Scaling a Popular Space Opera with Star Wars Micro Machines
As we move closer to December, more and more details about the long-awaited Star Wars, Episode VII: The Force Awakens have found their way on to the Internet. Some of have arrived in the form of production stills and preview footage, while others came through teaser photos of tie-in toys. Among those toys is a name that hasn't appeared much since the '90s: Micro Machines. According to recent news, one of the first Force Awakens toys will be a Micro Machines play set that features miniatures of characters, vehicles and locations from the upcoming sequel, a play set that folds into a replica of the Millennium Falcon.
This post will look at the Micro Machines line of Star Wars toys during the '90s. Even though this line made its debut long after Kenner stopped making Star Wars toys, Micro Machines produced some of the most detailed and affordable replicas of the saga's numerous vehicles. Read on ...
Galoob's Micro Machines didn't start as a licensed toy line when it began in the mid-80s. It initially focused on small replicas of real-life motor vehicles (cars, trucks, planes, etc.), insisting in ads that it was like other toy lines like Matchbox and Hot Wheels but even smaller. When it acquired the license for Star Wars (as well as the licenses for other sci-fi franchises, such as Star Trek, Babylon 5 and Alien), Micro Machines expanded its customer base to include avid sci-fi toy collectors.
Initial Star Wars products from Micro Machines involved multi-toy packs of vehicles from the original trilogy, as well as a handful of vehicles from the expanded universe novels. These were among the first Star Wars toys to appear on toy store shelves since Kenner stopped their line in 1984, and their detailed depictions of the saga's iconic vehicles were must-haves for fans (especially fans like me who didn't have the skills and/or patience to put together model kits of the vehicles).
From the vehicle sets, Micro Machines expanded into Star Wars play sets that included the tiny vehicle replicas and mini-figures of characters. Some of the play sets were like miniature dioramas, while others were play sets that folded out from a vehicle (e.g., Star Destroyer, Slave I, etc.) or busts of characters' heads. Like the Kenner sets from the '70s and '80s, the Micro Machines play sets were meant to re-create scenes and locations from the original trilogy--albiet in a scale that was even smaller than Kenner's short-lived Micro Collection line.
Micro Machines Star Wars character bust play sets, both closed (above) and open (below).
I saw the Mirco Machines Star Wars play sets for sale when they were first released, and what always struck me as odd were their warped sense of scale. The vehicle replicas weren't in scale to each other (all of them were roughly the same size, regardless of how big they were supposed to be in relation to each other in the movies) and the figures didn't match the dimensions of the vehicles at all. As such, an AT-AT looked like the size of an elephant next to Han Solo and Leia in the Hoth play set, while Luke Skywalker could never fit inside of the X-Wing Fighter that was included in the Death Star play set.
The Micro Machines Star Wars Hoth play set, with its oddly proportioned AT-AT and Ion Cannon.
Where Micro Machines excelled in terms of scale was in its Action Fleet line. The Action Fleet line featured Star Wars vehicles that were scaled around the size of the mini-figures and could be opened to insert the figures as pilots or passengers. Within this line, the vehicles that were meant for one or two passengers (e.g., TIE Fighters, AT-ST, Rebel Fighters, etc.) came very close to matching the scale of their movie counterparts.
Star Wars Action Fleet vehicles with mini-figures, such as a Snowspeeder (above) and a Landspeeder and AT-ST (below).
The Action Fleet line struggled with scale issues when it came to the larger vehicles (e.g., Blockade Runner, Sandcrawler, AT-AT, etc.), but for the most part the Micro Machines Action Fleet provided some of the best screen-accurate replicas of vehicles from the original trilogy. Futhermore, the play sets were released to the scale of the Action Fleet vehicles were among the best-scaled play sets that Micro Machines released under the Star Wars license. Micro Machines also produced a selection of toys for The Phantom Menace prequel in the late '90s, and the Action Fleet toys remained the best to line.
Star Wars Action Vehicle play sets: the Death Star (above) and Yavin 4 (below).
Micro Machines continued to produce toys after the '90s, although it hasn't been the same as it was before. Since it was picked up by Hasbro, the Micro Machines line has become an obscurity in toy stores, existing in the shadows of more popular lines. Hopefully, The Force Awakens will bring Micro Machines back to pint-sized life.