Monday, December 21, 2009

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (Kenner)




In case you were under a rock between 1977 and today, there was a little movie called Star Wars that hit the big screen on May 25, 1977. This movie erupted into a phenomenon which spawned not only sequels (and later on prequels), but a vast majority of merchandise of all kinds.

The most popular type of collectable among children and adults alike were the 3 3/4 inch plastic figures with various sized vehicles, accessories and playsets. Back in those days toys were bought with the sole purpose of being played with. Today these vintage toys can amass to a small fortune. Especially if said toys remain in their packages.

To ensure that everyone would know about the next installment in the Star Wars Trilogy, Kenner, who was still releasing the original line of figures switched all of them over to The Empire Strikes Back cards. All twenty-one figures were still available, and thus the first 21 back card was produced for the new line.

The figures released included;

Luke Skywalker
Princess Leia Organa,
R2-D2
Chewbacca
C-3PO
Darth Vader
Stormtrooper
Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi
Han Solo (small head)
Jawa
Sand People

Death Squad Commander
Greedo
Hammerhead
Snaggletooth
Walrus Man
Luke Skywalker X-Wing Pilot
R5-D4
Death Star Droid
Power Droid
Boba Fett

During this time, the "Secret Star Wars Action Figure" campaign was still being advertised, and later became identified as Bossk. One of the obvious changes at this time was that the figure was no longer available for four proof of purchase, but instead for five.

The figure was available until December 31, 1980 - After which it was released on an Empire Strikes Back card.

Following the release of The Empire Strikes Back in theaters were ten new figures, as well as two more from the original "Star Wars" line. This in turn made it necessary to revamp the card backs to depict the now thirty-one available figures.

What's odd about this particular batch of figures is that Kenner had already released the small head (aka corrected) Han Solo figure, so it was weird that they would choose to now release the large head version. The Death Squad Commander was also released with this set as well as the now carded Bossk figure.

The nine new figures released were;

Leia Organa (Bespin Gown)
FX-7
Imperial Stormtrooper (Hoth Battle Gear)
Rebel Soldier (Hoth Battle Gear)
IG-88
Luke Skywalker (Bespin Fatigues)
Han Solo (Hoth Outfit)
Lando Calrissian
Bespin Security Guard

During this time, Kenner introduced a new mail away offer. The Action Figure Survival Kit. This kit included twelve accessories in total which were;

Luke Skywalker AT-AT Grappling Hook Belt
Jedi Training Harness
Hoth Backpacks
Asteroid Gas Masks
Assorted Weapons

The sets were mailed in plain white boxes and (some) contained an insert depicting not only all the accessories but also how to use certain ones. The offer lasted through the 41 backs and was discontinued on May 31, 1981.

By the 32 back series The Empire Strikes Back was already a household name. However, Kenner decided to only release one new figure, and a rather popular one at that. Yoda the Jedi Master hit store shelves to a much anticipating crowd.

A few major changes took place took place with the 32 backs. The most noticeable was that one of the figures at this time received a name change. The Death Squad Commander was renamed to the more appropriate Star Destroyer Commander.

Both the Princess Leia (Bespin Gown) and Luke Skywalker (Bespin Fatigues) had changes made to them as well. While they were fairly large changes, most people still didn't notice. The most obvious change was that the card fronts changed to show a new picture of the characters. More subtle changes were that Leia's figure now came with a painted and non-painted neck, and Luke's hair was available in both blond and brown.

Eleven figures made it to cards (nine of which were new) in turn creating the forty-one back card. What was clear by now was that Kenner intended on cashing in on the "variant" department by way of consistently releasing the same figures with slight changes. While at the time action figures didn't have a strong secondary market, chasing down all the variants these days can be quiet a challenge, and a rewarding one at that to collectors.

Luke Skywalker and Yoda were released again on the forty-one back card. This time Luke sported brown hair and Yoda's previously orange snake was changed to brown.

The nine new figures were;

Ughnaut
Dengar
Han Solo (Bespin Outfit)
Lobot
Leia (Hoth Gear)
Rebel Commander
AT-AT Driver
Imperial Commander
2-1B

When I tell you now that seven figures were released (six of which were new) making the forty-five back you may in turn say, "That doesn't add up!" The reason it does is because at this time certain figures were discontinued, and (sadly) never released again. In particular, the original C-3PO and R2-D2.

Also odd with this set was the re-release of the Bespin Security Guard who was now black. Kenner never gave an explanation for this change, nor was it really necessary. It's not like people were complaining that there was only one well known black character in the movies. Lando Calrissian also got a subtle change to now show a toothy grin.

