Boba Fett and Battlestar Galactica - The Firing Missile Crisis
Written by Chris Georgoulias
Updated August 5, 2019

Since 1979, toy discussions the world over have ensued regarding the removed rocket-firing feature of Kenner's Boba Fett action figure. And the urban legend is true - it was the death of a child who was asphyxiated by a Mattel Battlestar Galactica missile that triggered the historic change. However, up to that point, Kenner had worked dilligently in an attempt to make their toy safe for children.

Mattel's troubles with the Battlestar Galactica toys came to light on December 8, 1978 when the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC - whose standards are given the force of law by Congress) announced that there had been 3 formal reports (and 4 more under investigation) of children inhaling or swallowing the toy missiles. Although the toys passed then-current safety regulations, Mattel agreed to put warning stickers on existing warehouse inventories. This was the first public acknowledgement of a safety concern with the Battlestar Galactica toys. Then on December 25, 1978, 4 year old Robert Jeffrey Warren was playing with a Mattel Cylon Raider when the missile discharged into his mouth and got stuck in his larynx. He was asphyxiated and his brain robbed of oxygen for an extended time. After the missile was removed he spent days in the hospital, but the damage had already been done and his brain no longer functioned. Just a toddler, Robert Jeffrey Warren died on December 31, 1978.

On January 11, 1979 news of the death was coupled with an announcement from the CPSC that Mattel was instituting a missile recall program. Newspaper announcements in 10 major cities carried the message urging parents to either dispose of the missiles or mail them back to Mattel in exchange for a Hot Wheels car. Other newspapers relayed the story in addition to it being reported on NBC's Today Show, but many believe the recall should have had much more publicity. Of course by this time parents had actually been writing Mattel to inquire about replacements for the easily lost missiles given that 2 million of the toys had been sold since their debut in August 1978. Because of the critical nature of the situation, not only would the requests for more missiles go unfulfilled but the toys would be redesigned for 1979 so that the missiles could no longer leave the firing chamber.

Back in Cincinnati, Kenner had their own issues with the Boba Fett figure under development. The concept model (known by collectors as the "kit bash" version - a term meaning "built from model kit parts") was made from three Star Wars figures and a Mattel Shogun Warrior figure. This version featured a sharply pointed missile but it was soon revised to have a bulbous tip at the final concept which was the version largely publicized on the action figure packaging promotions. When the figure was in actual product development it took on its familiar form and the early L-slot version of the figure featured a rocket with a rounded, conical tip. That mechanism could be triggered by a slight sideways tap so it was redesigned to prevent accidental firing. The updated design deemed by collectors as the J-slot version solved that issue by requiring the mechanism to be pulled down and held before releasing the launcher. This style of Boba Fett prototype was first shown in Tomart's Action Figure Digest magazine issue #20 (November 1994) which ran an interview with former Kenner test technician John Howison. Howison performed safety testing on the Boba Fett figures and was still in possession of 2 L-slot and 3 J-slot Fett prototypes at the time. The magazine article was the first exposure collectors had to the J-slot prototypes and it offered a fascinating glimpse into the progression of the figure design from one of the very people tasked with safety testing it. Through a Cincinnati newspaper ad, Howison was alerted to collector demand for the prototypes and after coming forth he was contacted by AFD for the story. Additionally, in February 2001 I conducted an in-person interview with John Howison to expand on the details and delve further into his recollections of the time.

According to John Howison, the J-slot design presented a different safety problem altogether wherein the small stem of plastic in the center of the J could be broken off resulting in a very sharp "splinter" that could get into an eye. This image shows one of the J-slot test specimens where the extension had been bent, but not quite broken during stress testing. A number of other J-slot prototypes in collectors' hands have this extension completely broken off indicating that those had been actual destructive test specimens. Kenner engineers attempted to address this new issue by making the stem shorter and slightly thicker in order to strengthen it.

In January 2018, I obtained information from Jim Kipling, Kenner's former Vice President of Legal, as well as Tim Pine, Kenner's former Vice President of Quality/Safety, which sealed the Kenner story once and for all. There had been concern about the safety of the Boba Fett internally, which is corroborated by the design iterations as well as by John Howison's testing experience. Pine also stated that there was some additional discussions by Marketing in regards to potentially tethering the Boba Fett missile to the launcher, but that was dropped as a poor sales concept.

Tim Pine was also part of a TMA (Toy Manufacturer Association - now "Toy Industry Association") board of safety experts at the time which drafted rules that eventually were adopted by the CPSC to the effect that no "small parts" such as the Boba Fett and Mattel missiles (which have their own legal definition) can be launched by a toy. This would have been proposed months after the Mattel recall at the earliest given the generally slow pace of governmental action.

