Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi (Kenner)
Ah, Return of the Jedi. Not only was it a great movie, but it (eventually) gave fans young and old a whole lot of new Star Wars toys to play with.
I remember the first time I saw the trailer for the film. I was sitting at my grandmother's house watching TV when it came on. I jumped up and started shouting, "A new Star Wars movie, a new Star Wars movie!" It's the only Star Wars movie (as a child) that I can remember seeing in the theater (though I've been told that I saw all of them in the theaters).
Much to the disappointment of collector's young and old, the first set of Return of the Jedi figures, dubbed the 48 back, was nothing more than a re-release of a bunch of older figures. Sure it was a great opportunity for new fans of the Saga to grab a set of the original figures (most of them anyway), it left a lot to be desired from those who already had them.
But, despite this upsetting marketing ploy, these first figures still managed to fly off the shelves by the handful. It wasn't because toy buyers had the desire to own multiple copies of the same figure. It wasn't because people were looking to replace lost weapons or missing accessories...
NIEN NUNB MAIL AWAY
...No, it was because with five proof of purchase, you could be among the first to own a new figure from the upcoming film, Nien Nunb.
The figure came with the traditional description sheet which offered a few "faint" tidbits of what fans could expect from the next chapter in the Saga as well as a small blurb on the character himself.
Also packed with the figure was a small advertisement flyer promising more figures, vehicles and accessories in the very near future. In other words, it was just enough to get people's mouths drooling for all the great toys to come.
More to the liking of fans, sixteen Return of the Jedi figures were finally released on cards with the 65 back. Seventeen if you include the fact that Nien Nunb also made a debut as a carded figure. The series also included a wide variety of figures from the original film and The Empire Strikes Back.
What makes this set of figures a particular interest to collectors these days is that some of the "older" figures received updated pictures. This is clearly noticeable if you look at the blond haired Luke located in the first row of figures, and eighth row (not the brown haired Luke in the fifth row). Most of these updated pictures would again be used in the forthcoming Power of the Force collection.
Luke Skywalker was initially released with a blue lightsaber. As Kenner was not privy to script details, they were unaware that Lucas had changed the color of his saber.
THE EMPEROR MAIL AWAY
Along with the 65 back figures came another mail away offer - This time for a main character (as opposed to the previously offered secondary characters).
For five proof of purchases, kids young and old could now play out the end battle scene in Return of the Jedi which pitted Darth Vader against Luke Skywalker as The Emperor sat on watching with glee.
The figure was offered for a very limited time, and was one of (if not THE) shortest mail away campaign in the entire line.
ANAKIN SKYWALKER MAIL AWAY
Much later in the 65 back campaign a second mail away figure was offered. While not seen in the human form, Anakin Skywalker was offered to an unsuspecting legion of fans. Though must have not been as popular as Kenner anticipated because the offer remained in place to the conclusion of the Return of the Jedi line (79 back).
For another five proof of purchase points, Anakin Skywalker would be mailed to happy Star Wars collector's to add to their collection. What makes this figure interesting is that unlike all the prior mail away offers, Anakin Skywalker was never released in the respective series on card. It wasn't until the Power of the Force line that the figure finally got carded and released. This was probably due to overstock in the Kenner warehouses.
With Return of the Jedi officially released to theaters, the toy line was hotter than ever. Kenner quickly assembled its next batch of figures in what would become the 77 back series.
Naturally one could seek out older figures (as with every other set) as they were readily available. A marketing ploy that by now was beginning to hurt Kenner's sales as stores were reluctant to purchase cases of rehashed figures that would remain on the shelves unsold.
It's rumored that this was initially what killed the Star Wars franchise. Too much overstock meant that stores were not buying, as consumers weren't buying. Sure the newer figures would fly off the shelves, but how many original Luke Skywalkers do you think a store could sell for the sixth year in a row? Not too many, I'm sure.
Sales were in major decline by the time that the 79 back series hit shelves. It didn't help that Kenner was offering a whopping two new figures and the same mail away that fans had been turning their noses up at since the 65 backs. It also didn't help that those two new figures were Ewoks.
It was clear that the Star Wars train was quickly coming to its final stop. Though the series would continue on for one more (at the time) unsuccessful set.
Much like all the prior sets released, there were more than enough rehashed older figures. But, unfortunately by now, stores weren't ordering them. Not too many retailers were eager to purchases cases of figures that offered two new figures and ten older ones. That seemed like bad business sense - which it was.
