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‘The Mandalorian’ Is Here To Make Your Old Kenner ‘Star Wars’ Action Figures Relevant, Finally

With Boba Fett playing an, at least seemingly, important role in this second season of The Mandalorian, the howls on social media about how Boba Fett is “overrated” have once again started. You know, basically that he looks cool, but didn’t really do all that much in the actual movies. And it’s hard to argue with all that. But there’s still this disconnect between people who love Boba Fett and the people who just don’t get it. The answer is the original line of Kenner action figures that spanned between 1978 and 1985. Okay, sure, the Star Wars Holiday Special can take some credit, which was the first actual appearance of Boba Fett, at least in animated form, but Kenner took character anticipation to a new level with the release of the Boba Fett action figure in 1979.

At first, Fett was offered as a free action figure that was acquired by mailing four proof of purchases from other Star Wars action figures. The description of Boba Fett on that mail away offer was simply, “A fearsome interplanetary bounty hunter. A threat to the Rebel Alliance, especially Han Solo. A new character in the Star Wars sequel.” Let me tell you, a kid’s imagination could run wild with that description. The other characters didn’t even have descriptions. With Fett, there was a jumping-off point. So, by the time a lot of impressionable youths had seen The Empire Strikes Back, Boba Fett had already been on hundreds of imagined adventures. And this is why Fett has such a cache.

The thing is, a lot of those characters who had Kenner action figures have a lot of deemed importance for those of us that were around who owned them. It was, let’s say, curious who got an action figure and who did not. Grand Moff Tarkin, who, if you look at the original Star Wars as a singular movie, was the main villain, did not get an action figure. R5-D4, the red droid with 30 seconds of screen time, whose name is never mentioned and is just called “red”, whose head explodes, causing Luke to pick R2-D2 instead, did have an action figure. So, for many kids, it wasn’t about recreating scenes. It wasn’t like we all rolled R5-D4 out for a few seconds so his head could explode. No, R5-D4 joined back up with Luke and the Rebel Alliance and went on many, many adventures. As did Hammerhead, and Walrus Man (who was most likely dead), and Greedo, (who was for sure dead), and Snaggletooth. Kenner made something called Death Star Droid, which to this day I have trouble even finding in the movie. But in my adventures, you didn’t mess with Death Star Droid.

In the season premiere of The Mandalorian (written and directed by Jon Favreau), Amy Sedaris’s character, Peli, calls for her Droid, “R5.” As we see R5 roll in, from behind, with the residue still on its head from a nasty explosion, it’s undoubtedly the same “red” we saw in the original Star Wars. Only now for the first time, its name is being used and it has more of a function in the actual plot other than “being broken.”

I’ve noticed this a lot in The Mandalorian, especially episodes Jon Favreau directed or wrote. (As opposed to Dave Filoni, who seems to drift more toward the newer characters he helped create in Clone Wars and Rebels.) Favreau was 10 years old when Star Wars hit theaters in 1977 and would have been 11 by the time the first Kenner action figures came out, which puts him right in the age range where these would have had an effect on him. So it is curious that so many of his episodes have these characters: from R5-D4, to Ugnaughts, to Gamorrean Guards, to a Bossk stand-in, to an IG-88 stand-in, to, just this past week, a whole planet of Admiral Ackbars and Squid Heads. (Look, I realize planets like Mon Calamari have been seen before in other forms of canon, but seeing it in live-action is really a trip.) The biggest one of all might be the somewhat infamous Imperial Troop Transport. This thing. Released by Kenner as a vehicle that Stormtroopers rode around in during the events of the original movie (which included weird devices that went on an action figure’s head that would “brainwash them”), it turns out it was never actually in the movie. But that never stopped me from looking for it, because why would a toy be released that was never in the movie? Well, it finally showed up in the first season of The Mandalorian. I truly believe Jon Favreau is here to try and make the old Kenner action figures and vehicles relevant … finally.

Which brings us back to Boba Fett. I used to think The Mandalorian was a way to do a Boba Fett show without actually doing a Boba Fett show. Now it seems that a reason The Mandalorian exists is to vindicate the ultimate Kenner Star Wars action figure, Boba Fett himself. You see, even those of us who love Fett because of the many imaginary adventures we had with him over the years, we were still pretty horrified by how he went out in Return of the Jedi. Unlike The Empire Strikes Back, now he didn’t even have any lines. He just kind of hung out at Jabba’s palace, living off his notoriety. Then when he jumped into action, he was beaten by Han Solo, who couldn’t even see at the time, who didn’t even know Fett was right behind him – then accidentally igniting Fett’s jetpack, which sent him into the mouth of the Sarlacc. Then the Sarlacc burps. (Though, at least we finally hear Fett’s name said out loud for the first and only time in the Original Trilogy. Though, the lack of exposition is something I love about the original Star Wars movies. To the point they don’t even bother telling us anyone’s name half the time.)

I think, deep down, Favreau is tired of Fett being picked on for being “overrated.” I bet Favreau was one of these kids who had hundreds of adventures with his Fett action figure before he ever saw Fett in a movie. He was tired of R5-D4’s one lone appearance being the indignation of being called “red” then having his head explode. The Mandalorian is a lot of things, but I’m personally very excited that my old Kenner Star Wars action figures, that were relegated to being in the background for a few seconds, all have new lives of their own.

You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.

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