Anyone who has paid attention to the toy industry over the last few decades will tell you that when it comes to toys based on pre-existing creative properties (e.g., comic books, TV shows, movies and video games), the amount of features and details present in such toys has skyrocketed. Nowhere has this change of quality has been more evident than in the toys for Star Wars, a franchise that has been producing toys by the ton ever since it first arrived back in 1977.
Kenner found itself with a huge cash cow on its hands when it secured the toy license for Star Wars during the original trilogy, but the toys produced by Hasbro during the subsequent years are much more movie-accurate than their predecessors. This post will look at two popular Star Wars characters, the loyal droids R2-D2 and C-3PO, how they were represented as 12 inch scale figures by both Kenner and Hasbro, and the MPC Star Wars model kits played a part in these figure designs. Read on ...
The 12 inch figures produced by Kenner didn't last long in comparison to their 3 and 3/4th inch figures, and they had vanished from toy store shelves shortly after the release of Empire Strikes Back in 1980. I've read varying accounts as to why Kenner released a 12 inch scale line in the first place and the most plausible theory I've seen is that up until the release of Star Wars in 1977, it was a common practice in the toy industry to make action figures that were somewhere between 8 to 12 inches in height. Kenner’s action figures for The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman were in this size range, as were licensed action figures produced by legendary toy company Mego. The way I see it, Kenner probably produced the 12 inch line of Star Wars figures as a contingency plan in case the smaller action figures didn't sell as well. Regardless, what the larger figures lacked in popularity they (almost) made up for in terms of detail in comparison to the other Star Wars figures that were available at that time.
The large scale R2-D2 figure from Kenner is a major upgrade from its smaller version. The smaller R2-D2 had an oddly sculpted head and only a sticker to provide details for the body. In contrast, the larger R2-D2 has a body and head sculpt that captures most of the details from the movie.
Curiously, the head of R2-D2 figure seems oddly proportioned, with his main radar eye looking unusually small in comparison to the rest of the domed head.
Kenner's R2-D2 has movable legs with wheels underneath that allow the figure to roll and like its smaller counterpart, the head makes clicking noises whenever it is turned. The only other feature that this feature has is a rear panel that opens to reveal what looks like two circuit boards. The box that this figure came in identified these boards as "the Death Star plans", even though Princess Leia is never seen in Star Wars loading two pizza box-sized panels into R2's back. Interestingly, the rear panel in the large R2-D2 action figure is in the same place where the battery compartment is located for Kenner's remote controlled R2-D2 toy.
Hasbro's large R2-D2 action figure was released during the 90s and it is smaller than Kenner's R2. In fact, Hasbro's R2 almost matches the dimensions of the MPC R2-D2 model kit.
Even though it's made with a much more durable plastic, Hasbro's R2 doesn't have any of the opening panels that MPC's R2 has: MPC's model features a hinged front panel that opens to allow for the extension of R2's computer linkage arm and a removable rear panel to reveal R2's inner circuitry, but Hasbro's figure has neither of these features. Nevertheless, both Hasbro and MPC released an R2-D2 that has a retractable third leg, something that Kenner never got around to producing in any of its R2-D2 figures.
Comparing Kenner and Hasbro's R2-D2 figures side-by-side reveals which figure is more faithful to the movie version of the droid. Then again, Kenner's large-sized R2-D2 was the most movie-accurate replica of the droid that Kenner released when it had the Star Wars license, which just goes to show how affordable toy replicas of movie characters have improved in terms of detail during the last few decades.
Of the figures reviewed in this post, Kenner's large-sized C-3PO is the lightest of the group. Even though the plastic itself is sturdy, it feels hollow and only weighs a few ounces. Most of Kenner's large-sized non-costumed action figures weighed less than the others; a childhood friend of mind had a large-sized Stromtrooper that weighed about the same as the large-sized C-3PO.
As with Kenner's R2-D2, the large-sized C-3PO is much more detailed than its smaller version. For example, the large-sized sculpt includes the restraining bolt that the Jawas attached to the droid shortly after he arrived on Tatooine.
Kenner's C-3PO features joints in the neck, shoulders and hips, and that's it; there are no panels to open or accessories to add. The hip joints are cut at an odd angle so that he can only sit with his legs splayed outward. (From what I remember, Kenner’s large-sized Stormtrooper had hip joints cut the same way.)
I got my Hasbro C-3PO as part of the C-3PO: Tales of the Golden Droid box set, which was part of the short-lived Star Wars Masterpiece Edition series of box sets. These sets--of which there are only three that I know of--were released to coincide with the release of The Phantom Menace in 1999. The sets included a 12 inch figure of a particular Star Wars character and a hard cover book devoted to that character: how the character was created, the history of the character within the Star Wars universe, and all of the merchandise that was produced between 1977 and 1999 that bears the character's likeness.
Hasbro put a lot of details into its C-3PO figure, including blaster residue on his gold plating, wires as part of his exposed midriff, and his mismatched silver plated leg. He has joints in his neck, shoulders, waist and hips, as well as limited movement hinge joints in the knees and ankles. Oddly, the hip joints in this figure are cut the same was as the Kenner version.
An added feature to this particular version of C-3PO is that it can be disassembled into various parts, so fans can recreate all of the times that the droid was damaged during the saga. The figure also comes with a netted backpack similar to the one used by Chewbacca to move the damaged droid around Cloud City in Empire Strikes Back. (I couldn't tell you if the backpack actually fits on a Hasbro Chewbacca figure, since I don't have one.)
Comparing the two C-3PO figures reveals how much closer Hasbro's sculpt is to the original movie version than Kenner's. The dimensions of Kenner's C-3PO sculpt makes it look bulkier than the droid should be, with a wider torso and broader shoulders. I suspect that, for the sake of convenience, Kenner based its C-3PO sculpt along the same dimensions used for the large scale Stormtrooper and Darth Vader figures.
Putting the droid figures together into their respective pairs shows that Hasbro did a better job at recreating the droids' details, except for one glaring error: Hasbro's R2-D2 is not to scale with its C-3PO figure. In contrast, Kenner's large-sized versions of R2-D2 and C-3PO are in scale with each other in spite of all the other details that were missed, which makes them a better complementary set than Hasbro's.
After getting so many details right, it seems odd that Hasbro would get this scale issue wrong. All I can conclude is that Hasbro really did base its R2 on MPC’s R2 model kit, because it would be easier and cheaper to base an R2 figure from a pre-existing design than to create a new one from scratch. As you can see from the comparison pics below, the MPC R2 was designed to be in same scale with the MPC C-3PO model kit, which is not 12 inches high. Thus, Hasbro’s R2 is in scale with MPC’s C-3PO but not with any of Hasbro’s 12 inch Star Wars figures.
From left to right: Hasbro's R2-D2 figure and MPC's R2-D2 model kit.
From left to right: Hasbro's C-3PO figure and MPC's C-3PO model kit.