For Star Wars fans who are just getting their feet wet with collecting, the sheer volume of vintage Kenner action figure cards (or cardbacks) listed on eBay may seem… confusing.
The “card” is defined as an action figure’s original package, normally stripped of its plastic bubble. Yes, in essence, we’re talking about old pieces of cardboard.
Why would someone want these, you wonder?
After all, these are just the “packages” — worn, dusty, and completely bereft of the more obviously valuable vintage Star Wars figures that they once housed.
Well, people who grew up with Kenner’s Star Wars figures already know the answer: Those cards can pack as much as a nostalgic punch as the vintage action figures themselves!
There were around 100 unique action figures in Kenner’s Star Wars collection, and most of them were sold in multiple packages.
The packages were constantly updated, not just to reflect the most current movie in the original trilogy, but also to accommodate updated checklists as the collection grew. Especially popular figures — like Darth Vader or Chewbacca — came in at least a dozen different packages over the years!
Some collectors seek out these cards to make their loose figures as complete as possible. Star Wars collectors are nothing if not rabid, and for the lucky few who manage to collect the complete set of Kenner action figures, trying to then collect all of the original cards can be a fun (if expensive and exhaustively tough) hurdle.
Card collecting can be a neat hobby even if you’re not into reclaiming those glorious old action figures. This sort of ephemera isn’t without value, and certain cards are worth substantial dough. Since some figures may have only spent a comparative moment in a certain package, those cards can fetch higher prices.
Of course, more simple is the fact that rarer figures generally mean more expensive cards. EV-9D9’s card, for example, has sold for more than 30 dollars on eBay. And that’s just the card — no figure, and not even the plastic bubble!
Still, I think that there’s another, baser reason at play. Those spreads of action figures on the cardbacks just conjure up so many great memories!
For most of us, it went like this:
Every time we got a new Star Wars action figure, half of the fun was in studying its cardback. We’d mentally wink at the ones we owned, and stare longingly at the ones we didn’t. Some of us took a more hands-on approach with these checklists, literally circling the ones we had, and making lists of the ones we didn’t.
This was sometimes maddening, as I recall seeing figures on those cardbacks that I never saw in stores. The original Luke Skywalker figure — the one with the white shirt and oddly yellow lightsaber — debuted before I was born, and though he was re-released in the ROTJ era, I never could find him. That stung! So did the sight of that freakishly bulky (and rare) Amanaman figure, which I wouldn’t see in person until adulthood.
In that respect, the cardbacks were essential ingredients in keeping our Star Wars passions at maximum levels. With every new score came a big cardboard reminder of all the figures we’d yet to collect!
The cards dust off other memories, too. Many cardbacks featured special offers for mail-away figures. If you grew up with this line, you probably indulged in more than one of them.
I’ll never forget the day that my Emperor figure arrived, in a plain white box that was only a little taller than the figure. I think I appreciated the blessing to stop tracking our mailman’s every move as much as I appreciated the new toy!
I can’t overstate the importance of these cards. Heck, I remember being at some pretty bare toy stores as a kid, where a depleted stock of Star Wars toys left me with no new figures to choose from. Did I investigate a different toy line instead? Most often, no. I’d just grab a double of some figure that I already had. The strangely addictive stink of Kenner plastic was one thing, but the lure of another cardboard checklist was just plain irresistible.
If you’re a casual collector who just wants a few old cards to spark some memories, here’s the good news: So long as you aren’t too picky, they’re pretty cheap. Several cards from the Return of the Jedi era go for around $5… or even much less if you can handle the errant tear or missing proof-of-purchase.
NOTE: Several images in this article were used with permission by CJ Fawcett. Check out 12back.com for a detailed breakdown of the many Kenner Star Wars card-back variations!