TOYHEM! Transport away!
Welcome to TOYHEM! For the fourth straight holiday season, we’re bringing you a series of features and columns celebrating the toys of our youth, which often made for the best memories this time of year. Click here to check out the complete index of stories — and have a Merry Christmas, a Happy Chanukah and Happy Holidays! — Dan
By SCOTT TIPTON
For a large portion of my childhood, Christmas morning meant one thing and one thing only: Star Wars. The Death Star, the Millennium Falcon, Darth Vader’s Star Destroyer, the Dagobah Playset: all of these made their appearances before my bleary eyes in my family’s living room early on a Christmas morn. Clearly, Santa Claus was very familiar with the Kenner catalog.
In the winter of 1982, though, a dark horse made a surprising debut in the Kenner Star Wars lineup, a vehicle that was a little more than a vehicle, and yet also somehow a little less. It was familiar from The Empire Strikes Back, and yet you couldn’t really remember seeing it (and in those pre-VHS, pre-internet days, things were a lot harder to check). It was big and impressive, and yet still somehow a little empty and underwhelming.
I speak, of course of the Rebel Transport, released by Kenner in 1982, in the last batch of new product before the company would turn its eyes to the third and final Star Wars film, Return of the Jedi, which was slated for release the following year.
By this time, having exhausted most of the main vehicles and locales from Star Wars and the Empire Strikes Back, Kenner had convinced George Lucas to let them design and create all-new vehicles that looked like they belonged in the Star Wars universe, but moviegoers just never saw them on-screen. Internally referred to as “Just-off-camera” vehicles, these new products would eventually be produced and marketed as “Mini-Rigs,” and were very successful for Kenner, offering fresh material in the category at a more affordable price for these small vehicles.
While the huge Rebel Transport was hardly in that “smaller” bracket, it was a similar offering in that it wasn’t exactly super-accurate to Star Wars canon. Based on the Rebel Alliance’s evacuation from the Ice Planet Hoth in Empire Strikes Back, the Rebel Transports were only very briefly seen on screen, hurtling through space ducking fire from Star Destroyers while being covered by blasts from the Rebels’ Ion cannon.
With the newfound freedom to create from Lucas, the designers at Kenner created the Rebel Transport as a large but affordable troop carrier for the now near-dozens of Star Wars figures many kids owned. As much a carrying case as a vehicle or spaceship, the majority of the mostly hollow blimp-like starship was devoted to space for many figures, each space with a peg for the corresponding hole in the foot of your figures, a Kenner innovation that soon spread to the entire toy industry.
To keep it from being seen as just a carry case, Kenner incorporated several fun figure-focused features, including a cockpit with removable front viewport, rear laser cannons under another removable panel, and an escape hatch in the middle of the cargo area for an easy exit. Not only that, but the middle troop-carrying area could be lifted out entirely, leaving a huge interior area where your Rebel Transport could carry some of those aforementioned Mini-Rig vehicles.
The Rebel Transport was kind of the perfect gift for the kid who was a serious Star Wars kid. I don’t remember ever asking for it, but I was so happy to see it under the tree on Christmas morning. It wasn’t the most exciting toy on its own, but I could use it with so many of the Star Wars toys I already had, it immediately became a favorite.
In those more innocent days when anything with the Star Wars label on it was immediately as “real” as anything you saw on screen, it was just one more now-integral piece of my galaxy far, far away.
And back then, when we had all been waiting two years for more Star Wars and were starving for anything new, the Rebel Transport was just new enough to fit the bill.
— The Complete TOYHEM INDEX of Stories and Features. Click here.
— The TOP 13 ORIGINAL STAR WARS TOYS — RANKED. Click here.
Scott Tipton, best known for writing Star Trek comics for IDW, is a 13th Dimension contributor-at-large.