In the vast universe of toys from the days of Empires and Rebels, the Star Wars Land Speeder probably doesn’t even register a blip on your radar.
But I’m here to tell you that this simple vehicle is exactly the type of bauble that can start an avalanche of kid whining and consumer spending and infatuated fandom that can last a lifetime.
And I should know …
See, when I received this thing as a Christmas gift in 1978, I had yet to see Star Wars and didn’t know much about the film beyond what I’d heard on the playground at school.
But this seemingly innocuous hunk of plastic turned the tide of my childhood and, eventually, led me to this keyboard entry right here.
Skeptical? That’s fine.
But here, let me detail just five of the ways the Star Wars Land Speeder was a deadly gateway
drug toy …
Low Barrier to Entry
So, how much does it cost a parent to start their child down the road to toy and brand addiction.
Quite a bit if you start with, say Darth Vader’s Star Destroyer.
In the case of the Star Wars Land Speeder, the toll was a measly $4.99 back in the 70s.
Now, that was a long time ago, and five bucks was nothing to sneeze at — still isn’t — but it wasn’t an Emperor’s ransom, even then. Especially not if you folded it into your Christmas toy budget, which is what my parents did.
There among the Hulk pajamas and cap guns and Beverly Cleary books, then, I found this odd but intriguing vehicle.
Roll With Me!
And when I took the land speeder out of its box, what did I find?
Basically, a huge, plastic Hot Wheels car. Or Matchbox car, if that’s more to your liking. This thing may have been labeled as part of “star” something or other, and there may have been a robot on the box, but …
It rolled along the floor, had a gearshift, and had two seats for drivers/passengers to sit.
Looked like a car to me, and that made it easy to know how to play with it. (Crash-Up Derby is the correct answer, but my mom put an end to that before I could smash my new toy to pieces on Christmas morning.)
And being able to play with your toys right away is pretty much a sine qua non to forming undying love for said toys, don’t you think?
Figures Not Included
Speaking of those sitty holes, the box showed an old man and a young man, in tiny plastic glory, ensconced in those stations.
In front of the car was a shiny, white-clad dude who looked pretty scary.
Behind one of the turbines, a golden robot peeked out.
And, draped across the rear of the vehicle, like roadkill deer on the front of a redneck’s wood-burning truck, was a white robot-looking thing.
Or maybe it was part of the emission system. Couldn’t be sure at the time.
Thing was, though, the box dashed any hopes you might have had of turning in a full-blown recreation of the scene right then and there, on Christmas morning.
“MINI-ACTION FIGURES NOT INCLUDED”
I had no idea what “mini-action” was, and today I think it may be a metaphor for “getting to first base.” Not sure.
What I did know was that I had an empty brown/orange car thing with funky wheels that needed some riders. And I knew just the riders I needed, too.
Instant wish list for birthday gifts!
Batteries Not Included … or Necessary
Nothing stinks worse on Christmas morning than unwrapping a cool new toy only to find out that it requires batteries … and that neither Santa Claus nor your dolt parents thought enough of you to complete the deal.
Luckily for receivers of the original Land Speeder, this wasn’t a problem, no matter how inconsiderate the fat man may have been.
Aside from maybe the action figures (that, for me, would come later) there wasn’t much more basic of a Star Wars toy to be had than Luke Sywalker’s land speeder.
Just a plastic body that looked like a 1950s boat-of-a-car, some tiny spring wheels, a couple of wings and engines, and some droid-y decals.
No lights, no sounds, no locomotion other than what you provided with your own hands.
All of which meant, no batteries required!
And that meant you could go full-bore with your play thing on Christmas morning, even though you had no power source.
Of course, there were still those missing figs, and that nagged at you, because …
Name Recognition or … FOMO, the Shag Years
While it’s true I hadn’t seen Star Wars at that point in my life and wasn’t really sure what all the fuss was about, I wasn’t oblivious to the fuss itself.
Kids at recess were Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia playing tag. They brought in these intimidating toys during the winter and acted all high and mighty as they regaled you with their fantasy games.
“Here, you shoot at me with your laser gun” — a stick — “and I’ll deflect the fire back at you with my light saber” — a bigger stick.
So my heart squeezed out a few extra beats when I saw that Star Wars emblem under the Christmas lights in my own house for the first time. It was a pure adrenaline hit, I tell you.
I knew, even in that first moment, that I’d be back again and again over the coming years.
And so I have.