October 27, 2014 – Kenner’s Imperial Troop Transporter is one of those easily recognizable vehicles, but 35 years after its appearance on store shelves in 1979, this vintage vehicle still trips up a lot of collectors for all sorts of reasons and plays tricks with our memories.
First, the name: The repulsor-lift vehicle is an IMPERIAL (not Rebel) transporter. We remember seeing images of the rebel version whizzing around in the background, such as this shot in Echo Base in The Empire Strikes Back (1980): But notice that in none of the six Star Wars movies have we ever seen an Imperial Troop Transporter. The reason is simple: Kenner created the vehicle from scratch and included an illustrated pamphlet, which provided a backstory explaining how some Stormtroopers used the vehicle to search in vain for R2-D2 and C-3PO and then eventually found and destroyed a Sandcrawler full of Jawas.
The Imperial Troop Transporter thus carries the distinction of being the first “off-screen” vehicle to be marketed by Kenner (now Hasbro). Its existence is implied, but it is never actually seen, in any movie. And yet Kenner rightfully gambled that if they produced this never-before-seen vehicle, the public would eagerly buy it.
Now take a look at this early concept model, which looks a lot sleeker than the final product: For reasons probably now lost to history, the transporter lost the aerodynamic sloped front as well as the large tail section (an engine borrowed from an X-Wing fighter). While the six troop compartments were retained, the final version was a boxier front riding on three plain wheels – in lieu of the bouncy suspension-type wheel system used in the landspeeder toy vehicle.
Besides its ability to carry up to nine or ten action figures, the vehicle became a fan favorite for another reason: It has six buttons which activate a tiny plastic disc, like a mini-record player, and each button produces a different sound: The first two phrases are among the most memorable (“R2-D2, where are you?” and “There’s one! Set for stun!”); the other four sounds consist of sound effects, such as R2-D2 beeping, a laser cannon, stun gun, and engine movement, all powered by a single “C” battery. As these are analog and not digital sounds, it can be a challenge for the collector to find a vehicle with the sound effects in working order. 12back.com has a good description of other vehicle details.
The MSRP in 1979 was just under $15.00. Today, you can obtain a good working version, including the box and inserts, for about $70.00 and up. The vehicle alone will cost about half that amount or less.
In 1981, Sears released a modified version called the Imperial Cruiser. The electronics (i.e., sound sytem) were removed, thus creating a larger cargo hold, and some design details were changed.
Quotation marks were put around the word “returning” in the title to this article, and for a very good reason: Disney/Lucasfilm has announced that the Imperial Troop Transporter is “returning” to the screen in a future episode of Star Wars Rebels, the animated series. Truth be told, this will be the first appearance ever for the Transporter in a movie or animated series. But after playing with this vehicle for 35 years and counting, the return of this iconic vehicle will feel like a special homecoming to most all fans.