By Ron Salvatore

Full Playset (click to enlarge) Although Kenner provided kids of the vintage Star Wars era with plenty of playsets with which they could broaden the scope of their action figure adventures, it's difficult to look back on many of these toys and call them good: With the exception of the Death Star, all of the playsets issued by the company in the States were small, boring or of extremely shoddy manufacture. Letís face it, the rather optimistically named Land of the Jawas may have been a "set" of sorts, but there was precious little "play" to be found amongst its molded plastic dunes and two-times-used-and-it's-broken elevator. I'm not trying to reveal these toys as somehow unfun--as a kid, I would have played with nearly anything Kenner released, provided it came in a box that told me it was a Star Wars toy. It's just that I see very little imagination in most of the Star Wars playsets that were released during the vintage years.

Full Playset (click to enlarge) But I digress--this article isn't about Kenner toys. I merely bring them up in order to contrast them with an alternative to, or perhaps it's better termed an outgrowth of, the Star Wars playset theme. The item I write of is an "Outer-Space Station," created by the folks at Woman's Day, and featured in the pages of that magazine as a creative project that parents could build for their children. While the playset bore no definite connection to the Star Wars universe--and, in fact, it was not endorsed by Lucasfilm--the photos of it that appeared in Woman's Day were riddled with Kenner Star Wars figures, presumably so that readers would gain a feeling for how the toy could be used.

 

Invaders are thwarted by a conveyor-belt bridge between park area and living quarters. Since the article was published in 1978, the Star Wars figures that appeared in it were all drawn from the debut series of twelve that Kenner issued in that year. In fact, eleven of the twelve original figures were shown in the article's photos, the only exception being the Tusken Raider or Sandperson. However, the Sandperson's desert counterpart, the Jawa, was featured quite prominently: No less than nine of the small brown figures were shown in the photos, usually in a rather humorous light, tumbling goofily or encroaching comically on the territory of the less mysterious-looking figures. But, to todayís collector, the Jawas are interesting for another reason. Namely, they are all of the rare vinyl-cape variety. As most collectors know, the vinyl- or plastic-cape Jawa was available only briefly at retail before being replaced by the much more common cloth-cape type. Since genuine examples of the earlier figure can sell for up to $300 on today's collectibles market, it can rightly be said that upwards of $2500 worth of Jawa figures were photographed by Woman's Day for this feature! (Of course, Woman's Day probably paid $3 each for them, but that's kind of what makes it so funny.)

Magazine Cover (click to enlarge) Also appearing in the article were Kenner X-Wing and TIE Fighter toys, as well as several of the Mego companyís Micronauts, a metal-and-plastic line of figures that was part of the fad for sci-fi toys kick-started by Star Wars. All in all, the photos that Woman's Day published presented their custom-made playset as a fun, colorful environment, which could be utilized as a play area for a wide array of action figure toys. I'm sure kids who stumbled across this article while browsing through their mothers' magazines were incited to copious drooling as they imagined their toys inhabiting such a large and complex world. Whether or not they realized that the "planet" that Woman's Day showed hovering above the playset was actually a purple bowling ball is another issue entirely.

magazine photo spread (click to enlarge)    magazine photo spread (click to enlarge)

 

Staircase to living quarters converts to enemy-defying slide with a flick of lever on side. From a design standpoint, the Woman's Day playset is a curious thing to behold--its futuristic aesthetic strikes me as an amusing hybrid of (architect) Mies van der Rohe and (comic book maven) Stan Lee. Color-wise, it's largely white and punctuated with strips and dots of primary color, an effect produced through meticulous applications of colorful self-adhesive tape. There are also gridded and gleaming surfaces aplenty, not to mention enclosed "living" areas of clear plastic--it really does resemble a modernist house of the '60s or '70s gone awry. Of course, this look isnít compatible with the grimy aesthetic of the Star Wars universe. But the dated, out-of-place character of the playset is a large part of its charm. It's kitschy in the best sense of the term.

