Star Wars fever is back thanks to the looming release of the next chapter in the film saga, and just as with its predecessors, the merchandising force is strong.
Since the first film came out in 1977, action figures have always taken up the bulk of most collectors’ inventory. But perhaps the most sought after Star Wars collectible is an action figure that was never released: Rocket-Firing Boba Fett.
RFBF, as he shall be known for the remainder of this article, was originally planned to be a special figure that would only be available via a mail-in order form. The action figure was first promoted in a 1978 Kenner catalog of Star Wars toys, months before the debut of the Boba Fett character in an animated segment of the rightfully maligned Star Wars Holiday Special.
Though the walking, talking incarnation of Boba Fett, the galaxy’s most notorious and mysterious bounty hunter, had not been introduced to Star Wars fans, the action figure was enticing on its own. A plastic rocket had been designed to pop out of the bounty hunter’s jetpack, an action feature that seemed extra special among Kenner’s otherwise stiffly articulated figures. The iconic armor and mysterious nature that would later make the character one of the most popular figures in the Star Wars canon didn’t hurt either.
Kenner designed prototypes of the figure so that Boba Fett’s signature jetpack was molded onto his body. Inside was a small spring which would fire the little red missile out the top when a little lever was pulled back. They experimented with two types of firing design, the first being an “L” shaped design where the lever could be pulled back and held in place by a small depression. This was upgraded to a safer, “J” shaped design that required the lever to be pulled down before being released, eliminating the chance of accidental firing.
Cartoon Boba Fett’s appearance in the 1978 holiday special sparked interest in the character, but his live-action appearance in The Empire Strikes Back was still over a year away. Nonetheless, the mail-order figure was firing up young minds. The offer that was promoted both in the catalog and later on in-store displays, was that the RFBF could be obtained before its wide release by sending in the proofs-of-purchase from the backs of any other Kenner Star Wars figure. The expiration date for the offer was advertised as May of 1979, but RFBF would reach a premature end far earlier than that.
Near the end of 1978 a disturbing trend had emerged involving missile-firing toys, as kids had begun to choke on the little projectiles. Specifically, Mattel’s Battlestar Galactica line (ironically, a franchise knocked off of Star Wars) was involved in a number of incidents in the last months of 1978 that resulted in children nearly choking to death when they fired the toy projectiles into their mouths. In the case of four-year-old Robert Jeffrey Warren in Georgia, the child actually died after one of the projectiles became lodged in his larynx.
While Mattel’s line took the brunt of the public outrage around the safety of projectile toys, Kenner was not blind to the writing on the wall. However, according to some online accounts, including that of the Star Wars Collectors Archive, it was not these tragedies that led to the demise of RFBF. Instead, it seems that Kenner had already decided internally that the rocket in Boba Fett’s backpack would be glued in place because the small piece of plastic involved in the “J” slot version of the firing mechanism was prone to breaking off, creating its own choking hazard. Avoiding the firestorm over dangerous projectile toys was just a bonus.
Regardless of Kenner’s reasoning, when the mail-away Boba Fett figure arrived on the doorsteps of all the little Star Wars fans, it was with a non-firing backpack, and not a little bit of disappointment. The figure that came in the mail had its pointy red missile stuck permanently in its jetpack, and was packaged with a little note that said, in effect, “Sorry ‘bout the rocket,” and offering to replace the figure with any other Star Wars figure if the recipient sent it back. No working versions of the RFBF were ever sent out to Jedi younglings.
So if the RFBF figure never got sent out, how did it become one of the most fabled Star Wars collectibles of all time?
Over the ensuing decades, the story of people receiving RFBF figures spread as people began to swear they were sent one when they were kids. While this seems to be completely untrue, versions of RFBF have made their way into the hands of a few lucky collectors. These prototype figures were unpainted, molded from the base gray plastic that the final figure would be made of. Both “L” and “J” versions of the discontinued test figures have surfaced, bolstering the myth of the figure and causing the price of the artifact to skyrocket. According to one report, they have sold for as much as $16,000.
The Star Wars Collectors Archive claims that there are only around two dozen or so of the figures floating around among collectors, although some collectors’ forum posts have claimed that they are much more common than that. RFBF is not the most valuable Star Wars toy ever (that honor probably goes to the rare vinyl-caped Jawa figure), but due to its near-mythical status, and the popularity of Boba Fett as a character, it remains one of the most popular and sought after toys on the market. Just look at the excitement on the faces of two collectors who encounter one in this clip from Travel Channel’s Toy Hunter:
RFBF became so popular that in 2010, Hasbro, the current holder of the Star Wars toy license, produced a vintage replica of what the original RFBF would have looked like. Even with this model available, the original RFBF will probably only become more sought after, and more popular as the new movies start another wave of Star Wars fever. May the Force and the collector’s market be with you, RFBF.