Marketing Snafus Make Some Vintage "Star Wars" Toys Fun And Valuable Collectibles

November 18, 2022

If you have been alive long enough, you most likely have encountered several failed marketing snafus centered around some of your favorite products. Readers older than me may fondly remember the horrendous failure of the Coca-Cola company’s New Coke beverage released in 1985 that was supposed to replace the company’s signature formula. Within three months of the introduction of New Coke, the Coca-Cola company was busy apologizing to consumers and reassuring them that the trusted Coca-Cola Classic formula we all know and love (unless you are a Pepsi fan) was here to stay. And speaking of Pepsi, my not-so-fond memories of high school would not be complete without trying the horrendous liquid concoction known as Crystal Pepsi. Crystal Pepsi was Pepsi without the caramel color, and according to several marketing reports, it also had no “acidic flavor.” I have no idea what “acidic flavor” is supposed to mean in this context, but that’s probably why Crystal Pepsi isn’t sitting on store shelves today. Ironically, my college years would allow me the opportunity to try another failed Pepsi product. Pepsi Kona was released in the late 1990s and contained all the goodness of bubbly Pepsi combined with black coffee. I’ll spare you the details and save my review of that interestingly flat refreshment for another article, preferably one that talks about bitter bottles (pun intended and, yes, the product is really that bad).
Make no mistake, the antiques and collectibles trade is full of failed products that have made great and highly valuable objects of desire. Don’t believe me? Let’s focus solely on vintage “Star Wars” toys. Have you seen the current prices for a prototype rocket firing Boba Fett action figure? Back in the early 1980s, the latest “Star Wars” movie to premier was “The Empire Strikes Back,” and one of the most popular and deeply mysterious characters that would grace the film was a rogue bounty hunter by the name of Boba Fett, who fiercely pursued Han Solo for most of the movie. Kenner Toys, who had the rights to produce action figures based on the “Star Wars” franchise, originally wanted the toy to shoot an actual rocket projectile. Unfortunately, Mattel’s competing “BattleStar Galactica” toy line did feature shooting projectiles and, sadly, a known case of a child choking on the hard plastic missile. As such, Kenner decided to forgo the idea, and less than 100 rocket firing Boba Fett prototypes are known to exist in total. Today, these action figures can fetch well over six figures or more on the open market, especially if they are graded and authenticated by a trusted third-party grading company.
And when it comes to vintage “Star Wars” toys, there were several other known marketing snafus that became rare and sought-after collectibles over the years. Originally, the three main characters that brandished light sabers were Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, and Obi Wan Kenobi. The original release of these action figures featured double telescoping light sabers that extended from the character's arm. The double scoping piece was actually an added piece of plastic that made the light saber extend further in height. Depending on which story you want to believe, either this design was nixed due to manufacturing costs, or it, much like the rocket firing Boba Fett figure, was also seen as a safety hazard. Today, any double telescoping figure in near-mint condition is going to set you back several thousand dollars. Prices go up from there depending on if the piece is graded and/or factory sealed.
Another coveted piece of vintage palm sized “Star Wars” goodness is known solely as the Blue Snaggletooth action figure, and to this very day, it is by far one of my favorite vintage “Star Wars” action figures. Back when Kenner Toys acquired the rights to produce toys based on the “Star Wars” universe, the movie had yet to premier. George Lucas also wanted to keep a lot of the plot and elements of the “Star Wars” universe a mystery to prying eyes. In order for Kenner to be able to produce toys based on the movie, George Lucas gave them access to black and white production photos straight from the set of the movie. And while this worked brilliantly for most of the characters and vehicles, it didn’t work so well for characters that had limited screen time. Snaggletooth was featured in at least one of these photos and, unfortunately, neither his height or the color of his outfit were correctly noted. When Kenner Toys put this version of Snaggletooth in production, they made him the size of a full sized “Star Wars” action figure (3.75 inches) and painted his outfit blue with silver boots. When the movie premiered in 1978, it was only then that Kenner realized their error. Snaggletooth should be about half the size of a regular action figure, and he should be wearing a red jumpsuit, not a blue one. As a result, the figure was pulled, but not before becoming part of the Sears Exclusive Cantina Adventure Set, which was only sold in Sears stores. Today, the figure in near-mint condition can easily sell for several thousand dollars when graded, depending on condition.
Last but certainly not least, we have to mention the original vinyl cape Jawa. Now every true “Star Wars” fan knows that Jawas are either considered cute or horrendous depending upon what one was going through in their childhood the first time they saw the original “Star Wars” movie. The rodent-like creatures make their appearance early on in the desert world of Tatooine, where we first meet Luke Skywalker and Obi Wan Kenobi. Ironically, Kenner did an excellent job at creating the half-sized action figure based on the character, but there was just one problem: Consumers were complaining that the original vinyl cape outfit the character came with looked cheap. As such, some consumers expressed anger over having to pay full retail price for an action figure that was roughly half the size of a standard figure and has what appears to be a cheap diaper wrapped around it for an outfit. Kenner immediately pulled the figure from store shelves and introduced a new version with a more realistic cloth cape. As you can guess, the original vinyl cape version is quite sought after today, and many reproductions exist. Original verified vinyl cape Jawa figures can sell for thousands of dollars on the secondary market and are quite coveted by vintage “Star Wars” collectors today, myself included.
In conclusion, one of the reasons I love the antiques and collectibles trade is that marketing snafus don’t have to leave an awful taste in your mouth or be devoid of “acidic flavor” (I still want to know what that means, Pepsi). Instead they can be great financial investments and become highly sought-after reminders of a time not so long ago, but definitely from a galaxy far, far away. Until next time, keep searching those toy bins!

Shawn Surmick has been an avid collector since the age of 12. He currently resides in his hometown of Boyertown, Pa., and is a passionate collector of antiques and collectibles. His articles focus on various topics affecting the marketplace.

 

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