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Small Wing Darth Vader TIE Fighter

The small wing Darth Vader TIE Fighter is often thought of as the holy grail of die cast collecting with fewer than 50 prototype ships known to exist. The small wing version is identical to the production Darth Vader TIE apart from the significantly smaller wings. These wings being out of scale with the rest of the ship were subsequently redesigned prior to the TIE going to retail.

Carded examples of the small wing Darth Vader TIE can be found on two different mock-up cards. The first packaging tests can be found on a SW12 TIE card, with later production-like tests found on an unproduced Darth Vader TIE 20 back - not to be confused with the Canadian production version. The unproduced 20 back demonstrates that the ship was clearly close to production before Kenner decided to redesign it with larger wings.

The small wing Darth Vader TIE unproduced 20 back differs from the larger winged TIE's 21 back in a few subtle ways. Firstly the sample bubble and backing area was significantly smaller than that used for the production ship and as such there was more room on the card front. This led to more room above the bubble and resulted in a lower placed die cast starburst, and more of the film accurate TIE visible on the card art. Also absent on the sample TIE is the inner tray keeping Darth firmly in the driving seat - with disastrous consequences!

Small wing Darth Vader TIE on the right, with large wing TIE on the left for comparison.

The obvious main difference on the back is the lack of Boba Fett on the the 20 back, the action figure being released at the same time as the regular die cast Darth Vader TIE.

Die cast in catalogues and comics

Finding die cast ships in vintage magazines and catalogues is a difficult task. The line's lack of popularity is reflected on the pages of vintage catalogues with toy retailers generally preferring to feature the 3 and 3/4" line of toys. Argos was one of the UK's largest catalogue retailers, and in the seven years it sold vintage Star Wars toys the die cast ships were always absent from its pages.

The series 1 ships do feature on the pages of vintage comics, but appear as hand drawn ships due to the high cost of printing photographs in the 1970s. The 1979 advert below featured the iconic first 12 Star Wars figures as well as 11 new characters including Boba Fett and Greedo.

The 'Draw a Droid' competition shown below first featured in issue 60 of Star Wars Weekly released on April 18 1979 in the UK. The competition's fantastic first prize was a trip to Elstree Studios for six children to see the filming of the Empire Strikes Back! The winners also received the first 20 Palitoy action figures and the iconic cardboard Death Star play set.

For fans of die cast third prize was just the thing - '24 sets of three die cast vehicles (X-wing fighter, tie-fighter, land speeder)'. In the bottom right of the feature the TIE fighter and X-Wing can just be seen behind two of the newly released Palitoy figures - 'Green' Greedo and Hammerhead. UK comics were printed in cheaper black and white due to a much smaller readership than their US counterparts.

The 1978 holiday season wish book was the Sears debut for the die cast ships, and which featured only two of the first series ships. The Land Speeder was not pictured or advertised in the catalogue, and lends to speculation that the design of the Land Speeder may not have been as advanced in 1978 as the other series 1 ships. It is also possible that the Sears sales team didn’t expect the Land Speeder to sell well and left it out of the catalogue.

Images and text courtesy of Justin Lea

The Series 1 and 2 ships can also be seen in the 1979 Sears catalogue page below but strangely now the TIE is absent. The Series 2 die cast ships were available slightly earlier in the States than in the UK, as was the now iconic bounty hunter Boba Fett. Boba Fett was only sold in the UK once the Empire Strikes back was released in 1980.

The Seers 1979 catalogue editorial team were clearly a little confused - the die cast 'cockpit seats' would be a little on the snug side for 'most Star Wars action figures.' The Darth Vader TIE is also incorrectly listed as the TIE, but at only $3.33 there could have been few complaints.

The 1982 Sears Specialog for toys showcased the series 3 ships and the financial inflation that had taken hold on toy prices. Sears series 1 ships cost $3.55 in 1978 and $3.33 in 1979. Only three years later the toys had more than doubled to $6.99! The 1982 Specialog is the last Sears appearance of the die cast ships. Last date to order from this catalogue was August 31, 1982Sears Specialog text and images courtesy of Justin Lea

The die cast range also featured in Canadian catalogues, with the Series 1 ships featuring in the 1979 Simpson Sears Christmas Catalogue below.

http://192.185.93.157/~wishbook/1979_Canadian_SimpsonsSears/index.htm

The 1980 Sears Christmas catalogue features the Series 2 ships at $6.99 each. More than a dollar more than in the previous year's catalogue!