Monorail capsule, made of a plastic cola bottle, is operated manually between stops. The designers at Woman's Day seem to have conceived of the playset in a modular fashion; it is comprised of several different components, which were meant to be constructed separately and were capable of functioning independently. In fact, readers were encouraged to pick and choose which portions of the set they wanted to create and which they would rather avoid, a good thing since some of the components look to be beyond the abilities of all but the craftiest of parents. The entire set includes a park with a drawbridge and an abstract piece of sculpture; a rocket launch platform with a retractable roof; a conveyor belt that moves via a hand crank; a living area, including a working elevator and trick staircase; a spring-loaded personnel launcher that "catapults figures into space"; a solar power unit featuring a mass of plastic aquarium tubing; and, perhaps coolest of all, a monorail, that symbol of '70s futurism, made from a soda bottle and a six-foot length of aluminum shelving bracket. Fully assembled, this thing is large, colorful and filled with action features--it's pure toy bliss.

Drawbridge leads to park area, where a gleaming sculpture of PVC pipe soars into space. Personnel launcher's platform, spring-operated, catapults figures into space. Rocket is hidden when platform of takeoff site is lowered and the bifold doors are closed.

 

Simulated solar panels and distributor pipes provide the space station's power. Of course, adult collectors often pay little attention to just how fun a toy is: Visual appeal, rarity and nostalgia are concerns more typical of the average hobbyist. But the printed material associated with the Woman's Day "Outer-Space Station" holds a particular appeal to quite a few collectors. This is due in large part to the terrific photos that illustrate the toy, many of which are quite amusing. For instance, the image used to demonstrate the conveyor-belt component depicts nine vinyl-cape Jawas atop the apparatus, all posed carefully in order to make them appear to be tumbling en masse. Others portray the futuristic vehicles of the Micronaut figures as being stowed beneath the playset's living quarters, as though they were cars parked in a garage. Indeed, for those who enjoy fun and innovative imagery of the toys they collect, the Woman's Day material is a goldmine.

But, oddly enough, the issue of Woman's Day in which the "Outer-Space Station" originally appeared is not the best source of imagery related to the playset. The issue in question, which bears the date November 20, 1978, devotes a mere four pages to the toy, includes only smallish photos and has no instructions whatsoever. In order to receive the instructions for building the playset, readers were required to clip out a coupon from the back pages of the magazine and mail it to Woman's Day along with $1.00. A black-and-white pamphlet was then sent to the reader, which folded out to reveal detailed directions and diagrams. Collectors take note: Both the November 20 issue of Woman's Day and the mail-away instructions are fairly tough finds, with the latter item being downright rare.

Redeemable Form (click to enlarge)      Mail-Away Instructions (click to enlarge)

Woman's Day Book of Best-Loved Toys & Dolls (click to enlarge) A much more accessible publication concerning the Woman's Day playset is a book entitled Womanís Day Book of Best-Loved Toys & Dolls. Compiled and edited by Julie Houston and published by Sedgewood Press in 1982 (and make sure it's the 1982 version you look for, as earlier editions don't include the Star Wars material), it's a hardcover book with a pink dust jacket. For both those who'd like to build this toy and those who want to enjoy the photos of it, this book is the ideal source for Woman's Day material. It devotes nearly thirty pages to the playset, including many large-size photos and very detailed building instructions. It's really all one could ask for, and it makes for an excellent addition to anyone's Star Wars collecting library. (It should also be noted that the book includes instructions for building a cardboard "Supercity" for use with Mego's line of 8-inch super hero figures.)

Any way you cut it, the Woman's Day "Outer-Space Station" was one of the stranger and more interesting outgrowths of Kenner's vintage Star Wars toy line. From a collector's standpoint, this material has an irresistible air of quirky nostalgia about it, and beyond that it's just a whole lot of fun. If you like to collect action figure items and you're attracted to the more bizarre elements of that genre, then you might find the pursuit of the material relating to this playset enjoyable. And, just in case anyone out there wants to take a stab at building this thing, we've posted links to the relevant instructions and diagrams. If one of you does happen to construct this playset, please drop us a line and send some photos!

We plan to post a follow-up piece focusing on the playset plans that Woman's Day published for The Empire Strike Back, so stay tuned.

 

  Click here for building instructions


Back to Special Feature Menu
Back to SWCA Main Menu