The six new figures released were;

R2-D2 with Sensorscope
C-3PO with Removable Limbs
Luke Skywalker in Hoth Gear
AT-AT Commander
Cloud Car Pilot
Bespin Security Guard (black)

There was no doubt about it that Kenner saw the value in the mail-away campaigns. Since most kids threw the backer boards from their previous figures away, each time a new offer was made available, more action figures had to be purchased in order to get the required proofs of purchase labels.

The Action Figure Display Stand was available only on the 45 back figures (though some offer stickers may have been adhered to older cards that were still in the Kenner stock warehouses at the time). The campaign lasted until July 31, 1982.

What made the Action Figure Display Stand so unique was that it came with eight different backgrounds that could be attached to the back. This in turn meant more sales for Kenner as kids sought multiple stands to depict the various pictures.

By now The Empire Strikes Back figures were slowly coming to an end as word of a new Star Wars movie sped quickly around the world. Though nothing was known about the upcoming finale to the Trilogy, it was destined to be a success.

While only one new figure was released on card for the forty-seven back figures - TIE Fighter Pilot, what made it a forty-seven back was the new mail-away campaign for the new Bounty Hunter 4-LOM.

What was interesting about the new mail-away figure was the drastic mistake that Kenner made, and that Lucasfilm either never noticed, or didn't bother to correct...

...The Bounty Hunter 4-LOM was in fact not 4-LOM, but rather Zuckuss. All through the original Star Wars figures this error was never corrected, and even appeared when the figure was released on a card.

For five proofs of purchase, Kenner would send you the brand new figure. Unlike prior mail-away figures, 4-LOM included no insert with details on the character. It simply contained the figure and weapon.

The mail-away offer was good until August 31, 1982.

The last in The Empire Strikes Back series was the forty-eight backs. Zuckuss, who should have been 4-LOM, but wasn't because the real Zuckuss who had been named 4-LOM was released along side 4-LOM who should have been Zuckuss, but the error was never corrected. Make sense? Either way, both figures made it to cards for the forty-eight back set.

During the final set of The Empire Strikes Back figures, a new mail-away figure was offered. Interesting enough, the campaign started before the official title to the upcoming movie was changed. Thus the mail-away offer for the first Revenge of the Jedi figure began.

The offer for Admiral Ackbar ran until January 31, 1983. During this time, two separate inserts were mailed out. Offers redeemed in prior to the movie title being changed to Return of the Jedi received inserts that said Revenge of the Jedi. Offers redeemed after the title change were mailed out with Return of the Jedi inserts.

Like the prior "Secret Star Wars Action Figure" campaign, both collectors young and old jumped at the opportunity to be the first to own the newest figure from the newest Star Wars film.

There are nine known card front variations released throughout the entire run of The Empire Strikes Back figures. Like the original Star Wars line, most of these changes are due in part to stickers being adhered to the front of the cards. This in turn can create an unknown amount of possible variants.

The first The Empire Strikes Back card to be released included a sticker for the "Secret Action Figure" campaign. The second was for the same campaign, but with the figure identified as Bossk, and the offer date being extended. The third was the unaltered card with no stickers of any type.

Both the fourth and fifth cards were for the Survival Kit mail-away campaign depicted by stickers. The sixth included a sticker for the Action Figure Display Arena mail-away offer. The seventh had a sticker for the mail-away 4-LOM figure. While the eight included a sticker for the free Revenge of the Jedi figure Admiral Ackbar.

What makes the ninth card variation so unique was that it was the first card in any of the two Star Wars lines to actually have the mail-away offer printed on the card as opposed to being a sticker.

Eighteen different card backs have been confirmed to be in existence. While some of those changes are so subtle even the most experienced collector could miss it, this doesn't stop them from tracking down every different version they possibly can. A task that may not even be humanly possible.

There are three different variations of the twenty-one back card, though the changes are due to stickers. The first is the original card, while the second includes a small rectangular sticker underneath the UPC code extending the offer for the Secret Star Wars Action Figure. The third extends the offer yet again, but this time with a larger red sticker which identifies the figure as Bossk.

The three thirty-one back cards are very different from each other, but only in the bottom third section depicting the vehicles being offered by Kenner. The first card shows the Snowspeeder, Millennium Falcon and Imperial Troop Transport. The second shows the Hoth Ice Planet Action Playset, Star Destroyer Action Playset and the Darth Vader Collector's Case for figures. The third variation covers up the vehicles completely with a sticker showing the mail-away campaign for the Action Figure Survival Kit.

