I can tell that my son is impatient to start off. We’re at the end of a paved recreation path not far from my house, and we’re waiting for a mother and son to turn around with their pair of dogs. Bram is sitting in the driver’s seat of Radio Flyer’s kid-sized replica of Luke Skywalker’s X-34 Landspeeder, an X-Wing helmet perched on his head, and we want to make sure we don’t spook the animals. The ride-on toy has become a favorite of Bram’s ever since I brought it home, but it’s the first time we’ve had a chance to try it out on pavement. The mother and son disappear with their two dogs around the corner, and I tell my son, “okay, go.” He stomps on the accelerator pedal and he shoots off down the path.
Last summer, Radio Flyer unveiled the toy at San Diego Comic Con, accompanied by a slick video featuring a pair of adorable child actors pretending that they were driving around the deserts of Tatooine. I later caught site of a live demonstration on the crowded sidewalks outside the convention center. It was cool to see in action but a product demonstration isn’t the same as having one in your garage.
Radio Flyer’s toy is loaded with detail — something that many toys have benefited from in recent years. The cowling for the left-hand turbine is missing, just like Luke’s, and there’s a bit of damage on the nose. It’s certainly not the exact replica you’d find at a collector’s house, but as I noted to a co-worker later that day, it’s the sort of thing that I would have killed for as a kid: a realistic piece of the Star Wars universe that would have transported me to a galaxy far far away.
And I might have brought one home last year for my kid, save for its exorbitant price tag: $500. That’s a lot for a toy that’ll be outgrown in a couple of years, despite every part of me wanting to watch Bram ride around in it.
But the winds shifted this spring. Toys R Us, the exclusive outlet for the speeder, announced that it was shutting down all of its 800 US stores, and that it would liquidate its assets — including the Landspeeder. From the time of the announcement to the end of May, the toy’s price dropped from the prohibitive $500 to a far more reasonable $250. Friends of mine in the Star Wars community began reporting in that some stores still had dozens of them in stock, and after another couple of weeks, that price fell again and again, until it reached the stupidly low price of $99. At that price point, it wasn’t hard to rationalize picking one up. I made the trek out to the local store and snagged one, jokingly texting my wife that I’d made a “terrible mistake.”
Sadly, Toys R Us wound down its operations last month, and Radio Flyer has quietly begun selling the speeder at a much reduced price of $249. It’s not quite the same bargain-based price I and others snapped them up at, but it’s definitely worth picking up if you happen to have a child who’s obsessed with Star Wars.
After watching it it put to use, it’s clear that this toy was worth every penny. The engines make a great whine that’s reminiscent of the one in A New Hope, and it moves. The lower speed and reverse settings will send it forward at 2 miles per hour, but at top speed, it’ll run at 5 miles per hour (there is a physical governor that you can screw into place to limit the speed to the lower setting), fast enough to prompt an inattentive bystander to jump out of the way, or to run to catch up before their diminutive driver vanishes out of sight. A series of buttons on the console light up and play a variety of sound effects and dialogue from the movie, only adding to the realism.
From a practical parenting standpoint, the speeder does have some drawbacks. For one, it’s bulky after you assemble it, which means that you’re going to need to set aside a decent amount of space when it’s not in use. Ours has ended up in our garage, where it’ll spend the night charging after its 12 volt battery depletes itself after around 40 or so minutes of use — less if it’s been carrying two tiny passengers. On top of that, it’s an ungainly shape: the decorative side turbines tend to get caught on chairs, the corners of buildings, and the legs of inattentive parents.
But battery life and storage and charging just don’t matter when you’re a 5-year-old. Those are the concerns of The Big People, not someone who’s about to go off exploring other planets, and this is why I think this sort of toy is worth it: it’s an outlet for imaginative play.
The same is true for the helmet that he’s been wearing along with the speeder: a black series Poe Dameron helmet from Hasbro that I picked up last winter during an after-Christmas sale. Like the speeder, it has an incredible amount of detail — far more than something you would have found on store shelves just 10 years ago. Toy and costume makers have noted that customers are increasingly looking for more sophisticated products, ones that help to enrich the play experience for children. Why imagine that your standard red wagon is a Landspeeder on Tatooine when there’s a replica on the market?
Our ride out and back on the recreation path proves to be quite a bit more fun than going in circles in our back yard. More than once, I hear a maniacal giggle as he speeds away down the path, taunting me to keep up. As much fun as he’s having driving it, I’m having just as much watching him enjoy every second of it. Now, if only they made an adult-sized version.
Photography by Andrew Liptak / The Verge
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