The Series 3 ships can also be seen in this 1980 Sears wishbook, which also features the iconic cardboard Death Star retailing at $26.99.

In Canada the Series 2 ships were only released in Star Wars packaging as seen in this K Mart advert from December 1982 courtesy of geektarded.blogspot.co.uk

If owners of any of the images above not owned by vintagestarwarsdiecast.co.uk would like them removed please let us know.

Trade catalogues

 

Catalogues sent to toy retailers across the globe are another great source of vintage Star Wars die cast images. The following article is by regular contributor to the site, and collector of vintage catalogues and die cast - Justin Lea.

Kenner

The 1979 dealer catalogue is an excellent example of Kenner's marketing to retailers for each line they produced. Series 1 and 2 are advertised beautifully over two pages highlighting each spacecraft against a glimmering starry back drop.

Kenner also gave retailers the option to display their die cast merchandise. The series 2 header and the extremely rare series 2 bin is also shown in the 1979 catalogue. 

Kenner marketed “BATTLE READY ADVENTURE” for the series 1 line while “MORE FINELY DETAILED COLLECTOR’S REPLICAS” was used for the series 2 line.

The series 2 images included a mock up of the Millennium Falcon shadow box with an unproduced blue background, and aimed directly at collectors and their display shelves.

1980 trade catalogue

The 1980 dealer catalog was the debut for the Empire Strikes Back toy line from Kenner and a great year for the die cast line with 3 full pages dedicated to the “Finely detailed replicas”.

The first page advertised the series 1 vehicles similarly to the previous years catalogue, with the exception of the Empire branded card backs shown in a second issue store display bin.

The store display photography shows all 4 of the series 1 craft branded ESB card backs yet only the X-Wing and Tie Fighter ever made it to stores with the Empire Strikes Back logo.

The second page promotes the series 2 vehicles with the addition of the “NEW”  TIE Bomber. The TIE Bomber pictured is a dark grey prototype that was subsequently changed to white for final production, as were the images of the grey bomber on the box art.

The TIE Bomber is the only spacecraft in the line to have a picture of the actual toy on the main front card/box display while the others had either images direct from the movie or hand drawn artwork.

The third page in the 1980 Kenner dealer catalogue debuts the series 3 vehicles that included the Snow Speeder, Slave 1 and the Twin Pod Cloud Car. Kim Simmons' photography on the page is clear, sharp and even highlights the hand painted Snowspeeder guns with flaking paint.

Each ship is featured on a mock-up cardback, giving a glimpse of the early artwork and what might have been. The Snowspeeder and Slave 1 cardbacks are very close to the final product, whereas the Cloud Car was completely changed.

1981 trade catalogue

The 1981 catalog features a two page spread of previously used images to promote the second year and ultimately end of the Empire Strikes Back die cast line.

The major standout on these pages are the ESB branded cards that still advertised the Darth Vader TIE and Land Speeder as available on ESB cards; packaging that never made it to stores.

Toltoys

The 1980 Toltoys catalogue below was issued to toy dealers in Australia and New Zealand. The die cast pages feature the Series 1, 2 and 3 ships, and interestingly the images used for the Series 2 and 3 ships are all of protoypes. The Millennium Falcon, Y-Wing and Imperial Cruiser are the images featured on the back of the SW7 boxes - despite the toys having been in production for at least a year.The Series 3 ships were not yet on general release although the Snow Speeder is very close to the production toy. The 'Bi-Pod ship' represents the Twin Pod Cloud Car, and clearly both this and Slave 1 are at a very early stage in their design.

The text states that the Slave 1 has 'removable wings' and the Bi-Pod ship an 'opening canopy.' Neither of these features made it into production.

Palitoy

 The 1919-1979 Diamond Jubilee Palitoy trade catalogue celebrated 60 years of the Palitoy company.

The catalogue featured the series 1 and 2 die cast space ships, with Darth Vader's TIE Fighter and the larger space ships all labelled as "NEW".

The main points of interest are the continual confusion over which way up TIEs are meant to go and how to spell Millennium.

Trade prices for the die cast line feature in the Palitoy catalogue. At £1.39 for the Wave 1 ships they were almost twice the 68p fee for the carded 3 and 3/4" figures that featured in the same catalogue. The smaller ships came in boxes of 24, whilst the larger ships in boxes of 18.

