Star Wars Figures: A History

SW Action Figures from 1977-2009
February 05, 2009
If you go into any toy store today you will notice that Star Wars action figures are wildly popular. As many know, Star Wars action figures have sold very well since the the release of the first movie in 1977. There's an interesting story behind the history of these little collectible figures, going back before Star Wars was in production.

Star Wars action figures have always been set in a 3.75 inch scale, however, traditionally, action figures were set in a much larger scale, about 12 inches. To understand this smaller scale, we must travel back in time to 1964, with the release of the first toys to be made under the title "action figure": GI Joe.

The early GI Joe action figures, like the one above were 11.5 inches tall. However, during the oil crisis of the 1970s, toy companies were forced to down-size their action figures.

The first of these was Micro Man, produced by Mego. Micro Man was 3.75 inches tall. This new scale succeeded in being very practical as far as economics are concerned.

Now, what you probably wanted to read about in this article is Star Wars action figures. So, let's now fast forward to the mid 70s.

Toy company Kenner bought the rights to produce toys based on George Lucas' upcoming space fantasy film, Star Wars. Predicting the movie would do poorly, they did not manufacture toys in time for the movie's release in May, 1977.

To solve this problem, Kenner created the Early Bird Certificate, better known as the empty box. (The picture below is of the 2005 re-release of this promotion, which looks mostly the same as the 1977 version, but with different dates on the expiration of the date and so on, there are no pictures of the real early bird big enough)

Children would receive the box in the holiday season of 1977 to open it and only find a certificate to mail away for four exclusive Star Wars action figures (in the new, previously mentioned 3.75 inch scale) as well as some other assorted Star Wars action figure accessories.

Star Wars action figures were finally released in 1978, selling for just $1.49, along with a select few 12 inch scale figures (which came with a bit of a greater price and were nowhere near as popular as their smaller counterparts.). Below is a picture of a carded 1978 Stormtrooper, one of the first 12 Star Wars (3.75 inch) Action Figures.

These action figures had very little in the way of articulation: they could only move at the hips and shoulders, and neck, and in some cases like the Stormtrooper, not even at the neck.

Another interesting feature of Star Wars action figures from 1978-1985 was the telescoping lightsaber. Instead of including a lightsaber accessory that an action figure could hold in its hand, Star Wars action figures had lightsabers built into the character's right arm, and could extend out of the arm, and be retracted back into the arm. Below is a loose 1978 Darth Vader action figure with telescoping lightsaber.

Also notable in these early Star Wars action figures were their vinyl cloaks, as seen above, meant to look like capes or Jedi robes, but clearly not fulfilling that purpose.

The first wave of Star Wars action figures (R2-D2, Chewbacca, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Darth Vader, Han Solo, C-3PO, Stormtrooper,Death Squad Commander, Jawa and Sand People) was successful, and later in 1978 eight more action figures were produced.

In 1979, the first Boba Fett 3.75 inch action figure was produced (one year after the character's first appearance in the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special, and a year before the fan favorite's live action debut in the Empire Strikes Back). This first Boba Fett action figure (below) has a very interesting story to go along with it.

This Boba Fett was initially going to have a missile launching rocket pack. However, after a young boy choked to death after swallowing a missile on a Battle Star Galactica toy, Kenner removed the feature. Today, prototypes containing the missile launching rocket pack, and even reproductions of these prototypes go for thousands of dollars on the secondary market and are highly sought after by collectors. Below is a picture of the back of one such prototype showing the missile launching section of the rocket pack (without the missile).

In 1980, the sequel to Star Wars was released: The Empire Strikes Back. Several new action figures were released, and the original 20 were also released on new cards bearing the Empire Strikes Back logo. In 1983, when Return of the Jedi was released, several more figures were released and another wave of repacks came with them. Below are examples of an Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi carded figure. (A 1980 Yoda and a 1983 Biker Scout)

Star Wars action figures were produced from 1982-1984 with the Return of the Jedi logo. However, in 1984, Kenner began to transition over to the new "Power of the Force" lineup, which featured re-released fan favorites as well as several new figures from all three movies released so far, and also sported a new logo as well as collector coins featuring the action figure/character they came packed with. Below is a carded 1984 Luke Skywalker action figure from the "Power of the Force". This line ran until 1985.

