Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

November 27, 2012

Long ago... in a galaxy far, far away

Linda Hamer Kennett
Greensburg Daily News

Greensburg — Ever make an embarrassing decision?

It happens to all of us from time to time. We are certain that we are in the right, only to find out we were SO WRONG!

When the Kenner Toy Company bought the rights to produce action figures based on George Lucas’ oncoming space saga “Star Wars” early in 1977, they were less than enthusiastic about the transaction. After all, the leading manufacturer of action figures at the time, The Mego Corporation, had passed on the deal believing that the movie would not fare well at the box office. Once Kenner had the licensing rights they took a rather “wait and see” attitude. As a result, they did not initiate advance production and for Christmas of 1977 there were no toys from, what turned out to be, the number one movie of the year.  Realizing the magnitude of the mistake they had made, Kenner president, Bernard Loomis, compensated the kids of America by issuing an “Early Bird Certificate Package”, better known as “the empty box”. Children who receive this “box” under the tree in 1977 found a mail in certificate good for four exclusive Star Wars action figures and their accessories.

When the first Star Wars play set arrived by mail in May of 1978 they consisted of; four figures in the likeness of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia Organa, Chewbacca, and R2-D2, a membership in the “Star Wars Fan Club”, some stickers and a catalogue of upcoming toys. In addition the flimsy cardboard box the toys arrived in could be made into a display stand, so included in the package was a small baggie of pegs to hold the figures onto the cardboard. Doesn’t sound like all that much, but these first set of inexpensive plastic pieces would start a craze that would forever change the world of collectible action figures.

By the fall of 1978, Kenner had increased their Star Wars line to include eight more characters from the film and the toys could now be purchased in stores. Before Christmas of that year they had added a number of vehicles, accessories and play sets. Two of their largest retail outlets, Sears and J.C. Penney offered exclusives, which are highly sought by today’s collectors. Penney’s was the sole distributor for the “Sonic Controlled Landspeeder” and Sear had exclusive rights to the “Cantina Play Set” {which came with four new action figures}. By the end of 1978 Kenner had seen sales in excess of $100 million.

In addition to the original set there are a number of rare individual figures. The top five are: the Lightsaber Darthe Vader and the vinyl cape Jawa both from 1978, the Rocket Firing Bowa Fett from 1980, the 1985 Yak Face and the extremely rare 1978 Blue Snaggletooth.

When Kenner originally produced the Snaggletooth figure they had only a black and white photo for reference. As a result they made him the scale size of an average man in a blue suit, only to find that he should have been a 3 foot tall character in a red suit. Although they instantly ceased production and corrected the mistake, several of these were released for sale. The “Blue Suit Snaggletooth”, in mint condition, is now valued in the $400-$500 range.

While Star Wars figures can be found for a premium price at antique malls and specialty shops, the true thrill of collecting is making that rare find for a few dollars at a flea market or garage sale. So do your homework, enjoy the search and (sorry I just have to) ”May the force be with you.”

Linda Hamer Kennett is a professional estate liquidator specializing in down-sizing for seniors and the valuation of antiques and household content and may be reached at 317-429-7887 or on Facebook at “What’s in the Attic? Estate Liquidation Company.”