The Good: Excellent playability, Good coloring detail, Neat concept, Collectible value
The Bad: Discoloration issues, Decals
The Basics: A very cool toy, the Airspeeder and Airspeeder Pilot Star Wars Expanded Universe toy takes a concept sketch and makes it into a very cool vehicle toy!
As I wend my way to the bottom of the current box of Star Wars toys that I am going through reviewing and deciding what remains in the permanent collection and what gets sold off, I find myself immersed in Star Wars concept figures and toys. Many Star Wars concept toys are intended to flesh out the broader sense of the Star Wars universe by presenting established characters in different settings. But in 1997, Kenner took a chance and created a few concept toys based not on established characters in alternate Star Wars environments, but rather Star Wars as it never was: toys based upon the original concept sketches made by Ralph McQuarrie. One of the first two was the Airspeeder.
The Airspeeder is the original concept design for the Snowspeeder which was seen at the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back. The toy creates the one-man craft (clearly differentiated from the larger two-person craft seen in the movie) with a surprising number of playable features. In fact, what originally seemed like a dud has proven to be an investor's dream after ten years. Unfortunately, just as time has revealed its collectible value and reinforced the idea that sometimes a toy just needs good play potential, the problems with the Airspeeder have also been revealed by age. Still, they are not enough to downrate this surprisingly cool Star Wars vehicle.
The Airspeeder is an enclosed vehicle with a single seat in a cockpit designed for travel within a planetary atmosphere. As the original design for the ship that would become the snowspeeder, it shares many of the same basic design points as the ship that was shown in The Empire Strikes Back in the Hoth sequences. It is a fairly squat aircraft with a canopy (flip up) cockpit and twin laser cannons on the front and two aft thruster engines. But that is pretty much where the similarities end.
The Airspeeder features aft wings which pop up to transform the Airspeeder into "battle mode," a transformation completed by pulling the forward laser cannons out as well. Instead of an aft harpoon cannon, the Airspeeder features a missile launching cannon underneath the vehicle.
The detailing on the Airspeeder is quite impressive. Primarily colored off-white, the Airspeeder features smoke "wear lines" which make it look like exhaust has colored the main body of the vehicle. As well, the wings and cannons feature painted details like racing stripes that give the Airspeeder a look that is pretty consistent with other Rebel vehicles. However, for the full detailing of the Airspeeder, consumers are required to apply decal stickers and I'm less fond of that than having the ship come with all of the details painted on. On the Airspeeder, the decals stand out because the ship is molded in a matte-finish plastic while the stickers are glossy.
The Airspeeder, when assembled, is 9 1/2" long, 7 1/4" wide and 3" tall. Assembly is simply a matter of popping the canopy onto the cockpit, the wings into their posts and the cannon onto the bottom. All of the parts snap in easily and the directions are quite clear on how to assemble the vehicle. As well, the instructions show the proper placement of the ship's few decals that must be applied by the consumer.
The only real issue with the body of the Airspeeder is the result of age: the canopy door on the cockpit discolors over the years. While the transparent cockpit windows are remain crystal clear, the housing for it no longer matches the rest of the vehicle. The vehicle has remained an off-white color, but the cockpit canopy has discolored to a sickening gray color.
In the case of the Airspeeder, there is only one real accessory (outside the 3 1/2" long missile which launches from the cannon): the Airspeeder pilot. The Airspeeder pilot is also based upon the original sketches for the Hoth Rebel Soldier and the white flightsuit is unlike anything actually seen in the Star Wars Trilogy. The 4" concept figure is very light on the details (mine does not have colored pupils or irises, for example) and does not have anything near realistic shading or skin tones on the figure's exposed face. However, the figure does feature goggles molded into his helmet and a pair of electrobinoculars molded around his neck.
As for the figure's coloring, the Airspeeder pilot comes in a crisp white uniform and the only markings on it are two racing stripes on the shoulder which might indicate the pilot's rank or position. The figure comes with six points of articulation - groin socket, waist, shoulders and neck - and all of the joints are simple swivel joints. This is just enough to allow the figure to bend to sit in the Airspeeder and to stand when outside of it.
Sadly, age has done bad things for the Airspeeder pilot. The crisp white uniform suffers from what many Kenner figures clad in white did, which is a discoloration of the plastic. The chest of my airspeeder pilot is a noticeably more yellow color than the arms and legs and that was definitely the result of plastic aging, as opposed to an original production fault.
The four inch toy line was designed for play and the Airspeeder is exceptional in that regard. The wing deployment feature, which is tactically baffling as it exposes more surface area to enemy fire, makes for a pretty cool feature. The wings are spring-loaded and with the touch of a button, they pop up. After years of play, the Airspeeder's springs show no sign of giving out!
Similarly, the Airspeeder has one of the best missile functions from a Kenner Star Wars toy. After over thirteen years, the missile in mine can be loaded and with a touch of a button, the little plastic dart launches four feet! This makes for an impressive little toy with very playable features. As well, the fact that the pilot is removable enhances the play experience. Most Star Wars figures will actually fit in the Airspeeder.
The Airspeeder is part of the Expanded Universe collection, a series of Star Wars toys that was wildly erratic in its reception. The action figures were split between exceptionally popular figures from novels with popular and original characters and pegwarmer figures for alternate versions of established Trilogy characters from their post-film experiences. The Airspeeder was wildly unsuccessful at the time and most only sold at deep discount clearance prices. This was a pegwarmer at the time, largely because it was massively overproduced and fans were still not sure about the concept toy. Still, the playability of the Airspeeder has proven its worth over time and become coveted in the secondary market. As a result, it turned into a decent investment for fans of the Star Wars figures and has appreciated to about twice its original price.
The Airspeeder is one of the stronger concept toys in the Star Wars line, despite a few manufacturing problems which has weakened the overall final appearance of the toy years later. Those who took a risk on it back in the day are discovering they now have a strong investment piece. Those who find it now are discovering they have one of the coolest toys for Star Wars play ever created by Kenner!
For other Star Wars concept toys and vehicles, please check out my reviews of:
Shadows Of The Empire Dash Rendar's Outrider
Shadows Of The Empire Swoop Vehicle
Attack Of The Clones Geonosian Starfighter
For other toy reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.