Star Wars Presto Magix, from 1983!

It’s been ten years (literally) since my last tribute to Presto Magix, and I think we’re long overdue for Round 2.

Presto Magix was a series of “transfer sets” based on our favorite toons and movies. Think “Colorforms,” but more permanent. They’ve been out of production for a loooong time, but I used to get Presto Magix sets constantly as a kid – owing largely to the fact that the smallest ones cost only barely more than a dollar, and were so omnipresent that I used to find them even when tagging along on my mother’s trips to supermarkets.

Pretty much all of my Presto Magix experiences were with the Star Wars versions, or more accurately, the Return of the Jedi versions. I must’ve owned the set shown above at least twenty times. The reason I can remember so few coloring books is because I almost completely replaced those opportunities with Presto Magix. These kits were my go-to staple for cheap, easy art.

Other Return of the Jedi sets focused on the Death Star, the Ewok Village and the Sarlacc Pit. All were cool, but nothing trumped Jabba the Hutt’s throne room. Among other reasons, it was the only one that came with Max Rebo. You haven’t lived until you’ve scratched an ivory-tickling alien elephant onto a piece of colorful paper. Believe me, religions have been formed over smaller catharses.

The set folds out to a 5×24” background, with lots of empty spaces for us to fill up. Jabba and Bib Fortuna (the latter of which looking strangely gargantuan) are among the few “static” characters already present. The rest were up to us to place, however we saw fit.

Here’s how it worked:

The most integral part of any Presto Magix set was its transfer sheet, stuffed with characters, decorations and much stranger things. Using a pencil, we were to “etch” each object into the desired position. (And yeah, these worked just as well on normal paper. I distinctly recall sticking that Lando in our phone book, for no good reason at all.)

The process is easy, but tedious. If you don’t sketch over the particular object thoroughly, parts of it won’t stick to the background. I speak from experience, as I couldn’t begin to count the number of times I lifted one of these sheets to find a Star Wars alien with a missing head.

It takes a long while to get all of the transfers onto the background, but I guess that was sort of the point. As simple as these sets were, they sure ate up a lot of time. I didn’t clock myself while doing this, but it must have been at least fifteen minutes before everything was in place. Doesn’t sound like a lot now, but to a kid, fifteen minutes is as good as four weeks.

Below are the highlights of my finished scene:

Jabba the Hutt has been joined by Leia and C-3P0. Toymakers wouldn’t embrace “skimpy slave suit Leia” for another twenty years, so Jabba had to make do with her bulky Boussh disguise. Good! Our childhoods were filled with enough introductions to deviancy without a Presto Magix Leia-on-a-leash thrown into the mix.

C-3P0, for his part, is left wondering why Salacious Crumb is suddenly twice as big as he is. I can’t be bothered to speculate, because I’m too focused on figuring out if Salacious Crumb’s #1 quote is too long to fit in a single Tweet.

What was I worried about? I had almost a hundred characters to spare.

Check out Admiral Ackbar, hiding in the back. I’m not sure why they included Admiral Ackbar in a Jabba’s throne room set. It’s totally off-canon, and besides, Ackbar would never survive the dry heat. This explains his “What gives?” pose.

The transfer sheet also included many random explosions. I wasn’t sure what to do with them, because really, the whole scene is pretty serene. Nobody’s brandishing a gun. Nobody looks like they’d even want to. At a loss, I just stuck all of the bangs and pows near Hermi Odle’s head. He looked like he needed some excitement.

I put Lando in charge of protecting the disproportionate amount of “fruit and vase” transfers. Thanks, Presto Magix, for teaching us that Jabba loved clementines. Bo fruita.

Finally, the Rebo Band works its musical magic to an audience of one. And that audience of one doesn’t look so impressed. Or maybe Tessek’s just being bitchy because WTF IS ADMIRAL ACKBAR DOING IN HIS HANGOUT? Quarren and Mon Cals hated each other, after all.

In a nice touch, each Presto Magix set includes a little area for you to sign. Hey, if you were going to spend fifteen minutes scribbling over clementines and monstrous aliens, you wanted credit.

I don’t know if I did a good job in explaining why these kits were so great, but it’s the truth. Colorforms were much more popular, but there was always something so “detached” about those. Your creations were only meant to be temporary. I much preferred knowing that my art would live on forever, or at least until I lost interest two hours later.

The good news? This review proves that even the oldest Presto Magix sets are still functional. Plus, should you decide to hunt one down, they’re generally quite cheap. Go get ‘em!