The vintage Star Wars action figures are dear childhood friends of many (older) fans. Even E.T. was introduced to some of them when he visited our planet. Needless to say, vintage action figures are still collected today on their original card and also in loose condition. In this article, I’ll shed some light on the main variations of Kenner’s classic toys.
It’s important to understand that nearly all vintage figures have variations that range from obvious to minor ones. Fans and collectors are still discussing the origin and the validity of certain less obvious differences today. These variations sometimes occurred when figures were produced in a different country or at another factory. For example, most Mexican Lili Ledy figures differ from the ones offered in North America and in Europe (the Lili Ledy figures are left out of this article because they’re nearly all different).
Most of the major variations are found in the Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back lineups. The Return of the Jedi collection certainly has its proper variations, but not as many as the previous waves.
Luke Skywalker is one of the figures with the most amount of variations in the entire line. The two major variations either have blonde or brown hair. But there is more than meets the eye. Luke’s hair can range from dark brown to lemon blond and his trousers can also range from dark brown to cream. There’s even a Luke figure with “orange” hair. Another infamous variation is the double telescoping (DT) lightsaber. (Kenner used double telescoping lightsabers for the very first figures of Luke, Ben Kenobi, and Darth Vader.) A double telescoping saber is rare and can be recognized by the much longer tip of the saber (almost reaching the surface when pointed downwards). DT Luke is the least rare of the three figures, mostly because it was also included in most Early Bird sets. Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi shares Luke’s hair issues. You can find Ben with gray, but also with white hair. Darth Vader doesn’t have any main regular variations, but double telescoping lightsaber Ben and Vader are the rarest of all loose Star Wars figures and there aren’t many left today.
Han Solo features one of the most obvious variations. Kenner first released Han with a small head, which was replaced by a larger head that looked a bit more like Harrison Ford. Kenner seems to have overdone themselves since the second head looks a bit too large. The small head was mostly packed with the early cards, so it appears to be less common than the large head.
Another figure from the first wave is the Sand People. Most Tusken Raider figures have filled tubes on the side of their face, but some figures, who were apparently packed on Return of the Jedi cards, have hollow tubes instead. The color of the gloves and belt from Sand People figures may also vary from light brown to dark brown.
An infamous variation took place when Kenner replaced the cheap vinyl cape of its Jawa figure by a cloth cape. Kenner reasoned that, since the Jawa was a smaller figure, they needed to upgrade its value by adding a nice cloth cape. History has its own way of dealing with decisions like that and the short lived vinyl cape Jawa became one of the vintage holy grails. Buying a loose vinyl cape Jawa requires caution and research because many forgeries have been made. The vinyl cape of the Toltoys Jawa (Australia / New Zealand) has a similar color as the cape of Ben Kenobi, while other Jawa vinyl capes should be lighter in color.
Boba Fett comes in a rich variety of colors and differences. A variation that has become quite popular is the “trilogo” Boba Fett which has a much paler color blue (gray) and has no COO (Country of Origin mark). The “trilogo” nickname isn’t really correct, since these Fetts were also sold on Return of the Jedi-cards in Europe.
A minor variation that several figures share, is the color of their face. Figures like the Death Squad Commander (Star Destroyer Commander), Luke Skywalker (X-wing fighter pilot) and Leia Organa can be found with differently colored faces. Walrus Man also has several variations concerning the color of his tusks (white or pink) and his skin. Chewbacca is a fine example of a figure with no major variations, but with many small differences, such as the color of his fur, his bowcaster and his pouch.
The Empire Strikes Back
The first wave of Episode V also has some figures with obvious variations. Luke Skywalker (Bespin Fatigues) succeeds in sharing similar characteristics with the original Luke. It also comes in a wide variety of hair colors ranging from pale yellow to greenish brown. The boots of some figures may also be a bit more dark. Lando Calrissian has an easily recognizable variation because some figures’ teeth and eyes aren’t painted. Both variations are equally common. Leia Organa (Bespin Gown) is the next Cloud City figure to feature interesting variations. She comes with a crew neck (flesh color), turtle neck or even a rare gold neck. This figure was also released with a variety of different faces so Leia Bespin figures will rarely be exactly similar.