Along with the Power of the Force, action figures based on the "Droids" and "Ewoks" animated TV shows were released. In addition to a few characters from the movies that appeared in the TV shows, many characters exclusively appearing on the cartoon were made into action figures, marking the first Expanded Universe (EU is all media in Star Wars outside the films) Below is a Droids R2-D2 and an Ewoks King Gorneesh action figures,

Due to the waning popularity of Star Wars, Kenner ended the Star Wars line in 1986. However, a few prototypes and designs exist for a never produced Kenner line called "The Epic Continues".

"The Epic Continues" was to be a new story set in the Star Wars universe, with characters and plot designed by Kenner. The story was that after Emperor Palpatine's death, a new threat endangered the heroes of Star Wars: Atha Prime and his Clone Warriors. The Rebel heroes and the remaining Imperial forces would then be forced to stop Atha Prime. However Lucasfilm rejected this storyline and nothing else was made of the idea.

Below are several images from the Epic Continues, the AT-IC (All-Terrain Ion Cannon) toy prototype and concept art from Kenner of the Clone Warrior and Atha Prime respectively.


Clone Warrior

Atha Prime

Nine years later, in 1995, Hasbro, which now owned Kenner released Star Wars action figures once again. These action figures ran under the name Power of the Force, however, they are known to collectors as Power of the Force 2 to distinguish them from the original Power of the Force (1984-1985).

The action figures from 1995-1997 featured minimal articulation with only one improvement made over the original Star Wars action figures, that being the addition of waist articulation. These action figures were also poorly sculpted, with exaggerated "buff" statures and disproportionate features. The figures of this era could not even fit in the vehicles they were released alongside with due to their odd statures (it should be noted they were still 3.75 inches tall).

A prime example of these poorly designed action figures was the Princess Leia from 1995, infamous in the collecting community and known to avid collectors as "Monkey Face Leia" (below).

Another interesting note about Power of the Force 2 figures is that they came on cards with varying green and red highlights. The red and green cards also featured slightly different designs. Compare below the 1995 Obi-Wan Kenobi on red and green cards.

In 1996, Lucasfilm launched a multimedia project called Shadows of the Empire, covering the time between the Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. The project was supported by a graphic novel and novel adaptation, a video game, and of course, toys.

Hasbro created five basic figures for Shadows of the Empire, (Chewbacca (Bounty Hunter Disguise), Princess Leia (Boushh disguise), Dash Rendar, Luke Skywalker (in Imperial Guard armor) and Prince Xizor. Hasbro also produced several vehicles for the project, the re-released Boba Fett's Slave I related to the project and two new vehicles, Dash Rendar's Outrider and Swoop Bike with Swoop Trooper. In addition, two value packs were released under the Shadows of the Empire name: Boba Fett and IG-88, and Darth Vader and Prince Xizor. Below are examples of Shadows of the Empire toys, a basic figure (Luke Skywalker), a vehicle (Swoop Bike) and a value pack (Boba Fett and IG-88).

In 1998, Hasbro released a line called Expanded Universe, pulling figures from sources such as video games, novels, and comic books. The figures featured a pop-out cardboard play-set. Below is a fan favorite figure from this line, the Dark Trooper, which was the Fan's Choice Number 1 in 2007 and re-released because of this. The Dark Trooper is shown below with its pop-out cardboard play-set.

The Power of the Force 2 lineup ran alongside Shadows of the Empire and Expanded Universe, and in 1998, Hasbro improved the line by eliminating the "buff" sculpts. Still, there was not much in the way of improved articulation.

This changed in 1999, with the release of the new Stormtrooper which featured an accurate sculpt, and articulation at the shoulders, elbows, waist, neck, hips, and knees. Compare below the Stormtrooper from 1999 and the Stormtrooper from 1995.



