POLAR LIGHTS was established by Tom Lowe at Playing Mantis in 1996. It started as a brand that would re-create long out-of-production kits that had been manufactured in the ’60s and ’70s by the Aurora model company. Aurora had released many pop-culture-oriented kits based on popular superheroes, TV shows and movies most notable was their selection of Universal Monsters figure kits.
Polar Lights initial model kit release was a reproduction of the Addam’s Family House kit and was offered at first as an FAO Scwartz exclusive. The brand went on to recreate many Aurora kits. Sometimes kits were completely retooled while in some cases bagged shots were purchased using existing tools. The kits always reproduced the original packaging and tried to emulate the look of the vintage instruction sheets. New kits were introduced along the way based on various licenses such as Forbidden Planet, Scooby-Doo, The Simpsons, and Lost In Space among many others.
Polar Lights gained the Star Trek license in 2003 and began producing new kits based on the license. By that time, modelers had become more particular than they might have been when building their first kits as children. Access to photos, reruns of shows, and eventually the access to home video allowed modelers to study their favorite spacecraft to compare their kit to the true filming miniatures used in the shows’ production. Availability of this kind of fan and professional research allowed the new Polar Lights kits to be accurate from the beginning. The brands’ initial releases were the first U.S.S. Enterprise NCC- 1701 and Klingon Battle Cruiser both in 1/1000 scale. Later releases included a 1/1000 scale NX-01 Enterprise based on the show being aired at the time and a grand 1/350 scale kit of the Enterprise Refit (also referred to as the 1701-A). Its 3-foot length allowed modelers to capture every minuscule detail of the ship. Large-scale kits had already been offered in the military kit segment, but this kit set the gold standard for what a sci-fi plastic injected kit could be. The emergence of these kits shifted the reputation of the brand from being a quality imitation of old kits to offering precision detailed kits of sci-fi subject matter.
The brand was one of the first to take advantage of what would become known as “social media” by establishing an online message board where consumers could interact and share notes and excitement about the company’s product offerings. The message board was shut down following the sale of Playing Mantis to RC2 in 2004, but the consumer base continues to share their excitement for model building on alternative message boards and is the primary source for news and marketing of the brand.
In 2008 Tom Lowe’s new company Round 2, LLC, acquired Polar Lights and historic model kit brands AMT and MPC. At first, the brands and associated tooling were obtained via a licensing agreement with RC2 but were gained outright a few years later. Under Round 2’s control, the brand maintained its reputation for accuracy and implemented upgrades to existing kits where needed. That approach carried through to new kits based on Forbidden Planet and the 1966 Batman TV show, keeping assembly engineering in mind to make new kits go together with relative ease by modelers of any experience level.