Jim Kipling stated that in a meeting with Joe Mendelsohn, president of Kenner at the time, that both he and Tim Pine advised the removal of the rocket feature from the Boba Fett. This was most likely based on the January 11 news reports of the death of Robert Jeffery Warren and was a mere 4 weeks before the 1979 New York Toy Fair. Kenner would need to debut a non-firing Boba Fett figure so there would have been a rush to update the catalog and action figure display for the event. Mattel's own products and promotions were updated for Toy Fair where they would formally debut non-firing Battlestar Galactica toys. In the Kenner 1979 Toy Fair catalog, the Boba Fett caption simply states: "HAS A LASER RIFLE AND A BACKPACK" which, given the empty space, was most likely cut down from: "HAS A LASER RIFLE AND BACKPACK WITH TWO SPRING-LAUNCHED ROCKETS" as noted in the January/February 1979 Product catalog. This was an easily manageable change to make on such short notice, especially since there was no photo to alter. The task of creating a physical display piece would have been fairly easy since it only required pasting photostat onto blank cardboard with no mention of the rocket-firing feature. The first card design actually included a projectile warning across the top but that text was removed by the time the sample figure was created. Most interesting though is that the figure used for the Toy Fair sample was actually a rocket-firing prototype since the physical change to the figure couldn't be made on such a tight timeline.

The final firing version was complete with painted accents and copyright markings and even got as far as having some mailer box samples created but it all came to a halt. Although, it is interesting to consider that it took a Mattel toy to both introduce and subsequently remove the firing rocket feature from the Boba Fett action figure.

Interestingly, the fact that the coroner wrote Star Wars toy put into mouth - missile ejected into bronchial area on Jeffrey Warren's death certificate just goes to show how prevalent Star Wars toys were in the popular culture at the time and perhaps how easily it and Battlestar Galactica were confused by the average person. Then again, in mid-1978 George Lucas famously sued the creators of Battlestar Galactica for generally copying the whole look and idea of Star Wars - regardless of the fact that that one of his primary designers, Joe Johnston, also worked on that show.

Contrary to some old memories, no rocket-firing Boba Fett figures were ever released to the public and all known examples are prototypes that can be traced to Kenner employee origins. After weeks of waiting children across the country, who previously had no idea about the Mattel problems, would finally have their day at the mailbox. However, when they opened the little white mailer box their excitement quickly turned to disappointment as they read the notice explaining that the rocket-launching feature they were so eager to try out had been removed for safety reasons. They just got a bland figure with a fixed rocket that looked nothing like the one they sent away for. I know because I was one of them myself.

Boba Fett Action Figure Design Iterations

1. Original Concept (kit-bashed)
2. Final Concept (kit-bashed)
3. Original Wax Sculpting for Boba Fett Action Figure
4. Protomolded Photo Sample (plastic injection-molded and handworked)
5. Fully-engineered (L-Slot) version
6. Fully-engineered (J-Slot) version
7. Final fully-engineered (J-Slot) version Mailer Box sample
8. Production figure

Miscellaneous Rocket-Firing Boba Fett Items

  • Rocket Firing Boba Fett Artwork - Mail-in Offer
  • Rocket Firing Boba Fett Artwork - Bin Display Header
  • Rocket Firing Boba Fett Cardback Design with Projectile Warning
  • Rocket Firing Boba Fett prototype used as 1979 Toy Fair Carded Sample
  • Rocket Firing Boba Fett prototype used in TV commercial for mail-in promotion

