In 1985, the long reign of the original Kenner Star Wars toy line was sadly coming to an end. With no new film on the horizon and nothing to keep the Star wars flame going in the public eye, interest was waning and Kenner was stuck watching the toy aisle, long dominated by Jedi and Sith, being taken over by a lumbering hulk named He-Man and a growing line of cars that turned into robots. In a last ditch effort to milk a few more coins out of the Star Wars franchise, Kenner created the last wave of original trilogy toys for nearly a decade…The Power of the Force Line.
Featuring a wide variety of action figures and a small assortment of vehicles, the POTF line as it was called, along with the short-lived Droids and Ewoks lines, were the final items to collect before the dark times, before the Empire, I mean the late ’80s.
The Power of the Force Toy line from Kenner was anchored by 13 new action figures (2 more were released outside of the US, but we’ll get to that in good time, Padawan), a small assortment of Mini-Rigs and 2 completely new full size vehicles. The Mini-Rigs, as Kenner called those carded vehicles that were touted as “just off screen” during Return of the Jedi, were 2 vehicles from Endor, one for Rebels and for the Imperials, and a tiny Sand Skimmer reminiscent of Jabba’s Sail Barge from Tatooine. These weren’t very exciting and hung on the toy store pegs for years after.
The full size vehicles were more popular and included the never shown on screen Ewok Battle Wagon, which would get reused in the 1990 Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves Kenner Toy line and the very screen accurate Tatooine Skiff from the Jabba’s Sail Barge sequence.
The Tatooine Skiff was so sought after that it’s been released multiple times in the modern Hasbro Star Wars Toy line using the original Kenner mold – and even those re-issues are quite valuable! Both of the full size vehicles included a collectible Planetary Map of either Endor or Tatooine respectively. As a dedicated Star Wars collector back in the day I can attest to the rarity of the Skiff as I never saw one on shelf, despite having seen multiple Ewok Battle Wagons (and passing each time!) The cartoon Droids toy line from the same era saw the release of the also very accurate A-Wing Fighter to correspond to the pilot figure released in both the Droids and POTF lines. I was lucky enough to pick up a Skiff at the now defunct KayBee Toy store for $1.99 without a box. I eventually sold that ship for $500 when the inevitable re-issue was announced. Despite the scarcity of the original A-Wing, reproductions, due to the paint scheme being altered and the sound effect being removed, are worth far less than their vintage counterparts.
The cornerstone of The Power of the Force toy line, as was always the case with any of the Star Wars lines, was the action figures.
In the time before hard core collectors (I know it’s hard to imagine, but once upon a time toys were meant to played with, not preserved in plexi-glass or locked behind glass case walls!) Kenner’s main consumer was children and the toy line was focused on not only the children themselves but, more importantly, the parents of those children. The Star Wars toy line was designed to feature inexpensive action figures at eye level, more expensive vehicles on either the top or bottom of the shelf, and ancillary items such as role play Lightsabers, paint sets and 12” dolls mixed in for variety. Kenner figured that most purchases would be made by parents for either a birthday or Christmas and the toys were created to fill those needs. $2 action figures (I know, right?), $10 mid-size vehicles like the Landspeeder or Tie Fighter and higher end “Big Christmas Gift” items such as the Millennium Falcon or Death Star Playset were offered in ways that parents could mix and match just the right price points to make the kid happy. Going to a birthday party? Perfect – here’s a $2 figure and a $4 Mini-Rig vehicle. Bigger holiday? How about a $25 Millennium Falcon, or a $15 Dagobah Playset and a couple of action figures? Perfect! With the figures at eye level, Kenner did everything they could to keep the Star Wars line going. The packaging was redesigned with new Power of the Force graphics and a fresh look to differentiate the new from the old. The action figures were packaged with an aluminum collector coin to make them even more appealing. Got some old Return of the Jedi figures still hanging around and clogging up the pegs? No problem! Here’s a sticker so you can mail away for the coin! No one is left out! Everyone wins! The best thing Kenner did to attract those figure buyers was to offer eye catching characters that would fly off the shelves. The Power of the Force line featured some of the best sculpts Kenner released in the vintage line. Though they didn’t catch with the public initially, they remain some of the most sought after toys in the entire line.
The Star Wars Power of the Force Action Figure Line Up (for the United States) included:
- Luke Skywalker in Stormtrooper Disguise – arguably the most striking figure in the line. Luke in his Stormtrooper gear from the first Star Wars film was a prized possession of mine after finding the elusive figure at Toys R Us. With his removable helmet and collector coin, Luke was one of the best figures Kenner ever made and he didn’t last long on shelves. Today he remains a key piece in any Star Wars collection. Carded examples of this figure have sold for upwards of $1,000.00 and beyond. Due to the manufacturing processes and plastic used, some of these figures have yellowed. A pure white version is a Holy Grail.
- Han Solo in Carbonite Chamber – another distinctive figure. Initial versions were packaged with the actual poseable action figure behind the Carbonite Chamber. This confused a lot of parents who thought they might be purchasing a solid piece of plastic. Later editions put Han in front of the Carbonite. Either way, like Luke, he didn’t last long on the shelves and is a very hard to find figure in the line. Most examples are just Han Solo loose without his Carbonite, probably making the Space Smuggler more comfortable, but losing a lot of his collector value!