1970s price stickers tell us that the Wave 1 ships retailed in stores from anywhere between £1.98 and £2.64 and the Wave 2 ships retailed for up to £3.80. Trade mark up can be seen to be between 40% and 90% for Wave 1 and over 100% for the Wave 2 ships in Taylor and McKenna stores!

Reproductions

Reproduction or 'repro' weapons and parts have been produced for the 3 and 3/4" and 12" ranges of Star Wars toys since the 1990s. At first they were seen as cheap and easy ways of completing vintage toys, but over the past 20 years have often been sold as the genuine article to unsuspecting collectors. There are many guides out there to help collectors identify genuine parts from reproduction parts, and in our view TIG's guide is the best http://www.imperialgunnery.com/identificationguide.htm 

Bombs for die cast Y-Wing fighters have been reproduced for several years but reproduction die cast parts are not common and still not something to be overly concerned by. Due to the unpopularity of the die cast line the repro parts that are available are made in small quantities, and as such are relativley expensive and can cost more than an original part.

Although still rare, these reproduction parts are being made in ever increasing quantities and for a wider range of ships, and the quality of those currently on the market makes them difficult to tell apart from the originals.

The guide below provides some useful tips to tell an original part from some resin repros that are currently on the market, and will help stop unsuspecting buyers picking up repro parts in error.

Land Speeder windscreen

The reproduction windscreen below is made from resin and is a good match for the vintage windscreen. The key differences are that the repro windscreen is of a slighter thinner construction and has more air bubbles in the plastic. Once put side by side the repro windscreen can also be seen to be slightly warped

Original Land speeder windscreen on the left and repro windscreen on the right

X-Wing Fighter cockpit glass

The reproduction X-Wing cockpit glass below is a very good match for the original the only clear difference being more air bubbles in the plastic, and not quite a perfect fit on the X-Wing.

Original cockpit glass on the left and reproduction part on the right

TIE Fighter seat and Darth Vader

The reproduction seat and Darth Vader for the TIE fighter below differs markedly from the original. On the original part Darth slides onto the white section and has a white arc over his head. The reproduction version is made in two parts with Darth and the arc above him both in black resin. The white plastic 'seat' on genuine versions is also more detailed than that of the reproduction. On genuine vintage parts Darth Vader is often loose in his seat.Original Darth Vader on the left and repro on the right - note the black arc of the 'seat' on the repro

Darth Vader TIE Fighter seat and Darth Vader

Like that for the TIE the reproduction seat and Darth Vader for the Darth Vader TIE fighter below differs markedly from the original. On the original part Darth slides onto the grey section and has a grey arc over his head. The reproduction version is made in two parts with Darth and the arc above him both in black resin. The grey plastic 'seat' on genuine versions is also more detailed than that of the reproduction, and the grey plastic is slightly lighter than the original.  On genuine vintage parts Darth Vader is often loose in his seat.Original Darth Vader and 'seat' on the left repro on the right - note the black arc of the 'seat' on the repro

Imperial Cruiser Blockade Runner

The repro Blockade Runner below is very difficult to to tell apart from the original part. Both have circular mould marks in identical places but the the original part has a mould line on the rear of the engines that is absent from the reproduction piece.

Original Blockade Runner on the left and repro on the right - note the mould line on the original

Y-Wing bomb

The reproduction Y-Wing bomb below is much shinier than the original and the detail is less sharp. Both the original and the reproduction have a part number stamped on one fin of the bomb, but the original '7' is much crisper than the '1' of the repro. The original and repro bomb both have circular mould makes in identical places.Original Y-Wing bomb on the left and repro on the right - note the crisper detail of the '7' than the '1'.

3D Printing

The rise in cheap 3D printing is also resulting in more reproduction parts, but as yet these still require a lot of hand finishing and should not be mistaken for original. Reproduction parts are here to stay and it is encouraging to see responsible sellers such as Shapeways https://prometheusrising.net/2014/01/07/prhi-blockade-runner/ mark these 3D printed Blockade Runners with a groove on the top fin.

The 3D printed reproductions are more flexible than the originals and not as finely detailed. Like the resin reproduction the mould line is absent from the rear of the engines.

