Everybody involved in Star Wars collecting has heard of the Rocket Firing Fett. Long term dealers and collectors frequently hear stories from people who swear that they had one as a kid and there are many incorrect theories as to why they were cancelled and replaced with the standard fixed missile version.
Recently, a new discovery came to light which helped shed some information on the Rocket Firing Fett but to truly understand it we need a little history of this famous toy.
There are some excellent resources on the Internet which detail the conception of Boba Fett from a ‘Super Stormtrooper’ to the Bounty Hunter we know today, but our story starts in August 1978 with the production of the Jan / Feb 1979 Kenner Star Wars toy catalogue.
Contained in this catalogue was a full page advert detailing a ‘new evil villain’ Boba Fett which would be available as a free mailaway. Mailaways were a popular promotional tool whereby children would cut out either proof of purchase symbols or name plates from carded figures to send in to Kenner / Palitoy to receive Star Wars figures in plain white mailer boxes 6 – 8 weeks later. It’s important to note that the catalogue clearly states that Boba Fett will not be available in stores until after the promotion expired and that two missiles would be shipped with the figures.
Work began on advertising Boba Fett to children through adapting the Star Wars 20 back cardbacks released in early 1979. The third iteration of the cardback, designated 20c, features a starburst shape advertising the free Boba Fett on the front of the card with information on how to receive the figure on the reverse. The initial promotion, although extended several times, was designed to run until 31/5/1979. However, from the fourth iteration of the 20 back onwards the firing mechanism element of Boba Fett had been covered over, the figure had been adapted and a new Kenner catalogue featuring a non-firing Fett was released mid February 1980.
So, what had happened between August 1978 and February 1979? Kenner would have undoubtedly been aware of the public unrest with toys that fire missiles, Mattel’s Battlestar Galactica line featured firing missile toys that led to tragic consequences and product recalls. However, Kenner had already decided to scrap the Rocket Firing Fett before this time period due to Quality Control refusing to sign off on the product. Orders came from management that the prototype Rocket Firing Fetts were to be destroyed and they were broken into pieces before being discarded. A quick analysis of the toy highlights the problems that Kenner faced.
To date there are believed to be around 80 L slot Fetts. The vast majority of these are unpainted but there are some examples of hand painted Fetts out there. The problem with this model is fairly obvious. When the tab is its ‘resting’ position there is no mechanism to stop the rocket from firing if accidentally moved. This led to an improved design.
To date there are believed to be 19 J slot Fetts in existence. A small tab was added to the slot which was designed to prevent the accidental discharge of the rocket. However, this led to a new problem as the plastic tab was very brittle. Many of the J slot Fetts have snapped tabs which leaves a sharp edge. Not only is this dangerous to little fingers, it was also possible that the plastic could work its way into the firing mechanism and potentially be a flying hazard.
The Rocket Firing Fett did not make it passed this stage. No Rocket Firing Fetts were sent in mailaways or sent to retail as carded figures. There is an example of a carded Rocket Firing Fett but this is a salesman’s mock-up example which was taken to a toy fair. The Rocket Firing mechanism had already been scrapped by this point and stickers were being applied to the 20c cardbacks which had not went to stores. For children who had collected their proofs of purchase and wanting to claim their free Fett, they received the standard Fett together with an apology notice from Kenner explaining the reasons for the change.
And until recently, that was the end of the story. Last year, in Cincinnati vintage Star Wars Collectors Darrell Johnson and Brendi Burton purchased a Rocket Firing Fett from a former Kenner QC employee. Imagine their surprise when not only did it come with both missiles (see above) but it also came with the plastic bag and mailer box!
This find is truly historic as it shows the last known stage before the adaption and how Kenner intended the product to be shipped.
So, did any actually make it passed this stage? The answer is no. Kenner employees have informed us that there were still many stages after this before a product would be sent out. The mailer box and baggie above are both prototypes and no products were ever despatched from this factory outlet. We are very thankful that 100 or so prototype Fetts exist and that not all employees follow company orders.
Photos © Chris Fawcett, Chris Georgoulias, Darrell Johnson, Brendi Burton