When I was a kid, I traded my Death Star for a Land Speeder and 5 bucks.
The kid who talked me into the trade wasn’t really a friend by choice. He was the son of some of my mom and dad’s friends, and we’d play together at his house while our parents listened to Fleetwood Mac in the den with the door closed, giggling about stuff that just didn’t make sense to me, at all.
So we were like prisoners of war, forced share a cell together, knowing that once the war was over, we’d never talk again.
I was aware of this situation, even at 8, so I was naturally skeptical of anything he offered me. He was already 10, and in Double Digits, so I knew that I should be a little wary of him.
The offer came to me one afternoon in his backyard, next to his parent’s swimming pool. I’d brought over my Death Star and some Star Wars figures, so we’d have something to do. There was no way I was going to endure a repeat of the last time I’d been there, where I my only entertainment was watching him organize and gloat over his collection of exotic matchbooks.
So we were sitting by the pool, which was doubling for the shore of an exotic new planet, where the Death Star had been relocated. He drove up his Land Speeder, and as he began to help his passengers out, I casually admired it.
He immediately offered a trade, but I declined. There was no way I was about to give up my Death Star for a Land Speeder that didn’t even have any obvious guns.
He expressed some shock at my reluctance, showing off its exciting and retractable wheels, and exquisitely-detailed dashboard sticker.
Although I was intrigued, I resisted. I really liked my Death Star. It had a cool Trash Compactor Monster.
He then let me in on a secret that only the ten year olds knew: Death Stars were lame. Land Speeders were cool.
This was news to me, and gave me pause for consideration. Did I really want to keep this Death Star, knowing that it was lame? How many of the Big Kids were laughing at me while they raced their own Land Speeders around, as I sat with my Death Star, wheel-and-stickerless?
While I wondered about this, he made a very generous offer: He would trade me the Landspeeder for the Death Star. He didn’t need to worry about what the other kids thought, he told me, because he also had an X-Wing Fighter and Darth Vader’s TIE-Fighter. This combination, he went on, was even cooler than a Land Speeder, so he was alright.
While I considered this new information, he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. He would give me five bucks to sweeten the deal.
I didn’t need to hear another word.
I made the trade, willingly handing over the deed to my Death Star without so much as a handshake. He gave me the Land Speeder, followed by five bucks from the front pocket of his Rough Riders. Shortly after that, my parents came out of the house, telling me that it was time to go home, after a stop on the way to pick up many bags of potato chips and pretzels.
Now, I know this seems like a shitty trade, because it was, but at the time, five bucks was as good as one million, and that Land Speeder did have wheels, man! WHEELS!
With those wheels, I thought, I could ferry four of my Star Wars figures across my kitchen floor with just one push!
One push was all it would take for Princess Leah and Luke Skywalker escape the dangerous prison The Empire had built from Tupperware cups and a Styrofoam drink cooler in the shadow of my parent’s refrigerator! They could be accompanied on their journey to the safety of the Rebel base, which was cleverly hidden from the Empire beneath the breakfast table, by C3P0 and R2-D2, who would be attached to the back of their seats via amazing foot-peg technology! This vehicle was all that stood between the rebel alliance and victory! I couldn’t believe that I had even considered for a moment not trading my very un-cool Death Star for this magnificent chariot.
The entire drive home, I sat on the back seat of the 1971 VW Bus, paying no attention to the cool strains of the Grateful Dead playing out of the 8-track. My mind was focused on the coming prison escape, and ensuing battle, where I just knew the Empire would enlist the help of GI Joe and He-Man. Good thing Luke and company had this new Land Speeder to get them out of danger!
Sadly, once I was home and on the kitchen floor, the reality of the trade did not meet the grand build up it had been given by my young imagination. That single push did not send my heros to quick safety. Rather, it sent them forward about 6 inches and to the left, coming to an anticlimactic rest against the front of the dishwasher. Only the constant presence of my grimy 8 year-old fist would give them adequate propulsion away from danger. And the foot-peg technology was quickly replaced by the more reliable scotch-tape-and-rubber band technology.
The novelty of rolling that Land Speeder around the floor quickly wore off, and I really missed my Death Star.
Fortunately, all was not lost: I had that five bucks. Five bucks to spend anyway I wanted. I was rich, man. Filthy rich, and that made me a god amongst the kids on my block.
For weeks I sat in my bedroom, atop my Chewbacca bedspread, holding that 5 dollar bill in my hands, just looking at it, admiring it, basking in the glow of unimaginable wealth while the noe-forgotten Land Speeder gathered dust in the back of my closet, behind Mister Machine and a partially completed model of the USS Arizona.
I capriciously thought of ways to spread my new found wealth amongst the other kids in our group…A pack of Wacky Packs stickers for Scott Anderson, some Toffifay for Joey Carnes, maybe even the invitation to Kent Purser to play doubles on Galaxian, my treat.
I was going to be very generous with my new wealth. I was going to be an 8 year-old philanthropist. Maybe I’d set up a foundation for the kids around the corner, who always wore the same clothes and smelled funny.
Maybe I’d stand outside the doors of Sunland Discount Variety, offering low-interest loans to kids wanting to play Gyruss or Star Castle.
I even thought about opening a savings account at the local Crocker Bank, where I’d get my own passbook and a set of Crocker Spaniels as a thank you gift.
Ultimately, though, like any normal 8 year-old, I kept it for myself, and there was a brief but shining moment in the summer of 1980, when I was allowed to ride my bike all the way to Hober’s Pharmacy, stopping at every intersection to check the front pocket of my two-tone OP shorts to ensure that my 5 dollar bill, which I’d folded into a tight little square and tucked into my Velcro wallet, hadn’t somehow escaped my possession. I took that five bucks, and bought myself Wacky Packs, a Slush Puppy, and enough surgical tubing to make several water weenies. I even had enough left over after playing Bagman, Donkey Kong, and Asteroids Deluxe to take a chance on the intimidating wall of buttons that was Stargate. It was one of the grandest days of my young life, and helped soften the disappointment that came when my friend Stephen proclaimed that my Land Speeder wasn’t “rad”, but “sucked.”
I recently went back to Sunland, hoping to pick up a Slush Puppy, and maybe see one or two of the phantoms of my youth haunting those stores, but they were nowhere to be found. I ended up getting a Mellow Yellow-flavored Slurpee from 7-11 and heading back home, where I spent some time looking for that Land Speeder in my garage.
I don’t know why, but I still have it. There’s an inscription on the bottom which proclaims “THIS IS WIL’S LaNdSPEEdR! kEpP YOU hANdS OFF OF It OR ELSE!!”
I took it out of the box, and dusted it off. I held it in my hands for the first time in twenty years, and suddenly that trade didn’t seem like such a bad idea, after all.
Look out, Darth Vader. You can build your Prison Fortress on my kitchen floor, but the Rebel Alliance has a new escape pod on the way, and you’d better “kEpP YOU hANdS OFF OF It OR ELSE !!”