This story appears in the Den of Geek SDCC 2019 special edition magazine. Guest column by Brian Volk-Weiss, creator of Netflix’s The Toys That Made Us.
Let’s start with the elephant in the room: no, I don’t have one. Yet.
Vlix Oncard is the rarest action figure ever commercially released. That’s the sort of thing one learns when doing a deep dive into the research required when starting production on my series, The Toys That Made Us. I know—I can hear some of you out there yelling, “No, rocket-firing Boba Fett is the rarest action figure ever produced!” Well, the major caveat here is the words “commercially released.” Poor spring-loaded Boba never made it to the store shelves, but Vlix actually did. How did he manage that? And also, who the #@&! is Vlix?
Vlix was a minor character in the 1980s Star Wars spin-off cartoon Droids. Debuting on ABC in 1985, it ran for only one season of 13 episodes before being canceled. It chronicled the adventures of R2-D2 and C-3PO prior to the events of the first Star Wars film, and featured a theme song by Stewart Copeland of The Police. Incidentally, this is one of the only Star Wars theme songs with lyrics:
“Steppin’ softly in a danger zoneNo weapon in my handIt’s just this brain, designed by man…”
My research had led me into my very own, and very expensive, “danger zone.” Whatever gene makes people susceptible to the temptation of collecting, I definitely possess it. The more I learned about Vlix, the greater the chances were of me coming to think no collection would be complete without him.
But first, let’s establish the myth behind the plastic: Vlix is a native of the planet Annoo, which makes him a member of the Annoo-dat Blue species. He is rotund and bald, a blue male humanoid who appears to be wearing an ascot, and he worked as an enforcer for the infamous Fromm Gang. His last name was never established in the series, so “Oncard” is an inside joke among collectors about the fact that it is almost impossible to find a Vlix action figure still affixed to the cardboard he was originally packaged in—something commonly referred to as still being “on card.”
How Vlix came to be the rarest commercially released action figure ever is an interesting tale involving minor corporate intrigue, Brazilians, and a fire.
Kenner had the exclusive contract to produce all Star Wars-related toys, including Droids. Unfortunately for them, the show was canceled before they managed to release the Vlix action figure. They had, however, already spent the money to create the molds from which Vlix would be cast. Even for Kenner, this was no small expenditure, and in an effort to recoup at least some of their cost, they sold these molds to a Brazilian toy company called Glasslite. Founded in the 1960s in Sao Paulo, Glasslite achieved great success by manufacturing and distributing toys in Brazil based on successful American television shows, among them The A-Team, Knight Rider, and Thundercats, before closing their doors in 2002.
In 1987, Glasslite used the molds to produce a small number of Vlix action figures (thought to be around 2,000) and got them to store shelves by the time Droids aired in Brazil in early 1988. The problem was Lucasfilm had no idea that Kenner had sold them to Glasslite. Once they realized Vlix was hitting South American store shelves, they protested and ordered the figures immediately recalled and destroyed. But by that time some (no one knows exactly how many) had already been sold. It is rumored that a warehouse fire then further depleted the bald and blue-green headcount. Finding one on the card… well, you’ll probably have better luck finding a potted baby Sarlacc.
Vlix didn’t mean very much for about 20 years, but then toy collecting became a big thing. Today, a Vlix figure out of its original packaging can command a price between $5,000 and $20,000. One still in its packaging (i.e. “on card”) can fetch between $45,000 to $60,000. Not too bad for a fellow who only appeared in a few episodes of what was considered a failed cartoon.
When The Toys That Made Us was greenlit, I had heard of, but knew very little about, Vlix. One of the pleasures of producing a program like Toys is the in-depth research you get to do as part of your work. Already a huge Star Wars fan, I jumped into the task with joy and became obsessed with Vlix and his story as soon as I learned all the details. When we delivered our first cut of the “Star Wars” episode to Netflix it was about 2 ½ hours long—including a five-minute segment about Vlix! When the first round of notes came back from our wonderful executive Nat Grouille, he said (correctly) that the episode was far too long—we needed to get our run time under an hour.
“Why can’t we do a two-hour episode?” I asked—this was Star Wars, after all! Nat said we were making the show for all fans, not just the hardcore ones, and there was plenty of fat to cut—for example, he felt certain the world didn’t need a five-minute sequence on Vlix.
I took the news hard. Poor Vlix had barely made it to the stores back in the ‘80s, then been recalled, of all things, and now he was being cut from our episode. How many indignities did this poor Anoo-dat have to endure?
Nat was right, of course, and we lost my beloved Vlix segment (don’t worry, it’ll be on the upcoming Blu-ray). But as a result, Vlix, and my enthusiasm for him, had become a running joke around the office. So much so that the wrap gift for season one of Toys was a magnet of the show’s logo accompanied by Vlix (as was our Star Wars Celebration 2019 pin).
Since then, “Vlix” has become shorthand at our production company Nacelle for anything in an episode of any series we produce which is good but needs to be cut in order to make the show work as a whole. I regularly hear editors, producers, and showrunners casually referring to these necessary sacrifices in the name of tightening as a “Vlix”—and I’m certain some of them don’t even know the origin of the term.
So, why don’t I have a Vlix of my own? Not for lack of trying. There was an auction last year where I fully intended to get one, but the date got mixed up on my calendar and I missed it. But this may not be the end of the world; instead of 3 ¾ inches of plastic to be kept locked away in a safe, I can buy a really nice car, or half a year of college for my kids, or all the other “Star Wars” figures and vehicles ever made (not all “on the card” of course). Outlook may have kept me out of a Stewart Copeland song, because for some of us, toy collecting is a real danger zone.
“I wouldn’t care but it’s a dangerous affairCause I’m in trouble again, trouble againIn trouble, in trouble, in trouble.”
If you haven’t heard the Droids theme, make sure you check it out – it’s very special, in a blue milk kind of way!