to the mail box became and toy expedition back in the day.
Revenge of the Jedi, as the third Star Wars film was originally called, was in the minds of Star Wars toy enthusiasts long before it hit theaters as Return of the Jedi. The backs of the Empire Strikes Back packages offered a first time action figure in the form of Admiral Ackbar, a high ranking Rebel commander with more than a striking resemblance to a goldfish.
When the title of the then final film was changed, thousands of action figure cardbacks would sport huge stickers covering up the original “Revenge” title. Admiral Ackbar was followed by an offer to receive Nein Numb, the co-pilot of the Millennium Falcon and another for The Emperor, a promotion that only showed up after the film had debuted in theaters. Kenner would go to great lengths, including blacking out the Ewoks on action figure cardbacks, to preserve the surprises in Return of the Jedi.
The vintage Kenner Star Wars Mail-Away Action Figure promotion came to an end with the last figure offered – the very cool and highly sought after Anakin Skywalker. Featuring a pretty good likeness of Sebastian Shaw, the actor who played Anakin in both the unmasking scene and the final ghost image scene, the Kenner figure is perplexing, as it is Anakin in human form, a character not actually seen in the film. I still have my Anakin Figure and Mailer-Box from that promotion. I was getting older and nearing the end of my childhood collecting days, so the figure is still sealed in his Kenner Baggie. Kenner tried one more mail-away event with the hard to find Power of the Force series of Action Figures. With Star Wars at an apparent end, the final line of Kenner toys was non-movie specific and featured characters and vehicles that were both obscure and not highly sought at the time. Very cool figures such as Luke Skywalker dressed in Stormtrooper armor and Han Solo with his Carbonite Block occupied the same pegs as the lame Imperial Dignitary and random Ewok called Romba. Most figures hung on the pegs for a long time before being sold on clearance. To entice collectors, Kenner packaged each of the Power of the Force action figures with a collectible metal coin. But with only 13 characters in the line, there were still many, many Return of the Jedi figures still hanging around some 2 years later. Kenner’s solution to boost sales at the ends was to slap a sticker on those Jedi figures letting kids (and parents) know that every figure’s proof of purchase could be mailed in for a free randomly selected collector coin. Not a lot of kids took advantage of this promotion and subsequently, some of the more elusive coins can fetch quite a few dollars on the secondary market. Some completists who were savvy enough to contact Kenner back in the day could have picked up a framed set of the 62 coins at a pretty good price, but this item was never publicly offered. A last minute promotion to offer a 63rd coin and older looking Luke Skywalker action figure never came to fruition and though the figure was never fully completed, a few of the coins slipped out to confirm the story.
The Kenner Mail-Away promotions were a big part of my childhood. As I got older and put away my toys in favor of girls and music, I never really forgot about how exciting it was to get cool toys in the mail. When Kenner revived the Star Wars line in the mid 1990’s to gear up for the 1997 re-release of the original trilogy, there were more opportunities to grab exclusive items. I was in a different place as an adult and was able to really take advantage of these offers. Consequently, I bought boxes and boxes of Froot Loops cereal to finally get a Han Solo in Stormtrooper armor to stand with Luke. I gobbled up bags and bags of Frito-Lay chips to receive enough Ghost of Obi-Wan figures to start my own Haunted Mansion ride. I had dozens of Mos Eisly Cantina paper playsets and Luke Skywalker Binoculars (perfect for viewing all those slides they packed in with the figures, natch). I even took advantage of the first Star Wars internet promotion in 1997 (!) to receive the odd B’Omarr Monk figure from Jabba’s Palace.
When Kenner was eventually swallowed up by Hasbro, the mail-away offers continued with the Mace Windu preview figure for Phantom Menace and even a George Lucas figure dressed up in Stormtrooper armor.
To commemorate the 300th Star Wars figure released, Hasbro made available a very nicely boxed Boba Fett complete with rocket firing feature.
It wasn’t perfect, but for millions of kids who remember waiting by the mailbox, it was the completion of a promise made a long time ago…in a galaxy far, far away.
Jeff Tucker works in the theme park industry. His magical book series, “The Sixth Key,” is available on Amazon.com. He also hosts his own Podcast, “91 Reasons,” available on iTunes.