Monday, November 9, 2009

Star Wars (Kenner)



Star Wars
Kenner
1978 - 1980

A Long Time Ago In A Galaxy Far, Far Away...

When you have a passion for something, it's hard to keep it to yourself. You can sometime overwhelm people with all the meticulous details associated with your love, no matter what it may be. It is my hopes to not do that here, but it is also my desire to pass every inch of knowledge I have on this particular subject not only to you, but for a future reference for myself when I'm old(er) and (more) senile.

I know I initially said that I would not touch on the subject of Star Wars in these "articles" as the first series was prior to the 80's, but as each toy blog passed by I found myself looking further and further into the vault in my head thinking, "Is it even humanly possible to catalog this series?" I was certainly expecting a rather difficult challenge due not only to the age of the pieces, but the rarity of finding mint condition ones still in their packages as well as being able to hunt down all the variants that had been established over the years.

It was certainly a fun challenge, and a very (personally) rewarding one. I would dare say that compiling all of these photos took me two to three times longer than it did to hunt down all the Nintendo cartridges. I wasn't going to settle for anything less than a 100% compiled archive.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy this complete look at Star Wars.

THE EARLY BIRD KIT

Christmas 1977 was approaching fast. Star Wars had been a smash hit at the theater ever since its opening on May 25, 1977 and fans were clambering for all the merchandise they could find. Buttons, shirts, posters, masks, comic books and every other piece with the Star Wars logo was gobbled up from retail stores across the United States.

Movie related toys were never a huge success, but seeking to introduce a new line of space toys, Kenner Toys and Lucasfilm quickly made a deal to begin production on a line of toys based upon George Lucas' smash hit film. Unfortunately, those toys were not produced in time to "cash in" on the holiday season.

Rather than miss out on one of the biggest times of the year for consumers, Kenner and Lucasfilm introduced the legendary Early Bird Kit. It was a bold new concept to the approach of toy sales - One that has never been repeated with the exception of Lucasfilm and Hasbro doing it again in the New Millennium to celebrate the original kit. The concept was simple. Stores would sell these kits up until December 31, 1977, parents would take it home, wrap it and under the tree would be their children’s first opportunity to own official Star Wars toys.

Inside the mysterious Early Bird Kit envelope, children would find a coupon good for four brand new Star Wars toys which would be shipped between February 1, 1978 and June 1, 1978. The kit also included an 18X18 folded cardboard piece which could be converted into a display stand for when the figures arrived as well as stickers, and a membership offer for the fan club.

The Early Bird kit arrived in a plain white box. Inside this box was a five slot plastic tray which included Luke Skywalker (with a Telescoping Lightsaber - see next section for further details), Princess Leia Organa, C-3PO and R2-D2. There was also a small baggie which contained pegs to attach your characters to the card board stand which arrived with the initial kit as well as instructions on how to do so. Also in the box was a mini "catalog" which displayed all the upcoming figures and vehicles and an order form for a new mail away, The Collector's Action Figure Display Stand.

The craze had officially begun...

12 BACK

In the collector's world of vintage Star Wars figures you will often hear the terms 12 back, 20 back, 32 back, etc. What this refers to is the total number of figures being advertised on the back of the card.

Throughout the various sets of Star Wars figures the back changed constantly to reflect the new figures that were available. Star Wars had a total of twenty-three different backs, though one of them is technically an Empire Strikes Back card even though you won't find those words anywhere on the package.

In the beginning, the three figures which came with lightsabers (Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi) had what was called a telescoping lightsaber. What this meant was that the lightsaber not only extended from the figures arm, but then again in the middle of the blade to make it even longer. This concept was quickly dissolved from the series, though no official answer was ever provided as to why. It can only be assumed that either Kenner or Lucasfilm simply didn't like the concept, or the cost wasn't justified to produce a two part saber as opposed to a one part. Future lightsabers were release as a single piece of plastic that only extended from the figures arm.

Other variants in this set can also be found which include size and sculpting differances in Han Solo's head, and the more obvious vinyl cape and cloth cape Jawa.

A total of twelve different figures (not including variants) would be the first to hit retail stores in 1978 (thus the description twelve back). Each figure came carded individually and was accented by a beautiful photo profiling the character.

The twelve back figures released were (shown in order of release date);

Luke Skywalker (Telescoping Lightsaber)
Luke Skywalker (Non-Telescoping Lightsaber)
Princess Leia Organa
Artoo-Deetoo (R2-D2)
Chewbacca
See-Threepio (C-3PO)
Darth Vader (Telescoping Lightsaber)
Darth Vader (Non-Telescoping Lightsaber)
Stormtrooper
Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi (Telescoping Lightsaber)
Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi (Non-Telescoping Lightsaber)
Han Solo (small head)
Han Solo (large head)
Jawa (vinyl cape)
Jawa (cloth cape)
Sand People
Death Squad Commander

From this point on, none of the telescoping lightsaber figures were released again, and when that character is listed, it is to be with the understanding that it is the reissued non-telescoping figure. The vinyl cape Jawa was also never reissued from this point on and on a side note, remains the most sought after and valuable figure in the entire series.

