Boba Fett and Battlestar Galactica - The Firing Missile Crisis
Written by Chris Georgoulias

Urban legend has it that the impetus for Kenner's removal of the rocket-firing feature from the Boba Fett action figure was the death of a child who choked on the missile of a Mattel Battlestar Galactica toy. But like many urban legends, this one falls short of the true story and was not what actually doomed the Boba Fett figure.

Mattel's troubles with the Battlestar Galactica toys came to light on December 8, 1978 when the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) announced that there had been 3 formal reports (and 4 more under investigaion) of children inhaling or swallowing the toy missiles. Although the toys passed all 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 Jeffrey Warren put the nose of a Mattel Colonial Viper ship into his mouth where the missile discharged 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, 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 and it was also 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 missles 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 would no longer leave the firing chamber.

Back in Cincinnati, Kenner had secretly removed the rocket-launching feature from the Boba Fett figure based on their own internal testing and that happened before news of Jeffrey Warren's death was publicized. The January 11 announcement came only 4 weeks before New York Toy Fair where Kenner would debut their non-firing figure. By this time the figures for catalog photography as well as for display at the event would have already been created.

Although the original L-slot version of the Boba Fett figure passed all safety tests, the mechanism was redesigned to prevent accidental firing. The updated design now known as the J-slot version solved that issue by requiring the mechanism to be pulled down and held before releasing the launcher. However the J-slot design presented a different safety problem altogether because 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. Kenner's head of legal, James Kipling, was brought into the test lab and shown the splinter where he made the decision to remove the firing mechansim from the figure for good. This image shows one of the J-slot test specimens where the extension had been bent, but not quite broken during stress testing. Other figures in collectors hands have this extension completely broken off.

Action Figure Digest magazine issue #20 (Nov 1994) ran an interview with former Kenner test technician John Howison who performed safety testing on the rocket-firing Boba Fett figures and was still in possession of several prototypes at the time. Through a Cincinnati newspaper ad (Kenner's home town) Howison was alerted to collector demand for the figures and after coming forth with them he was contacted by AFD for the story. A subsequent meeting with Howison confirmed and expanded on his original statements.

John Howison was the source of 2 L-slot and 3 J-slot Fetts, the latter of which was the first exposure most collectors had to it and it offered a fascinating glimpse into the progression of the figure design from the very person tasked with safety testing it. The final firing version was complete with painted accents and copyright markings just like a production toy but it was never to be. Both engineered versions differed greatly from the concept figure shown on the cardbacks that collectors refer to as the kit-bashed Boba Fett a term meaning "built from model kit parts", but in this case from other Star Wars action figures.

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, so that confusion wasn't likely without a bit of merit.

Contrary to popular belief, NO firing Boba Fett figures were ever released to the public. Children across the country were quite disappointed to open the little white mailer box and read the enclosed notice explaining that their new figure had a non-firing rocket. The fun factor that they had been waiting months for was totally gone. I know because I was one of them. And while many false childhood memories still run strong to this day, all known rocket-firing figures that have been unearthed are prototypes that can be traced back to Kenner employee origins.

Boba Fett Action Figure Design Iterations

1. Original Concept (kit-bashed)
2. Revised Concept (kit-bashed)
3. Final Concept (kit-bashed)
4. Protomolded (molded and handworked)
5. First fully engineered (L-Slot) version
6. Final fully engineered (J-Slot) version
7. Final fully engineered (J-Slot) version Mailer Box sample
8. Production figure

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

  • 1978 MAR: Joe Johnston completes Boba Fett white prototype (a.k.a. "Supertrooper") costume design
  • 1978 APR 17: Kenner creates 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 "Supertrooper" costume screen test
  • 1978 JUN: Kenner sales meeting presentation included rocket-firing Boba Fett promotional materials
  • 1978 AUG: Battlestar Galactica toys hit store shelves
  • 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
  • 1978 SEP 17: Battlestar Galactica TV series premiere
  • 1978 SEP 24: Boba Fett first costumed public appearance - San Anselmo County Fair
  • 1978 OCT 03: First Boba Fett costume is in the U.S., other 5 in process in the U.K.
  • 1978 OCT 26: Three Boba Fett costumes are now in the U.S., other 3 in process in the UK
  • 1978 OCT?: Boba Fett costume photoshoot at Kenner for cardback image
  • 1978 NOV 17: Boba Fett first broadcast appearance - The Star Wars Holiday Special cartoon
  • 1978 DEC 08: CPSC - Mattel issues missile warning labels for existing toy inventories
  • 1978 DEC 08: Seven reports of inhaled or swallowed Battlestar Galactica toy missiles to date
  • 1978 DEC 11: "Boba Fett" name as a toy is trademarked
  • 1978 DEC 25: Jeffery Warren, 4, gets Colonial Viper missile lodged in larynx and is hospitalized
  • 1978 DEC 29: Eric Carlson, 8, chokes on Batlestar Galactica missile. Missile later found in his lung on 03 JAN 1979
  • 1978 DEC 31: Jeffery Warren, 4, dies of complications arising from asphyxiation

  • 1979 JAN 10: Christopher Auger, 7, inhales Battlestar Galactica missile into his lung
  • 1979 JAN 11: CPSC - Mattel issues recall of Battlestar Galactica toy missiles. Missiles redesigned for 1979.
  • 1979 JAN 11: Michael Affanto, 5, inhales Battlestar Galactica missile into his lung
  • 1979 JAN 11: Two million missile-firing Battlestar Galactica toys sold to date
  • 1979 JAN 12?: An attending NY pediatrician and CPSC Representative discuss the missile dangers on NBC's Today Show
  • 1979 FEB 12-21: NY Toy Fair - Mattel displays redesigned (non-firing) Battlestar Galactica toys
  • 1979 FEB 12-21: NY Toy Fair - Kenner distributes new catalog (non-firing Boba Fett with production rocket)
  • 1979 FEB 12-21: NY Toy Fair - Kenner displays loose Boba Fett figure with fixed rocket
  • 1979 FEB 12-21: NY Toy Fair - Kenner displays carded Boba Fett mock-up (secretly made from test sample figure)
  • 1979 FEB 27: ACT group calls for government crackdown on projectile-shooting toys
  • 1979 MAR 01: Mattel's missile recall program expires
  • 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 start 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 Jeffrey Warren Incident, Courtesy of David Rheingold and Isaac Lew