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The Ultimate Star Wars Guide to Memorabilia

Updated on June 17, 2014

A Galaxy Of Collectibles: Star Wars Toys Then And Now

Collecting Star Wars memorabilia has a special magic of bringing people of different generations together. I dont know how it works with other collectibles, but I know that Star Wars has been adopted as an icon in different decades, under different names, but with one single passion.

I remember going to watch my first Star Wars movie when the franchise was brand new and my feet still dangled from the theater seat. My cousins had to prop me up the whole time while light sabers clashed and impossibly sonorous explosions took place in outer space. The wonder and fascination with the saga never left me.

I got my first Millennium Falcon way before it was cool and geeky to have Star Wars memorabilia. Then again, I tore the package open and gave that toy a good run for its money. I cant help but wonder what would have happened if I have kept it in mint condition: a 1979 Kenner Millennium Falcon, all original parts, never played with, never touched. Ive seen it being auctioned for around US $5,000.00, and cant manage to regret having opened, played with and finally broken mine.

Star Wars toys have had different meanings as generations go by. For us who watched the saga in the theatres, they meant toys and now mean nostalgia. For the children of the 80s, the Ewoks and the Droids meant action figures based on animated TV shows that held little relation with the original films yet found their way into our hearts. By 1986, Kenner had to stop the production of new spinoff toys due to the waning popularity of Star Wars.

When Episode I attracted the attention of the younger crowd, old toys became retro, which was cool. Hasbro launched improved figurines of the original three films but the coveted ones belonged to the 70s and 80s. As years passed, the term vintage took over, then geeky and now theyre probably hipster. Disregarding the classification, collecting the action figures, their vehicles and other paraphernalia became a trans-generational activity that has breached age gaps and brought people together under one single passion: collecting Star Wars memorabilia.

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Welcome

Before Star Wars changed the film industry forever in 1977, toys and movies didn’t enjoy the relationship they do now. As hard as it is to believe, there really wasn’t much of an industry for toys based on popular films. Planet of the Apes made an attempt at changing that, and some of those toys are highly sought-after collector’s items today, but in the end, the film failed to make much of an impact with merchandise.

It took George Lucas and Star Wars to change that. Prior to Star Wars, the general consensus from movie studios was that the marketing ended when the movie left the theaters. It’s a popular story that Lucas got the merchandising rights to Star Wars without very much fuss. That’s because studios simply didn’t see the money to be made in merchandising a film. Lucas did, and it was this belief that eventually gave way to one of the most significant contributions to the modern toy business of all time.

And Star Wars didn’t just change the notion that toys were not a viable means for films to make some cash beyond the box office. The impact of Star Wars action figures reaches across several aspects of the toy industry. Action figures were created along the lines of the original G.I. Joes line. Kids generally didn’t buy new action figures. They bought new outfits for their old action figures. It was largely unthinkable that kids would be willing to buy an entire line of action figures.

Star Wars made that possible. From the original action figures released in the wake of the first film, to the dizzying merchandising powerhouse it remains today, Star Wars remains one of the most valuable properties for merchandise in history. It’s not a big stretch of the imagination to consider that this fact figured heavily into Disney leaving a few dump trucks full of money outside George Lucas’ house.

The Star Wars fandom has plenty of room for longtime collectors. Numerous online groups exist that are devoted solely to Star Wars toys. The opportunity to meet with other collectors is a huge aspect of Star Wars conventions around the world. It’s become a fandom culture unto itself. Because new toys are being released, collectors are not likely to run out of new things to discuss, buy, trade, and complain about anytime soon.

And it all started with a few action figures that virtually no one thought was going to be much in the way of a big deal.

Question?

The struggle between good and evil... which side will you choose?

Sith or Jedi?

Sith

Sith

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Jedi

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It was the 1970’s oil crisis that forced toy companies to create smaller action figures. Until that point, most action figures (again, G.I. Joe) clocked in at around 11.5 inches. The smaller action figures were simply a matter of economics, and were scaled down to the much smaller size of 3.75 inches.

Whether or not this mattered to George Lucas is irrelevant. The toy rights for Star Wars were sold to toy company Kenner in the late 70’s. It’s amazing to consider now that Kenner didn’t have any toys ready in time for the release of the film, but they didn’t. This was because the company had expected the film to do poorly (science fiction was not big box office by this point). Of course, the film was an immediate and monstrously popular hit, and Kenner was forced to scramble to come up with something. Their temporary solution to the problem still lives in infamy amongst fans.

Star Wars was a big ticket item for the 1977 Christmas season. So it’s easy to understand why so many children were bitterly disappointed to get a Star Wars toy box on Christmas morning. The Early Bird Certificate (rereleased in 2005) wasn’t a big letdown per say. It was the fact that every single one of them was completely devoid of actual action figures. The box came with a certificate that enabled kids to send away for four action figures. It’s interesting to imagine how much money might have been made that Christmas, if Kenner had imagined for even a moment that the movie was going to be a box office extravaganza.

It wasn’t until 1978 that Kenner finally released a line of 3.75 inch figures. A few 12 inch figures were released as well, but they proved to be much less popular. The first wave of Star Wars action figures included R2-D2, Chewbacca, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Darth Vader, Han Solo, C-3P0, Stormtrooper, Death Squad Commander, Jawa, and Sand People. Some of the most interesting aspects of these action figures were the vinyl cloaks that failed to really look like Jedi cloaks or capes, and the lightsabers being built into the right arm, instead of being a separate accessory they could hold.