20 BACK

With the huge success of the initial set, Kenner Toys quickly began production on eight new figures. This meant that a new backer board had to be developed in order to not only show off all the new figures, but also the older, still available ones which were reissued on the new backer boards as well.

As most of the major characters had already been developed, Kenner chose to release seven "background" or "secondary" characters as well as a new version of Luke Skywalker.

The front of the cards was also changed slightly. The small "LP" logo circle towards the bottom right of the card was removed as well as the white "price" box at the top left corner.

The new twenty back figures released were (listed in order of release);

Greedo
Hammerhead
Snaggletooth
Walrusman
Luke Skywalker X-Wing Pilot
R5-D4
Death Star Droid
Power Droid

The reissued figures were;

Luke Skywalker
Princess Leia Organa
Artoo-Deetoo (R2-D2)
Chewbacca
See-Threepio (C-3PO)
Darth Vader
Stormtrooper
Ben (Obi-Wan)
Han Solo (large head)
Jawa (cloth cape)
Sand People
Death Squad Commander

BOBA FETT MAIL-AWAY

During the twenty back campaign, Kenner introduced its next mail away offer, the Bounty Hunter known as Boba Fett. Those who were witness to the atrocious Star Wars Holiday Special knew of this character already from the mini cartoon which was shown during the special.

For four proof of purchase from any existing Star Wars figure, the upcoming "Rocket Firing" Boba Fett would be mailed to awaiting children. However, before the figure would be released, the rocket firing option was removed by Kenner for safety reasons. It is rumored that some did make it from the assembly line to children's homes, but nobody has been able to confirm this, nor show proof of any such existing toy.

Because of its sudden change in plans, Kenner issued each figure with a statement entitled "Note To Consumers". This noticed expressed Kenners apology for the sudden change and explained that it was for safety purposes. The note followed up by informing consumers that if they were unhappy with this change that they could return the figure free of charge for any replacement figure of their choice. The other side of the insert gave a brief description of Boba Fett himself.

Due to the changes to the figure, the overall packaging of the twenty back figures had to be altered in order to show the now non firing Boba Fett. Kenner took several approaches to this which lead to one of the largest set of card variations in any toy line to date. Some cards showing the firing jet pack were covered up with black labels. Others received a brand new label printed and stuck over the original photo.

The offer was set to expire on May 31, 1979. However, once this date was extended, small circular stickers were printed up and stuck on all the various cardboard backs listed above to show this. This in turn led to three more variants being produced.

After a second extension of the expiration date to March 31, 1980 yet another three variants were created when the cards received yet another sticker. This time a rectangular one depicting the new cut off date. While it's possible that even more variants exist, the above nine are the only ones to be confirmed.


21 BACK

With the huge success of Boba Fett as a mail away figure, as well as the (at the time unknown) appearance of the character in The Empire Strikes Back, Kenner produced a twenty-one card back and included the Bounty Hunter on his own card.

Boba Fett was the only new figure released on the twenty-one back while most of the prior figures were rereleased. What made Boba Fett's card so unique to all the others was that in the bottom right corner on the front there was a description of the character - Something that was never done before or again in the series.

The reissued figures were;

Luke Skywalker
Princess Leia Organa
Artoo-Deetoo (R2-D2)
Chewbacca
See-Threepio (C-3PO)
Darth Vader
Stormtrooper
Ben (Obi-Wan)
Han Solo (large head)
Jawa (cloth cape)
Sand People
Death Squad Commander
Greedo
Hammerhead
Snaggletooth
Walrusman
Luke Skywalker X-Wing Pilot
R5-D4
Death Star Droid
Power Droid

SECRET STAR WARS ACTION FIGURE MAIL-AWAY

During the twenty-one back release of Star Wars a new mail away figure was offered. This time however, it was a secret figure that no details were being given on. All that consumers knew was that this secret figure would be the first in an all new line of The Empire Strikes Back series. The mystery around the campaign alone was enough to make people bite.

Rather than go through the trouble of reprinting cards, Kenner instead opted to print labels that were pasted over the bottom third of the initial twenty-one back cards. This enabled the figures in that line to still be displayed, but did away completely with the vehicles and accessories section of the card.