The Rebel Soldier (Hoth Battle Gear) is a figure with many small variations, including the color of his skin and clothes. Not unlike Han Solo (Hoth Battle Gear) whose legs can have different shades of brown. The Imperial Stormtrooper (Hoth Battle Gear) has an interesting variation, being the YPS / PBP (Spanish) Snowtrooper. YPS was a German comic that often contained extra’s. Issue 150 came with a Snowtrooper that sometimes had a gun from Palitoy’s Action Force line. The YPS / PBP can be identified by several small differences, including circular slots on the skirt and a slightly more detailed body. Other figures from the first wave have less obvious variations. IG-88 comes in metallic or in chrome, the Bespin Security Guard (modeled after Bespin guard Helder Spinoza) comes in a variety of mustaches and Bossk appears with different shades of color on his head, limbs and jumpsuit.
Yoda has endless variations. He’s either accompanied by an orange or by a brownish snake and while these are the two main alterations, the diminutive Jedi Master often appears in different skin colors and his gimer stick is found in several tones of brown.
The later waves of The Empire Strikes Back contain less obvious variations, though the Imperial Commander figure sports two head variations: skinny and round. The colors of the skin of the Hoth Rebel Commander, Cloud Car Pilot and the AT-AT Commander can either be flesh or a bit more pale. Lobot and Dengar have similar facial issues, and the Lobots with the flesh face have round dots on their belts instead of circular ones. The Spanish Dengar (PBP) was released in a darker armor. The porcine Ugnaught can be encountered wearing a blueish or a purplish smock. There are Ugnaughts with smocks whose colors differ a little bit from the blue and the purple, though sunlight might have caused the color to fade. Even without the smock, the Ugnaught figure comes in many small differences such as the color of the face, differently colored eyebrows and thin or thick cords of the smock.
Return of the Jedi
Luke Skywalker (Jedi Knight Outfit) is the next Luke figure with many variations. An early trailer of Return of the Jedi showed Luke with a blue lightsaber and that’s probably why Kenner released their first Luke Jedi figures with a blue lightsaber instead of a green one. Luke’s cape can be found sewn-shut or with a snap. On top of things, two main sculpts were used for Luke Jedi. One has a molded face with painted darker hair and the other sculpt has molded lighter hair with a painted face (the reason why many Luke Jedi figures have paint damage on the top of their nose). The Rebel Commando and General Madine can be found as well with either a molded or a painted face.
Lando Calrissian (Skiff Guard Disguise) exists with a darker or lighter skin tone and a different color of the torso. Ewok figures Logray and Teebo have slightly different shades of fur. Klaatu (Wooof) can have variations in the skirt (different fabrics) and or differently colored limbs and legs. Han Solo (Trench Coat) is the last figure with an obvious variation. He comes with or without camo lapels on the front of the collar of his Endor coat.
Although the Max Rebo Band wasn’t sold as individual figures, the set appears with gray or black microphones and with a black or gray chidinkalu (Droopy’s instrument).
These variations are just the top of the iceberg and an endless amount of other diversities can be discovered when you delve deeper into the world of collecting loose vintage figures. Collect them all may be hard to achieve, but it sure can be a lot of fun!
Special thanks to Paul Kerton from Vintage Action Figure Variation Guide for the use of his photos. Other photos by Grant Criddle (double telescoping Luke) from Star Wars Forum UK and by Tim Veekhoven.
Tim Veekhoven (Sompeetalay) from Belgium is president and co-founder of TeeKay-421, the Belgian Star Wars Fanclub. He has contributed to Star Wars Insider (Rogues Gallery), is an administrator for Yodapedia and has written character back stories in ‘What’s the Story?’.