    Timeline of Relevant (and semi-relevant) Events and Milestones

  • 1978 JAN: Lucasfilm's Ralph McQuarrie begins development work on Supertrooper/Supercommando which morphs into Boba Fett
  • 1978 JAN: Lucasfilm's Joe Johnston co-develops the Supertrooper/Supercommando and then takes over Boba Fett costume design
  • 1978 APR: The character of Boba Fett materializes in the second draft script of The Empire Strikes Back
  • 1978 APR 17: Kenner creates white Boba Fett concept artwork based on Joe Johnston drawing
  • 1978 JUN 23: 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm file lawsuit against Universal/MCA over Battlestar Galactica
  • 1978 JUN 28: First Boba Fett white "Supertrooper" costume screen test (modeled by Duwayne Dunham, asst. film editor)
  • 1978 JUN: Joe Johnston finalizes Boba Fett costume design
  • 1978 JUL: John Celestri at Nelvana Ltd. begins design work on Boba Fett for the SW Holiday Special cartoon
  • 1978 JUL: Joe Johnston paints white Supertrooper costume with Boba Fett colors (first prototype costume)
  • 1978 JUL?: Kenner's Dave Okada and Jim Swearingen photograph first Boba Fett costume at Skywalker Ranch
  • 1978 JUL?: Kenner Prelim Designer Jim Swearingen creates the kit-bashed Boba Fett concept figure (based on photoshoot)
  • 1978 AUG: Battlestar Galactica toys hit store shelves
  • 1978 AUG?: Kenner Production Design team revises and finalizes kit-bashed Boba Fett concept figure
  • 1978 AUG?: Kenner creates packaging artwork based on the final kit-bash design
  • 1978 AUG: Kenner releases January/February 1979 Product catalog (featuring rocket-firing Boba Fett)
  • 1978 AUG 29: First commercial use of "Boba Fett" name as a toy (USPTO 1,198,885)
  • 1978 SEP 17: Battlestar Galactica TV series premiere
  • 1978 SEP 24: First Boba Fett public appearance (first prototype costume) - San Anselmo County Fair
  • 1978 OCT 03: Boba Fett costume status report #1: 3 costumes in the US, 3 more in-process in the UK
  • 1978 OCT 26: Boba Fett costume status report #2: 3 costumes in the US, 3 more in-process in the UK
  • 1978 NOV: Boba Fett marketing visit at Kenner to promote the character and his debut on The Star Wars Holiday Special
  • 1978 NOV: Boba Fett photoshoot at Kenner for cardback image (second prototype costume painted by Daydream Productions)
  • 1978 NOV 17: Boba Fett first broadcast appearance - The Star Wars Holiday Special cartoon
  • 1978 DEC 08: Seven reports of inhaled or swallowed Battlestar Galactica toy missiles to date
  • 1978 DEC 08: CPSC - Mattel issues missile warning labels for existing toy inventories. Packages will display white "Caution" stickers
  • 1978 DEC?: Kenner updates Boba Fett cardback design with printed Caution: Projectile warning
  • 1978 DEC 11: "Boba Fett" name as a toy is trademarked
  • 1978 DEC 25: Robert Jeffery Warren, 4, gets a Cylon Raider missile lodged in his larynx and is hospitalized
  • 1978 DEC 29: Eric Carlson, 8, chokes on Battlestar Galactica missile. Missile surgically removed from his lung on 05 JAN 1979
  • 1978 DEC 31: Robert Jeffery Warren, 4, dies of complications arising from asphyxiation

  • 1978 JAN: Kenner's Boba Fett mail-in promotion TV commercial debuts (filmed with rocket-firing prototype)
  • 1979 JAN 10: Christopher Auger, 7, inhales Battlestar Galactica missile into his lung
  • 1979 JAN 11: CPSC - Mattel issues recall of Battlestar Galactica missiles. Toys will be redesigned to not launch missiles. Packages will display red "Re-designed" stickers
  • 1979 JAN 11: Mattel's advertises "Missile Mail-In" program to begin nationwide recall
  • 1979 JAN 11: Michael Affanto, 5, inhales Battlestar Galactica missile into his lung
  • 1979 JAN 11?: An attending NY pediatrician and CPSC Representative discuss the missile dangers on NBC's Today Show
  • 1979 FEB 6: Two million missile-firing Battlestar Galactica toys sold to date
  • 1979 FEB 12-21: NY Toy Fair - Mattel displays redesigned (non-firing) Battlestar Galactica toys
  • 1979 FEB 12-21: NY Toy Fair - A costumed Boba Fett greets visitors in the Kenner showroom
  • 1979 FEB 12-21: NY Toy Fair - Kenner distributes catalog containing a Boba Fett with fixed rocket
  • 1979 FEB 12-21: NY Toy Fair - Kenner displays carded Boba Fett mock-up (made with a prototype test sample figure)
  • 1979 FEB 27: ACT group calls for government crackdown on projectile-shooting toys
  • 1979 MAR 01: Mattel's "Missile Mail-In" program expires
  • 1979 MAR 14: Tom Rosinski, 9, has Battlestar Galactica Stellar Probe missile removed from his lung
  • 1979 MAR 22: Warren family files $14M lawsuit against Mattel over the death of son Jeffrey
  • 1979 APR 24: Twenty-seven reports of inhaled or swallowed Battlestar Galactica toy missiles to date
  • 1979 APR 29: Battlestar Galactica TV series finale
  • 1979 MAY 31: Original expiration date of Boba Fett action figure mail-in offer
  • 1979 JUN 01: Boba Fett figures to begin shipping in case assortments for retail sale
  • 1979 AUG 13: Lucasfilm files application for design patent D264109S for Boba Fett action figure
  • 1979 AUG 22: Eddie Seidel Jr, 15, jumps to his death over Battlestar Galactica series cancelation

  • 1980 MAR 31: Boba Fett mail-in offer first expiration date extension with blackout sticker
  • 1980 MAR 31: Boba Fett mail-in offer first expiration date extension with starburst sticker
  • 1980 MAY 21: The Empire Strikes Back theatrical premiere
  • 1980 DEC 31: Boba Fett mail-in offer second expiration date extension with starburst sticker

    Additional Information Regarding the Robert Jeffrey Warren Incident, Courtesy of David Rheingold and Isaac Lew