The advertisement stated that for four proof of purchase from any Star Wars figure you could be among the first to own the first figure from the upcoming movie. A blurb also insisted that consumers keep their eyes open for more new toys that were, "coming soon".

The offer for the mail away Bossk was initially set to expire on May 31, 1980, but was later extended to December 31, 1980. Like the Boba Fett campaign, this generated even more stickers showing the change of date which were then pasted on the card backs that advertised the figure.

Bossk came with a little sheet of paper which gave a blurb on the character as well as a catalog which showed some of the upcoming The Empire Strikes Back figures.

CARD FRONT VARIATIONS

With all the various offers, the fronts of the Star Wars cards went through several changes. Most of which were depicted with labels stuck to them.

The first figure shows the original cards as they were seen with the initial twelve back figures. The second shows the alteration when the "LP" logo and price box were removed from the card. This particular change took place starting with the 20 back figures.

The other three figures show the various labels that were used for the mail away campaigns. The first shows the Boba Fett campaign from the twenty back figures. The second, the "Secret Star Wars Action Figure" campaign from the twenty-one back set, and finally the extended offer of the "Secret Star Wars Action Figure" campaign now being identified as Bossk, also from the twenty-one back set.

While it's possible that some of the older figures which Kenner still had stock on were labeled with these offers, none have been confirmed. Hunting down a complete set of all these variations would surely take a lifetime, and a wealth greater than any Kings as each card would be available both with and without the sticker, and in some cases multiple sticker combinations.

CARD BACK VARIATIONS

The card backs saw the most changes throughout the line. A total of twenty-three cards have been confirmed to be in existence. The changes can sometimes be subtle that even seasoned collector's can miss them.

The twelve backs saw a total of four different cards, though technically one of them is a thirty-two back, and contains figures from The Empire Strikes Back.

The original twelve back cards showed the original twelve figures as well as the TIE Fighter, X-Wing Fighter and Landspeeder in the top section. Also in the top section is a set of instructions on how to work the lightsabers. The lightsaber depicted has a very short blade (important for the next card). There is also a sentence that reads, "Push arm lever forward and pull saber out by tip. To close, push tip of saber in and push arm lever back." The bottom section of the card offers the Collector's Action Figure Stand for four proof of purchases from any figure as well as $2.00 for shipping and handling.

The second twelve back card is essentially the same as the first one, however the tip of the lightsaber is a lot longer and the Collector's Action Figure Stand is now being offered for free with twelve proof of purchases from any figure.

The third card of the twelve backs is essentially the same as the second, however the directions to the saber have been changed to read, "Pull saber out by tip or push saber out using slide lever."

The fourth card, which as I said should technically be a card for The Empire Strikes Back had a sticker on the bottom third of card showing the twenty new figures from The Empire Strikes Back and had a blurb that read, "Collect all 32 action figures."

The initial two twenty back cards were a little more noticeably different from each other. The Creature Cantina and Droid Factor show on the bottom section on the original card showed the prototype versions while the second card showed the actual finished product. The lettering was also placed in different areas of the card.

As far as the Boba Fett mail away offer twenty back cards go, nine have been confirmed to be in existence. These range in various styles - The first showing the original concept for the rocket firing Boba Fett. From then on out it was a mix and match of various stickers and labels. Some extended the offer, some extended the already extended offers. Others covered the rocket firing figure completely, while others covered it with a revamped advertisement. Those two versions could then have a multiple variety of the expiration date stickers on top of them.

Like the twenty backs, the two initial twenty-one backs show vast differences on the bottom sections. On the original, the Dewback was depicted as the prototype version, and the items as well as the wording are placed in different locations when compared to the second version.

Once the "Secret Action Figure" campaign kicked off, the bottom portion of the twenty-one back was replaced with an ad sticker. Like the cards for the Boba Fett offer, this comes in a variety of variations depicted by further stickers extending the offer.

Like the card fronts, tracking down a complete set of all the various variations would be incredibly expensive, and next to impossible to do.


MULTIPACKS

In an effort to sell more than one figure at a time, Kenner deployed a tactic known as the multipack. This persuaded buyers to purchase more than one figure because the overall scheme was that they would be saving money by buying a three pack as compared to buying each figure separately.

The downside to this was that you would end up with multiple figures of the same character, and still not be able to complete a set as Luke Skywalker (other than the X-Wing Pilot outfit) and Jawa were not released in any of the packs. This was particularly frustrating because the seven sets that were available equaled out to twenty one figures, so it's not like Kenner couldn't have released every figure in sets of three.

