Being someone who’s extremely fond of the Zeroid robot range by Ideal Toys, which appeared in 1968, it’s not surprising that I also have a soft spot for some of Ideal’s S.T.A.R. Team action figures.
The S.T.A.R. team, (the acronym stands for Space Travel and Reconnaissance) Space Adventure Gear originally came out in 1968 and continued until 1971. This range included a space helmet, space boots, utility belt, an ‘Astro Beacon’ , actually just a fancy flashlight and a ‘nebulizer’, which was a water pistol producing a fine mist. There was also a ‘remote gripper device ‘to pick up moon rocks, and an air pump fired Rocket toy which was hastily recalled as it was prone to injure any unprotected space child.
The S.T.A.R. Team action figure range, which is what I’m interested in came out a little later in 1977, more or less at the same time as a film called Star Wars was being shown in cinemas.
The S.T.A.R. Team action figures were, of course unashamedly Star Wars knock-off toys, and as they appeared prior to Kenner releasing the film’s official toys they had a bit of a head start.
The Knight of Darkness was the best seller, which was a recast in black of a Captain Action body. Captain Action first appeared in 1966, curiously enough as a rival to Hasbro’s G.I. Joe doll, or action figure as it was newly described - a clever idea, presumably coined so young lads wouldn’t feel like sisssies playing with dolls.
The Knight of Darkness was obviously a Darth Vader- like character, who rather than brandish a light sabre, carried a ray gun (actually, an accessory from the Captain Action Flash Gordon outfit)
The story goes that George Lucas sued Ideal, claiming that the toys were infringing copyright, but as the toys, and even the similar name were just rehashes of previous lines produced by Ideal , the case was dismissed.
The ZEM-21 was the C3PO lookalike. The name was taken from an earlier Zeroid spaceship accessory, the Zeroid Exploration Module XXI or Z.E.M. XX1.
The ZEM 21 figure’s body was adapted from a 1976 J.J. Armes body. The J.J. action figure was based on the real life actor and very successful private detective, Jay J. Armes who’d lost his hands through an accident at the age of eleven. However, during the following years Armes made exceptional use of the latest developments in prosthetic hands, adapting different ones depending on what was required. Although he had ‘normal’ five fingered versions, he also had powerful claws that could apparently slice through steel, but delicate enough to thread a needle. Apparently, he also had a .22 Magnum attached to his wrist. His fame as a successful detective and the ability to change his hands, coupled with the then current craze for the Six Million Dollar Man led Ideal to produce their J.J.Armes action figure complete with interchangeable ‘Bio-Kinetic ‘hands.
Two Zeroid Scout robots, resembling R2D2 were also part of the S.T.A.R. Team.
Zeroid Red was the pilot and gunner of the Star Hawk, the S.T.A.R. Team’s space craft. This was just the Zeroid Exploration Module toy from 1968, in a different colour and slightly altered to suit the less sophisticated new Zeroids.
The Star Hawk box art.
The Star Hawk toy with Zeriod Red at the helm.
Zeroid Blue was the engineer and mechanic. Both these toys were just headless versions of the original Zeroid Commander, Zogg which appeared in 1969.
The S.T.A.R. Team action figures featured in their own promotional 16 page Marvel comic, written by Archie Goodwin and drawn by Dave Cockrum. Set in the year 3000, it deals with the invaders from the Black Nebula led by the Knight of Darkness and his Shadow Warriors. The humanoid robot ZEM-21 and it’s two Zeroid Scout companions patrol the solar system in their spacecraft, ‘Star Hawk’ thwarting the evil Knight’s plans on conquest.
Exciting stuff and a nice little freebie.
A character not mentioned in the comic was late comer and last gasp for the S.T.A.R. team, Earthman Kent and his Cosmic Cruiser. The Cruiser was a rehash of Ideal’s Evel Knivel Canyon Sky Cycle from 1974. You couldn’t really include Kent as a Star Wars rip off as he’s just an insipid looking action figure in a red spacesuit ,who rides in outer space in an open ship that resembles a carnival ride. Kent arrived in 1978 shortly before the S.T.A.R. Team toys were finally discontinued.