One of the true icons of the vintage Kenner toy line is the Darth Vader Collector’s Case.It was already iconic when we were kids and it still is today, even though it really was an ubiquitous toy in the eighties. Besides the Darth Vader case, Kenner did release several other items, meant for carrying your action figures around or for stocking them safely whenever you were asked to clean up your room. Let’s have a look at the different Star Wars collector’s cases from Kenner.
Figural Collector’s Cases
Darth Vader Collector’s Case is a prime example of Kenner’s collector’s cases. It was first sold in 1980 in a brown mailer box through catalog retailers. After its initial run, it was released multiple times until 1983 and sold with a cardboard wrapped around Vader’s shoulders that showed the available figures, just like the action figure cards did. In 1983 it was, of course, released with Return of the Jedi packaging. Some rarer variations included three Kenner action figures.
When opened, the Vader case shows two large holding areas for figures. It can hold 31 figures and that odd number is explained by a special compartment meant to stock the weapons and accessories of the figures. Some places inside the case were suitable for taller figures (IG-88, Chewbacca, Darth Vader) and others for smaller figures (R2-D2, R5-D4, an Ugnaught, or a Jawa). The Vader case also came with a slim, full color insert that showed a photo of all 31 figures that could be placed in the case. Stickers of the names of the figures had to be attached on their “rightful” spot where your toys could take a break from their adventures in Kenner’s galaxy far, far away. It’s not uncommon to find Vader cases where the stickers are stuck in a completely different order than proposed by Kenner. Vader did have his issues and certainly as a collector’s case. The inserted figures didn’t only make a wibblywobbly-sound with every step you took, some figures got loose from their spots during transportation.
The Vader Collector’s Case may have been one of the best distributed (and sold) items by Kenner and not just in the United States. It was a very common item that every kid around the corner seemed to have. It may still be very common (in loose condition) today, but it remains an icon of a generation and one that still might emanate a lot of memories from times long gone.
See-Threepio Collector’s Case was probably meant as the successor of the Vader Collector’s case. This case, covered with a metalized gold, can hold 40 figures (instead of 31) and was released for the first time in 1983. Kenner must have thought to release it as well in the Droids line, but since that line was unfortunately discontinued pretty soon, the Droids case only exists as a prototype. C-3PO was also packed with a cardboard around him, showing the 65 available Kenner figures. This case is bigger than Vader and it also has some sculpting on its back (Vader was flat on the backside).
When you open the head of Cybot Galactica’s most famous Protocol Droid, you will find it similar to the Vader case. It came with a slim cardboard insert with a double sided photo of all the figures to be placed inside the collector’s case (it even showed prototypes of Jedi figures). The Threepio case was even less an actual collector’s case than Vader’s. The figures weren’t really strapped very tightly into their proper place and they got loose very easily. The See-Threepio case is more scarce than the one of Darth Vader and although it is rather nonfunctional, it remains a beautiful rendition of our beloved goldenrod.
Mini-Action Figure Collector’s Cases
The first carrying case for the Star Wars Kenner figures that was released wasn’t Vader, but rather the Star Wars Mini-Action Figure Collector’s Case from 1979. Vinyl carrying toy cases were a common item in the seventies and eighties. Matchbox released them and so did Kenner. The vinyl case could hold 24 different figures while at that time there were only 20 different figures (Boba Fett would be released soon). The case came with two plastic trays that each could hold 12 action figures. These trays could be reverted and used as a playground (they even had pegs to position the figures). It also included an insert that showed the figures that were intended to be carried around in the particular case and also a sticker sheet with the names of the available figures. A prototype of the rocket-firing Boba Fett figure can be seen on the insert of the first release, but that was replaced soon with a photo of the actual figure. Compared to Vader and C-3PO the vinyl cases don’t have a proper compartment for weapons, but they are able to hold the figures much better. They truly are useable carrying cases and in mint condition they also have a sticker on the backside.
The most remarkable thing about the vinyl cases is without any doubt their original artwork.
The Star Wars case has artwork that shows 18 of the 21 figures (Snaggletooth, Luke X-wing pilot and Boba Fett aren’t featured, however). The artwork used photographs and stills from the movie as examples. You can notice how R2-D2, See-Threepio, the Tusken Raider, the Jawa (Datcha), and the Death Squad Commander (Sergeant Derek Torent) have been based on photos from the movie. Note that the Death Star has been turned upside down and that Greedo is wearing the same funky green Martian-like outfit like his action figure does. The Star Wars logo is prominently seen, including the Luke/Leia emblem. The same vinyl case was re-released in 1980, but the Star Wars logo got replaced by the logo from The Empire Strikes Back. Episode V wouldn’t have to worry, because it would receive two vinyl cases of its own.
The first vinyl case from Episode V was released in 1981. By that time the popular Vader case had also been released, but still Kenner believed that a smaller and cheaper case would sell. Consequently, the vinyl cases that were released after 1979 are more difficult to secure. This case has the same accessories than the first one did: two plastic trays (now in tan color) that could hold 24 figures and an insert that showed all available (41) figures. The artwork is beautiful, colorful, and maybe a bit eclectic. It prominently features Yoda, and going clockwise you can see Cloud City (with Slave I and Cloud Car), Lobot, Lando Calrissian, an Ugnaught, a Bespin Guard, Leia Organa (with purple garment), the four bounty hunters that had already been made as figures (Bossk, Boba Fett, IG-88 and Dengar), Luke on his Tauntaun, and the X-wing on Dagobah. More in the center of the artwork are an AT-AT Driver, an AT-AT Walker, Luke dueling Vader, the two Medical Droids (FX-7 and 2-1B), and a Hoth turret. As you can see the artist succeeded in adding a lot of the new Kenner figures and toys on the cover of the vinyl case.