Though not perfect, the 1999 Stormtrooper was an incredible improvement over all of its predecessors.

In 1998, in addition to eliminating "buff" sculpts, Hasbro included "Freeze Frames" with Star Wars action figures. These could be inserted into a Freeze Frame viewer to see a still from a Star Wars movie. Hasbro also added "Episode I Flashback Photos" to figures later that year, in anticipation of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, to be released in theaters the next year. These featured a card with a tab that could be pulled to show an original trilogy character and, if pulled again, their Episode I counterpart. Below are the Episode I Flashback photos included in 1998's Darth Vader, showing Darth Vader from the original trilogy, and Anakin Skywalker in Episode I.

In 1998, Hasbro also released two preview action figures for Episode I. Mace Windu, a promotional figure which could be obtained by sending in six proofs of purchase from Star Wars action figures, a receipt, and $2.99. In addition, a Battle Droid on STAP speeder was released to all retailers. Below are the Mace Windu and Battle Droid on STAP figures.

In 1999, Hasbro began releasing Power of the Force 2 figures with display stands that came with tiny computer chips inside, these were called Commtech chips. The stand could be placed on a Commtech reader and with the action figure placed on it, the reader would play some of that character's dialogue from the movies, making it appear as though the toy was speaking. Below is an example of a Commtech chip from the 1999 Stormtrooper (this action figure can be seen farther up in the article).

At exactly 12 AM on May 3rd, 1999, Toys R Us stores across the country opened up for the release of the new Episode I action figure line, based on the long anticipated first installment to the new Star Wars prequel trilogy, Episode I: The Phantom Menace. These action figures were incredibly popular and featured many new characters and new prequel versions of older characters.

The card art was also new, featuring the main antagonist of the new movie, Darth Maul, where Darth Vader had been on the Power of the Force 2 cards, and the words Episode I, replacing the Power of the Force logo. All cards featured red and black highlights. Included with each figure, just as with the 1999 and 2000 Power of the Force 2 action figures was a Commtech chip. Below is an example of an Episode I figure, Darth Maul.

The Episode I line lasted until 2000 and featured more basic figures then the Power of the Force 2 line did in its first couple of years. Also in 2000, the Power of the Force 2 ended with one final wave containing only Princess Leia and Admiral Motti.

In 2000, a new line started called "Power of the Jedi". Power of the Jedi featured new card art with green highlights and an image of Darth Vader and the Episode I version of Obi-Wan. Instead of Commtech chips, these action figures now included small pamphlets called Jedi Force Files with facts and statistics about the character with which they were packed.

This new line contained action figures from both Episode I and the Original Trilogy. Power of the Jedi did not end up greatly improving articulation, but sculpting was greatly improved. Most sculpts from the Power of the Jedi are on par with modern action figures. Below is an example of a Power of the Jedi action figure, the Sandtrooper.

Power of the Jedi ran from 2000 until 2002. At the end of the line, in early 2002, Hasbro released four preview action figures based on characters from the upcoming sequel to Episode I, Episode II: Attack of the Clones. Below are the four preview figures, Clone Trooper, Jango Fett, Zam Wessel, and R3-T7.

In the summer of 2002, when Attack of the Clones was released, Hasbro released a new line focusing at first on Attack of the Clones characters and then later on characters from all five movies released thus far. This line was simply called "Star Wars" on the action figure cards, but is actually known as Star Wars Saga.

The early Saga action figures featured limited articulation and certain action features that deterred from the sculpt of the figure and/or the sculpt of the figure. For this reason, action figures are not very well received by fans. The Saga card were also very basic featuring only two hands holding a lightsaber, the Star Wars logo, and a blue background.

Below is an example of a Saga action figure, Mace Windu.

In 2003, two new lines were released alongside Saga, both based on the new Star Wars multimedia project, Clone Wars. One line, the normal Clone Wars line, featured action figures based on characters from Dark Horse's Star Wars: Republic comic books. The other featured action figures with limited articulation and stylized sculpts based on the Clone Wars cartoon shorts from Cartoon Network. Below is an example of a Clone Wars action figure (Durge) and a Clone Wars animated action figure (General Grievous, based on his first appearance ever in the Clone Wars animated shorts).


