Positive Fandom: May the Toys Be With You!
Vintage Star Wars on Display
Palitoy is a name familiar to vintage Star Wars toy collectors the world over. Yet it wasn’t until I attended Leicester New Walk Museum’s May the Toys Be With You exhibition that I realised quite how close to home the company actually was…
Running to the end of October, May the Toys Be With You is home to a breathtaking retrospective on vintage Star Wars action figures and posters.
We had a great time soaking up the nostalgia the exhibition evoked, and I’d love to share the experience with you.
Organised by collector Matt Fox, May the Toys Be With You in part honours the work of Leicestershire’s Palitoy, the toy company responsible for producing Kenner’s Star Wars line for the UK. Yet beyond its local origins, it’s a total celebration of all things vintage Star Wars.
One of Palitoy’s biggest single variations takes centre stage as you enter the exhibition – a mint condition cardboard Death Star playset. Seeing this in pristine condition and populated with figures is a sight to behold, after having heard about it for so many years.
Yet while the Death Star is immediately impressive, there’s much, much more to come.
I have little emotional connection to the original Star Wars figures, as by the time I was old enough to play with them there were much better versions of most of the characters available. That said, seeing all 21 original figures on an enormous card is quite something.
However, seeing the Early Bird set in the plastic had a real impact (and in retrospect, I was naive to think otherwise). After all, this set of four figures was the very start of Star Wars collecting.
Seeing them all together as they were originally released was really quite special.
The complete vintage Millennium Falcon gave me a first-hand view on how my yet-to-be-restored POTF2 Falcon should look. Meanwhile, the Landspeeder provided an excellent example of the evocative box art of the original vintage line.
After these early releases, the exhibition moves on to the real meat: the action figures!
The Empire Strikes Back collection hit me right in the feels. I was born in 1983 and so should have no recollection of the Six Pack box sets that triggered me, but seeing them again stirred something. The first set (pictured above) was made up of figures that I had, which makes me think that they may have been a discount bin purchase at some point in the ’80s.
Seeing the Return of the Jedi figures re-confirmed their spot as my favourites of the vintage line. Jabba’s Throne looks simply superb, and seeing it on display makes me want to track one down. I imagine I’m not the only attendee to feel that way.
Topping it off, seeing so many Ewok toys together brought me joy on so many levels!
The exhibit moves on to the original Power of the Force line, displaying the “last 17” figures and coins in all their glory. The Woolworths 99p clearance grab bag of figures is actually how I remember the vintage Star Wars line in shops. Seeing it today is enough to make anyone wish for a time machine!
Seeing the toys all lined up on display is nice. It’s more than nice, in fact, it’s fantastic – but it’s nowhere near as fun as seeing them in action. Taking centre stage in the first room are several large scale dioramas.
TIE Fighters attack a lone X-Wing. Luke Skywalker faces off against the Rancor. Most impressive of all, the Battle of Hoth rages on in full plastic form.
This is vintage Star Wars at its finest.
Vintage Star Wars Posters & Memorabilia
Stormtroopers guarding a famous carbonite block mark the entrance to the second room of the exhibition. This is where the focus turns to an amazing collection of vintage theatrical posters…
Seeing these images in full size is like walking into an uber-collector’s mansion showroom. Thanks to Leicester New Walk’s amazing gallery space and organisation, guests have enough room to admire everything. This includes a stunning (and enormous) Return of the Jedi poster.
Of particular note is the dedication to artist Tom Chantrell. I’d not heard his name before but it turns out he was the man responsible for the main UK Star Wars poster. This was the design I grew up with and remains one of my favourite pieces of art of all time.
Custom Vintage Kenner Figures
If you’ve been to the exhibition, you’ll know that I’m saving the best until last. Back in the toy room, there’s a singular case left at the chronological end of the display. When I saw what it contained, it literally took my breath away.
The concepts themselves weren’t a surprise; I’d read about the different prototypes Kenner had produced for the original Power of the Force line before Lucasfilm shut production down. But to actually see a vintage Sandtrooper and Bantha was nothing short of awesome.
I was even more surprised to later find out that these were not prototypes, but actually fan-made customs of what a continued Kenner line could have looked like. It’s yet another reminder of how creative Star Wars fans can be at their best.
The other side of the same case held similar surprises with the ultra-rare POTF Skiff vehicle. That was great to see, along with a few more custom figures of Slave Leia, Grand Moff Tarkin and Yarna d’al’ Gargan.
Matt Fox and Leicester New Walk Museum have put together an incredible love letter to vintage Star Wars toy collecting. If you’re nearby and can attend before the end of the month I cannot recommend it highly enough.
May The Toys Be With You ran until October 28th 2018.