Christmas 1980 was all about toys, and none was as beloved as my Empire Strikes Back Tauntaun.
Rudolph, Frosty, and Charlie Brown could extoll the virtues of kindness, compassion, and all that crap until their faces turned blue, but we kids knew the real deal. Christmas was all about toys! Sweet, glorious, wonderful toys. And what a year in toys 1980 was!
Christmastime was when you’d plop in front of a copy of Sears or JCPenney’s holiday wishbook, flip that monstrosity to the back, and get lost in page after page of toys. More toys than you new existed. Toys propped in intricate poses that sparked the imagination. I would entrench myself at the foot of my dad’s seat as he watched the evening news, reading aloud from the catalog and making subtle hints in the only way an 8-year old could, and by that I mean not subtle in the least. It was the time for getting, and the getting was good.
The 1980s were the age of the great toy riots. In those days, one couldn’t simply go online, click a few buttons, and wait to complain about Amazon stashed your shipment in your bushes. If a toy was THE hot item of the day, only a handful of stores in town were going to have it in stock, you were gonna have to go out get your hands dirty. And elbows. And knees. Spike the eggnog and fill-up on liquid courage, cuz THERE WILL BE BLOOD!
Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back made 3.75″ figures and their accompanying vehicles the new standard for all toys for boys. Now my mom couldn’t tell Han Solo from Darth Vader, but to this day she sure knows what a tauntaun is! She dared entered such a fray at JCPenney, triumphed over the unwashed hordes, and got one for me to unwrap underneath the Christmas tree.
The funny thing is that I got a lot of Empire Strikes Back-related stuff that year, and while there’s no question that I asked for every figure, vehicle, and playset available at the time—somewhat to hedge my bets, mostly out of sheer greed—I don’t recall expressing any overt partiality towards the tauntaun, nor placing him on the top of any wishlist I may have “accidentally” left strewn about for my folks to see. Surely not in favor of the likes of Lando or the Snow Speeder, so what made mom so determined to track down that one item in particular, especially at the expense of having to brave the tauntaun-infused consumer maelstrom? Did she love me that much, or is it just a mother’s instincts that turns them savage ultra-determined whenever their child’s sustenance is threatened? Like a momma bear providing for her cubs, except in this case with miniature plasticine replicas of space horses instead of salmon.
Anyway, I got mine. See?
Well too bad, because my tauntaun’s been long gone! In those days toys were played with vigorously, and any toy of mine that managed to survive playtime was pulled from storage and decimated by my nephew’s active hands after he was born. But in his heyday, my tauntaun had a good run. Transporting Hoth Outfit Han Solo and Rebel Soldier about, becoming feral once I lost the saddle, slashing friend and foe with his claws and horns. Luke could have tamed him, but the young Jedi was lost! And I mean that both literally and in the course of my playtime narrative. Eventually Skywalker would turn up, having sunk deep inside the couch, but his absence left a heroic void that tipped the scales of the eternal struggle to the side of evil as Vader ran roughshod over all who stood before him. Only the combined might of Lando and Boba Fett could hope to challenge the Dark Lord of the Sith, but Hammerhead had turned traitor and C3PO and Artoo, in a display of robot unity or defiance, joined IG-88 and the Medical Droid to form their own army rather than subject themselves to the ruthless rule of Bossk, who had seized control of the Millennium Falcon away from Chewbacca. Oh what grand adventures I had in the basement! It was called imagination, and kids were better off for it.
Maybe I’ll buy a new tauntaun to stick on my bookshelf, to honor those youthful memories…
…or maybe not. Finely detailed with modern molding production means, that sucker is downright terrifying!