- Lando Calrissian in General Uniform – ah, poor Lando. Though he got 3 different figure releases, he was never that popular back in the day. Sure, his cloth cape was striking and the fact that he not only flew the Millennium Falcon but also destroyed the second Death Star made him cool, this particular figure stayed quite awhile on the pegs. I picked mine up at a Toys R Us on clearance long after the line had ended.
- Amanaman – despite his silly name, this is a very cool figure that some novice collectors fail to even recognize as a Star Wars character. With his skull laden staff and over the top snake like sculpting, Amanaman was one of the background creatures in Jabba’s Palace. To me he always looked like the Snakeman from Dreamscape. He’s quite rare today with even his staff fetching a pretty high price.
- Imperial Gunner – this guy kind of looks like a bug. He’s got a very cool helmet and he’s notable for being part of the bootleg line of figures out of Turkey. Very hard to get today, he’s one of the only Imperial soldiers that’s impossible to put a squad together unless you have a lot of disposable income!
- A-Wing Pilot – released to go along with the Droids vehicle of the same name, this Rebel freedom fighter stayed way too long on the pegs. I remember seeing him as late as 1988 for as little as $0.99! Be aware when purchasing him that he comes with a very tiny gun that is usually lost.
- EV-9D9 – one of the coolest robots in the Kenner line. EV-9D9 had a great sculpt, more lines in the movie than the more common and similar 8-D8 figure and even featured a moveable mouth! One of the only Star Wars figures with an action feature! This figure is also remarkable in that since Richard Marquand provided the voice, it was the only chance in the vintage line to get a toy of the movie’s director!
- R2-D2 with removable Lightsaber – another gem in the line. R2 was very popular just for being R2! Add in a very cool accessory and the ability to hide that accessory inside his head and you have a recipe for success! The only drawback to this figure was Kenner’s inexplicable decision to feature card art of R2 being shot! Who thought this was a good idea? What figure sells itself on its death??! Interesting that Kenner never went back in the vintage line to create a movie accurate R2 figure. He started out as a cartoon version and remained so up until the line’s revival in 1995 – that’s an R2 Unit 18 years in the making!
- Luke Skywalker in Endor Poncho – we all knew this figure had to come out eventually. Princess Leia with Endor Poncho was released long before this one. Finally, you could complete your Endor Speeder Bike diorama. A very nice figure that came with a removable poncho like Leia, but with a sculpted non-removable helmet (unlike Leia!). The poncho featured tended to bunch up in the package and obscure the figure. Might be the reason this figure is valuable but not on the same level as the Stormtrooper Luke.
- Barada – a background character on Jabba’s Sail barge. Though he completed the classic phrase from Day the Earth Stood Still of Klaatu, Barada, Nikto, this poor guy wasn’t very popular when the figure hit the pegs.
- Imperial Dignitary – a lame piece of purple plastic. If you blink you’ll miss this guy in the movie. He rotted on pegs long after most figures had found a home. Who at Kenner thought kids wanted the old man figure? And if so, why not Uncle Owen?
- Ewok Romba – another forgettable figure. Ewoks weren’t that popular with most Star Wars fans. Even packing in a shiny coin couldn’t make this guy desirable.
- Ewok Warok – same goes for this lame figure. She even came with a bow and arrow to fight the Imperials. Sadly, she couldn’t battle a clearance sticker.
There were also 2 other new figures available on Power of the Force cardbacks but they were only released outside of the United States. With the line failing in the US, it was decided to cancel the final Mail-Away figure and instead release him on a cardback in Europe. That figure, Yakface from Jabba’s Palace, became legendary in the States, as most collectors had never heard of him prior to the publication of Steve Sansweet’s Collectible book. Remember, this was all pre-Internet! A pristine carded Yakface can bring upwards of $2,000.00! If that’s not enough cash for you, try finding an exceedingly rare Anakin Skywalker on a Power of the Force cardback.
As the last Mail-Away promotion in the United States, it fell to Anakin to be the last carded figure offered in European markets. With no clear picture available of Sebastian Shaw as the character, Kenner instead put original art of the fallen Jedi on the packaging. As the virtual holy grail of the Power of the Force line, expect to shell out $5,000.00 or more for a mint condition example. The Force is definitely strong with him!
There were also a number of figures from the Return of the Jedi line re-issued on Power of the Force cardbacks to try and reignite interest in the line. These didn’t sell very well and languished on toy shelves for months. I remember going into a convenience store in the middle of nowhere and finding an entire peg of Princess Leia in Endor poncho figures for only $2.50 each…in 1989! Needless to say, I picked them up and added them to my collection!
Kenner’s Power of the Force line was rediscovered by collectors in the early 1990’s and became such a hot commodity that prices shot up and have stayed high ever since, even with some of the figures being reissued with modern sculpts. And when Kenner decided to bring Star Wars figures back to the world in 1995…what do you think they called the line?
That’s right – they called it The Power of the Force 2 or POTF2 line!
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.