While there are three different thirty-two back variations, oddly enough they are all the same as the thirty-one back with the exception that Yoda has been added to the top left of the card, and the text under the logo has been shifted to make room for him.

Five forty-one backs have been confirmed over the past years since the figures were produced. The first three are the same with the exception of the bottom third of the card. The first variation includes a sticker over the vehicle portion to advertise the Action Figure Survival Kit mail-away offer. The second depicts two separate portions for the vehicles. The first contains the Darth Vader Collector's Case, Dagobah Playset, Imperial TIE Fighter and X-Wing Fighter. The second section shows the Millennium Falcon, Twin-Pod Cloud Car and Slave I. The third card is laid out the same way, but shows different vehicles. The first section shows Snowspeeder, Tauntaun, Turret-Probot Playset and the three (sold separately) Mini Rigs. The second section shows the AT-AT and Imperial Attack Base.

The two forty-five backs are essentially the same. The only difference is that the second version has a small thin black sticker towards the bottom that shows the extended offer date for the Action Figure Display Arena mail-away offer.

There is only one forty-seven card version. That is the one showing the offer for the 4-LOM mail-away campaign.

The forty-eight backs have four different variations. The first two are different only by way of the text at the top being placed differently. The third and fourth cards are different by way of the third version has a sticker advertising the Admiral Ackbar mail-away figure while the fourth has the ad printed directly on the card.

Anxious to sell more than one figure at a time Kenner continued the multipack scheme. Like the prior multipacks, you could not complete an entire set of The Empire Strikes Back figures by purchasing them, and you would again end up with multiple duplicates.


The multipacks were available in nine three packs and two six packs. What also stunk about the multipacks was that you couldn't use the proofs of purchase labels towards any of the mail-away offers.


Several vehicles, playsets and accessories were released along side The Empire Strikes Back figures. During this time Kenner also released several items that weren't necessarily seen in the movies, but were released for the sole purpose of offering cheaper "larger" toys to consumers who couldn't or wouldn't afford the larger more expensive ones.

The vehicles released were;

Twin-Pod Cloud Car
Rebel Armored Snowspeeder (Pink Box)
Rebel Armored Snowspeeder (Blue Box)
Battle Damaged X-Wing Fighter
Slave I - Boba Fett's Spaceship
Scout Walker Vehicle
Rebel Trasnsport
Imperial Crusier
AT-AT - All Terraine Armored Transport

The Playsets released were;

Cloud City Playset (Sears Exclusive)
Rebel Command Center Adventure Set
Hoth Ice Planet Adventure Set
Dagobah Action Playset
Imperial Attack Base
Turret and Probot Playset
Darth Vader's Star Destroyer Action Playset

The creatures released were; Tauntaun, Tauntaun with Open Belly, and Hoth Wampa.


The mini rigs and mini accessories were; CAP-2, INT-4, MLC-3, MTV-7, PDT-8, Radar Laser Cannon, Tri-Pod Laser Cannon, and Vehicle Maintenance Energizer.


Kenner produced several carry cases for the figures which included both vinyl and plastic varieties.

The Darth Vader Carry Case was originally released as an individual piece. Later released versions included three action figure varieties. The first contained Boba Fett, IG-88, and Bossk. The second included Darth Vader, Yoda, and Luke with Bespin Fatigues.

Kenner also re-released a handful of vehicles and one playset from the original Star Wars line with new Empire Strikes Back logo boxes. This included two different Millennium Falcon boxes, the Imperial Troop Transport, and the X-Wing Fighter.

The playset was the Droid Factory.


The first vinyl carry case for the series was actually a re-release of the original carry case, but with an Empire Strikes Back logo. It was released prior to all other carry cases with the Empire Strikes Back logo on it.

Unlike the first series of Star Wars toys, Kenner now began including offers for vehicles that included action figures along with them. These were typically done through department stores, or catalogs for the various department stores. This happened randomly throughout The Empire Strikes Back series, and depending on which figures were readily available at the time determined which figures were offered.

For collector's, finding all the various versions of figures from The Empire Strikes Back line is a rather rewarding journey. For those of us without money coming out of our asses, we have to suffice for collected photographs. However way you get the opportunity to relive those moments from your past, it's nice to have those memories associated with such great toys from our childhoods.

For those looking for promotional items, there were four catalogs produced during The Empire Strikes Back line. The 3rd and 4th catalogs are actually the same one. The only exception is that one was produced with a silver cover, and the other, a white cover.


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1 comment:

  1. Great article! The mini-rigs were fun and economical alternatives to the larger and more expensive vehicles.

    ReplyDelete

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