Some of you may enjoy the Star Wars films but not follow all of the goings and happenings outside of the movies themselves. If you wanted to you could literally spend a lifetime just reading up on characters that were in the movies for exactly two frames worth of film. If you have watched the Star Wars movies several times and yet the name R5-D4 is still unfamiliar to you then congratulations; you have more of a life than I do.
Although R5-D4 was on screen for more than two frames, it wasn’t by much. His biggest contribution to the galactic civil war was that he had a bad motivator and broke down. On screen the droid is only referred to as “the red one”. Owen Lars (Uncle Owen to those uninitiated) attempts to purchase him to help with some typical droid tasks on his moisture farm from a group of shady Jawas. Fortunately for the galaxy he couldn’t even make it 20 feet before a panel on the top of his dome popped off and a bunch of smoke started billowing out.
And that’s it for R5-D4 for the rest of the trilogy. At this point you may be asking yourself why such a minor character had an action figure manufactured. Well, it may come as a surprise to you that he actually had far MORE screen time than several other characters that also received immortality in the form of imported Chinese plastic. Not only that, but R5-D4 didn’t have just one action figure. The 20 seconds of screen time the droid received warranted SEVERAL action figures in several different scales over the last 38 years in addition to stories, comic book appearances, and various other cameos in whatever media Star Wars can heap onto a willing public.
The version I’m writing about today was released in 1996 as part of Kenner’s reboot of the Star Wars toy line. The original vintage Star Wars action figure line ran out of steam and was discontinued in 1985. But in 1995 Kenner, now a subsidiary of Hasbro relaunched the toy line in conjunction with Lucasfilm’s re-release of the remastered THX versions of the films on VHS. Collectors and kids alike went ape shit over the availability of new Star Wars figures at retail. R5-D4 was apparently so integral to the Star Wars story that his action figure was among the first two dozen or so figures released. Yes that little droid with the plume of smoke rolled right off the screen and into our hearts.
The vintage R5-D4 didn’t do much aside from having a clicking head and an “electronics sticker” that you could peel off. This time around Kenner decided to take some creative liberties with our favorite little malfunctioning friend. For starters the droid has two guns mounted to his legs. I guess if you’re always breaking down it’s imperative that you are able to hold your ground. But far more obtrusive than that is the fact that the entire freaking figure splits in half to reveal a spring loaded missile! Maybe this was Kenner’s interpretation of the motivator? Instead of a little post that pops up out of his head a big freakin’ rocket causes him to split in half as it blasts skyward. He may only be able to move 20 feet before stalling but at least now he’ll put your eye out!
Unfortunately these creative liberties really hurt the playability of the toy. It’s oversized, the head doesn’t move, basically a kid is left with a statue that splits in half and shoots a spring loaded missile that will be lost within minutes of shooting it for the first time. You’re then left with a hunk of plastic that opens up to reveal nothing. That will impress your friends on the bus.
The sculpt and detail of the figure is really cool, but the whole break to reveal a rocket thing kind of blew it. It screws up the scale of the droid with the other figures and takes away from the basic ability to move it’s head and legs. As a kid, imagination was always more fun than pre-conceived notions of how a toy should be played with. Personally I always hated mechanical action features as they got in the way. It was more important for the arms and legs to be able to move freely. Since this thing lacks arms and is pretty much a statue in every other respect it gets a big fail.
In retrospect this figure was a sign of the times. Everything in the 90’s had to be bigger and louder and this figure is a representation of that mentality. You couldn’t just have a toy robot with a head that clicked as you turned it. You had to have guns mounted anywhere possible as well as rockets. At least it’s more faithful than some of the other figures that were released alongside of him. Luke “Pec’s of Granite” Skywalker and Darth “Hulk” Vader were also examples of the 90’s mentality but that’s a subject for another day.