Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Detour Included: A Look at the Duel at Death Star Racing Set

Ron writes:

As a toy collector and an appreciator of oddball items, I'm incapable of not loving the Duel at Death Star Racing Set. It's one of those items that many collectors are not super-familiar with, even the ones who've been around for a while. But as it's a major toy item from the early years of Star Wars merchandising, I thought it would make a good blog subject...because, darnit, you need to like all the stuff that I like.

The set was produced by the Fundimensions division of CPG, which also handled Model Products Corporation, or MPC, the maker of many a Star Wars model kit. All of these companies were part of the General Mills Fun Group. If that name sounds familiar it's probably because Kenner, the main Star Wars toy licensee, was also a member of that peculiar gang of fun-providers. Presumably, Fundimensions acquired the rights to market the models and the racing set through their association with Kenner. The latter company didn't have much experience with toys of that kind, so spinning them off to a sister company was a decision that made a good amount of sense. Interestingly, color-them-yourself poster sets, a product at which Kenner tried its hand early in its association with Star Wars, were later made exclusive to Craft Master, yet another company under the GMFG banner.

Thematically speaking, the DADSRS is pretty odd: It wants you believe that two cars racing around a plastic track can be made to simulate the Death Star dogfight from the end of the first movie. I'd say that's pretty optimistic, especially given the conspicuous absence of lasers, spaceships, and the Death Star. But, then, children aren't just small and full of chicken pox; they're also dumb. They bought Prune Face, didn't they?

This ad copy, from the wholesale catalog pictured above, breathlessly emphasizes the Star Warsiness of the product. My favorite part: "Who wins? Everybody does because there's enough thrilling action for the most demanding Star Wars fan."

As the copy states, the toy came with "special heighten the mood." You can see them in this shot, which features text describing them as "galaxy billboards."

Rest assured, the set does include "detour."

I love that cut-out of Luke's head. Has Mark Hamill ever looked more disapproving?

Perhaps that look of disapproval is owing to the vehicle the folks at Fundimensions provided him with. It may be the first "X-Wing" to feature no wings. But it's nothing compared to Darth Vader's Tie Fighter Car, which looks something like a hearse with elephant ears. Earlier I complained that the DADSRS had no Death Star. Now I realize it does. It's embedded in the grill of the Vader Hearse.

Ok, so it's a silly toy. But among collectors who are too anal and highfalutin' to open their toys, shouldn't silliness be taken as a virtue? I think so. Besides, the set's box boasts some of the most colorful and dynamic artwork of the vintage years. The shelf-talker pictured above is pretty sharp too. I love how it incorporates the Kenner Hildebrandt logo and hints at the sister company's iconic "double racetrack" packaging border. Hey, a racetrack used to sell a racetrack. Whoa.

Well, I hope I've persuaded you to seek out items related to this toy. If not, feel free to continue buying innumerable versions of the same figure and lining them up in neat rows. But if you decide to dip your toe in the DADSRS waters, know that to be considered truly hardcore you must obtain the scarce line-art version of the product, which was issued solely by catalog retailers. The example shown below still bears a stock sticker from JC Penney.


  1. Everybody who does not post a comment about this article is a fake Star Wars collector!

  2. I read, and loved it as usual. Completely new to me. I didn't comment because I was hoping to chat to Ron about it for our show but unfortunately I got swamped with work and family issues. No real excuse though, the vintage articles on here are awesome and we really appreciate them over here in the UK. Out of interest, what is the scale of this thing? How did it compare to other sets released back then?

    1. Hey Richard. The scale isn't compatible with the Kenner stuff at all. I would guess the track (full assembly, not end-to-end)is about four feet in length when lying on the ground. You can get a sense of the scale from the inset photo on the front of the color box.

  3. Just chiming in to say I am a real Star Wars collector.