Display bins and headers

 

Like today stores in the 1970s used colourful displays to sell their toys. Kenner used a wide range of toy bins, headers and signs for the vintage Star Wars line. The carded die cast vehicles could be found in simple cardboard bins with a header attached to the back. The 'die cast metal and high impact plastic' toys feature prominently on an oversized starburst.

Image of bin and header copyright Gus Lopez/Star Wars Collectors Archive

With 'Collectors' edition' displayed prominently, these headers reinforce the idea that the die cast line was intended as a collectable range of toys. This limited appeal was the likely reason for the short-lived availability of the line.

Two headers were released for the Series 1 vehicles with the first issue featuring movie images of the Land speeder, X-Wing Fighter and TIE Fighter. A second issue header was distributed to stores with the release of the Darth Vader TIE. This change resulted in a Darth Vader TIE joining in the attack on the X-Wing, as well as the removal of Kenner's LP (long play) logo. The font colour of 'Collectors' edition' and 'authentic styling with movable parts' changed from yellow to white on this second issue header.

First issue header

Second issue header featuring the Darth Vader TIE Fighter

The first issue bin formed a box with an inserted tray for the carded ships.

The bin was simplified for the second issue as can be seen in this image from the 1979 trade Kenner catalogue, but as yet there is scant evidence for the bin appearing in stores.Image courtesy of Justin Lea

The first issue die cast bin can be seen top right in this image from a Kenner catalogue sent to retailers. The page details various Star Wars displays that could be used in-store. Image courtesy of Justin Lea.

Kim Simmons publicity photos show an apparently unreleased Empire Strikes Back bin. One photo shows examples of the Series 1 ships on Empire Strikes Back cardbacks including the Land Speeder and Darth Vader TIE. Is this a clue that the Land Speeder was released on the SW21 and ESB31 cardbacks, or more likely is this an image of unreleased samples?

Image reproduced with permission of Kim Simmons

This image hosted by plaidstallions.com shows the 2nd issue header with the 1st issue bin - the 2nd issue bin appears to be very rare.

The full range of die cast Star Wars toys were not necessarily available in all stores as this limited display demonstrates - but the action figures still get a display bin!

Of course most carded vintage Star Wars was found on pegs with less defined displays. There is a mix of Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back die cast on shelves below this 'Collect all 41 Action Figures' hanger. Star Wars Land Speeders and Darth Vader TIEs can be seen alongside the Empire Strikes Back X-Wings and TIE Fighters - it seems unlikely that the ESB Land Speeder in Kim's image made it to stores.

The general scarcity of Series 1 and 2 ships on Empire packaging is reflected in the store display below, with die cast Star Wars packaging seen alongside Empire Strikes Back action figures.

No Palitoy display bins were produced for the die cast range but Kenner bins may have been used in the UK. This small Palitoy display is typical of that seen in local toy shops across Britain. Here Star Wars die cast and the first 20 action figures share shelf space with the 30 back Empire Strikes Back releases.

Images of the Series 2 die cast ships in Empire Strikes Back packaging are hard to find - is that a shelf of TIE Bombers at the bottom of this image?

If the owners of the above images would like any images removed please let us know.

Colin Cantwell Concept Artist

This website and the ships we know and love so well would not be here without Colin Cantwell, the designer and model maker behind many of the iconic ships that we saw on screen and were subsequently so faithfully reproduced in die cast metal and high impact plastic.

Colin was the concept designer behind the X-Wing fighter, TIE Fighter, Imperial Cruiser and the Y-Wing Fighter. Colin also designed the Sky Hopper, Sand Crawler and the awe-inspiring Death Star, but unfortunately none of these were available in die cast in the vintage Star Wars toy line. Colin's other credits include 2001 A Space Odyssey and War Games.

George Lucas

Colin was introduced to George Lucas by his friend Hal Barwood, with George being instantly impressed by Colin’s kit bashed models (models made from parts of other model kits). Once 20th Century Fox had agreed funding for Star Wars, George knew where to go when he wanted concept sketches for the space ships.

Imperial Cruiser

George and Colin first discussed the idea behind the Star Destroyer/Imperial Cruiser. Colin says the idea was that

‘after the scroll, the ship was like one giant dart. It kept coming and it kept coming. It had a hatch on the bottom and things kept coming out of the hatch’ but this was only half way. Then the stern came up and it had the same exaggeration.’

