As many fans know, each film in the original Star Wars trilogy was immortalized as a Topps trading card set. These were standard-sized trading cards — no different from baseball cards, save for the fact that all of the outfielders looked suspiciously like stormtroopers.
Less remembered are these Empire Strikes Back Giant Photocards, also made by Topps. Arriving in 1980, each pack included only one card.
How did they get away with single-card packs, you wonder? Well, these cards were much larger, and glossy in ways that regular trading cards hadn’t yet achieved. In effect, you weren’t buying a “card” as much as a tiny poster!
Believe it or not, packs retailed for just 20 cents. (And even after adjusting for 2015 inflation, they’d still be under 60 cents!) I certainly don’t remember what 20 cents “felt like” in 1980, but by any objective measure, that’s dirt cheap. Just imagine going home with five packs for a single dollar bill!
The appeal of glossy, 5×7” cards might be a little lost in today’s world, but remember, this was 1980. For Star Wars fans desperate to tack cool photos onto their bulletin boards, it was either these or pages cut from back issues of Starlog.
There were 30 Photocards in all, drawing exclusively from The Empire Strikes Back. Many of them simply used frames from the movie, but even cooler were the cards featuring promotional images — including a few that I still haven’t seen anywhere else.
This two-part checklist — scanned from the backs of the cards — shows off all 30. Clearly the “chaser” was No. 11, which depicted Vader’s bounty hunters. (Finding that card was reason to celebrate. Raise your hand if you used to pause the old Empire Strikes Back videotape on that scene just to get a better look at Bossk’s impossible arms. With this card you didn’t have to!)
If I could make one criticism of this set — and it’s a criticism I’m sure its former collectors shared — it’s that packs containing just one card made getting “doubles” REALLY frustrating. Heck, just judging by the 10 packs I opened to do this review, I found “deep thought Yoda” four times!
On the other hand, all collectors are secretly gamblers, and it must’ve been so exhilarating to keep throwing pairs of dimes on the store counter, praying for that shot of Vader with his fatherly hand outstretched.
“Please don’t be another Chewie. Please don’t be another Chewie. Please don’t be ano–OH GOD IT’S ANOTHER CHEWIE.”
If you’re thinking about buying a set, here’s some good news: loose photocards are very cheap on the collectors’ market, and you’ll often find great big piles of them for just a few dollars.
Of course, buying loose cards means you’ll rob yourself of the incredible Vader wrappers, resplendent in their lemony yellowness. Fortunately, even sealed packs can be found for 2-3 bucks if you search long enough. (In truth, those wrappers make nicer display pieces than the photocards themselves!)
And hey, if you dig up that bounty hunters card, let’s trade. I’ll give you three Yodas.