General Grievous

As of 2004, despite major improvements, Hasbro'a Star Wars line was still behind in the action figure industry as far as articulation was concerned. Then, Hasbro released the first "Super-articulated" Star Wars action figure ever, a Clone Trooper in the Clone Wars line. This action figure was so popular it is still repacked and sold today. Below is the super articulated Clone Trooper, in an image exemplifying its superior articulation.

In the third quarter of 2004, Hasbro ended the Saga line and began the Original Trilogy Collection, released to celebrate the first ever DVD release of the Original Trilogy and drawing the figures in the line almost solely from original trilogy sources. Almost all figures in this line were re-packaged fan favorites, now in retro black and silver packaging. Below is an example of one of these action figures, Luke Skywalker.

Also released in 2004 was the first wave of the "vintage" action figures. These action figures were more detailed, more articulated, and came in the same packaging their vintage versions came in. Below is an image of the "vintage" Stormtrooper from 2004.

As 2004 came to a close, excitement began building for the final live action Star Wars film to be released in spring 2005: Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. In February 2005, Hasbro released four action figures from Revenge of the Sith in a preview wave. They were General Grievous, Tion Medon, R4-G9, and a Wookie Warrior. Hasbro also released Anakin Skywalker's Episode III Jedi Starfighter. Below is a picture of each.

On April 2, 2005, Toys R Us held a midnight madness event similar to the Episode I event more than half a decade earlier, to release the main Revenge of the Sith line. Wal-Mart also hosted an event, running from April 2-3 2005, allowing customers to participate in Star Wars related events, come in Star Wars costumes, and purchase the newly released Revenge of the Sith line.

The Revenge of the Sith main line and Sneak Preview wave featured a new style of packaging, a plastic bubble on a Darth Vader helmet, floating above a lava pit and an orange-red Star Wars logo. Any product features were listed on a sticker on the bubble. Below is an example of a Revenge of the Sith action figure, carded: a Royal Guard.

The Revenge of the Sith line featured major updates in details, sculpting, and articulation. These features became a standard in the Star Wars action figure line.

Revenge of the Sith featured almost all new action figures and ran through the rest of 2005. Then, at the beginning of 2006, Hasbro launched a new action figure line, spanning all six movies, and the Expanded Universe.

The packaging of the Saga Collection was a mix of the Original Trilogy Collection and Revenge of the Sith. The actual action figures were mainly repaints and retools of older action figures, and 2006 was mainly viewed as a step backwards for the Star Wars line. There were however some all-new action figures, below is one of the most highly sought-after action figures from the Saga Collection, Republic Commando Scorch.

In 2006, Hasbro included two new pack-ins: display stands for the action figures and a random mini "hologram" figure. Mini-holograms came first in translucent blue, then in translucent red. "Evil" characters came with holograms like Boba Fett, Darth Vader, Stormtrooper, etc. while "Good" characters came with Yoda, Rebel Trooper,Han Solo etc. Below is an image of all of the mini-holograms.

Hasbro also created a new promotion called "Ultimate Galactic Hunt". These action figures came with a metallic display base and a metallic painted hologram figure. The packaging on these action figures featured reflective foil in place of cardboard in some areas. Below is an image of a carded Ultimate Galactic Hunt action figure, Boba Fett, and the included metallic painted hologram figure.

Also in 2006, a second "Vintage" wave was released. Just like in 2004, the 2006 line featured new action figures in the packaging of their 1980s/1970s counterparts. Below is an example of one, Luke Skywalker (X-Wing Pilot).

This wave of Vintage figures featured a mail-away promo: purchase all six (later any six of the Vintage figures) and mail away the included order form with all six stickers, one included in each figure, to receive a George Lucas in Stormtrooper Disguise action figure, seen below.

2006 came to a close with fans excited for 2007, the 30th anniversary of Star Wars. In early 2007, Hasbro ended the Saga Collection and released the first wave of basic figures from the new 30th Anniversary Collection. Each figure included a collector coin, and many of the action figures in the basic line were super articulated.

