It is extremely difficult for even for seasoned collectors to predict what will be in high demand in future years. One of the best cases in point is the popularity of Droids and Ewoks cartoon series collectibles. These short-lived cartoons were aired in the US and Canada in 1985-1986 and saw additional distribution to Europe and South America in the mid to late 1980s. Although these series did not achieve extremely high ratings or set new records in merchandise sales, the demand for Droids and Ewoks collectibles today is staggering.
After the release of Return of the Jedi in 1983, Kenner Products was eager for new stories and characters for its successful toy line from the Star Wars movies. The plan was to release a series of action figures from the upcoming TV series based on the new Star Wars characters from the shows, along with cartoon version of some of the old favorites. The first release of Droids action figures consisted of 12 characters: Jann Tosh, A-Wing Pilot, Boba Fett, C-3PO, R2-D2, Jord Dusat, Kea Moll, Kez Iban, Sise Fromm, Thall Joben, Tig Fromm, and Uncle Gundy. For Ewoks, there were six characters in the initial release: Dulok Scout, Logray, Dulok Shaman, King Gorneesh, Wicket W. Warrick, and Urgah Lady Gorneesh. These action figures came packaged on card, similar to the movie series action figures by Kenner, along with individual character coins like those bundled with figures for Kenner’s Power of the Force promotion. Just about every character had brightly-colored depictions in keeping with their cartoon likeness. A subset of these action figures were also released in Canada, and years later, in Brazil.
The Droids and Ewoks action figure lines never really took off with kids and collectors at the time. In fact, as Star Wars fans began to get back into the toys in the early 1990’s to complete their sets from childhood, most avoided the cartoon series figures altogether as they were considered the dregs of the toy line. Around that time, collectors were also discovering that Kenner had planned to introduce a little-known second wave of action figures for Ewoks and for Droids, and as knowledge of these lost treasures became more widely known, this piqued tremendous interest from collectors.
Kenner had been planning to release a second wave of action figures for each cartoon. For Ewoks, there were 6 more characters for the lineup: Chituhr, Bondo, Weechee, Morag, Chief Chirpa, and Paploo. The Droids series was going get 8 addition figures including: Vlix, Gaff, Governor Koong, Jessica Meade, Mungo Baobab, Admiral Screed, Mon Julpa, and Kleb Zellock. These figures were made exactly like the rest of the Star Wars action figures, starting with a wax sculpt, which was cast into urethane hard copies to serve as photo samples, paint masters, and tooling masters. The tooling masters were used to construct metal molds to create the production figures using mold-injected plastic. The first plastic figures made from the production molds for testing and initial samples are known as first shots.
All of these phases in the toy design and tooling process led to a number of early prototypes from this extension of the line. None of these toys ever made it to store shelves (with one exception which we’ll come to shortly), but they were shown to retailers in Kenner catalogs and showrooms to promote the new lineup. Although not available in stores, that never stopped collectors from the hunt, and so began the quest for these early prototypes. It’s hard to know exactly how many examples of each character exist in any form (e.g., painted hard copy, protomolded figure, unpainted first shot, painted first shot, wax sculpt, etc.), but it is estimated there are 10-20 examples of each figure in loose form and some rare carded examples. Some of these new characters even had unique accessories molded for the particular figure, which made finding a complete figure even more difficult.
I mentioned that one of these figures was actually released. The Droids figures were sold in Brazil by a company called Glasslite starting in 1988, and at that time, Vlix was added to the lineup. Vlix had not been released in the US, and the paint scheme for the Brazilian version of the figure was materially different from the prototype of the figure planned for US release. The demand from collectors for the Brazilian Vlix is also exceptionally high like the unreleased US samples.
To give an idea, it took me 11 years to assemble the full set of figures after meeting dozens of former Kenner employees and making the occasional splurge to fill gaps. In the mid 1990s, loose unreleased figures from Ewoks and Droids would sometimes get offered in Toy Shop magazine by dealers for around $300-800. Today, each one can sell for $5,000-10,000 and more, depending on the item. To make matters worse, discoveries of lost examples “in the wild” have more or less dried up in the past 10+ years, so most collectors are limited to finding these from other collectors if those opportunities even arise. But one thing that is certain about Star Wars collecting is that we never know what’s ahead. It’s quite possible, although still unlikely, that a large cache of these figures could be discovered from some former Kenner employee. For now and likely for the future, collectors will have to settle for seeing these highly sought-after toys in books, exhibits, or through years of dedicated focus.
Gus Lopez is a Star Wars collector based in Seattle who specializes in rare and obscure Star Wars collectibles. Gus created The Star Wars Collectors Archive (theswca.com) in 1994, the first Star Wars collecting website on the Internet.