Thursday, December 14, 2006

RETRO TOY FLASHBACK # 52: Star Trek...from Galoob


When you think of Star Trek toys and toy companies, two names leap immediately to mind: Mego and Playmates. The first company held the license for Trek toys in the 1970s (including and up to Star Trek: The Motion Picture), and the latter created toys from the era of Star Trek: The Next Generation all the way up through Voyager.

Although AMT/ERTL briefly produced a small line of Star Trek action figures for the release of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, there is one another company that deserves serious kudos from fans for manufacturing some high quality and fascinating Star Trek toys.

Of course, that company is Galoob, which from 1987 through 1990 -- the opening years of Star Trek: The Next Generation and the epoch of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier -- held the license to produce toys based on this popular space opera.

I remember the happy days of 1988, when I graduated high school, was a freshman at University of Richmond, and was deeply, deeply into The Next Generation. Although I was way too old to play with action figures (yeah, right!), I remember when Galoob released the first set of action figures, and ordering them through some mail order company in Florida. It seemed to take the action figures forever to come, but when they arrived...I was a happy camper.

In the release I purchased, there were six crewmembers, all from the Enterprise-D (and Next Gen). Each was molded with an original brand phaser in the left hand. This is neat in part because this "dust-buster" brand phaser (seen in
the first season only of The Next Generation, and featured heavily in episodes such as "The Arsenal of Freedom,") was replaced quickly in the franchise with more deadly, less bulbous designs. Each figure also came with a shoulder-strapped tricorder. The figures were: Captain Picard, Commander Riker, Lt. Data, Lt. Tasha Yar, Lt. Worf and Lt. Geordi La Forge. Again, this bunch is kind of interesting for a few reasons. One: this is a first season Riker, meaning he is sans beard (Playmates never made a Riker figure without a beard, except the large-scale Star Trek: Insurrection 9-incher). Secondly, both Worf and Geordi are donning red uniforms, rather than the yellow uniforms they wore from the second season on (when they were promoted to Security and Engineering, respectively). And, of course, Tasha Yar died after the first season episode "Skin of Evil." So virtually all these action figures have some interesting and collectible component. The Lt. Data of this line, for instance, is notorious, because some figures were released with blue rather than yellow skin.

Galoob didn't stop with this release. More rare (I never had 'em...) and more valuable was the line of alien figures from the Next Generation. These were: Q in his "Judge" robes (from "Encounter at Farpoint"), a Ferengi soldier (with laser whip!) from "The Last Outpost," and two aliens who - let's face it - aren't particularly memorable in the annals of Star Trek history, the Antican and Selay from the sixth episode, "Lonely Among Us." The truly holy grail of the Galoob figure line from this epoch is the almost-never-seen Romulan and Wesley Crusher figures. Anyone got one they want to give me?

At the same time that Galoob released these figures, the company also released two very cool spacecraft for the crews to inhabit. One is the shuttlecraft Galileo (which my then girlfriend, Kathryn, bought for me...), and the other is a Ferengi fighter. Now, the shuttlecraft Galileo is - again - based on a first season design (seen in such episodes as "Coming of Age"), and the design changed radically over the seasons. The Ferengi fighter features qualities of the Ferengi cruiser seen in first season eps "The Last Outpost" and "The Battle," but is not actually a vessel seen in the series at all.

Galoob also released a hand phaser with a
flashlight component, and a toy that I think is beautifully crafted: a die-cast metal U.S.S. Enterprise with a separating saucer section. Does anyone remember the inaugural year of The Next Generation, and how all the genre press was abuzz about how this Enterprise had two bridges and could separate in battle (so the families would escape unharmed?)? Well, this toy remembered that feature, even if series' writers did not. The Enterprise separated exactly twice in seven years, if I'm correct, in the aforementioned "Encounter at Farpoint" and "The Arsenal of Freedom." The next time the vessel separated was, I believe, in Generations (1994). Frankly, it was an unwieldy plot device anyway. [NOTE: My pal, Chris Johnson, reminds me the Enterprise also separated fighting the Borg in "Best of Both Worlds. - JKM]. The maneuver basically required Picard to warp away in the middle of a fight, ditch the saucer section, and then warp back into action. De-cloaking Klingon Bird of Preys don't usually leave time for such details...

In 1989, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier premiered, and Galoob released a series of taller, nicely detailed action figures of the movie cast. They were poseable figures, but much more like collectors' items than toys a kid would actually play with. These limited edition figures included Kirk, Spock and Bones in their "commando" fatigues (for the raid on Nimbus III...), and villains Sybok (in Vulcan robes) and Captain Klaa. Although not often mentioned, I believe these figures are actually quite nice. They resemble the actors well, and make lovely displays. I have three of 'em; Kirk, Spock and Sybok.

Later on, Galoob released a number of "micro-machine" sets -- small Star Trek spaceships (from all series), but by then the action had moved mostly to Playmates and their highly-detailed, extensive Star Trek toys.

Still, I remember well the years between 1987 - 1990, getting acquainted with The Next Generation for the first time, and eagerly awaiting Trek V in theaters. Galoob's toys always bring back nostalgia for that time.

6 comments:

  1. Anonymous10:04 AM

    Hey John!

    Now this is a subject near and dear to my heart. I am the proud owner of the entire Galoob TNG toy line. I can confirm for you that Wesley and the Romulan were never made. If you notice, the pictures on the cardbacks advertising them are photos of the actors. To the best of my knowledge, Galoob never even made prototypes for those two figures. If they did, they have yet to surface on the secondary market. I was lucky enough to get this entire line at retail. I still vividly remember going to K-Mart and finsing the entire set of the aliens. The shuttle and Ferengi ship I got at a Kay-Bee on clearance around Christmas of 1988 I believe.

    I love this line for many reasons you mentioned in your blog. These toys represent a very specific era in Trek history. I remember seeing a story about the launch of TNG on Entertainment Tonight and they showed the Galoob toys. I knew at that moment I HAD to have them all.

    Oh, and I am really surprised that you don't remember that the Enterprise D separated in "The Best of Both Worlds Part 2." It separated during the battle with the Brog Cube that Locutus was on.

    Chris Johnson

    Chris Johnson

    ReplyDelete
  2. I remember having Gene Roddenberry's then-assistant Richard Arnold as a guest on Destinies when he came to I-Con in 1988. He got very upset when we asked him if the Picard action figure came with a white flag, based on Picard's tendency to surrender the Enterprise in the first season.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Galoob did showcase the Romulan and Crusher at Toyfair and those prototypes are in a collection somewhere. I have pics of them.

    I like this line even though I'm not a fan of TNG.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Anonymous10:02 AM

    If you could post a link to the pics of Wesley and the Romulan I would love to see them. Thanks for the info Megomuseum!

    ReplyDelete
  5. I might have the pics handy as I got them recently, let me go and dig.

    ReplyDelete

  6. Here is the pic
    , the article also mentions a diecast ferengi fighter. I saw these at retail here on Enterprise cards in 1989, I assume a small amount were made and closed out. My friend saw the same thing at a different store, neither of us thought to pick one up, DUR!

    ReplyDelete