Kenner Star Wars LogoVintage Star Wars

To many collectors, merely hearing the word ‘vintage’ will immediately bring their focus to the vintage Star Wars line by Kenner, but what they may not know is that Kenner was not Lucasfilm’s first choice for a toy company. In 1976, the licensing rights for Star Wars toys was offered to Mego Corporation, driven largely by the success of their World’s Greatest Superheroes, Star Trek, and Planet of the Apes toy lines. At the time, Mego was in negotiation with Takara on producing the Micronauts line and by the time that had concluded, they had missed the opportunity entirely.

The Contract

Lucasfilms ultimately contracted with Cincinnati-based Kenner Toys, and the rest is history. Looking back now, many of Kenner’s early decisions helped skyrocket the interest (and sales) in the line. Kenner, in an effort to keep production costs down, decided that the Star Wars line would be created in a new scale, with figures standing at 3 and ¾ inches. While this was different than the standard 12 inch GI Joe figures, and almost half the size of Mego’s successful 8 inch toys, this new scale allowed for a whole new world of playability- they fit easily into a child’s hand and would allow for an entire universe of vehicles and playsets to be created to accompany the figures. Little did they know at the time, they’d create a figure scale that would still be used as a standard over 40 years later.

Supply Struggles

Kenner had one major problem from the very beginning- there was not enough lead time to get figures into production before the film was released. Kenner, desperate to not miss the rush of sales from the hype of the movie release, sprang into action. It was decided that they’d create a paper kit that could be produced (and ultimately end up in stores) very quickly. This kit was known as the Early Bird Certificate Package and is one of the earliest relics from the vintage Star Wars line.

Kenner Vintage Star Wars Earlybird Certificate Package

Kenner Star Wars Earlybird Certificate Package

Kenner’s Early Bird Certificate

The kit offered the chance to order the very first set of Star Wars toys, but also noted that they would not be sent until a much later date. You heard that right- they merely sold a promise, no toys, no figures. Nothing. A promise. The best part? It worked! Kids tore into their Christmas presents in 1977 and got an empty box and a display stand that could be used in a few months when their toys eventually showed up in the mail. The whole thing went over incredibly well, and drove much of the early success of Kenner and the line as a whole. Sales skyrocketed, production ramped up, and from the moment the first four (Luke skywalker, Princess Leia, R2-D2, and Chewbacca) hit mailboxes across the country, Kenner couldn’t produce toys fast enough.

 

A New Hope

Kenner Vintage Star Wars Darth Vader 12 Back Front

Darth Vader 12 Back Front

The first wave would be expanded beyond the first four figures and would now consist of 12 carded figures (known as ‘12 backs’ by vintage star wars collectors):

  • Luke Skywalker
  • Princess Leia Organa
  • R2-D2
  • Chewbacca
  • Darth Vader
  • Obi-Wan Kenobi
  • Han Solo
  • C-3PO
  • Death Squad Commander
  • Sand People (Tusken Raider)
  • Stormtrooper
  • Jawa

Kenner kept chugging along, and expanded the line from 12 to 20 in their second wave of figures. This wave was packed full of creatures and droids, which accentuated the humanoid-heavy first wave quite nicely. Wave 2 included:

  • Hammerhead
  • Greedo
  • Walrusman
  • Snaggletooth
  • Luke X-Wing Pilot
  • R5-D4
  • Death Star Droid
  • Power Droid

Kenner capped off the original cardback design (the famous silver racetrack) with the one and only Boba Fett, bringing the total to 21 figures.

The Empire Strikes Back

Kenner’s rampant success with the first 21 Star Wars action figures gave them the financial stability needed to springboard the line forward, and they did exactly that with the Empire Strikes Back toy line. The first 10 figures in the Empire line featured:

Empire Strikes Back Boba Fett Card Front

Empire Strikes Back Boba Fett Card

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

Later ESB Waves would add another 17 figures across 4 additional waves, containing:  

  • Yoda
  • AT-AT Driver
  • Dengar
  • Han Solo (Bespin)
  • Imperial Commander
  • Leia (Hoth)
  • Lobot
  • Rebel Commander
  • Too-Onebee (2-1B)
  • Ugnaught
  • R2-D2 with Sensorscope
  • AT-AT Commander
  • Bespin Security Guard
  • Cloud Car Pilot
  • Luke Skywalker (Hoth)
  • C-3PO with removable limbs
  • Imperial Tie Fighter Pilot
  • Zuckuss
  • 4-LOM