Interestingly enough, the first Bob Fett action figure was released in 1979, after his appearance in the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, and before his appearance in The Empire Strikes Back. It was originally supposed to feature a missile-launching rocket pack, but the feature was removed after a child choked to death on a missile from a Battlestar Galactica toy. The result is what now stands as one of the most valuable collector’s items in the entire Star Wars toy fandom. Prototypes of the figure and even prototypes of the figure frequently sell for thousands of dollars online and at conventions.

Get your own collection started!

eBay is an amazing place to find awesome collectibles... go ahead, get your collection started today :) the water is warm!

The 1980’s brought the hugely anticipated follow-up to Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and with it came a slew of new toys. A variety of new toys were released, and the original 20 were rereleased with Empire Strikes Back logos on the packaging. 1980 gave us the first Yoda figure, which is another of the highly valued collector’s items on the Star Wars toy market today, amongst other prizes. When Return of the Jedi was released in 1983, the formula of creating new figures and rereleasing older figures was repeated.

1984 was an interesting year for Star Wars toys. This is when Kenner began releasing toys under the Power of the Force line. This series released new figures, brought back what were by this point considered to be some of the classics, and included collector’s coins of the figures they were packaged with. The line ran until 1985. It was also around this time that characters from the Droids and Ewoks action figures were released, marking the first time the Expanded Universe was acknowledged with action figures.

By the mid-80’s however, the popularity of the franchise was beginning to lose some its shine. Kenner officially closed the line in 1986. There were plans to release new toys under the title The Epic Continue, which was a storyline developed by Kenner that took place after the events of Jedi. Unfortunately, Lucasfilms turned the idea down, and only a handful of design concepts and prototypes remain today.

With the death of The Epic Continues storyline, there would not be another series of new Star Wars toys released for nine full years.

By 1995, things had changed. Hasbro now owned Kenner, and it was in this year that the company finally saw fit to release new Star Wars toys. Unfortunately, these toys featured virtually no improvements to the original figures, and they were heavily criticized for being poorly sculpted. The Princess Leia figure, released under The Power of the Force 2 line, is a prime example of the poor quality of figures that were on the market at this time.

But things would get better. 1996 saw Lucasfilms create the massive Shadows of the Empire storyline, and action figures were just one aspect of the massive campaign. Numerous new figures, vehicles, and other toys were released around this time.

Perhaps due to a lack of new films, Hasbro began releasing further Expanded Universe toys. These came from such sources as novels and comic books. One of the most popular releases from this point was the Dark Trooper. The toy proved so popular that it was rereleased in 2007. It was also around this time that Hasbro finally began making improvements to the sculptures of the figures themselves.

1999 finally saw the release of a new Star Wars film, and with it came a slew of new toys. Many of these figures included extras like flashback cards (cards that let you compare and contrast an image or character between the original trilogy and Episode I), Commtech chips (allowing the figures to talk), and much more.

King of Star Wars

The ultimate collection, it really is amazing to see how complete this collection is. Gives us all something to aim for...

The 2000’s proved to be a busy decade for fans of Star Wars toys. Action figures and more were released to coordinate with the next two films in the new trilogy, new toys were released under the Power of the Jedi line, further figures were released under the Star Wars Saga line, other toys were released under the Republic storyline, and Toys R’ Us held midnight madness events to celebrate the release of new toys for the new movies. To date, the 2000’s have been the most prolific decade for Star Wars toys to date.

The emphasis on Star Wars toys in the 2000’s was on variety. New packaging was introduced for such lines as the Revenge of the Sith line, and toys veered between mass market and serious collectors. Releases featured characters from a wide range of storylines. One of the most popular action figure tie-ins came from the Clone Wars animated series and feature film. There was even a vintage line that allowed collector’s to send away for a George Lucas Stormtrooper figure.

For the 30th anniversary, Hasbro got in on the celebration in a number of ways. This included toys released with coins that could be collected to make a coin album. The 30th anniversary also included what is so far the only Star Wars Holiday Special figure to date (it was Boba Fett).

Comic packs also became extremely popular around this time. Hasbro continues to include them with certain figures to this day.

The action figure business overall is not quite as big as it was once, but certain franchises continue to remain extremely popular. Star Wars is definitely one of them. New concepts and toys continue to be released, and it’s interesting to see where the legacy of those first toys has brought us to in the present.

The collector’s market continues to thrive. Brian Stillman threw an intriguing spotlight on the enduring phenomenon with his 2012 documentary Plastic Galaxy. The film presents a clear indication of just how serious the whole thing is Collectors are particularly keen on packages with different numbers of figures shown on the back of the card.

And it’s not just about action figures and vehicles. Prop replicas became big in the 2000’s, and certain items go for a considerable amount at conventions and trade shows.

The toy collecting phenomenon as it relates to Star Wars has given way to a couple of different things. Bootlegs are a serious problem in the community, but one of the positives in the area of serious collector’s is the rise of customization and dioramas. It’s not becoming uncommon to see fans creating their own figures from existing ones, or creating incredible scene using toys and handmade backdrops. These are just some of the things that have come out what was originally a half-hearted attempt to make a few dollars on a movie no one expected to be particularly successful.

As for the future, the market for new Star Wars toys is likely to continue releasing items for both casual and hardcore fans alike. Since the property is now owned by Disney, it will be interesting to see what comes out of that new relationship, especially in the wake of the recent announcement to release a new Star Wars film every year.

Those who think these collectables are simply toys are more than welcome to do so. There are many who know they are so much more. These toys aren’t just simply toys. They represent our cultural history.

The Age Old Question

To me this isn't even much of a discussion... but I thought it would be fun to include it :)

Prequals or Orginal?

Prequals (I-III)

Prequals (I-III)

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    Orginal (IV-VI)

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      Tell us about your collection!

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