Packaging makes all the difference in Star Wars market

Tens of thousands of Star Wars figures were sold in the 1970s and ’80s during the height of the film’s popularity. The original wave of Star Wars figures, which didn’t hit the shelves until almost a year after the film opened, consisted of a dozen key characters from the first movie.

star-warsCollectors refer to them as ‘12-back’ figures, coining the phrase from the original bubble packs that showed all 12 figures from the series on the card back.

They sold in the thousands but were packaged in a way that encouraged the box to be immediately discarded and few children thought to collect them until a cult emerged later in the trilogy.

The standard issues relating to The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi are much easier to find and a fraction of the price.

Beside some rare prototypes, the most desirable of the series is the callow youth turned Jedi knight Luke Skywalker. This figure, notable for his shock of yellow hair, was among the best sellers but most surviving examples are heavily playworn. The estimate of £400-600 was an indication of what they have made in recent years but such a good example took £1050.

For the other figures bids of £200-300 are generally successful, an indication that, at least relative to a decade ago, the market has softened as cupboards have been cleared and the supply slowly increased.

The figure of Princess Leia, the action figure that shattered the myth that no boy would ever play with a female figure, took £300, while Hans Solo, the best-loved character of the film and the best-selling of the first series figures, took £270. The solitary Kenner figure of Chewbacca was suffering from bloom to the plastic, a condition that can occur with age and one that has led some toy collectors to question the longevity of these collectables. It took a modest £80.

The rarest of the rare in Star Wars figure collecting are those from the very first wave of production that saw Darth Vader, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker holding telescopic lightsabres. These proved difficult to manufacture and broke easily and were scrapped after only a few hundred figures had been sold.

Most Star Wars collectors are familiar with the story of the Flintshire pensioner who bought 20 Palitoy action figures for 49p each in 1978 and sold them at Stockton-on-Tees toy specialists Vectis for a small fortune in 2003.

While working as a newsagent 25 years ago, the lady had bought one complete set for her grandson to play with but kept a second set in their original packaging in case any of the figures became lost.

The Suffolk collection included all of the original 12-back figures, all unopened in their original packaging: 11 by British manufacturer Palitoy and one (Chewbacca) by their American parent company Kenner.

The Darth Vader version is the most highly prized and has a value of more than £3000.