Unlike that other big “Star” franchise, Star Trek has never dominated the toy market.
Sometimes, we Trek fans claim that’s because we’re all about Big Ideas, instead. Let the other guys have laser swords and ray guns, right? We’ve got morally ambiguous applications of the Prime Directive and existential questions about the human condition for fun!
Didn’t Captain Kirk himself tell us (in “Shore Leave”), “The more complex the mind, the greater the need for the simplicity of play”?
Any look back at five decades of Star Trek will show that fans have always wanted Star Trek collectibles. And that’s good—one might even say “logical.”
Star Trek Prop Replica AMT Model Kits: All I Ask Is A Small Ship…
When toy enthusiasts think classic Trek, two brands beam immediately to mind.
The first is Aluminum Model Toys, or AMT for short. AMT got its license to produce Star Trek model kits in August 1966, the month before the series debuted. It was repayment for AMT’s help in building models and sets for the still-developing series. The studio model and full-scale interior and exterior of the shuttlecraft Galileo were among AMT’s first assignments. AMT also constructed the Klingon battle cruiser studio model.
In the late ’60s and ’70s, AMT sold model kits of the Galileo (at a 1:35 scale) and the Klingon craft (1:650), as well as the Romulan Bird-of-Prey (1:650), Space Station K-7 (1:7600—tribbles not included), and the Enterprise bridge (1:35), manned by proportionately scaled figures of Kirk, Spock, and Sulu (oh, my!).
But AMT’s bestselling Star Trek merchandise was the Enterprise herself—over a million kits, according to Matt Jeffries, who designed the ship and AMT’s version of it. The original 18-inch, 1:650 scale model, issued in 1966, came in a box: 25 molded plastic parts, a decal sheet, and a clear plastic stand. The saucer section’s top and bottom domes lit up, powered by two AA batteries (no, not dilithium).
AMT’s Enterprise model occasionally appeared onscreen. When “The Doomsday Machine” script called for the Enterprise’s badly damaged sister ship, the Constellation, a roughed-up AMT model won the role. Ditto the battle-damaged Excalibur in “The Ultimate Computer.”
AMT has changed names and hands many times, but its Trek model kits remain a universal constant. Serious modelers may not think of the finished products as “toys,” but these scaled miniatures bring hours of delight to fans who assemble and admire them (and maybe “fly” them around the room a little when no one’s looking).
Star Trek Figures: Leggo My Mego!
Mego Corporation is the other brand most linked with the original series.
For most of the ’70s, Mego ruled the Star Trek action figure market. Its 8-inch scale, articulated, fabric-and-vinyl clad figures reproduced characters from hot properties like Planet of the Apes, The Wizard of Oz, and both DC’s and Marvel’s superhero pantheons.
In 1974, Mego released figures of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, and an anonymous Klingon (who looks most like Koloth from “The Trouble with Tribbles”). Uhura followed later, bringing some welcome diversity to the line.
Mego also released two waves of Aliens. These figures don’t always look much like the baddies onscreen. One, the water-dwelling Neptunian, never showed up in the series at all! But some now rank as Holy Grails. If you have the admirably authentic Andorian or the super-scarce Romulan (especially with helmet), the Great Bird of the Galaxy has smiled on you, indeed.
Mego produced a Gamma VI playset for its action figures to explore, as well as an Enterprise bridge with “working” transporter chamber (as seen on one episode of The Big Bang Theory). Never underestimate the power of a plastic tumbler, psychedelic purple decals, and a kid’s imagination! (A few years back, Diamond Select brought out a reproduction of the Mego bridge playset, so you can experience the fun for yourself.)
Trek proved very successful for Mego—so much so that, in 1976, it was offered the license for another, new outer space action-adventure property called Star Wars.
Mego passed. Cue Figrin D’an on the sad trombones.
As we’ll see in Part 2, Mego hung in there long enough to produce 12-inch and 3-3/4-inch figures for Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), but the company filed for bankruptcy in 1982. The franchise’s fortunes were on the rise, but Mego’s trek was done.
What are your favorite memories of playing with vintage Star Trek toys? Let us know in the comments section below!