By all accounts, I should have hosted some kind of gala, a costumed extravaganza on May 25th of this year to commemorate the anniversary of Star Wars : A New Hope being released to theaters 30 years ago… or at least cut off my own hand with a plasma sword and thrown it into space to honor the legacy of Luke Skywalker… but I did not.
Star Wars has been around for thirty years now, and by extension, nerd-dom has been stumbling through our culture full-force since that day in 1977, only augmented and fueled by the release of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons that same year. It was a banner year for social awkwardness and breathing conditions indeed. I’ve mentioned Star Wars here before about nine million times, so forgive me, but the advent of Star Wars did mark the beginning of the truly collectible action figure universe as we know it.
In an effort to have Star Wars toys ready by Christmas of 1977, Kenner sold ‘early bird‘ kits to parents and children, which were nothing more than flat boxes that said, “we totally swear we have toys somewhere… check back with us later.” By mailing in the included postage-paid coupon, the customer would eventually receive a set of four white-boxed figures, including Luke, Leia, Chewbacca and R2-D2. Three of these figures would be re-released within the regular collection of figures later, but this would be a guarantee that yours would arrive first, enabling you to lord them over your friends and make them convulse with fits of space jealousy before they inevitably kicked your space-butt and stole your space-dolls. The Star Wars universe would see 96 different characters made into action figures in these early collections (along with a few very valuable production variations, including a vinyl caped Jawa and a blue Snaggletooth).
Even predating these first figures, though, was the original concept art by illustrator Ralph McQuarrie. Kenner and Hasbro have action-figure-ized pretty much every character to ever appear on screen in any Star Wars movie ever, even if said character’s screen time involved them lifting a glass at the Mos Eisley Cantina for one half of a second. Now, for this 30th anniversary, Hasbro has gone back to the original pre-cinema McQuarrie visions of these characters and turned them into action figures. And as far as Star Wars collectors go, these are hot stuff.
To date, only three of these McQuarrie Concept figures have been released into stores, with a dozen different figures planned out for the next year or so. The first figure to be released was the Stormtrooper, which comes complete with a lightsaber, before such weapons were relegated only to Jedi and indicating an interesting story evolution. While some people go absolutely crazy buying these generic troop ‘army builder’ figures to amass their own armies, I’ve been pretty much full up on Star Wars figures for a while now, and it’ll take something really impressive and unique to work its way into my collecting space at this point. Artist-specific renditions of characters, though, hit my weak spot. For anyone looking to take me down, my weak spot is located just under my left armpit, next to my ‘good / evil’ switch. A similar McQuarrie Stormtrooper was released in 2004 as the fourth ‘Fan’s Choice’ figure, so to be fair, this isn’t the first time that McQuarrie’s work is seeing three dimensions.
The second McQuarrie figure released was the McQuarrie Concept Boba Fett, the feared intergalactic bounty hunter. McQuarrie’s initial concept had him clad in all white, not unlike the Stormtrooper. The figure comes with two alternate head designs to reflect two conceptual versions of the character. Over time, the figure’s outfit was battle-scarred and became his signature Mandalorian Armor. The third McQuarrie figure, a clothed and less hirsute Chewbacca, hit stores this week. While these three figures run at a retail price of about $7 each, they appear less frequently than other figures in case ratios, making their value skyrocket to as much as $30 on the secondary market.
Nine more McQuarrie figures are also slated to be released, including Darth Vader, Luke Starkiller (before he was the less violently monikered Skywalker), Leia Starkiller, Han Solo, and a Snowtrooper. Those looking to complete their McQuarrie collections must unfortunately contend with the annual bane of collectors everywhere : CONVENTION EXCLUSIVES.
Hasbro has decided to release certain pivotal characters exclusively to the attendees of certain conventions. An R2-D2 and C-3PO two-pack was released only to Celebration IV attendees (though an online retailer bought out Hasbro’s remaining stock and has been selling this item through their own website). The aforementioned Luke saw a joint release between Hasbro’s own online shop, Celebration IV and Celebration IV Europe. Finally, a Ben Kenobi / Yoda 2-pack will be exclusive to attendees of the San Diego Comic Con. As would be expected, this kind of increased rarity and inaccessibility has driven up secondary market prices significantly. All of these 30th Anniversary Collection figures include collectible coins.
Hasbro isn’t the only company with the Star Wars license to recognize McQuarrie’s significant contributions of the Star Wars universe, as Japanese company Kotobukiya is producing a vinyl statue scene depicting Luke Starkiller in battle with an early Darth Vader. While these items are not technically ‘canon’, they do reflect a respect for the creative energies that drove one of cinema’s greatest accomplishments. Don’t even question that statement, because it’s irrefutable.