I’ve Seen the Action Figure and He Is Us: Blue Snaggletooth
Officially, he doesn’t exist. He has no past, no story — he’d be prime black-ops material if he wasn’t part of the most visible cultural phenomena of the past two centuries. And, then again, he isn’t really visible at all. They say he’s a mistake.
Who is Blue Snaggletooth?
Ever see Star Wars? Yeah, well, he’s not in it. But he’s of it. He’s an action figure — a totem, an idol, a symbol — without a referent. In the world of Star Wars, let alone the world at large, there was never meant to be Blue Snaggletooth. He isn’t in the movie, he’s not “canon” and he was pulled from the market as soon as the mistake of his existence was realized. He does not belong.
One of his problems is that he’s just not cool. I mean not in the way that Boba Fett, say, has always been cool. Fett can credibly affect the same sangfroid as The Man With No Name (apparently Clint Eastwood’s eponymous character was a model), but Blue Snaggletooth? He’s got the face of a pig and poor orthodontia to boot.
At most, he can be a symbol. Or at least, I’m trying to pretend he’s one — he’s my symbol for Generation X alienation, and by extension, my gig as a professional observer-qua-outsider. Maybe my interest in this particular action figure has led to an over-identification. Perhaps I am become Blue Snaggletooth.
The relationship between action figures and Gen X was strained since its inception. The notorious “empty box” campaign was the first great con perpetrated on our generation. (The second was also kind of Star Wars-related — at least in name — thanks to the spin doctors behind the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization.) The action figure promo was known officially as the “Early Bird Certificate Package,” which one online wag likened to a diner breakfast.
Kenner, the licensee for the toys, was caught off guard by the blockbuster that Star Wars proved to be and could not produce and ship action figures in time for the 1977 Christmas season. So, they hawked a “$10 piece of cardboard that promised you the first four action figures as soon as they were ready,” Chris Taylor observed in How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise. 18 years later a replica version of this original set was released. But it’s not the same. It doesn’t include an original Blue Snaggletooth.
Popular lore says the artist who sculpted the figurine only had a partial black and white photo for reference. How this person managed not see the most popular film in the world in 1977 is hard to fathom. Had they actually seen Star Wars, instead of a tall blue figure in silver boots, they would’ve created a small red creature with naked, clawed feet — Red Snaggletooth. He can be seen in the film squeaking his drink order, barely able to see over the bar.
All subsequent renderings of Snaggletooth, onward from 1979 we re “corrected,” which is to say made shorter, redder and sans footwear. His official name is Zutton. In 1995, a hired gun kept the Expanded Star Wars universe expanding with a backstory for Zutton anthologized in Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina. No matter how many times I thumbed through the book, I couldn’t find any mention of Zutton. Then I realized, what’s the point? Whatever I’d turn up wouldn’t be about Blue Snaggletooth anyway because, duh, he doesn’t exist.
Blue Snaggletooth wasn’t included in the original Early Bird promotion, instead he appeared as part of a promotion via Sears, which was then pushing the Creature Cantina set. One was on display — under glass! — in a Sears department store in Santa Rosa, California. The toy department was cannily located on the second story next to the women’s department, where moms, including mine, would shop the latest in 70s women’s wear. The toy department was like de facto child-care and it also meant that no kid left empty-handed, lest mom’s new loudly-printed, permanent press blouse become stained by greedy little tears.
I’m sure my mother had some reservations about purchasing the cantina for me. It is a bar, after all. A bar filled with unsavory characters. Children aren’t even allowed in bars, but in the 70s we could play with them. What tipped it in my favor was the fact that she was a fan, not of Star Wars per se, but of cultural phenomenon in general. I remember trying to comprehend the album art for “Destroyer” by Kiss, which was in our house simply because my mom thought it was, as Annie Hall would say, “neat.” Star Wars was also neat. And so was its bar. If Kiss toured outside our galaxy they would’ve drank there.
Recollections by Star Wars’ cast hold a dim view of the cantina scene. Located somewhere within the “wretched hive of scum and villainy” of Mos Eisely, the cantina was regarded as little more than kiddie costume party by those on set. In the first trilogy documentary, Empire of Dreams, Mark Hamill made the withering observation that the cast of budget characters looked more like they belonged in the Nutcracker Suite than an alien watering hole.
To Gen X, however, most of whom were far from double digits, the cantina was the most exotic scene we’d ever seen. The wolfman and NASA astronaut, notwithstanding, Mos Eisely’s local color had all the eye-grab of a carnival freakshow. Here’s a partial roster from memory: A hammer-headed creature that grunted, a devilish fiend with horns, a walrus-like fellow (whose action figure would suffer the ignominy of being called “Butt Face” by us kids), some sort of Yeti smoking what looks like a cigar, someone who looks like a watermelon wearing a gas mask, a pair of rubbernecking Cleopatras, an asshole with terrible rhinoplasty who’s proud of the death sentence he’s evaded on 12 systems, and a fey ectomorph puffing on a hookah who just can’t be bothered.
What a scene. It’s a cosmic Casablanca. Perhaps Hamill’s objections were merely an echo of Bogart’s: “I don’t mind a parasite. I object to a cut-rate one.”
