Collecting the Spice: Dune LJN Toys

Collecting the Spice: Dune LJN Toys

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The toy figures and vehicles designed for David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation of Dune were not popular upon release but have developed a cult following in the decades since. This set includes every item released.

Nearly a decade ago, I set out to read every book nominated for the Hugo and Nebula Best Novel awards. Bestowed upon science-fiction and fantasy novels annually, these awards represent what many consider to be the best-of-the-best novels released each year for these genres. A completionist and ardent bibliophile, my intention is to read each and every book ever nominated—roughly 600 novels. The journey has been rewarding, enlightening, and—at times—incredibly boring. Yet, I have powered through, reading nearly a third of the novels. One of the greatest joys of this journey has been revisiting favorite novels from my childhood, like Dune.

I first encountered Frank Herbert’s masterpiece as a teen, diving into the novel based solely on my father’s recommendation. Published in 1965, the Hugo and Nebula award-winning novel follows a young heir’s experience on the eponymous planet Dune. A coming-of-age tale, the novel deals with political intrigue and environmental concerns in groundbreaking ways for the time and genre. Considered a sci-fi classic and one of the best-selling novels of the genre, Dune has been adapted for television and the big screen numerous times—with little success.

David Lynch’s Dune

Perhaps the most infamous of these adaptations is the 1984 film directed by David Lynch. The journey of this film adaptation is filled with almost as much political intrigue as the novel itself, with the adaptation originally being helmed by Alejandro Jodorowsky. The epic film envisioned by Jodorowky (which he estimated could be up to 14 hours in runtime!) was scrapped for financial reasons, and the rights were thus sold to Dino De Laurentiis, who approached the then relatively unknown David Lynch to direct the adaptation.

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This bendable Sandworm is one of the most sought-after Dune items and, according to the LJN catalog, “realistically bends” and has “the perfect slimy-skinned texture.”

Poorly received by critics and a box office bomb, David Lynch’s Dune is often cited for being, well, terrible. The film was marketed as the next Star Wars, and the studio thought it would be the blockbuster event of the holiday season. As such, they released a lot of merchandise, including coloring books, bedding and action figures. While I will focus on the toys, I highly recommend you leaf through the Dune coloring book if you ever come across it. Already a questionable film for young children, the coloring book features coloring pages that include pus, dead bodies, and even hand-to-hand combat.

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One of the more unusual items released for the film, this Dune coloring book makes for odd children’s entertainment given some of its content and themes.

The LJN Dune Toys

The accompanying action figures, produced by the company LJN, were timed to be released a few weeks before the film’s December premiere date. While there were initially plans to release quite a few accompanying toys and gift sets, in the end, only around a dozen toys were produced as demand was not nearly as great as anticipated. Despite being heavily marketed by LJN, which claimed their release would be “the toy event of 1984,” the toys —much like the film —saw a lukewarm reception. In the 30 years since their release, though, demand for the Dune LJN toys has quietly grown. As there were not many toys produced, and they can be difficult to find in good condition, it is not uncommon to see some of the LJN figures sell for several hundred dollars apiece.

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Only six figures were released to the public. First row, left to right: Paul Atredies, Feyd (modeled after Sting, who portrays the character in the film), and Rabban. Second row: Sardaukar Warrior, Stilgar, and Baron Harkonnen.

According to an LJN catalog, eight different figures were going to be released (Paul Atredies, Lady Jessica, Baron Harkonnen, Rabban, Gurney Halleck, Stilgar, Feyd, and a Sardaukar Warrior), but the Lady Jessica and Gurney Halleck figures never made it to production. The description for the characters claims, “each figure moves with its own characteristic action. Push a secret button, and these figures move with realistic action motions.” They also released a plush Sandworm and a bendable vinyl Sandworm, as well as three different vehicles (a Gyro Roller, Desert Warrior, and Sand Crawler).

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The Spice Scout is nearly two feet in length and was built as a vehicle that could fit two figures within its central pod.

Arguably the pièce de résistance of the entire Dune toy collection, the “Spice Scout’‘ vehicle was a massive, articulated complex meant to house the action figures and act as a set piece for pretend spice mining. Sadly, the planned Harkonnen Thopter was scrapped for production, but the LJN catalog claims it had flapping wings and moving billows and could fit two action figures. Sardaukar and Fremen weapons were also produced as prototypes but never made it to market like the figures mentioned above. A single weapon was released, a red plastic version of the Fremen Tarpel gun, which made sounds and lit up when the trigger was pulled.

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While several different weapons were advertised in promotional materials, only this Fremen Tarpel gun was made available to the public, despite the box also advertising the Sardaukar Laser Gun.

The Dune toys that did make it to market were produced in more limited quantities and, given the film flopped, were often overlooked upon release. As such, there tend to not be many LJN Dune toys available on the market now at any given time. However, there is a surprisingly active collector base for Dune LJN toys, particularly as the new Dune adaptation is set for release this fall. If you are hoping to build a collection or looking to sell Dune toys, there are a few things to keep in mind. In-box and carded toys tend to command the highest prices, particularly if the packaging is in good condition and sealed. Loose Dune toys can also fetch unexpectedly high sums, so do not overlook the chance to grab any good condition Dune toys if you see a steal. In particular, the vinyl Sandworm and Baron Harkonnen figure seem to be the more rare and highest demand items.

We may not all be able to control the spice, but we can at least build a complete collection of Dune toys. If you would like to learn more about the abandoned Jodorowky film adaptation, I highly recommend the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, which chronicles not only his vision for the film but also how many of those involved went on to make the sci-fi classic, Alien. The newest adaptation, directed by Denis Villeneuve is set to release in October of this year.

Megan Shepherd is a curator, freelance writer, and artist. She has worked in fine art museums for a decade and holds two master’s degrees in the field. When she takes a break from art, she enjoys science-fiction books, antiquing, backpacking, and eating her weight in Dim Sum. 

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