Funko’s New Star Wars Toy Is an Easter Egg Among Easter Eggs
Subscription boxes have become a huge market, delivering everything from beauty products to nerd merch right to customers’ doors like magic care packages. The contents of the boxes are often a secret, but subscribers to Funko’s Smuggler’s Bounty got an enigma-wrapped-in-a-mystery in this month’s package: a Pop! vinyl figure that’s an Easter-egg-esque reference to the early days of Star Wars toys.
The first two installments of the bi-monthly Smuggler’s Bounty yielded collectibles centered around Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ First Order and Resistance, but for the third edition Funko decided to go with a more classic setting from the franchise: the Mos Eisley Cantina. Speculation among collectors ran rampant in the lead-up to the March box—especially after the company revealed one figure would be Ben Kenobi holding his lightsaber, presumably posed to look as he did after cutting off Ponda Baba’s arm. But the other big item in the box turned out to be something few people expected: a vinyl figure based on the obscure character known as Snaggletooth. Though some fans were disappointed that it wasn’t an armless and blood-splattered Ponda Baba, that feeling was soon replaced by shock as the full, fascinating story behind the figure became apparent.
A Tale of Two Snaggletooths
Star Wars toys were in such high demand in 1977 that Kenner, at the time a small toy manufacturer with fewer resources than bigger companies like Hasbro and Mattel, didn’t have the infrastructure in place to produce the volume of figures necessary to keep up with the demand for toys from such a massive hit film. They famously somewhat invented toy pre-ordering with the Early Bird Certificate Package, which was a last-ditch effort to avoid customer dissatisfaction. But the next year, the 1978 Sears Wish Book (essentially the Christmas catalog) featured a new set of figures from Kenner called the Catina Adventure Set. The package contained alien characters from the Mos Eisley scene: Greedo, Hammerhead, Walrus Man (now better known as Ponda Baba), and Snaggletooth. But something was off about that last figure when compared to how the character looked in the film.
The new creature figures were based on black-and-white images of the Cantina scene aliens from Lucasfilm, and with only half of Snaggletooth’s costume visible and nothing to compare it to, Kenner created a regular 3.75-inch figure with tan skin, a blue suit, and large silver boots. That figure went out in the Sears play set, as well as in a two-pack paired with Greedo. But after the miscommunication over the character’s appearance became apparent, Kenner altered Snaggletooth to fit how the character looks in the film, creating a toy that was much shorter and had a red suit, no boots, and greenish-grey skin. The red version then became the one available to purchase as an individual figure and Blue Snaggletooth became scarce. It may not be the rarest or most valuable of the Kenner figures or of any Star Wars toy line, but the mix-up is one of the most well known among collectors, and illustrative of the clamor (and scrutiny) that would arise around Star Wars merchandise.
Crafting an Homage Surprise
Funko began conceptualizing the first six installments of its Smuggler’s Bounty box last summer, before the company had even announced it would be offering a Star Wars-themed product subscription. And it was during brainstorming sessions for the Mos Eisley-themed box that somebody—Funko’s director of marketing, Mark Robben, is pretty sure it was senior product designer Reis O’Brien—suggested Snaggletooth. “I think I jumped up and down yelling, ‘We have to make a tall blue one!’” O’Brien says.
“Not everyone in the room was familiar with the story,” says Robben, “so Ben [Butcher, Funko’s head of creative] and Reis explained that there was this original figure put out when they had the wrong reference art, and Kenner had to go back and put out a new one.” Once everyone knew the story, it was a surprisingly easy approval process, from Funko CEO Brian Mariotti to the company’s contact at Lucasfilm. Everyone was on board with designing a product that not only had never been produced for Funko’s Star Wars line, but that also directly referenced the history of Kenner figures.
Funko often produces variants of its Pop! figures for different stores like Hot Topic or Target. Other times the company makes them as “Chase” pieces—rarities named for what Funko fans will do in order to hunt them down. (For example, in the first Smuggler’s Bounty box, which featured a First Order TIE fighter pilot, one in every five boxes had a pilot painted with red stripes to signify a Special Forces figure.) According to Robben, the red and blue Snaggletooth story offered “the perfect [Chase] because it harkens back to the original Kenner figure that has taken on this mythological status.” And, as with the Chase for the Special Forces pilot figures, one in five Smuggler’s Bounty box subscribers will get a Blue Snaggletooth.
But for Snaggletooth, Funko didn’t want to simply alter the paint job and call it a day. “If we tried to make one Snaggletooth body and painted one of them blue, that’s cheap,” says O’Brien. “That’s not what the figure was. It was taller and wearing a totally different costume. Red Snaggletooth was shorter with furry monster feet.” In order to accurately reflect the difference in sculpting and scale between the two versions of the Kenner figure, they designed two entirely different figures: a squat, gray-skinned, hairy-footed Red Snaggletooth, and a taller Blue Snaggletooth, complete with the original features like silver boots and different skin color. “There’s a certain percentage of fans who get it, and they wouldn’t have that ‘whoa’ factor if we had just done a repaint,” O’Brien says.
Back when Kenner was making its Star Wars figures, there was no real way for fans and collectors to verify that Blue Snaggletooth was an official error other than through word-of-mouth. Now that the Smuggler’s Bounty boxes are landing on subscribers’ doorsteps, recipients are discovering the variant figures in much the same way as those classic collectors. To some younger fans who may not understand the reference, it’s confusing. But to those who know the story, it’s an impressive homage to the Kenner legacy, and it shows an attention to detail that hopefully inspires fans to uncover the whole history.
For aficionados of the Kenner figures who—rightly—had no idea a new callback to their legacy was coming in a somewhat obscure subscription box, there’s still hope: Ordering the May installment of Funko’s package of treats comes with it the option to add on past boxes and possibly obtain a coveted Blue Snaggletooth. Those smugglers won’t get their bounty first—but it’s worth a shot.
Read this article: