Space exploration was really big in the 1960’s during the great space race. Science fiction was huge during this time, but by 1969 once man landed on the moon, interest began to wane. Lots of space programs were canceled, toys which had once been hot properties were destroyed and space was no longer of much interest to most people. Fast forward a little less than a decade to 1977 and space science fiction was hot again. Star Trek had become so popular in reruns that Paramount was planning to re-launch the show and make it the flagship of a network and Star Wars was bursting onto the big screen changing the landscape of the genre and much more.
Which led small toy company Ideal, to dust off some of their old 1960’s space toys and rebrand them all under one big generic umbrella. S.T.A.R. Team was just that, using a NASA-like logo and a variety of repuprosed old toys like Zeroids to serve as a catch-all to the popular trends of the day and draw in new fans who liked space and sci-fi again. Their most interesting creation however, was a reworked Captain Action figure, who became the chief villain of the toy line and was named Knight of Darkness!
S.T.A.R. Team had a variety of toys, which were mostly old space exploration roleplay toys reworked to be slightly more sci-fi. However the S.T.A.R. Team action figure line was much more creative in it’s scope. In addition to the Knight of Darkness, there was Zem-21, who was sort of like C-3P0 and the re-released Zeroids who were a bit like R2-D2. There was also a goofy guy named Kent, who showed up at the tail end of the line.
The real star of the line to me is the Knight of Darkness. He is definitely inspired by Darth Vader, but has a more phallic design that likens him a bit closer to Darth Helmet. While his design is definitely different, it’s not hard to imagine many parents being confused by this character and giving them to a youngster thinking this was the Sith lord. Kenner was barely cranking official Star Wars toys out at this point and those early Kenner Vader dolls didn’t exactly look like on screen replicas either.
Over time the Knight of Darkness has gotten a bad reputation by collectors and fans alike as just a poor ripoff of Darth Vader. Personally I think he has a lot of charm. Vader himself is nothing more than a mishmash of previous villain ideas all rolled into one. So why is the Knight of Darkness so bad?
This guy can usually be found loose on Ebay for about $20, but rarely complete. He came with a Captain Action Flash Gordon gun and Captain Action boots. These items have usually been lost or taken from him. No matter, I found an old pair of boots and an even cooler space ray gun for mine. If you’re looking for one MIB, you can expect to pay over $100 and have to search a lot more.
His chest typically has some deterioration as the silver has a tendecy to fall off with age. Beyond that, these guys hold up quite well. Since this is using a black version of the Captain Action body frame, it’s actually much more poseable than any actual Star Wars figure of the era.
According to the official Marvel Comics promotional book that came out featuring this character, the Knight of Darkness is an evil overlord of the Shadow Warriors. They have come from the Black Nebula to take over Earth. Pretty simple stuff, but classic and fun nonetheless.
The S.T.A.R. Team line only lasted a little over a year and despite Ideal’s best efforts, wasn’t enough to make the company a player in the toy business again. Ideal would be sold in 1982 to CBS Toys and eventually to Tyco, who would then be sold to Mattel. Interestingly the rights to the Zeroids along with Captain Action are now owned by a new company which is once again bringing Captain Action to the market… Could the Knight of Darkness follow suit?
Speaking of suits, George Lucas actually tried to file a lawsuit against Ideal over the S.T.A.R. Team and the Knight of Darkness in particular. However the case was almost instantly thrown out because 95% of the toyline was simply repurposed old toys. The Knight of Darkness defeated George Lucas… If that doesn’t make him a badass, what could?! I love the knock-offs with charm and the Knight of Darkness is that, plus much more.