The first 30th Anniversary Collection action figure sold for ten dollars, instead of the MSRP of $7. This was a Darth Vader with coin album for the new collectible coins, seen below.

2007 was also featured the first, and to date, only action figure from the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special from 1978, the Holiday Special version of Boba Fett, seen below, as an example of a carded 30th Anniversary Collection action figure.

In 2006, Hasbro created a poll and sent it to the fan site, to vote on action figures to be re-released in the 2007 Saga Legends line. The number one fan's choice winner was the Dark Trooper from 1998, seen below.

2007 also saw the first comic book two packs since Shadows of the Empire. These included two action figures from the Star Wars comic books and a full length reprint of that comic book. The first was an internet exclusive, Carnor Jax and Kir Kanos, packed with the sixth issue of Star Wars: Crimson Empire. Later, Hasbro released several more comic packs to all retailers. Below is an image of the Kir Kanos and Carnor Jax comic pack, and a main line comic pack, Clone Commando with Super Battle Droid.

Because of the success of comic packs, Hasbro went on to produce them, and new ones are still produced today.

In 2007, the Star Wars multimedia project "The Force Unleashed", was scheduled for release. However, due to delays in one of the items involved in this project, a video game, also called "The Force Unleashed", all other items were pushed back. Hasbro had a wave of Star Wars action figures for the Force Unleashed, however, they were pushed back because of the video game delay, and replaced with a wave of repackaged/redeco figures in late 2007.

In 2008, Hasbro continued to produce the 30th Anniversary Collection. However, they now included display bases instead of collector coins. The first wave of 2008 30th Anniversary figures, released in early 2008, was Revenge of the Sith themed. The second, was the delayed Force Unleashed wave. Below is an image of 2008 30th Anniversary figure, the EVO Trooper.

Hasbro again released a poll on to vote for five more fan choice re-releases for 2008. Below is an example of one, the Shadow Stormtrooper.

Fans could also mail away seven dollars and four proofs of purchase with a form included in the 2008 30th Anniversary Collection figures for a preview figure from the upcoming movie, the Clone Wars. This preview figure was Captain Rex, seen below.

At 12:00 PM, July 25 2008, fans once again waited for hours outside of Toys R Us stores across the world for another midnight madness event, this time, to celebrate the release of the new animated move/TV show Star Wars: The Clone Wars and its corresponding "animated style" action figure line, as well as the new regular line, the Legacy Collection. At 12:01 AM, July 26, 2008, fans rushed into stores and purchased the new toys.

The Clone Wars figures were sculpted to match their animated TV counterparts, while the Legacy Collection was realistic as most action figures had been in the past. The Clone Wars packaging featured a Clone Trooper helmet with a plastic bubble in front, the Legacy Collection was the same, except with a Stormtrooper helmet in place of the Clone Trooper. Below is an example of a Clone Wars action figure, Commander Cody, and a Legacy Collection action figure, Jodo Kast.

Legacy Collection action figures included a new pack-in, called Droid Factory (also known as Build a Droid or BAD). Droid Factory includes parts of action figures of droids. Fans can buy a set of Legacy Collection action figures, and combine the parts however they want, or connect them to make a droid from the movies or Expanded Universe. Below is a completed Droid Factory action figure, RA-7.

In 2009, Hasbro is continuing the Legacy Collection and the Clone Wars. The first wave of Legacy Collection figures from 2009, all from the original Star Wars film, feature no packaging changes, and still include Build a Droid parts. Below is one, an Imperial Spacetrooper, notable for having the likeness of Joe Johnston, a producer of Star Wars and the director of Jumanji. Johnston was also an extra in Star Wars and played one of the Space Troopers outside of the Death Star.

Hasbro recently released pictures of new Clone Wars packaging. This packaging no longer features blue and white highlights, but instead, red and white. It is more square shaped also. Below is a picture.

I hope you found this article interesting. Remember, the Force will be with you, always.
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