SY SNOOTLES AND THE REBO BAND
Rounding off the final release of figures in the Return of the Jedi series was the three packs containing Jabba's band; Sy Snootles and the Rebo Band.
Despite being a set of figures that had no weapons or really all that big of a part in the film, these figures are some of the hottest. The detail to not only the figures themselves, but the instruments is incredibly meticulous.
The three packs is not considered to be a part of any of the other sets, meaning it's not attributed to the 77 or 79 back figures. Rather, it's intended more as an "accessory" to the entire series, and was often times shelved in stores with the vehicles - Most likely due to the size of the box.
Despite whatever retailers thought of the series at the time, collectors these days are hot on the trail of completing their collections. To do this, one would be looking at collecting seven variations of card fronts.
All these variations were based on mail away offer stickers, and considering that a new sticker could be placed over an older one (such as shown and confirmed with the Anakin sticker over The Emperor), it's conceivable that even more versions of cards could possibly exist, those these seven are the only confirmed ones to date.
To complete a full set of figures based on card backs, collector's will be looking (and paying) a lot more.
The twelve confirmed backs are mainly based off of stickers being placed over pre printed cards, but there are also a few combinations where the "print" or text on the card is either reworded or placed differently.
Again, these twelve cards are the only ones to be confirmed in existence, but it is possible that other variations do in fact exist.
In an added effort to sell more figures, and also reduce warehouse stock, Kenner offered a wide variety of multi packs.
There are thirty two known variations of duel packs out there, but due to the fact that the figures were randomly inserted off of the assembly line, there is really no way of telling how many possible variations could be floating around out there. This is mainly because the two packs weren't limited to Return of the Jedi figures, and some contained figures from the Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back series.
Also worthy of note is that the packaging of the multi packs was rather "cheap" - Specifically on the plastic bubble surrounding the figures which are very flimsy and very fragile, or easily crushed.
But, the major fault that the duel packs had against them were that the figures didn't include any weapons or accessories such as helmets (in the case of the Leia in Boushh disguise). This in turn made many toy buyers turn their noses right up at them - Rightly so in my opinion.
VEHICLES AND ACCESSORIES
If there was one strong point to the Return of the Jedi line, it was the vehicles and accessories. "BIG, BIG, BIG" was certainly the name of the game - Especially when it came to things such as the Imperial Shuttle, and the huge Ewok Village. These vehicles and accessories were more than an arm load for most little tikes. There were certainly a good amount of smaller vehicles and accessories to choose from, but every kid mainly had their eyes on the big ones.
Also available were a few rehashed vehicles that kids could grab if they missed their opportunity the first or second time around.
The vehicles released were;
AT-AT - All Terrain Armored Transport
Battle Damaged Imperial TIE Fighter
Battle Damaged X-Wing Fighter
Rebel Armored Snowspeeder
Slave I - Boba Fett's Spaceship
The playsets released were;
The Jabba the Hutt Dungeon
Ewok Village Action Playset
The Jabba the Hutt Dungeon was released in two different versions, and both were Sear's exclusives. The gray version was released with Klaatu, Nikto and 8D8. The brown version was released with EV-9D9, Amanaman and Barada.
The two creatures released were Jabba the Hutt and Rancor Monster. However, Jabba the Hutt was considered a playset for some reason.
Several mini rigs were produced as well as re-released. THe new rigs were; ISP-6, AST-5, Ewok Combat Glider, Endor Forest Ranger, Desert Sail Skiff and Ewok Assault Catapult Accessory.
The re-released rigs were; CAP-2, MTV-7, INT-4, MLC-3, PDT-8, Radar Laser Cannon, Tri-Pod Laser Cannon, Vehicle Maintenance Energizer.
Kenner also made sure to release a wide variety of carry cases for kids to store their figures in. Four to be exact. They were;
Vinyl Collector's Case
Laser Rifle Carry Case
Chewbacca Bandolier Strap
C-3PO Collector's Case
Perhaps (as speculated) it was the overstock that brought the franchise of Star Wars toys crashing down. Perhaps it was that children were growing older with each passing day and finding other interests. The facts are undecided.
However, what is definite is that despite declining sales in the 80's, collectors these days are willing to pay outrageous amounts to plug the holes in their collections - A feat definitely impressive to tackle, and even more impressive to pull off.
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