Thursday, December 08, 2005

A Star Wars figure collector's primer

I found this article while surfing the web for new toy news. For a while I've wanted to write an essay about the state of collecting Star Wars figures now compared to the glory days of the 70s-80s. Why? I don't really know, actually. Anyway, this is a good summary of the hard-to-find Star Wars figures of yesteryear. Yes, I have them all except that jawa.

"Even the most casual Star Wars fanatic (yes, a casual fanatic) has probably heard about some action figures they've never actually seen from the vintage 70s-early 80s Kenner line. Back in my collecting days, an obsession which still renders two-fourths of my living space entirely useless, it was pretty hard not to come across these mysterious figures once in awhile. See, the whole internet collectors 'cult' was sort of like your gradeschool playground. There were bullies, popular kids, even people who wanted to steal your lunch money. Course, in this case, the lunch money robbers were getting a little more than a buck twenty-five when they ripped you off. And one of the classic ways for them to do it? The rocket-firing Boba Fett.

For non-fans, Boba Fett did for Star Wars what Jessica Biel does for Seventh Heaven. He made it watchable. Even people who hate Star Wars are quick to admit that Fett's one cool badass. The action figure was popular as Hell back in the day. Remember, back then, action figures were really hot. There were no real big video games for kids to pine for. Unless you count Atari games, but even with yesteryear's technology, not too many people sat by their bed at night and prayed that Santa would bring them Adventure. So toys were the in-thing. To this day, Boba, which is a pretty common figure, fetches a good price, and an extremely high price if you're one of those people who needs to buy him in the original packaging. (some examples - on eBay, packaged Fetts have gone for 200-400+.

But if you think those prices are Crazy Eddie insane, you obviously haven't seen someone try to hock you a rocket-firing Fett. First and foremost, know this...there are none. Theoretically, there is a chance that they're out there, and a chance that some guy in a black trenchcoat working the flea market stand is looking to sell it...but there's also a chance that Pluto is inhabited by giant, talking goats who've formed a religion around that guy who teaches Sam how to move empty soda cans in Ghost. Its possible, but very unlikely.

The Story: Kenner originally had intended to allow Fett's famed rocket pack to actually shoot missles. Of course, Fett used the rocket pack to fly, so the added bonus of firing rockets made about as much literal sense as giving him a miniature Scrabble game accessory. Still, the plans were to go through, until people realized a few concerning aspects of the proposed figure.

Shown to your left is the rocket-firing Fett prototype. (these were rough, unpainted versions of the usually released figures) In the inset you'll see the missles. Now, understand that back in these days, toys were actually of good quality. That's a definite lost art. Hey, I love McFarlane's line as much as most collectors do, but 4 out of 10 times, the figure manages to fall apart while still in-package. Back then, people didn't have the Am I Hot Or Not site to distract them...craftsmanship was at an all-time high. In other words, this thing really shot! In fact, the rockets shot so well, Kenner smartly decided to can the feature, knowing full well it'd only be a matter of time before some aspiring young Jedi lost an eye.

There's only a few dozen known to still exist today. And since they're so rare, they're also very pricey. Pricey enough that the people who own them probably don't need to sell Star Wars toys to pay the bills. So, if you ever come across one, the chances are almost positively nil that its real. Counterfeiting Star Wars figures might not be as lucrative as just counterfeiting money and eliminating the middleman, but people still do it, and people still fall for it. If a diamond is a way to make six months salary last forever, buying one of these without doing your research is like taking a torch to the bitch.

Fett's not the only mysterious figure out there. If I may, I'd like to direct your attention to one of the many patrons of the infamous Mos Eisley cantina.

Snaggletooth. Remember, there were nearly 100 action figures made for the Star Wars line by the time interest finally started waning. A huge number of the figures made had no lines in the movie. Hell, at least a third of them have less time on-screen than James Earl Jones. But don't blame Kenner for that, there just wasn't much of a reason to shove Amanaman or a Cloud Car Pilot into a twenty-minute subplot in the movies. But one thing's for sure about Snaggletooth: he's a midget in a red suit. Just like the photo and figure picture suggest. Well, then how do you explain....this?!

5% of you out there may recognize this fellow...its Blue Snaggletooth! Back in the day, Sears use to run some exclusive Star Wars promotions. In this case, it was a Creature Cantina playset that came with four action figures. There was a wider, completely national release of a cantina playset, but the Sears version was made of flimsy cardboard which could barely last ten minutes, much less 25 years, so its a rare piece to find today in any type of good condition. A few years back, I actually managed to land one of the playsets...the cardboard literally melted when you touched it. My eldest brother had scored a Blue Snaggletooth years prior, somehow convincing himself that a hundred dollars was worth it.