Blue Snaggletooth Was Not in The Nutcracker Suite
Though the costume department hadn’t lived up to Hamill’s expectations, to a five-year-old it was an intergalactic model of “diversity” that would make the United Colors of Benetton look monochromatic. If it was the Nutcracker Suite, it was one staged in Studio 54, with the same promise of adventure, intoxicants and intergalactic sex.
I’d later see the spiritual echo of this scene when I first attended The Rocky Horror Picture Show and witnessed my first Transylvanians both onscreen and in the women’s bathroom where couple of Goth girls (before they were called such) dolled me up and led me to a mass display of public affection in a pantomimed swimming pool. Mind you, this was a good several years before the candy-scented travesties of Teen Spirit, so I was soon intoxicated by a bouquet of girl sweat, AquaNet and clove cigarettes. It’s left me permanently yearning for “creatures of the night.” And in those moments of writhing limbs and mock-makeouts, the innocence of my childhood died a little, going from womb to tomb to teenage tumescence in a galaxy much farther away than a Tatooine cantina. Sure, maybe that joint didn’t serve droids (racists!) but I’m sure it’s where my appetite for the recherché was whetted. And eight years later, there I was (and many more like me) in a junior high realm of the senses. In such a moment, who isn’t Blue Snaggletooth? Who isn’t dying to be played with?
It should be noted that while Blue Snaggletooth was being officially vanished by LucasFilm, Ltd., Red Snaggletooth went on to have thriving post-Star Wars career. He next appeared on the notorious Star Wars holiday special where he danced with Bea Arthur (who mysteriously had taken over bartending duties).
In 2012, Red Snaggletooth cameoed in a Volkswagen Super Bowl ad that revisited the cantina. Blue Snaggletooth wasn’t invited to either party. A Blue Snaggletooth action figure did cameo in ET: Extra-Terrestrial with his pal Greedo (an appearance probably scrubbed with the guns in Spielberg’s digitally-“enhanced” reissue) but otherwise he’s seen little if any action for an action figure. He is the “What ever happen to…?” trivia question that no one ever asks.
As a kid in single digits, the closest experience I ever had to the Cantina scene was during a birthday party of a childhood friend with Down’s Syndrome. My then single-digit memory recorded a menagerie of misshapen faces, missing fingers, bent, twisted and otherwise odd children. At that age, I had neither the experience nor politesse to make a more charitable observation. My younger brother and I were among the few “normal” children present. We lived in a track home subdivision. Our mother drove a Honda Civic hatchback (the “Anderson for President” sticker notwithstanding) and worked at a bank. Our dad did some kind of top secret government contracting.
As the older boy, it prevailed upon me, as it always did, to comport myself with a maturity beyond my years, a decorum as much cribbed from Wally in the Leave it to Beaver reruns I’d seen, as the Englishmen imported into our living room via PBS. I was expected to be an example to the others. In this context, I was the model boy and consequently, in this sea of relative weirdness, I was an outsider. I was the Blue Snaggletooth.
Adding to the surreality of the birthday party was a magician — precisely the sort of schticky tuxedo-clad trainwreck that would gig at child’s birthday party. I sensed that he too was somewhat overwhelmed with the spectacle of his audience, none of whom could sit patiently through a traditional show, so he waded among them in his cape and top hat, solemnly performing sleight of hand tricks as one might leave flowers on a grave. He made coins spout from the distorted nose of a boy whose allotment of fingers were arrayed such that he was permanently throwing devil horns. I remember thinking it might be rude for the magician to draw more attention to this kid’s nose by turning it into a slot machine. I’m sure I’m the only kid who noticed his nose looked like the twisted schnoz of Cornelius Evazan, the cantina’s barfly blowhard with the dozen death sentences.
As I was then an aspiring magician, I asked for the man’s autograph and received my first dose of postmodern self-parody: On the scrap the magician signed for me, he followed his name, whatever it was, with the sobriquet “the mystic,” which he first wrote as “the mistake,” crossed out, then “corrected.”
For some reason, I’ve thought about that gag frequently in the decades since. But, more to the point, yes — yes, he was a “mistake,” or at least had made some along his magical way, to find himself there and then. I relate. More now than then, but still.
Blue Snaggletooth Lives
I no longer have the autograph but I do have Blue Snaggletooth. He lives on a mantel in my bedroom. He’s in remarkably good condition and could fetch a quick $300 on eBay if I ever had the need. But I doubt I’d ever part with him. It’s not that I’m a collector or even much of a Star Wars fan beyond what’s expected of a man of my vintage. I keep Blue Snaggletooth because I dig the Zen of his inside-outsiderness and outside-insiderness. To me he is not a mistake — he’s the mystic. Maybe he is in the cantina, hunkered down in some forgotten alcove over an espresso that glows like antifreeze. Maybe he’s contemplating the amazing accident of his blue existence; maybe he’s jotting notes whilst watching his contemporaries in the Nutcracker Suite; and maybe he’ll let you read them because that makes him feel like he’s really not so far, far away after all.