By 1979, Kenner had conquered the toy world with their hot new STAR WARS line, but this was only the beginning.
As 1980 began, anticipation was in full swing for THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK which would be released in May. The cardbacks were updated with the EMPIRE logo and an offer to receive a free mystery figure from the new film.
This mystery figure would turn out to be Bossk, which would also be available in stores later on, once the first wave of EMPIRE figures hit.
And hit it did, that summer, as EMPIRE exploded into theaters. Ten new figures at once!
With the release of EMPIRE’s first wave, the cardback was again updated.
There were two versions of this cardback, with different ads at the bottom.
And in the SW 1980 catalog, these ten new figures were showcased alongside the older ones.
Yoda had not been included in the first wave, to preserve the secret of his identity. But after EMPIRE had been in theaters a few months, Yoda was released.
The cardback was again updated, now including the Jedi master.
Once again, there were two versions with different ads at the bottom.
The following year, nine more EMPIRE figures were released at once.
The cardback was updated, including an offer for a “survival kit” that included weapons and gear.
A variant of this cardback showcased ads for playsets and vehicles, and moved R2-D2 to the bottom.
Later, during this wave, the cardback was changed, eliminating the individual rectangle background for each figure.
There were two versions of this one as well, featuring different ads at the bottom.
This year also saw the release of an Imperial Probe Droid (or Probot) figure, but it wasn’t sold separately like the others.
It was only available through the purchase of a Hoth playset.
And here’s the new figures pictured in the SW 1981 catalog. They included Yoda as being one of the new figures here, even though he came out the previous year, because he was a later 1980 release and hadn’t been included in the ’80 catalog.
Early ’82 saw the release of a 6-figure wave.
The updated cardback when this wave hit:
At this point, the original R2D2 and C3PO figures were discontinued with the release of these new versions of the characters.
It was during this wave that Hasbro’s new G.I. JOE line hit, copying Kenner’s STAR WARS success by reinventing JOE as a batch of 3.75-inch figures with compatible vehicles and playsets. (Previously, JOE action figures were 12 inches.) They were all-new characters, G.I. JOE now being the name of a team instead of the name of a single soldier, and were promoted through a new, hot-selling comic book from Marvel, written by the great Larry Hama.
With more points of articulation, JOE figures were more poseable than STAR WARS. Also, each figure had a character bio on the cardback.
STAR WARS had dominated the action figure market since 1978, but from this point on, the line would have serious competition from G.I. JOE.
Later in ’82, a small two-figure wave hit, featuring the long overdue TIE Fighter Pilot and bounty hunter Zuckuss.
The cardback was updated accordingly and included an offer to get 4-LOM for free. With Zuckuss and 4-LOM receiving action-figure status, kids could FINALLY collect the entire roster of bounty hunters hired by Vader. Also, at this time, the snake that came with the Yoda figure was changed from orange to brown.
Toward the end of the year, 4-LOM became available in stores for those who didn’t take advantage of the earlier free offer.
The cardback was updated with two versions. One variation had ads for EMPIRE vehicles and creatures. (Notice at this point the Bespin Luke was being produced with brown hair instead of blond.)
But the other was even more exciting with an offer to receive a new character from the next SW movie, then titled: REVENGE OF THE JEDI.
And here’s the new figures as seen in the 1982 SW catalog.
1982 ended with anticipation sky-high for the next SW film, and the promise of new figures from the movie!
But in the meantime, kids had plenty of EMPIRE STRIKES BACK goodness to keep them busy.
Thanks for reading!
In a future post, we’ll look at the STAR WARS figures released from 1983 to 1985, during the era of RETURN OF THE JEDI!