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Kid Catastrophes: The Recycled Space Toys of the 1970s and 1980s

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There is nothing worse for a kid than getting a new toy only to find that it is, actually, an old toy.

Specifically, that your brand new treasure is one which appears to be from your new favorite outer space movie or TV series but is actually just a recycled old toy given a paint job and a few new details.

Alas, this happened to kids of the disco decade all the time, and into the eighties too.

It was a great age for toys in general, and for the science fiction genre on film and television too, but some toys still proved to be huge disappointments.

The recycling of old toys and slapping a new name on them is a procedure that every major toy company of the day used, apparently, and just about every popular franchise you can think of fell victim to it.

Although this post doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of all of them, here are a few of the more memorable recycled toys of the era.

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Space: 1999 (1975 – 1977)

The Gerry and Sylvia Anderson space TV series was filled with amazing sets and special effects, and yet Mattel — when it won the license to produce Space: 1999 toys — chose to recycle, at least a bit.  The Moon Base Alpha Control Room and Mission Launch Center is a big playset dominated by a “Starflash Computer,” which is advertised on the box.

But this large computer station (replete with chair), is actually not a design from the visually-distinctive TV series at all, but an import from Mattel’s 1969 Matt Mason toy line. It was sold originally with the Matt Mason Space Station play set.

There is no close approximation for this “Starflash” computer in Space: 1999, although I suppose the toy makers were hoping some kids might mistake it for one of Alpha’s Com-Posts. Of course, there wasn’t one present in Main Mission, the series’ “control room and mission launch center.”

MPC, model-maker, also got into the recycling business.  It took an old kit, the George Barris Moonscope, and re-released it as the Space: 1999 “Alien” kit, with series’ logos.

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Star Wars (1977)

Kenner’s Star Wars toy-line is notorious for the whole-sale and obvious recycling of play sets. The Droid Factory, for instance — an original and really cool playset – was re-released with only minor modifications as 1983’s Jabba the Hutt’s Dungeon from Return of the Jedi.  At least in this case, the recycled toy came with three new action figures: Klaatu, (no Barada), Nikto, and 8D8.

 

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Another Star Wars Toy, “Land of the Jawas” was recycled as “Ice Planet Hoth” for The Empire Strikes Back (1980).

The toys feature identical plastic landscapes, one molded in beige to represent desert world Tatooine, the other in white for the snows of Hoth.

Both playsets also have a cheap cardboard vehicle that attaches to the molded landscape, and which features an elevator.  One elevator goes to a Sandcrawler, the other an AT-AT.

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One of the weirdest Kenner recycling gambits involves its huge Ewoks Village Playset, from Return of the Jedi.  In 1991, it would re-appears as the Sherwood Forest landscape associated with the Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves toy line.

 

 

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Battlestar Galactica (1978 – 1979)

As a kid, I was thrilled when Mattel released large-scale Cylon Centurion and Colonial Warriors figures, and then, later, disappointed to see that the show-inaccurate figures were simple re-casts of another old figure: the Matt Mason action-figure Captain Laser.

 

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Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979 – 1981)

H-G Toys released a great knock-off playset toy called Alien Attack: Galactic War Playset in the immediate aftermath of Star Wars.  When the company won the Buck Rogers license, it re-cast the same playset, throwing in new plastic spaceship molds and immovable Buck Rogers-themed figures.  But everything else was the same.

And finally, it’s not outer space, for sure, but Mego also got into the act of recycling toy designs. Just look at the similarities, below, between Mego’s Batcave and Mego’s Planet of the Apes village.

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I grew up with these toys and love them all dearly for nostalgia’s sake, but it would have been really great, back in the day, to have a show-accurate Moonbase Alpha or Colonial Warrior…

  • Leslie

    JKM as always enjoy your posts (true ‘flashbaks’ for me), but I have a question. I know the evolution (?) of the Barris Moon Scope to the Space:1999 Alien car back to (a different version) of the Moon Scope, and though I never played with/collected them I can see, based on the pictures, connections between the other toys you posted, but I am lost about what was reused or reissued re: the Space !999 Control Room versus the Matt Mason Space Station sets. Had both and I would swear they were different set ups, chair molds, etc.. What am I (as usual) missing? Thanks.

    • John Kenneth Muir

      Leslie, thank you for the kind words, I appreciate them very much! It’s hard to make it out, but if you look at the right-most illustration on the Matt Mason space station photo in the article, the astronauts are gathered around a kind of standing cylindrical computer terminal. That terminal, is the “star flash” computer (which the Victor Bergman character is sitting at in the 1999 box) on the Space:1999 set.

      In the picture I have attached with this comment, the Matt Mason astronaut is hovering right over that computer. You can see the same terminal in the picture on the right, from the 1999 set. I hope that makes sense! 🙂

  • timdub70

    I remember Major Matt Mason. A moon vehicle that looked like a Jet Ski with tank treads came with him. My parents still have the little vehicle at their house but Major Matt lost his leg about 1974 and I think he ultimately got thrown out.

  • Liz Cooper

    Very interesting! I never noticed these similarities.

  • David Fullam

    Colonial Warrior always struck me as looking more like the main character from Gerry Anderson’s UFO.

  • Greg Price

    The modern GI Joe line is notorious for doing this sort of thing.