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Collecting in a galaxy far far away

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RE-ENVISIONING COLLECTABLE TOYS

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, Star Wars was released in cinemas in 1977, forever changing the face of science fiction in modern popular culture.

Its continuing success has helped transform and popularize the toy industry in dramatic ways. Star Wars and the toys it inspired have been forever linked, a story that can just as easily be told through figures as it can through film. The collectible potential of Star Wars has become highly sought after by their fans and science fiction connoisseurs alike.

If you go into any toy store today you will notice that Star Wars action figures are wildly popular. Collecting Star Wars figures has be become a well established hobby with thousands of dollars invested, and modern day collectors continue to look for rare, vintage, and out-of-print figures to add to their growing collections.

Though you can find cool collectibles for affordable prices, adding valuable figures to your life can be costly. Fans prize some of the most valuable action figures, which come at high prices, but for lovers of the films, no price is too much to pay for the figures of childhood from a favorite film.

Star Wars action figures have had a hugely successful selling margin since the release of the first movie in 1977. There’s an interesting story behind the history of these little collectible figures, going back before Star Wars was in production. When George Lucas and 20th Century Fox were trying to market Star Wars, they planned

for something almost entirely unprecedented at the time, a marketing deluge and a full scale licensing project that would see t-shirts, posters, lunchboxes and yes, toys, covered in the movie’s characters, hit shelves. Lucas negotiated with Fox to take the bulk of revenue from merchandise sales, with neither side believing that the movie’s tepid response before release could lead to much in terms of profit.

After attempting to shop the license around to other toy makers, in 1976 it fell to Kenner. Kenner President Bernie Loomis saw an opportunity to make good toys with the license, especially in the then relatively new space of 3.75” scaled action figures, cheaper to produce than the larger toys, but expected Star Wars to be a fleeting venture for the company.

 

EARLY BIRD CERTIFICATE PACKAGE

Star Wars released in May 1977 to rapturous approval, becoming an overnight sensation and consumers didn’t just want to see the movie, they wanted toys. Kenner was caught flat-footed at the demand, finding that they wouldn’t even have figures out for the lucrative Christmas period of that year. Limited Star Wars merchandise was

available for several months after the film’s debut. Kenner responded to the sudden demand for toys by selling boxed vouchers in its “empty box” Christmas campaign. Consumers would receive the box in the holiday season of 1977 to open it and only find a certificate to mail away for four exclusive Star Wars action figures (in the new, previously mentioned 3.75 inch scale) as well as some other assorted Star Wars action figure accessories, containing a cardboard display stand featuring the characters from the film, stickers, and a certificate for kids to mail away to Kenner to receive four figures in 1978: Luke Skywalker, R2-D2, Princess Leia and Chewbacca.

Television commercials told children and parents that vouchers within a “Star Wars Early Bird Certificate Package” could be redeemed for toys “between February 1st and June 1st” of 1978. An extraordinary example of their collectible potential came where a 1977 store display from an ‘Early Bird Certificate Package’ went for $20,000. The reason for this was that there are only five in existence.

When the Star Wars line first hit in 1978, any damage that criticism of the Early Bird Certificate could have done was wiped out almost instantaneously. Joined by another eight figures, and with play-sets and vehicles following later in the year, Kenner’s toyline was a smash success, making over $100 million in its first year alone — with demand often outstripping supply. Kenner’s toy line became the icon of the new era of 3.75” figures. Affection for Kenner’s Early Bird scheme is such that it remains a cherished item among collectors. Both the original package and the action figures can sell for thousands of dollars on auction and eBay.

 

NICHE IS COLLECTABLE GOLD

When collecting in the toy market, niche is key. Faulty and niche tend to make a particular collector’s piece even more sought after. Recalled items increase their rarity, and that’s where the big money is. A Luke Skywalker with a double telescoping lightsaber was sold for $25,000 on a Sotheby’s auction because it wasn’t up to

scratch. Kenner soon realized that the delicate lightsaber was prone to snapping off, and soon halted production. Now the one sold in New York is one of only 20 examples left in the world.

A similar situation proved to be true with Kenner’s Boba Fett action Figure. In 1979, the Kenner capitalized on the announcement of a sequel, The Empire Strikes Back (1980). In the new promotion, consumers could mail four proofs of purchase from any Star Wars figure and get a sneak peek of a new Empire toy, the mysterious

bounty hunter Boba Fett. The figure came with a heavily advertised rocket-firing jetpack feature, but shortly before Boba Fett went to market, a rash of health-and-safety fears caused Kenner to make a late decision to glue the rocket into the backpack securely. Kenner has always maintained that they never released a rocket-firing Fett into the wild, but several such figures, as well as early production prototypes have made their way into the hands of collectors over the years, making it one of the most valuable Star Wars toys ever made, selling for upwards of $3,000 to $5,000 at an auction at Sotheby’s in 2015. The key to the value of all of these mentioned lots was their pristine unopened condition.

 

OTHER NOTABLE EXAMPLES OF EXTREMELY VALUABLE STAR WARS FIGURINES WERE:

VINYL CAPED JAWA

Very valuable especially in mint condition, the vinyl cape Jawa figure from 1978 fetches thousands of dollars. Experts value the figure at $3,000, but it sells for much higher prices. The first Jawa figures from the 70s included a vinyl cape instead of the cloth cape from later models, making it a hot commodity to add to your collection.

 

PALITOY MEDICAL DROID FIGURINE

The hard-to-find Palitoy medical droid figure is an anomaly; the character showed up on the screen for only 20 seconds. Despite that, the figure worth over $100 sells for thousands, especially in the original, British-licensed packaging.

 

OBI-WAN KENOBI WITH DOUBLE TELESCOPING LIGHTSABER

This figurine features the hard-to-find double telescoping lightsaber; Obi-Wan Kenobi from 1978 is a sought-after addition to your collection. Estimated at a value of $6,000, the figure features the intricate, detailed double lightsaber, and along with its pre-film release, makes the figurine worth much more.

 

DARTH VADER WITH DOUBLE TELESCOPING LIGHTSABER

Before the double-telescoping lightsaber gave way to the one-piece lightsaber seen on later figures, Kenner released the original characters featuring this now-rare addition. The Darth Vader figure that features this saber draws up to $7,000 and more if the figure is intact and packaged. In 2015 Sotheby’s New York held an auction

dubbed “Return of the NIGO.” The auction consisted of a wide array of different Star Wars Collectables ranging from lightsabers to cookie jars.

The auction in total went under the hammer, and the 600 items went for $505,202. With nearly 40 years since Kenner’s Early Bird Certificate, the relationship between Star Wars franchise and its collectors have remained stronger than ever.

 

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