The force is strong with Star Wars collectors

A full-size working replica of Luke Skywalker’s X-34 Landspeeder from the 1977 film Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope realized $32,500 at GWS Auctions Inc., in March 2018. Photo courtesy of GWS Auctions Inc., and LiveAuctioneers

NEW YORK — There’s a universe of collectors monitoring the auction marketplace for rare and desirable Star Wars memorabilia, from action figures and pinball machines to toys, games, LEGO sets, movie posters and even housewares. The Star Wars phenomenon began on May 25, 1977, when the film Star Wars — later retitled Star Wars: Episode IV— A New Hope — opened in theaters to rave reviews. It went on to win seven Oscars and rake in nearly $800 million dollars worldwide.

The demand for marketing merchandise related to the Star Wars franchise is nearly as insatiable as Jabba the Hutt’s hunger. Stretching out for four decades, the movie series is set to conclude in December 2019 with the ninth — and final — film.

“Its popularity may have settled a few times over the course of 40 years, and fans will always hotly debate the merit and the misery of the prequel trilogy, but the Force is always strong in fan love for the series,” says a commentary on the website of Hakes’s Americana & Collectibles in York, Pennsylvania. “Other fandoms have sustained a long history, yet never hit the intensity of Star Wars — or have burned hot for a short period before fizzling out like yesterday’s news.”

A Boba Fett prototype rocket-firing (L-slot firing) action figure sold at Hake’s Americana & Collectibles for $73,206 in March 2018. Photo courtesy of Hakes’s Americana & Collectibles and LiveAuctioneers

Among the most valuable Star Wars action figures are the 4-inch examples made by Kenner in the late 1970s, including a Boba Fett with a firing rocket, a vinyl-cape Jawa, and those figures with telescoping light-saber accessories. An unpainted prototype of the Boba Fett action figure released in 1979, standing 3 3/4 inches tall, sold for $73,206 in Hake’s March 2018 auction. Kenner’s Jawa, initially released in 1978, had a vinyl cape like the ones on Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi, but reportedly the manufacturer felt buyers would feel cheated by the figure’s diminutive stature (which were being sold for the same price as full-size toy figures). When the Jawa figure was reissued, it had shed its vinyl cape and gained a cloth robe that Kenner felt would compensate for the smaller size.

“As for the double-telescoping carded figures, all are rare — Ben (Kenobi) and Darth even more so than Luke,” said Alex Winter, president of Hake’s Americana. Asked which of the two figures at the heart of the first several Star Wars films —Darth or Luke Skywalker — is more collectible, Winter replied that it was equal. “It is the legendary good versus evil battle dilemma. It all depends on what your preference is.”

This Luke Skywalker 12 back-C blister card with action figure earned $42,900 at Hake’s Americana & Collectibles in November 2017. Photo courtesy of Hakes’s Americana & Collectibles and LiveAuctioneers

Rarity and condition are key factors in what makes one collectible more valuable than another, Star Wars material being no exception. “Rarity comes first and foremost. The more rare, the fewer there are for the large group of Star Wars collectors there are,” Winter said. “You also have to greatly consider condition. A figure that is common in average grade (and therefore reasonably priced) can be very costly if high grade and/or is in the best condition of all known examples.” An AFA-graded (Action Figure Authority) Luke Skywalker figure from 1978 sold for $42,900 in November 2017 at Hake’s.

A Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi 12 back-A blister card with AFA-graded figure, having a double-telescoping light saber, sold for an auction record price of $65,000 at Hake’s Americana & Collectibles in November 2017. Photo courtesy of Hakes’s Americana & Collectibles and LiveAuctioneers

A Star Wars Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi 12 back-A blister card and AFA-graded figure, having a double-telescoping light saber, brought an auction record price of $65,000 at Hake’s Americana & Collectibles in November 2017. At the time, Winter said this particular figure was the first of this rare variation that Hake’s had ever sold and, to his knowledge, was also the first in this AFA grade to be sold by a major auction house.

Marketing merchandise brings robust prices, and so do items made for the actual movies. The highest-grossing Star Wars item in the LiveAuctioneers price results database was for an Empire Strikes Back (Episode 5) Snow Trooper helmet, 1980, in white vinyl with green lenses that brought $225,000 in July 2012 at a Profiles in History auction. In the same sale, an original “Chewbacca” head worn by the 7-foot-3-inch British actor Peter Mayhew in the Star Wars movies hit $140,000.

Star Wars collectors have their individual areas of interest. Some may collect a certain character only, or material pertaining to one particular movie or all of the original Star Wars movie trilogy, which is actually the middle trilogy (episodes five to seven) in terms of time. Others may only collect movie props, trading cards or toys.

This Darth Vader 12 back-A blister card with AFA-graded figure, having a double-telescoping light saber, realized $55,000 at Hake’s Americana & Collectibles in March 2018. Photo courtesy of Hakes’s Americana & Collectibles and LiveAuctioneers

“For the most part, our bidders are very diverse in what they like. Many focus on just the vintage Kenner figures and toys — those cover the initial three films. Many items were released for all three, so there is much to collect,” Winter said. “There are those collectors that like a certain character or characters more than others, and in that case they can tend to put together a collection of every figure variant, be it the actual figure and/or card varieties, foreign issues and more. There is also great cross-interest from other collecting fields, such as movie posters, comics, gum cards, autographs and more.”

Given the diversity of Star Wars material out there, it’s easy to put together a collection no matter what the buyer’s budget may be. “A person with a limited amount of disposable income can still put together an extensive collection,” Winter said. “It is best to first decide what you want to collect — toys, movie posters, comics, etc., or if you want to concentrate on just one film or one character. If you want to take things to the next level, look for investment pieces. The options are limitless with Star Wars.”

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