The following year, in 1982, Kenner decided to release yet another vinyl case from Episode V with updated artwork. It once again included two trays and an insert of the figures. The artwork in this vinyl case is a bit more coherent than the previous one and it once again manages to show a lot of the newest Kenner toys. You can see a Rebel Transporter lifting off, Han rescuing Luke, a Probot, a Wampa, Cloud City with Chewbacca carrying C-3PO and a Security Guard, the Twin-Pod Cloud Car Pilot, Han in Carbonite, Luke fighting Vader, Han and Leia, the Falcon, Snowtroopers and the “Tri-Pod Laser Cannon,” a miniscule Scout Walker, the AT-AT Commander (Veers), and a scene from Dagobah with Yoda, Luke, R2-D2, and Obi-Wan. The cases from Episode V are sometimes mixed-up. Remember that the second one features the wampa and the first one doesn’t.
The Return of the Jedi vinyl case was released in 1983, but didn’t have a long lifespan despite it’s awesome artwork. Kenner soon released their C-3PO Collector’s Case and the multitude of other vinyl cases probably meant this one had a fairly limited release. A lot of the artwork is reminiscent of the actual Kenner toys. On the right side we see Vader and Luke dueling aboard the Death Star, a Y-wing starfighter, C-3PO with Chirpa and Logray, a Rebel Commando, other Rebel Commando’s guarding the bunker and a Scout Trooper on a speeder bike that’s based on the Kenner toy and not on the model from the movie. The left side is dominated by Jabba the Hutt and his minions. We see the Skiff with the heroes, including Weequay (Pagetti Rook) and Klaatu (Wooof) who are even shown twice, as is Lando Skiff Guard Disguise. In Jabba’s Throne Room we see a Gamorrean, Boushh, Bib Fortuna, and Squid Head (Tessek). Jabba himself is accompanied by Salacious Crumb. This case also came with the double-sided insert and with red plastic trays for stocking the figures.
The artwork for the vinyl cases was done by artists who weren’t employees of Kenner and therefor no sign of the artist’s signature can be found. If you want to check out the progress of the artwork of one of the vinyl cases, check out Gus and Duncan’s Guide to Star Wars Prototypes. The artwork of the cases was also used for magnets released at Celebration VI and Celebration Europe II.
Other Collector’s cases
It seemed that Kenner couldn’t get enough ideas for collector’s cases. The Chewbacca Bandolier Strap (1983) was an idea that worked on paper, but it was incredibly unpractical in reality. Kenner probably didn’t consider it a genuine collector’s case, but more as a role play item. The toy is a reproduction of the ammo bandolier used by Chewbacca in all the movies and it has ten foam slots for storing action figures and two plastic cases for weapons and accessories. It didn’t look bad at all and as a kid, you could actually wear it. But transporting your figures like that in the open was nothing any kid would do. The foam wasn’t really that strong so it wasn’t safe to carry your figures around like that. The bandolier was sold in a box that showed a kid wearing the item, but it was also available in a mailer box if you had saved enough proofs of purchase. It was advertised heavily on the back of action figure cards together with the C-3PO Collector’s Case. Nowadays, most of the (loose) bandoliers are suffering from deteriorating foam.
The last case Kenner released was the Laser Rifle Carry Case in 1984. It looks like a large Blaster Rifle and it has a scope you can look through, but Kenner really did exaggerate its features while promoting it. The Laser Rifle wasn’t really seen in Return of the Jedi nor was it able to carry secret messages. It held less figures than the vinyl cases, but since it has been found in catalogs sporting the Power of the Force logo, Kenner was planning to sell it beyond 1984 if their line had continued. Kenner didn’t mind the fact that it could only hold 19 figures (and their weapons in a special compartment) since they also considered it to be a roleplay item. The Laser Rifle was packaged in a cardboard that showed several Mini Rigs, some features of the item and the available action figures.
Though the Rebel Transport (GR-75 Medium Transport) is naturally considered a ship from Kenner’s range of toys, but it could also hold 24 figures in its cargo hold. The ship was released in 1982 and came with a large gray plastic cargo hold, divided by many boxlike compartments that had pegs for your figures and an escape hatch for imprisoned characters. The command pod of the transport could be used as a handle to carry the ship around. This was Kenner’s perfect match between an actual toy and a functional collector’s case.
Hasbro has reused the vintage molds of the Vader and the C-3PO Collector’s Cases for their modern line of action figures. In the early ’90s, Just Toys even released a similar looking Vader Collector’s Case for their Bend-Ems line. So beware when you encounter any of these in loose condition.
Unless your pretended that your heroes and villains encountered massive statues of Darth Vader or See Threepio, you probably didn’t play a lot with the collector’s cases. But they had their proper place in any collection. Even if you didn’t use them to store your figures, some of them had very cool artwork and others had nice compartments to stock your weapons and accessories. Today, most of the cases will probably be excused from doing what they were originally meant to do, but the collector’s cases remain original niche items in Kenner’s vintage toy line.
Tim Veekhoven (Sompeetalay) from Belgium does research for the Rogues Gallery feature in Star Wars Insider under the supervision of Leland Chee. He’s president and co-founder of TeeKay-421, the Belgian Star Wars Fanclub. He’s a collector, an administrator for Yodapedia, and has written the backstories for Swilla Corey, Tzizvvt, Wam Lufba, and Maxiron Agolerga.