"These ARE the droids you're looking for!" - Collecting Star Wars memorabilia

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2015-06-26 10:50:06

On May 25, 1977, from a galaxy far, far away, the first Star Wars film landed in cinemas around the world.

Quite unexpectedly, it became the biggest blockbuster in history almost overnight. It spawned two more films, and then another three, grew into a merchandising behemoth, encouraged numerous spin-offs in a wide variety of media, and has maintained its status as one of the biggest franchises in the world ever since.

What began as a twinkle in George Lucas’ eye, a concept for a science fiction epic, soon became a cult phenomenon, its influence on popular culture almost unparalleled by any other film. The resulting amount of memorabilia is boundless, a fertile ground for fans and collectors.

Background

The first three Star Wars movies, created by George Lucas, were released in 1977, 1980 and 1983 by Lucasfilm. They represented episodes IV, V and VI.

Almost two decades passed before Lucasfilm released the prequel trilogy, Episodes I, II and III, in 1999, 2002 and 2005.

The franchise is set in a fictional galaxy inhabited by alien creatures, many of them humanoid, as well as robotic droids. An important feature is the presence of ‘the force’, a supernatural energy that can be harnessed by those with the ability, either for good or for evil.

The popularity and mania that the movies inspired has generated abundant fan-produced and officially endorsed fiction, in the form of sequels, books, films, comics, video games and more. These offshoots are known as The Expanded Universe, and have significantly expanded the fictional world that the series takes place in.

The Walt Disney Company bought Lucasfilm in 2012, and have announced their intentions to release Star Wars Episode VII in 2015, with George Lucas acting as creative consultant.

(Tip: It may be worth keeping your eye out for memorabilia relating to the new film. Original posters, limited edition toys… as part of this franchise, one day they might become collectors’ items.)

Explore Wookieepedia, the Star Wars wiki, for more background information.

Guide to Collecting

Film props and costumes

The most expensive area of Star Wars memorabilia comprises items that were used in the original movies, such as props and costumes. Each item is pretty unique in comparison to the million pieces of merchandise that have been produced off the back of the films.

Even these elite collectibles are available in a larger volume that you would find with other movie memorabilia, firstly because the films were on such a vast scale, and secondly because there have been six of them.

It must be noted, however, that items from the first three films released in the 1970s and 80s are infinitely more desirable to collectors than those from the prequel trilogy.

The most expensive piece of Star Wars memorabilia ever sold is George Lucas’ Panavision camera, used during the filming of the very first Star Wars movie. It achieved $625,000 at a Profiles in History auction in 2011.

Models for fighter planes, lightsabers, Chewbacca’s head and Darth Vader’s helmet, Obi Wan Kenobi’s cloak and Luke Skywalker’s flight suit hold the top spots for Star Wars items.

See the Wikicollecting Top 10 most expensive items of Star Wars memorabilia for more info on these.

For the majority of collectors, these prices mean that items of film memorabilia are out of reach. However, there are plenty of other more affordable options for a keen Star Wars collector.

Posters

The first Star Wars movie was promoted with posters that hung in cinemas. Some canny collectors claimed these posters for themselves, and now they are extremely sought after and valuable items of ephemera.

There are numerous examples of official Star Wars posters, but as with the majority of Star Wars collectibles, it is always the rarest and most unusual items that are the most highly prized by collectors. As such, there are several unusual posters which are particularly sought after.

For example, the Star Wars Revenge of the Jedi poster is a rarity bearing the original title for the third film before Lucas changed it to ‘Return of the Jedi’, to be more in keeping with the peaceful ethos of the Jedi knights. Just a few had been printed with the original title and sent out to cinemas. Getting hold of one of the original examples can be a minefield, as the market is suffused with fakes.

The Happy Birthday style poster was issued to theatres still showing the first film one year after its original release. It pictured a Star Wars birthday cake and a single candle, surrounded by 11 of the 12 original characters (minus Jawa). Fewer than 1500 were printed, so these are true rarities.

Foreign movie posters are also of interest, and can be quite humorous. One Russian example pictures a space cowboy on a mechanical horse, and is entitled ‘Star Wars: A Galactic Western’. Another Russian poster depicts Darth Vader as a cat-like figure with lasers shooting from his head, a sunset behind him.

The franchise was also used for other purposes on posters, such as the U.S. Department of Health poster from 1979 which pictures C3PO and R2D2 stating: ‘Parents of Earth, are your children fully immunized? Make sure – call your doctor or health department today. And may the force be with you.’

The Expanded Universe

A collector can choose to widen their focus to the whole of the Expanded Universe. This includes all officially licensed Star Wars fiction: books, comics, video games, spin-off films, television series, board games and other media.

Some die-hard fans reject this ‘other world’ of Star Wars. However, great effort is made to maintain continuity throughout all of the Expanded Universe, and a fantastic canon of literature, media and collectibles has emerged from this extension of the franchise. There is an endless wealth of memorabilia to be found here, especially for collectors on a smaller budget.

Toys

When Star Wars was first released, science fiction was considered something of a dead genre. As a result, the biggest toy manufacturers at the time refused licensing rights to make the official merchandise for this new space opera, by a little known director with a cast of unknown actors.

They must have been kicking themselves in the years that followed. Kenner Products took on the licensing rights despite their own reservations. Some of their early Star Wars toys are some of the most collectible in the world.

Kenner were a little late in the release of the first toys, including jigsaw puzzles, paint-by-number sets, and a board game, and later, the much desired action figures. Children wanted action figures not just of their favourite character, but of all the characters.

Kenner made 93 Star Wars trilogy figurines. They went through numerous changes over the years, making collecting a complete set quite a project. Some models are more sought after – for example, when the first wave of Star Wars “Early Bird” action figures arrived on the market in 1978, the original Darth Vader, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker figures came with a telescoping lightsaber accessory. Due to their rarity, these 'Telescoping Lightsaber' Star Wars action figures are especially sought-after among collectors. The first Jawa figure wore a vinyl cape, while later ones wore cloth. The early ones are much more rare and valuable.

Leonardo DiCaprio is a noted collector of action figures, among them a significant number of Star Wars figures. In 2006 DiCaprio put a number of Star Wars figures up for auction through Morphy Auctions. All the figures were still on their original card, most were in a pristine collection and many were un-punched.

With the release of the prequel movies, Kenner (now part of Hasbro) produced further figures and toys, and many were bought by nostalgic adults.

These have been followed by hundreds of other toys, from Star Wars monopoly to Lego play sets, to plush.

Other merchandise

Merchandise was not, of course, limited to toys.

Almost every item imaginable has been produced with a Star Wars theme: alarm clocks, badges, clothing, sweets and chocolate, coins, cookie jars, cups and mugs, dinnerware, furniture, costumes, jewellery, lunch boxes, masks, pencil sharpeners, popsicles, skates, soda cans, stamps, tissues, trading cards, watches, the list goes on.

As previously mentioned, Star Wars collectors often hold the most obscure items in the most esteem. There are rather unusual items of Star Wars memorabilia to have been produced as merchandise, to list a few:

  • Jar Jar Binx chocolate bars
  • Tusken Raider Piñatas
  • C3PO tape dispensers
  • Cream of Jawa soup
  • Darth Vader cake pans
  • Lightsaber umbrellas
  • Steering wheel covers
  • Dog food
  • R2-D2 cookie jar
  • Jar Jar whoopee cushion
  • Ice cube trays

Useful links

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