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Oshkosh Public Museum Exhibit Displays Collection Of Original Kenner 'Star Wars' Toys

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Courtesy of Oshkosh Public Museum
This TIE Fighter toy from 1978 is one of many Kenner "Star Wars" toys in a new exhibit at the Oshkosh Public Museum.

It’s May the Fourth, which means fans of Star Wars across the world are celebrating their love for the franchise. When Star Wars hit the big screen for the first time in 1977, it became an instant classic. But there wouldn’t be any toys of Darth Vader, Luke, Han, Leia or Chewbacca for kids to play with until almost a year later.

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Courtesy of Oshkosh Public Museum
Jarrod Roll began collecting Kenner Star Wars toys after a friend showed him his Darth Vader figure a year after the original Star Wars movie was released.

Kenner Products produced hundreds of action figures, vehicles and playsets featured in Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi from 1978 to 1985. Today, these toys are as iconic as the movies themselves — and are some collector’s most prized possessions. But for those of us who don’t have a collection, or perhaps aren’t old enough to have even had them, the largest display of original Kenner toys in Wisconsin is called “The Nostalgia Awakens” and the exhibit is on display now at the Oshkosh Public Museum.

The collection comes from museum curator and Star Wars enthusiast Jarrod Roll. He grew up with Kenner toys, Chewbacca was the first character he got as a kid. But as an adult he found a catalogue of all Kenner Star Wars toys and decided he needed to fill out his childhood collection by buying the entire set.

“The thought came to me, ‘I need to find out what I still have and I need to get the rest.’ So that’s what really planted that seed,” he says.

Luckily for Roll, his mom had not gotten rid of his childhood toys and he still had many of his figures from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

Roll says what sets Kenner toys apart from other collectable toys at the time was the size. Kenner’s Star Wars toys were smaller than most toys at the time and that made them easier for kids to recreate scenes from the movies or create entire new scenarios.

“But they’re not so small that the figures lack personality. I mean they’re large enough that, this is Luke, and I can move his arms and his legs and extend his lightsaber, and so you could see the character in the toy itself and you could collect them all,” he says.

Roll didn’t have an entire set growing up, when he found the catalogue, he even discovered new figures that he didn’t know existed at the time. Since collecting the entire set, some of his favorites have come to include figures that were a mystery to him as a child, including the Tattooine Skiff — a ship from Return of the Jedi where Luke is almost thrown into the deadly Sarlac Pit by Jabba the Hut.

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Jarrod Roll
These toys, including the Tattooine Skiff (bottom left corner), are part of the Power of the Force collection — a set of toys released two years after Return of the Jedi and includes characters and ships from all three movies.

Now that his collection is on display, he says his favorite part is seeing people reconnect with toys from their childhood and reminisce about memories connected to the toys.

“Looking at the expression on their face when they move from one display case to another and all of a sudden their eyes get big and they get real low and they get right up next to that acrylic, and their looking in there and they say, ‘I had that,'” he says.

“The Nostalgia Awakens” is open at the Oshkosh Public Museum until June 20.

Audrey Nowakowski hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM in 2014.
From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.
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