‘This is what had to compound itself in the first half hour of the film. It had to be all so absurd and different and insanely joyous and perilous that the audience wouldn't leave’.

Colin established that the cruiser was ‘bigger than Burbank’ with the hatch concept designed to feature in movie scenes. Initially Colin described ‘something WWII-ish of a concept, with a gunner in the fuselage.’

The ship was designed so that the viewer could really experience the massiveness of the ship.

X-Wing Fighter

The X-Wing was the first Star Wars ship that Colin designed, an idea initially derived from watching darts being thrown in an English Pub.

‘The X-Wing had to be different from anything previous. So that also meant that it had to do things that were unique. It had to engage in combat in a completely different way than before. Plus it had to be in scenes from a friendly viewpoint, where people were saying their goodbyes while it was on the ground.’

‘I achieved this by having the wings flat while it was on the ground and then they would rotate to split into two pairs in an ‘X’ shape. Manoeuvring had to be very expressive so the ship was armed by bringing the wings into an ‘X’ shape. I soon realised that the ‘X’ shape had to be shallow enough so that it could operate near the ground and then also go to the extreme open ‘X’ shape so it could fire its weapons.’

‘The X wing concept was based on a WWII plane that was highly manoeuvrable. It had to be slender, which would accentuate the shape on the ground, looking like an aircraft crossed with a dragster. It would have to fly in formation and then also be able to do complicated expressive manoeuvres. The firing would be from the tips of the wings, which was important because the subliminal aspects had to be symbolic like a cowboy drawing its guns as in a gunfight outside of the saloon. It owes a lot to the cowboy.’

The X-Wing models were kit bashed from a roadster body for the fuselage, with the back designed like the wings of an aeroplane. The wings were made from a sheet of plastic. Colin used pill containers as engines on the X-Wings and some of the other ships; ‘the containers were good because from one direction it was capped and the other direction it was hollow.’

TIE Fighter

The TIE Fighter was the last ship that Colin designed, and it was made from cut plastic sheets.

‘I had characteristics of the TIE Fighter in my mind for quite a while. I created the other ships first to see how the TIE Fighter would fit in. It had to be essentially different from the good guys, it had to be deadly and as strange as the Death Star.’

To achieve this the TIE was kept out of the opening of the film, and an air of mystery was always maintained.

‘There were constraints regarding what it could or could not be seen doing. It was in the script that it could not be used in the same kind of shots as other ships. It had to emerge from its den fully formed and fully armed.’ It was never to be seen leaving its hanger or with pilots accessing it.

‘I did many days and hours alone, imagining how these various ships could populate an adventure, and yet drawing on things as primitive as a western gun fight. The whole thing had to have a non-verbal unity of powerful styles.’

Death Star

Colin also designed the Death Star and his brief from George established that the Death Star was to be a globe of small world size.

‘The Death Star model was about 14 inches across. I knew what I wanted to do, so I bought one half of a plastic hemisphere and scratched on the surface to try different features. I initially ordered the entire sphere, but the order for the two hemispheres took a long time to come.’

‘When the two pieces of styrene finally arrived, I realised that the edges had shrunk. When the two halves were connected, the shrinking equator would be visible when lit from the side. I realized that it would be an enormous amount of work to smooth out the equator when the two halves were connected together, if it could be done at all without showing a ridge during filming.’

‘So I called George and asked “How would you feel about having a trench in the middle of the equator? This way the good guys could dive into the trench while being shot at by the bad guys in some very dramatic scenes." George thought about it and a while later he called back and said, “Let's do it, Can you do the extra work?” So that is how the Death Star got its trench.’

Millennium Falcon

Colin also designed a lizard-shaped Millennium Falcon, a design that was subsequently scrapped as it was too close to another studio’s design.

‘suddenly we had to pull my model apart and discard the parts that looked like a lizard. Quite a bit of the story was established for several scenes with the Falcon, so some of the elements had to be put together in a different way. Parts that survived from my original design were the cockpit and the turrets with the guns.’

We asked Colin if he was aware of the 1970s die cast toys based on his designs.

‘Yes, I even purchased a few for fun. The original models were constructed from all sorts of odds and ends, so it was interesting to see them in a more coherent and structurally sound medium.’

You can find out more about Colin's other work at http://colincantwell.com/ and purchase signed copies of many of his iconic designs at http://cantwellstore.com/product/autographed-prints/

All images here are copyright Colin Cantwell.