The people who created Star Wars figures weren't necessarily Star Wars freaks. And even if they did like the movies, there's only so much you can figure out by watching a guy grab a drink for three seconds and dissapear forever. So, they made their best interpretation of what Snaggletooth should look like based on a difficult b/w still picture. Obviously, the end result was Snaggletooth On Steroids, but for all intents and purposes, its a pretty cool figure with shiny silver boots. While never sold in-package, he won't cost you a fortune to buy loose. Around 150 bucks for one in decent shape. However, the price goes way up for a mint-condition Blue Snag, as wouldn't you know it, silver paint is awfully easy to chip.

Moving on, a familiar face. Everybody loves Jawas. They're dirty, they steal mechanical equipment, and they talk in a language you can't understand. Its almost like the guy who changes your oil at the gas station, but Jawas are cooler, since they wear these long, cloth cloaks. Or do they?

The vinyl-caped Jawa. There's two strikes against you in terms of buying a fake one of these: number one, real ones do exist. They're incredibly rare, but not an impossible find. That's kinda bad though, since: number two: they are extremely easy to fake, and especially easy to sell to collectors who don't know their shit. All you really need to do is cut one of Ben Kenobi's capes in half. It won't look exactly as it should, but so few people have had the surreal pleasure of seeing a vinyl-caped Jawa in person, they'd probably fall for it. If the poor sap did, you'd stand to make quite a bit of money.

Of course, I don't condone it. Most of these collector types are 450 pounds. If you piss them off, they'll hurt you. Kenner changed the Jawa to come with a cloth cape pretty quickly, leaving us with very few of these. Weird part is, the cloth-cape Jawa is a much better looking (and correct) figure, so when you think about it, people will pay an extra thousand dollars just to rip themselves off. Similar situations occur when people make the mistake of buying a Packard Bell home computer, but remember, Star Wars figures...they ain't insured.

Here we have the cloth caped and Vinyl-caped jawas. The difference in price? Up to and over a thousand dollars. Literally - people have spent more money on getting a 2" plastic cape than they make working a full week or more. I had my day in the sun, but even this was way out of my league. Most of what I accumulated was through trading, but on the rare occassion that I did buy something, the money coming out of my pocket would have to go towards something cooler than a piece of plastic. Even within the same realm of overpriced vintage SW toys, you can buy a boxed Imperial Shuttle 5x over and still spend less than this Jawa variation would cost you. Or, if you're really smart, one of those projection televisions. When bragging to friends, I think that'd hold a little more water. Can you imagine trying to pass a Jawa figure off as something impressive? 'Nice Ferrari Joe...but come inside...I've got something I think you'll find...pretty interesting.'

And finally...

YAK FACE! Amazingly enough, one of the ugliest figures ever is also one of the most valuable. This one was never available in the U.S., and was pretty rare even in the countries it was released in. Yak Face, one of those aliens who allegedly appeared in Jabba's court, (they could make a Whoopi Goldberg Star Wars figure and argue the same point...nobody can prove them wrong) looks like a giant camel with an odd penchant for scarves. Despite its rarity, its not as highly sought as some of the other figures nowadays, so you can land this one for about the same price as a good Blue Snaggletooth in some cases. It does go as high as 500 dollars though, which is pretty absurd when you think about it. If you shopped around, you could probably by a real camel for 500 bucks.


Octopunk said...

Naturally, I feel like commenting on several points.

"... an obsession which still renders two-fourths of my living space entirely useless..."

Shouldn't that be one-half? Sorry, math Nazi.

"Hey, I love McFarlane's line as much as most collectors do,"


"...but 4 out of 10 times, the figure manages to fall apart while still in-package."

I'd adjust that math, too.

"Kenner smartly decided to can the feature, knowing full well it'd only be a matter of time before some aspiring young Jedi lost an eye."

I'd heard about a kid who choked on the missle fired from a Battlestar Galactica toy belonging to his older brother. Later, they released versions of the same Galactica toys, but the missles didn't leave the slots. You could press the button, but the missle would move about an eigth of an inch and then stop. Then you could push the missle back in and feel it click. Obviously they kept the toy design the same and made a new missle. Sad.

Since missle-firing features didn't disappear altogether, I'm guessing the Boba Fett change was about lawsuit paranoia at the time, which likely evaporated when someone's lawyer figured out the proper warning to get the toy companies off the hook.

Octopunk said...

No comment to make on the Blue Snaggletooth section, except to pat myself on the back for snagging JPX one many bucks? Zero!

Ray Clark, the kid up the street with whom I played with SW figs the most, he got the Sears Cantina the same X-mas I did. Years later, when we weren't playing together all that much (and definitely not with SW figs), I asked if I could have his blue Snaggletooth for a friend who gave a rat's ass. I found it in his basement, among some other forgotten toys.

I probably saved it from being thrown away by his mother. He had one of those mothers.

JPX, do you remember around when that was?

Octopunk said...

I wonder if anyone's photographed a Jawa's vinyl cape off the figure, so one could see if the arm holes or the shape of it are different from the Kenobi one.

Meanwhile, I still don't have a Yak Face. I will have to get one someday, even though he looks like Joe Camel.

JPX said...

Yeah, nabbing that Blue Snaggletooth for me was one of the greatest acts of friendship I've ever known...