Wednesday, May 27, 2009

RETRO TOY FLASHBACK # 87: Star Wars Droid Factory (Kenner; 1979)

Back in the late 1970s, Kenner created a hugely diverse and impressive line of toys based on the original Star Wars (1977). A young fan could play not just with cool action figures by the dozen, but large-scale mock-ups too, such as the Millennium Falcon, the Death Star Space Station, the Creature Cantina, and more.

Under the category of "more" came this most unusual and interactive of the Kenner Star Wars play sets, 1979's The Droid Factory. This industrial droid production center was unique because it was not a reproduction of a set or ship, or even a landscape (like the Land of the Jawas Playset...). Instead, it was an original and very cool setting not seen in the film, one in which you could build your own version of R2-D2. As a child (and even before The Empire Strikes Back), I appreciated this -- it was good for the burgeoning imagination -- because an original toy like the droid factory indicated that there was a larger world "around" Star Wars than the one we saw in the movie.

The Star Wars Droid Factory came in a large box complete with a beige "factory base with swivel crane" plus "38 robots parts." Essentially, you could "build up to 5 different robots at the same time," "make hundreds of different combinations," and just have a hell of a lot of fun with the "interchangeable robot parts." These factory-constructed robots were the same scale as the other figures, so kids could experience the immediate gratification of landing their newly-built droids into the action with Han Solo, Hammerhead, Jaws, Greedo, Blue Snaggletooth or anyone else.

The Kenner Droid Factory also came with a neat "Droid Maker Blueprints" set which offered instructions for building "the 5 basic droids." These were: the Mechano Droid, R2-D2, Tracto-Droid, Quad-Pod Droid, and Rollarc Droid. The last page of the booklet offered details on how to build a goliath "Monster Droid." Clean-up after play was easy too, as the booklet thoughtfully informed parents: "Each part has its own place in the Base. When you are finished playing with your DROID FACTORY, put all the parts back just like you see it here."

The only drawback to this great vintage toy (which I'm now sharing with Joel...since he's become obsessed with R2-D2 and C3PO): there was no way to build Threepio. Yep, Anakin could do it on Tatooine, but you can't do it with your Droid Factory! Clearly, that's a huge oversight in an otherwise very cool toy. Below, you can see the original TV commercial for the Kenner Star Wars Droid Factory.


  1. I owned this. The black hand of the crane was rubber, giving this a unexpected cheap feel, because it was usually slightly bent out of shape.

    I think this came with an R2D2, my only one, which felt a little cheap as well with its head fitted with a rubber part onto the body.

    I cannot recall seeing that "blue print" guide.

    I remember I had way too many robot arms lying around; but most of all I remember pieces never completely being aligned together, with their rubber bolts. I guess these rubber parts were a good design choice that made this toy more resistant.

  2. gatchamandave8:40 AM

    And Lucas must have liked it because he used the concept for the mid-sequence of Attack of the Clones.

    To which one can only say

    Stoopid Kenner !!! See what horrors you have wrought !!!

    ( by the way, the Word Verification I have to type in for this message is PRICKE. Geez, you might read the thing first, John )