We all know that Hot Wheels is known for their high quality, diecast vehicles. Most of us also know them for their elaborate tracksets and courses, though these are typically relegated to the “kids side” of things and don’t always make much of a splash in the collector’s arena. In fact, I’d be comfortable wagering that a lot of new and/or casual Character Car collectors are completely oblivious to tracksets that they “need” to own in order to have a complete collection of cars!
What I’ve written here is sort of a brief history of Star Wars tracksets. If you want to skip down directly to my newest finds, click here or just scroll down to the turquoise line.
To briefly recap, let’s go back – way back – to a time before Force Awakens. The promise of new Star Wars material was hot on everyone’s mind, but toy companies and retailers weren’t quite sure how to best profit off the hype, so we just saw a massive surge of Star Wars stuff. Character Cars were still a very common appearance, and I want to say we were somewhere near the end of the transition from “blue cards” to “black cards.” It’s entirely possible that you never even saw the relevant Star Wars tracksets had you not taken a second to look down at the shelving underneath the hanging racks of cars.
It was here that you could find the Throne Room Raceway and TIE Factory Takedown for at least 6 to 9 months. Both contained exclusive vehicles not found anywhere else: a Jedi Luke and Ezra Bridger respectively. Now Hot Wheels would go on to release a Jedi Luke / Rancor 2-pack, however this Luke sported a slight but noticeably different paint job. Ezra was released singly as well, but as a “battle damaged” version instead of the “clean” one in the trackset.
Not sure that you’d call these tracksets, but around the same time these Battle Blast Lightsaber Launchers could be found as well – I mostly saw them in Barnes & Noble. They were basically a launcher and short piece of track angled upward meant to propel the car into the air albeit in a somewhat controlled manner. Luke (in his pilot gear) and Vader were the first 2 out and were pretty easy to find. In the months surround Episode VII’s release, 2 more could be found, one with Kylo Ren and one with – surprisingly – the “clean” Ezra Bridger.
I can’t pinpoint a timeframe real well, but I’d say sometime around the transition from 2015 to 2016 when the peak of Force Awakens hype was dying down, I suddenly became aware of the Starkiller Base trackset. Now I never saw this on the shelves of any store, and it wasn’t exactly the hottest selling item online either, but it came with someone very important: Finn! I guess it never really hit me before then, but suddenly I was like, “oh yeah, they haven’t made a Finn car despite all this other Ep. 7 stuff!”
Fast forward a month or two (maybe three) and the Rancor Rumble started popping up. For whatever reason – maybe because “Rancor” was in the title – this set gained a little more visibility than most others. It’s exclusive was a Gamorrean Guard, which would be a great addition if we could get some more of Jabba’s court in the mix (Bib Fortuna, the skiff guards, Weequay, that mean-ass droid, bikini-clad Leia…). Still kind of a cool, off-beat choice.
In the lull that follows the tracksets seem to concentrate solely on Carships. There’s the big Death Star Revolution thing (not sure if I got the name right) complete with battery power 2 exclusive Carships, which turn out to be battle-damaged versions of both the X-Wing and TIE Fighter cars. (Ships?) This set was pretty everywhere and can still be pretty easy to find. Next was something like “Imperial Assault” which included a battle-damaged Millennium Falcon. Never saw this in stores, but it’s all over the place online. Finally there was a set like “TIE Striker Takedown” or something, and it’s stayed pretty well hidden even online; it’s exclusive is a battle-damaged U-Wing.
Fast forward again to late 2016, on the eve of Rogue One, and it seems like these sets may be a thing of the pass. (Though to be fair, sometimes you do have to dig to find out about them.) During this period promotional shots of a Rathtar Escape set begin appearing, but of course this makes no sense because the Rathtars were from Episode 7 a whole freakin’ year ago and have absolutely no place or mention in Rogue One. The specifics of it completely befuddle me, but for whatever reason, this thing saw the light of day this past summer. (I wrote a whole article on it if you’re interested.) And what do we get for our wait? A barely perceptible battle-damaged BB-8. Can you hear me rolling my eyes yet…? I mean I’m ok with the clean vs. worn-and-torn versions to an extent, but to go to the trouble of calling it an “exclusive” and packaging it with another $20 – $50 worth of product just to paint a couple of scratches and scorch marks on it begins to feel a little like gimmickry to me, and I don’t like it. I suppose this is one reason I haven’t bothered to collect the damaged Carships, as much as it seriously bugs me not having them.
