Star Wars action figures (and Return of the Jedi and The Empire Strikes Back) were packaged on a colourful card measuring nine inches by six inches, with the figure enclosed in an oblong transparent blister to the left of the card, and a movie still of the character to the right. The reverse of the card had illustrations of all the characters so far available, plus a check list. Often, adverts for various new items of Star Wars merchandise were shown at the bottom. Collectors refer to the cards by the number of characters listed; the earliest (and hardest to find) is a 12-back. Next came the 20-pack, another desirable card. The adverts on these early cards are interesting, the 20-back, for example, lists such goodies as the Land of the Jawas Sand Crawler, the Patrol Dewback, the Droid Factory and the Creature Cantina, all of which are now fairly rare models. The Cantina was made from cardboard and is now very difficult to find in good condition.
On some early 48-backs, the second film in the trilogy is called the ‘revenge’ of the Jedi, rather than the ‘return’. Sometimes cards have a couple of the figures blacked out, such as Logray and Chief Chirpa on the 65-backs and Paploo and Warrior Ewok on the 70-backs. There are many variations of the cards, initially they may all look alike, but further examination reveals different products advertised, such as Chewbacca Bandolier Strap, a C-3PO Collector’s Case, a Y-wing Fighter or a free Nien Numb mail-away offer. To many people it may seem boring to discuss cardboard packaging, but to keen collectors, the knowledge gleaned from these cards is vital in piecing together the history of Star War merchandise, especially from the early days before it became so popular.
Other cards which cause much interest among collectors are those which held the later characters, some of which (notably Yak Face) were never released in the USA. These cards are known as ‘Tri-Logo’ and ‘Power of the Force’. The Tri-Logo card was issued in Europe, including Britain and, as the name suggests, it bears the Star Wars Return of the Jedi logo in three languages, English, French and Spanish. In addition it has the slogan ‘Star Wars Action Figures Collect all 70’ in six languages, including English, French, German and Spanish. some figures in this packaging can command high prices. The Power of the Force card was an attempt by Kenner to kindle new interest among Star War Fans. These cards were special, because in addition to the figurine, they contained a special aluminium collectors coin normally bearing an image of the character in the pack with maybe a picture of his ship.
Larger items such as vehicles and playsets were issued in not-particularly strong cardboard cartons and it is amazing that so many have survived since the first release of the films. These boxes were usually black, with a large colour photo of the enclosed item shown in a play situation utilising Action Figures, while backgrounds to the photos were bright red, blue or green. White outlines and the easy-t0-recognise red and white on black logo gave a unity to the whole range, and this continuity has been adhered to ever since. Models, vehicles and Action Figures from The Phantom Menace have followed through this excellent design strategy.
As with Action Figures, the packaging provides helpful background information to the toys. As a bonus the box might contain an original instruction leaflet. These leaflets, printed on black and white, usually included diagrams to show the correct assembly of the vehicle, the proper placing of the decals, and directions for inserting batteries. The box itself will indicate the main functions of the vehicle, additional items included, such as a frozen Han Solo with Boba Fett’s Slave I, name of the manufacturer (probably Kenner or Palitoy), place of manufacture, and might even still bear an original price tag, while the colour photograph will show not only how the fully assembled vehicle should look, but most importantly, those weapons, doors, hatch covers and other little pieces, which tend to get lost.
If you are lucky enoguht to own Star Wars items still boxed or blister packed, try to keep them in pristine conditon. A boxed Death Star Space Station in mint condition could be worth upwards of £800, while the unboxed version would probably get you less than £200.