A long time ago, at a toy company far, far away, plastic figurines made in the likeness of a wildly popular sci-fi film series were produced, and eventually these innocuous action figures also became wildly popular. To this day, thanks in part to a renewed interest in the franchise and a seemingly endless stream of films headed our way, the action figures remain popular and surprisingly valuable.
All right, let’s cut to the warp speed chase. Here’s the story of the elusive Kenner Star Wars toys.
One Brave Toy Company Steps Up
Before Star Wars was released in 1977, Fox offered the big three toy giants at the time — Mattel, Hasbro and Mego — the rights to the film’s toys. But each company declined the offer due to space opera skepticism.
The then-president of Kenner also believed that Star Wars would be a flash in the cinematic pan but opted to take on the project, believing that the characters and vehicles were fit for toys. With no viable competitors, Fox offered Kenner the deal, and the toy company produced action figures for each film in the Star Wars trilogy.
Kenner was unable to distribute toys in time for the first film’s May 1977 release, “A New Hope.” Then the movie took off — literally. Star Wars saw immediate, worldwide success, and Kenner was their sole toy company with no Star Wars toys to speak of.
With demand increasing for Star Wars toys, and Christmas fast approaching, the company doubled production efforts and issued what were essentially Star Wars rain checks in late 1977, in the form of “Early Bird Certificate Kits,” which were empty boxes that would eventually be filled with the likes of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Chewbacca and R2-D2.
In 1978, a year after the first film, the company managed to produce 12 Star Wars action figures. Each action figure was packaged with a cardboard card depicting the then-12 figures released, hence the term “12 backs.” Two films and seven years later, Kenner made 93 figurines to coincide with the first trilogy.
Kenner eventually discontinued its Star Wars series after the buzz wore out in 1985. But the legacy of the original toy line lives on. And so does it value.
Rarities: The Cream of the Kenner Crop
Nowadays, most vintage Kenner Star Wars toys are rare, but there are a select few that are ultra-rare and ultra-coveted, whether by way of production flaws or simply limited releases. These toys can command quite a premium, especially in graded, unopened form.
Vader With Double Telescoping Light Saber
In regards to the error toys, the Darth Vader with double telescoping light saber is among the most rare, most coveted and most valuable. When the Darth Vader figures were originally released, they included an extending light saber. Kenner had second thoughts after only a few hundred of the figures hit the shelves and pulled them from production shortly after, replacing the extending light saber.
These toys can be found in the $1,000-$2,000 range.
That’s Mr. Jawa to You
Though Jawas weren’t pivotal characters in the films, the collectibles are extremely popular and valuable. Original Jawas were released with a vinyl cape; then Kenner decided to replace the vinyl cape with cloth ones. As always in the world of collectibles, manufacturer decisions like this result in the former release being deemed a rarity, bolstering its collectability and value.
Vinyl cape Jawas can be found in the $1,500-plus range.
Everyone’s Favorite Bounty Hunter
Boba Fett was supposed to be introduced earlier in the Star Wars toy line and featured a nifty rocket pack that actually fired a plastic rocket. But, due to the fact that his rocket pack wasn’t so nifty, rather a potential choking hazard for children, Kenner was forced to delay production and omit the rocket pack.
Twenty-one back Boba Fetts can exceed $10,000.
Over 30 Years Later, We’re Still Talking About Star Wars
Fast forward to today, with Disney’s purchase of the Star Wars franchise and massive box office numbers, almost anything in the extensive line of Star Wars, well, anything is once again popular. Years after the first film’s release, hundreds of Star Wars action figures are on the market, and the original Kenner toy line that started it all grows more coveted, and more valuable. As with any collectible, exercise caution when buying and take steps to assure the items authenticity.