This Special Feature is a follow up of sorts to the one we ran a few months ago on the Woman's Day Outer-Space Station. One of the wackier do-it-yourself products to come out of the original Star Wars era, the Outer-Space Station was a large, complex play environment, which was intended for use with Kenner toys and action figures. Woman's Day ran photos of it in their issue of November 20, 1978, along with a note encouraging readers to send the publisher $1.00 in exchange for the toy's building instructions. Filled as it was with color and interesting action features, the Outer-Space Station is a delightful sight to virtually anyone interested in vintage Star Wars toys. And, as was detailed in our previous Woman's Day feature, collecting the various items associated with its distribution can be both fun and challenging.
But the folks at Woman's Day weren't finished with Star Wars after 1978. With The Empire Strikes Back hitting theaters in May of 1980, Star Wars toys were still all the rage amongst the grade school set by the time the first holiday season of the new decade rolled around. So the Woman's Day people set to work designing a pair of new playsets for their readership. This time around the sets weren't based on generic sci-fi concepts, nor were they photographed with Star Wars and Micronauts toys populating their layouts. Rather, they were made in emulation of two classic environments from The Empire Strikes Back, Dagobah and Hoth.
The first impression one gets while looking at the duo is that they are considerably less complicated and much less sturdy looking than their space station predecessor. Considering how intricate and problematic the Outer-Space Station was to build, I think it's feasible that Woman's Day decided to simplify the designs of these new toys in order to make them more accessible to the average parent. To this end, the materials required to create the ESB playsets were things like plastic foam, tape, tissue paper and toothpicks rather than the plywood, plastic laminate and acetate of the space station. Of course, cheaper materials surely meant a decline in durability; but at least you didn't need to hire Bob Villa to build the things.
Most of the Hoth-based playsets that Kenner issued, toys with names like Turret & Probot and Imperial Attack Base, consisted primarily of smallish platforms made of molded white plastic. Though they were nice enough to play with, I'm guessing that most kids saw them as something less than the grand, action-packed play environments that inhabited their Star Wars fantasies. Let's face facts, once you got past the neat Probot figure (or broke it) of the Turret & Probot set, the toy was reduced to little more than a hunk of plastic and a vastly out-of-scale gun tower. Where was the Wampa cave in which Luke almost became lunch meat? Where was the hollowed-out icy interior that served so well as the hidden Rebel base? Where was the Rebels' crazy space trampoline? (Please don't tell me I'm the only one who wished there was a space trampoline in Empire.)
Well, Woman's Day heard our cries and fulfilled our desires, trampoline and all. Their rendition of Hoth was made almost entirely of sheets of plastic foam, which were carefully cut, glued together and then mounted onto a base of corrugated cardboard. The rear portions of the construction included mock computer banks similar to those seen in some portions of Empire, as well as a docking bay area complete with shoelaces to simulate maintenance hoses. Other portions were given over to simulated ice chambers and tunnels, which could serve as either Echo Base corridors or the Wampa's lair. Woman's Day even included a ceiling bracket in one area to allow for action figures to be suspended from their feet as Luke was in the film. Unfortunately, Kenner didn't release a Wampa toy until 1982, so I guess you had to use your imagination while utilizing this feature. But the strangest component by far was something that Woman's Day dubbed the "personnel launcher." Made from a rubber glove and an embroidery hoop, two of these contraptions were incorporated into the playset's design. Of what they were for I'm not certain, but the magazine includes a photo of a Rebel soldier figure literally launching off of one. Look, I don't care what you call these things, they're freakin' trampolines. And gymnastics have always needed--no, demanded--a place within the Star Wars universe.
As cool as the Woman's Day Hoth playset was, its Dagobah counterpart was, at least to my mind, a bit more interesting. No, interesting doesn't quite sum it up-- it was down right bizarre, recalling some nightmare landscape out of a psychedelic film like Barbarella. Made primarily out of pieces of corrugated cardboard, which were cut into angular shapes and decorated with marker and tissue paper, the toy certainly wasn't lacking in color. It also had quite a few interesting features, including a simulated river made primarily of clear plastic wrap, hanging vines of tissue paper wrapped around copper wire, a bog filled with disgusting ooze, even a mountain capable of ejecting boulders of plastic foam. Yoda lived beside a volcano? Who knew? Of these features I think the bog deserves special mention. It consisted of merely a disguised plastic dish, which was filled to the brim with green Slime. Remember Slime? If you were like me, you used to beg your mother to buy you some of it, out of some cheap novelty store or a coin-operated vending machine, only to open it up when you got home and proceed to get it stuck in the carpet, your clothes, your hair, just about everywhere, until your mom swore she'd never buy the stuff again. To put it simply, Slime rocked. And I bet it especially rocked in the Woman's Day Dagobah playset, where it could be used to ruin just about any action figure your mom was kind enough to buy for you. As if to emphasize this, the Woman's Day photos depicted R2-D2 immersed in the Slime, R2 being one of the few figures capable of being totally ruined when smothered with disgusting goo. Ever wondered why so many old R2-D2 figures are missing their stickers? Now you know.
If you don't believe that the kids of 1980 would have been excited by the prospect of owning a playset based on Yoda's home (especially one that had its own volcano!), remember that Kenner didn't release their Dagobah toy until 1981, a fact which made this Woman's Day version a pretty special item at the time it debuted. But this leads us to another problem: Kenner also failed to supply their customers with a plethora of figures that were suitable to the Dagobah environment. Sure, there was Luke X-Wing Pilot, as well as R2-D2 and Yoda himself, all of which were featured in the Woman's Day photo spread. But once you got past these there was a real scarcity of Dagobah-appropriate figures. So Woman's Day resorted to using random characters in their photos. Look at the images closely. What the heck is Walrus Man doing creeping around the base of the volcano? And, look, there are his cantina cohorts, Greedo and Hammerhead! Rounding out this Tatooine theme are several cavorting Jawas, further evidence of a strange Jawa fetish on the part of Woman's Day. The magazine, remember, had depicted scads of the rare vinyl-caped Jawa inhabiting their Outer-Space Station.
Finally, rounding out the appearances of both toys was a large cardboard backdrop, painted on both sides with vivid, almost psychedelic imagery. One of these sides, the one intended for use with the Dagobah set, was primarily orange in color with a large yellow "supernova" dominating one half. The Hoth side, on the other hand, was painted with a much more subdued shade of blue and then embellished with a considerable amount of glitter. Both sides are kind of crazy looking. But I think they add considerably to the charm of the two playsets.
Unfortunately, there isn't much material related to these playsets for one to collect-- certainly less than is associated with its Outer-Space Station counterpart, which was presented in a couple of different formats and had a mail-away promotion associated with it. There is only the one issue of Woman's Day in which the photos of the playsets and their building instructions appeared, the Thanksgiving issue dated November 25, 1980. It's not an easy find, but some consistent searching of Ebay and/or thorough scouring of used book shops should eventually yield results.
We hope you've enjoyed these two Special Features dedicated to the forays made by Woman's Day into the wide world of Star Wars toys. As we did in our piece on the Outer-Space Station, we've included links to the instructions and diagrams for building these two toys. We hope some of you take a stab at constructing them. If you do, be sure to send us some photos. We'll include them as an appendix to this article.
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