The seven three packs were as follows;

Android Set with C-3PO, R2-D2 and Chewbacca
Creature Set with Hammerhead, Walrus Man and Greedo
Droid Set with R5-D4, Death Star Droid and Power Droid
Hero Set with Han Solo, Princess Leia Organa and Obi-Wan (Ben) Kenobi)
Hero Set with Luke Skywalker X-Wing Pilot, Obi-Wan (Ben) Kenobi and Han Solo
Villian Set with Stormtrooper, Darth Vader and Death Squad Commander
Villian Set with Tusken Raider, Boba Fett and Snaggletooth

The packaging varies slightly from the first and second set. A lot of the second set packs had a sticker on them advertising an exclusive backdrop for the figures which were only available by purchasing the figures from select department store catalogs such as JC Penny or Sears.

The multipack cards were very different from the individually packed figures. The first card which showed the first three sets used silhouettes of the figures and provided a blurb for each set depending on what the character's functions were in the movie.

The second card for the "second series" of multipacks showed the characters standing in front of their exclusively offered backdrops.

COLLECTOR'S ACTION FIGURE STAND MAIL-AWAY

As mentioned above, the Collector's Action Figure Stand was the second mail away item (the first being the Early Bird Kit) that Kenner ever offered in the Star Wars line. Available up until May 1, 1979 for either two proofs of purchase from any figures plus $2.00 and later for twelve proof of purchase from any figures, the Collector's Action Stand would be mailed out in a plain brown box to the recipient.

Some assembly was required by means of attaching the cardboard backing as well as the figure stands. A slim "label" sticker was included and could be adhered to the front of the stand to show each character's name. For those who had trouble putting this simple item together, an instruction sheet was also included.

VEHICLES, PLAYSETS AND ACCESSORIES

There's no doubt that the figures are the bread and butter of any fan collecting the vintage toys, but that doesn't mean they forget about the vehicles, playsets and accessories. Though not as rare as the action figures themselves, finding a complete unopened or even complete opened vintage Star Wars vehicle can be quiet challenging. However, unlike the figures, with the vehicles it's easier to track down multiple versions at a fraction of the cost of some of the figures in order to compile one completed product.

Fifteen various vehicles, playsets and accessories were available under the "Star Wars" logo. Fortunately for fans who had missed the opportunity to send away for the Collector's Action Figure Stand, a slightly altered one was made available on store shelves under the new name, "Action Figure Display Diorama" in a much nicer looking box than the initial brown cardboard one.

Most if not all the vehicles required assembly upon removal from their box and included instruction sheets and stickers to go along with them. One of the ways Kenner helped cut production cost on specific playsets was to include cardboard backdrops as opposed to detailed plastic shells. These backdrops are extremely hard to find these days, especially in mint condition.

The vehicles were;

Millennium Falcon Spaceship
Imperial Troop Transport
Radio Controlled Jawa Sandcrawler
Darth Vader's TIE Fighter
TIE Fighter
X-Wing Fighter
Land Speeder
Sonic Controlled Land Speeder

The playsets were;

Land of the Jawas
Droid Factory
Death Star Space Station
Cantina Adventure Set
Creature Cantina

The creatures were;

Patrol Dewback

The accessories were;

Mini Action Figure Collector's Case
Action Display Stand

At this point in time, including figures with vehicles and playsets wasn't a big concept. While the Droid Factory contained parts to build a three legged R2-D2 as well as another unknown droid on wheels, the rest of the vehicles, playsets and accessories didn't include any figures unless they were part of a special offer from department store catalogs. Even then, the figures were not packed in, but rather bagged in "Kenner" logo baggies and sent along with your purchase.

With each passing year, the original Star Wars toys from yesteryear will only continue to grow more and more scarce and valuable. What's sad to think about is that no matter how well you maintain your collection, plastic is biodegradable, and over time all these hard earned collections will begin to break down and fade away from existence.

However, until such time, fans will continue to hunt down the missing pieces from their childhoods as they rediscover what made them fall in love with these toys as a kid. It's an expensive hobby, no doubt about that, but one that can be very rewarding to not only the collector, but the people who have the opportunity to see them and share in the memories.

For those seeking promotional items, Kenner produced a lot of items to track down - Six catalogs and four rebates to be exact.

The first catalog was released only with the Early Bird kit, and the Burger Chef catalog was only available at Burger Chef restaurants. The rest were packed in with vehicles, playsets, and accessories.

The cash rebates were available at local stores, and occasionally packed in with vehicles, playsets, and accessories.


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2 comments:

  1. Nice piece. I appreciate all the time you put into this and your updated version.

    ReplyDelete
  2. How very interesting and memory provoking. I actually am in the process of writing a sermon for this Saturday and I needed a detail regarding that special offer for Boba Fett. Your article made it in my search and well I found myself reading the whole thing with fine memories. Thank you so much. Sincerely Dov W. Tiberias, ISRAEL

    ReplyDelete

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