Kenner revolutionized the toy industry with the introduction of their 3.75-inch STAR WARS “mini-figures.” Before then, most action figures were much larger.
With STAR WARS having so many spaceships, vehicles, and locations, Kenner saw the potential of making toy versions of these vehicles and locations that would be compatible with action figures.
It wasn’t practical to make X-Wings and Tatooine landscapes that would be to scale with 12-inch figures, and so the 3.75-inch figure was born.
But this new STAR WARS line of mini-figures wouldn’t be ready in time for the all-important Christmas shopping season. So they released an “Early Bird” set that could be purchased in time for Christmas that was the promise of sending four figures when ready.
By March ’78, the four figures arrived to the homes of those who purchased the Early Bird kits.
And not long after, the original twelve STAR WARS figures could be found at stores.
Please note: I don’t have all the original variations of some of these figures. For example, the Jawa had a vinyl cape at first, rather than the the fabric cloak pictured above. The lightsabers were also double telescoping at first. And Luke had blond hair originally instead of the brown hair you see above. Despite some of the accessory and paint variations, these are the basic twelve original SW figures.
Here’s the original cardback…
…with two variations:
In a 1978 catalog that came with SW vehicles and playsets, these figures were advertised on a two page spread. Here, you can see the original blond Luke and vinyl cape Jawa:
In the same catalog, the second wave of figures was teased as coming soon:
And sure enough, they would arrive in stores, later that year.
With the release of this second wave, the cardback was changed to show the updated collection:
Later, the cardback was updated again, this time with an offer to get a free figure of Boba Fett, a mystery-character who would appear in the next STAR WARS movie. At first, it was planned for Boba to have a missile firing jetpack. The torn picture on the cardback below shows this missile feature.
But then it was decided it would not have a firing missile, so a sticker giving information about Boba, was put over the picture that showed the missile.
There’s also a variation of Snaggletooth, that came with two exclusive Sears offerings for a short time in ’78, but was never available as a regular individually-sold figure. I don’t have it, but here’s a picture from Mark Bellomo’s THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO VINTAGE STAR WARS ACTION FIGURES 1977-1985.
’79 was a quiet year for new SW figures with only the release of Boba Fett. Boba shipped to those who took advantage of the special offer discussed above, and soon was available in stores as well, a full year before people would see him in THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.
I don’t have an original Boba cardback, but pictured above is a 2010 re-release of the figure (but this time with the firing missile) with a reproduction of the original cardback. The figure above, outside of the package, is the 1979 original.
Once Boba hit store shelves, the cardback was again updated on all the figures. At this point, the Jawa figure was now being produced with the cloak made from cloth, instead of the vinyl cape.
There were two variations of this cardback:
And in the SW 1979 catalog, Boba was heavily promoted:
With 21 figures that were to scale with ships, vehicles, playsets, and creatures from the most popular film of all time, by 1979, Kenner’s STAR WARS line was the hottest toy collection around.
The figure case:
I still have the broken head of my first Luke figure with the blond hair. By the time I got a replacement, the hair was changed to brown.
Thanks for reading!
In a future post, we’ll take a look at the STAR WARS figures released from 1980 to 1982. During the era of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK!