I thought it would be fun today to talk about a Star Trek action figure line that nobody really ever does, from 1984 let’s explore the ERTL toys Star Trek 3 line and I’ve even got prototype shots! More about this fun (and very affordable) line after the jump!
So after the merchandising disaster of the Motion Picture, the Star Trek property was kind of radioactive to toy makers. The sequel “Wrath of Khan” didn’t see much merchandise save for some Dinky die-cast ships.
However, “Khan” was a hit and AMT/ERTL was selling lots of Star Trek related model kits and branching out into action figures, so they gave the next movie “The Search for Spock” a go.
This is ERTL’s press photo to the toy trade, it’s kind of telling that they are just repainted Mego Star Trek the Motion Picture figures (not sure who Kruge is based on but i’m guessing possibly a Kenner Star Wars figure). There is a catalog shot which shows later prototypes with a Lassie like dog as a stand in for Kruge’s pet.
ERTL went all out with these and created O-Ring type figures popularized by Mego and Hasbro. These were actually well made but you occasionally saw them in stores having broken in the package.
The nicely made figures suffered only in two regards, the accessories were too big (Seriously is that an ipad or a communicator with Kirk?) and the movie uniforms gave the figures a slightly generic look. A far cry from the explosion of colour the TV uniforms were.
Also, Spock is NEVER in uniform in this movie! I just realized that.
Scotty is another odd choice for the film as Dr. McCoy had a much larger part in the film.
So, even though Star Trek 3 was a hit that summer, these figures were not.
They languished on store shelves for years and were sold on clearance. I started collecting vintage SF toys in the summer of 1985, these were easily found for under a dollar and even though they were modern, they gave me a Mego vibe so i snapped them up.
So why did they bomb?
There are a number of factors as to why these didn’t succeed. The first being that Star Trek was still a risky property after the Motion Picture fiasco.
ERTL was also a manufacturer primarily known for die-cast toys and models, so they didn’t get the presence on the action figure aisle like many competitors (I remember them mainly from grocery store cereal aisles). They used the same channels that they used to sell diecast cars, models and tractors.
Edited to add: Since this article dropped i’ve gotten feedback that collectors only saw these at places like Farm Supply stores, hobby shops and Truck stops, not exactly the places you traditionally buy action figures.
And lastly, 1984 was a super crowded year for action figures, you had returning winners like Masters of the Universe, Star Wars and GI Joe along with new choices like Power Lords, Super Powers, Lords of Light, Secret Wars, Man Tech, Go-Bots and Transformers. Star Trek merely was lost in the shuffle with all those brands vying for a kid’s pocket money.
It truly was the last time the original cast would be marketed to children. Galoob would try (and fail) with the cast of the Next Generation in 1988 but every time after this line that you’d see Kirk or Spock, the words “Limited Edition” would be stamped somewhere. Star Trek became about the adult collector.
What’s great about this is, they’re well made toys that can be had for a song. I paid $99 for this set and I got the whole collection done in a shoe box, yay me!
As a kid who actually played Star Trek in my back yard, this line will always have a place in my heart.