Trading cards have evolved with the times, adding all sorts of high-tech chasers, exclusive shots, and even codes for online bonuses. These extracurriculars help mask that fact that card collecting is pretty “antique” by 2016 standards, and if you want fans to bite the hook, you’ll need some strong bait.
Decades ago, things were much simpler!
Topps’ Return of the Jedi trading card series debuted in 1983, and lacked many of the bells and whistles seen in today’s sets… because it didn’t need them!
Throughout the early ‘80s, kids could find packs like these at virtually every location, from toy stores to corner delis. They became our most consistent “prize” for tagging along on our parents’ errands.
Also, such packs rarely cost more than 50 cents and were often priced at close to half of that, so they were some of the only “toys” that kids themselves could afford. Heck, I remember gathering loose change from under our couch cushions to boost my collection.
If you remember treating your childhood trading cards with an expertly gentle touch, consider the fact that they were some of the only things you owned that you bought with your own money. When you’re six, that’s pretty intoxicating!
Each pack included a bunch of cards, one sticker, and a brittle stick of bubble gum. This was the standard setup for any pack of Topps cards, irrespective of whether you were into Star Wars, baseball, or even some fly-by-night property like Harry and the Hendersons. No matter your passion, Topps had you covered with cardboard and candy.
Topps had already created dedicated sets (multiple, actually) for Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, so their efforts with Return of the Jedi were a natural progression.
The draw was obvious: Return of the Jedi hadn’t even hit VHS by the time these cards were released, so aside from storybooks and the errant magazine feature, they were the #1 way for kids to seriously study the movie’s characters and settings. I mean, it’s not like we had access to StarWars.com back in 1983!
The cards featured here are actually from Topps’ second Return of the Jedi set, identified by their blue borders. (The red-bordered first series debuted earlier that same year.)
You’d imagine that cards featuring popular characters like Luke or Vader would be the most desirable, but as a kid, I always enjoyed the weirder ones. Discovering that Sy Snootles card certainly offered no bragging rights at the schoolyard, but it was just so cool to have hard evidence of the movie’s weirdest blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em characters.
The backs of the cards offered a series of trivia questions. They’re way easy by today’s standards, but in pre-Internet times, identifying Yoda’s cane as a “gimer stick” took a much deeper dig.
As mentioned, each pack also came with a sticker. In typical Topps fashion, the backs of the sticker cards formed into a “puzzle/poster” after you completed the set.
When it came to the stickers, kids had a big decision to make. Keep them pristine in a binder… or use them to decorate school notebooks? It was the painful fork in the road that every kid had to cross!
If you’re interested in starting (or restarting) a collection of vintage Topps Star Wars cards, the general line is that they’re not too expensive. Naturally, the older the movie, the more expensive the set. If you’re just after a random assortment or a few sealed packs, it won’t break the bank. ‘Course, if you want the complete sets, or — gasp — a never-opened wax box stuffed with 36 packs, expect to pony up in a bigger way!