Return of the Jedi

The first wave of Kenner’s Return of the Jedi line consisted of a whopping 17 figures, including:

  • Kenner ROTJ Luke Jedi Card Front

    Kenner ROTJ Luke Skywalker Jedi Knight Card

    Admiral Ackbar

  • Bib Fortuna
  • Biker Scout
  • Chief Chirpa
  • Emperor’s Royal Guard
  • Gamorrean Guard
  • General Madine
  • Klaatu
  • Lando Calrissian (Skiff Guard Disguise)
  • Logray
  • Luke Jedi
  • Nien Nunb
  • Princess Leia Organa (Boushh Disguise)
  • Rebel Commando
  • Ree-Yees
  • Squid Head
  • Weequay

The second wave added 12 more figures, bringing the total count for the vintage Star Wars line up to 77. This wave included:

  • 8D8
  • AT-ST Driver
  • B-Wing Pilot
  • The Emperor
  • Han Solo (Trench Coat)
  • Klaatu (Skiff Guard)
  • Nikto
  • Princess Leia Organa (Combat Poncho)
  • Prune Face
  • Rancor Keeper
  • Teebo
  • Wicket W. Warrick

The last characters to be added on the Jedi cardbacks were two additional Ewoks- Lumat and Paploo, leaving the carded figure count at 79.

(It’s important to note that this number doesn’t include The Rebo Band, which had 3 additional figures. ‘Collecting them all’ will often means different things to different people when it pertains to these)

The Dark Times

The post-ROTJ Vintage Star Wars era saw sales dwindling, and Kenner was looking for that next innovative idea. 1985 marked a significant downturn in sales for Kenner’s Star Wars action figures. Kenner released three new lines to it’s Star Wars offering including The Power of the Force, Animated Droids, and the Animated Ewoks.

Kenner Vintage Star Wars Power of the Force Yak Face Card Front

Kenner Power of the Force Yak Face Card

 

 

The Power of the Force

In an effort to reinvigorate sales, Kenner released the first of the Power of the Force line, which came with the addition of 15 new figures, fresh card art, as well as new collectible coins. These figures are often referred to as “The Last 17” – which makes little sense given only 15 figures were ‘new’…. Right? Many collectors count these 15, plus Lumat and Paploo to be the Last 17, since the Ewoks saw a limited release at the end of the Jedi line. While Kenner had planned to release all of the figures on the POTF card, sales had unfortunately bottomed out and the line was scrapped short of halfway through and only 37 figures (if you count the foreign-only releases of Yak Face, Nikto, and AT-AT Driver) were created on POTF cardbacks.

 

 

 

Droids

Kenner Droids Animated C-3PO Card Front

Kenner Droids Animated C-3PO Card

The Droids line, based off of the animated Droids cartoon, saw 12 figures released in 1985, with a 13th (Vlix) released only in Brazil by Glasslite. 10 of the 12 were brand new to the market, while Boba Fett and the A-Wing pilot were recycled from their earlier releases, while C-3PO and R2-D2 featured slight tooling and aesthetic variations to their original releases. The Droids figures all featured brand new card art and collectible coins. Kenner had planned to continue the Droids line beyond the first 12 released, including:

  • Artoo-Detoo (R2-D2)
  • A-Wing Pilot
  • Boba Fett
  • Jann Tosh
  • Jord Dusat
  • Kea Moll
  • Kez-Iban
  • See-Threepio (C-3PO)
  • Sise Fromm
  • Thall Joben
  • Tig Fromm
  • Uncle Gundy
  • Vlix (Brazil only)

Ewoks

Kenner Ewoks Animated Logray Card Front

Kenner Ewoks Animated Logray Card

The Ewoks line was also based off of the corresponding animated series, featuring everyone’s favorite Ewoks. The line, which was much smaller than it’s Droids counterpart, included the following figures:

  • Dulok Scout
  • Dulok Shaman
  • Logray
  • Urgah Lady Gorneesh
  • Wicket W. Warrick

 

 

 

 

 

Like the Droids line, Kenner had plans to continue making figures under this line, however the line was cancelled before any additional figures were produced. The planned figures made it through many of the prototyping stages, and those pieces remain incredibly highly sought after by  collectors today. 

 

 

Mark Vanis

Mark Vanis

Founder of The Toy Archives and lover of all things toys. Collector of many things, but primarily pre-production items from a variety of toy lines, Vintage Star Wars, and Batman stuff.

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