And then, as the world begins gearing up for The Last Jedi and the end of summer is in sight, the Millennium Falcon set pops up alongside the very first pieces of Episode 8 merchandise. It’s a nice big set with all sorts of sounds and an exclusive Chewbacca, though it just looks to be a darker version of the Chewbacca we’re already familiar with – no change in casting or decoration or detail, just some lighter browns and grays replaced with some darker ones. We can safely ascertain that this is the first of the new wave of tracksets because it features the new white packaging whereas the ol’ Rathtar Escape still sports a mostly black package. (I wrote a short piece on this trackset as well.)
And finally, in what I’m pretty damn sure are the days leading up to Force Friday II, I spotted 2 more as-yet-unknown sets online: Mos Eisley Junction and Crait Assault Raceway. For what it’s worth, the Mos Eisley set is subtitled with the “Character Cars” text while Crait Assault specifically identifies with the “Carships.” Through some clever usage of Amazon Prime, I got both of these for about $60 of what they would’ve cost individually plus they made it to my door about 13 hours later.
The Mos Eisley set is…well…weird. It functions more like a small (read: damn small) hub that’d be best suited to connect larger sets. Hot Wheels is always quick to advertise the fact that nearly all their sets are connectable, but what I feel like they blatantly ignore is that most sets rely on gravity to work, i.e. place the car up high, let it roll to a lower point. So yeah, we can connect them…but to what effect? Some kind of odd, mutant staircase? And where’s the convenience? I dunno. Maybe I’m not imaginative enough. Maybe I need to see others’ visions realized to understand the potential. Anyway, Mos Eisley Junction is rather small, so small that I wonder what kids are expected to do with it. But hey, that’s not why I bought it, right? I was after that exclusive. And right there on the box, it says, “Exclusive R2-D2 Character Car.” That was all I needed to see before buying it.
Go ahead and grab your R2 car. Can you tell any difference?
However, now that I’ve got it, I seriously cannot tell the difference between the car in the set and your everyday average R2 Character Car. I mean I have examined this shit up and down, had my kid inspect it, made my mom look at it…there’s nothing that appears to be any different. No painted on scorches, scratches, or smudges…no differences in color…design is exactly the same…I can’t figure it out. It is fucking weird. Did I get some kinda bum set? Doesn’t look like it. I am, for the time being, 100% bewildered.
Moving on to more obvious pastures, we have Crait Assault Raceway, a more straightforward trackset. Basically 2 cars start off at the same point, and due to atmospheric variation or human error or an unlevel foundation or quantum fluctuations, one car either finishes before the other or they slam into each other in a spectacular crash. Yeah, this is just what I wanna do with my collectibles: slam ’em the hell into each other! At any rate, the exclusivity proclamation is cleverly if not confusingly worded on the package. In the window you’ll notice 2 Carships, and the text reads: “Exclusive Poe’s Ski Speeder Carship & First Order TIE Fighter Carship.” Ambiguous, ain’t it? Well I’ll go ahead and set the record straight. Neither of these is “battle damaged,” so I guess that’s good. The FO TIE is not an exclusive, as we saw a couple of weeks ago when it dropped with the other new carships. The FO TIE is definitely a new member of the Carship crew, but it is not an exclusive.
The actual exclusive is Poe’s Ski Speeder. Again, I like this better than the clean/damaged approached, but check it out: Poe’s Speeder uses the exact same casting as the regular Resistance Ski Speeder and simply replaces “Resistance Blue” with some red color that we’ve never associated with Poe. I mean I guess it’s cool to give one guy’s machine a different and recognizable look all it’s own, but remember all the love that Poe’s black-and-orange X-Wing got in Force Awakens?> Now, remember how much of it we actually saw? (In case your forgot, it was blown up: not in the sky in some glorious dogfight, but on the ground – and not after a movie of associating it with Poe becoming familiar with it – but in the first fucking scene!)
Keeping up with Character Cars is hard enough: for every 6 or 8 released, there seems to be another 1 or 2 lurking a 2-pack somewhere. For everyone big wave or two there’s an oddly ill-publicized trackset to be found. Hot Wheels is obviously very committed to this line, but it’s just so strange how readily available some info is compared to how hidden away other chunks are. I’m sure other tracksets will pop up (give us one with bodhi bodhi bodhi dammit) and who knows – I might find out 2 days later or 2 months later! If you ever find out about one, let me know! I mean I like to think I’ve done my research, but honestly, I wouldn’t even be that shocked if some old-ass set came to my attention out of the middle of nowhere!