Since it was introduced to movie audiences on May 25, 1977, Star Wars has defined and redefined the impact of pop culture, box office record tracking, and the power of fandom. In May 2017, Star Wars reached yet another milestone when George Lucas’ beloved space opera turned 40.
Its popularity may have settled a few times over the course of 40 years and fans will always hotly debate the merit and the misery of the prequel trilogy, but the Force is always strong in fan love for the series. Other fandoms have sustained a long history, yet never hit the intensity of Star Wars or have burned hot for a short period before fizzling out like yesterday’s news.
With third and fourth generations of people discovering the series, today, Star Wars may be the most popular it has ever been. Always centered on the love of the original trilogy, the universe expanded into cartoons, TV specials, comic books, novels, assorted games, and a wave of new films that eat box office records for breakfast. Inspiration from the series has produced a wide variety of toys, collectibles, and figures for all the fans who can’t get enough of the galaxy far, far away. The series has truly reached a mythic plateau among fans and collectors.
And now, for those fans who want to gobble up those collectibles like a hungry Sarlacc, Hake’s Americana & Collectibles is presenting the Star Wars Collection of Russell Branton. The inaugural portion of this extensive collection of graded action figures and related toys will be offered in Hake’s November 2017 auction and beyond. Hake’s will close their 50th year in pop culture and Americana auctions by selling the first round of memorabilia from this collection, beginning with about 60 AFA-graded items that any Star Wars collector would love to own.
Branton traces his love of Star Wars back to seeing the movie at the drive-in with his mother and brother when he was five years old. The series became, as Branton describes it, a “common bond” between he and his brother, who sadly, passed away when he was 13 years old. According to Branton, that bond stuck with him throughout his life.
He retained the Star Wars toys he played with as a child and began collecting in 2003. Interestingly, his first purchase was one of the rarest items that will be offered – the Vinyl Cape Jawa.
When asked why he is selling the collection, Branton said, “It was always my mission to obtain the entire collection and eventually sell it off.” Already well-versed in the enthusiasm that is coupled with collecting, he added, “It will be exciting to see the love and passion others have for Star Wars as well.”
“For 50 years Hake’s has taken great pride in bringing the best collectibles to our worldwide clientele. As often as possible, high grade and rarity are key elements in what we offer on the auction block,” Hake’s President Alex Winter said. “That is what has us so excited about the Star Wars Collection of Russell Branton. This is the best of the best, and it’s for a property that 40 years on is as popular and relevant as it was upon taking the world by storm in 1977. Rather than flooding the market with these items, we will be taking our time in offering the collection over the next few years, allowing all collectors ample time to procure pieces to add to their own Star Wars collections.”
It is the best original trilogy vintage Kenner collection to ever come to auction. Based on their research, Hake’s found that no other Star Wars auction of vintage original trilogy figures and toys matches the scope and rarity of this collection.
“I believe this to be the very best quality vintage Star Wars collection to ever be offered for public sale,” echoed James Gallo, Star Wars expert and owner-operator of Toy & Comic Heaven. “It covers both high grade carded figures as well as sealed vehicles and playsets which are also in top shape. Generally larger collections contain a lot of common or lower priced items which is not the case here.”
All AFA-graded, the collection comprises toys that were created from 1977 to 1986. It includes some of the rarest Star Wars figures that will be sold over multiple auctions.
Purchasing and maintaining high grade examples of the collectibles was always a goal for Branton. “I did have them all graded to authenticate each piece and also to show the high quality of each piece. I wouldn’t purchase anything that had a low grade. That’s why it took me 10 years to complete my collection,” Branton said.
Several of the 12-back figures in the collection, including Darth Vader, Leia Organa, and Luke Skywalker, are each graded an exceptional AFA 95 Mint.
All three of the Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Darth Vader double telescoping 12-back carded figures are also included. Part of the 1978 toy line, the double telescoping term is used to describe the lightsabers, which have double action telescoping, meaning the main portion of the lightsaber slides out of the figure’s arm and then has a small tip that slides out from within the lightsaber.
Collectors know that few carded double telescoping figures remain, because Kenner switched the lightsabers early in the process, which suggests that few were made and even fewer were put on the card. Typically, Luke is the easiest to find because he was part of the Early Bird Kit, mail-away promotion. During the 1977 holiday season people could buy a fold-out cardboard stand then send away to get figures, which included Luke, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, and R2-D2. The original 12-back cards explain how the toy weapon works, illustrating the piece that comes from the arm and the smaller piece from the lightsaber’s main portion. These examples of the figures are still sealed on the original backer cards.
Branton’s collection includes all 16 of the three-pack special action figure sets. The three-packs were predominately themed by character type, status, and geographic location in the film series. Some of the sets are R2-D2, C-3PO, and Chewbacca; Bespin Han, Ugnaught, and Lobot; creatures pack of Hammerhead, Walrus Man, and Greedo; a droids three-pack; heroes three-pack with Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Ben Kenobi; another heroes version with Luke, Han, and Ben; Imperial pack with Zuckuss, AT-AT Driver, and TIE Pilot; Rebel pack with Hoth Luke, Hoth Leia, and R2-D2; and villain pack with Tusken Raider, Boba Fett, and Snaggletooth. These three-pack action figure sets are rare on their own, but to have all 16 in one collection is truly incredible. It is estimated that there are only around five complete sets in the world.
Another rarity is the Boba Fett rocket-firing prototype action figure. The prototype was on display at the 1979 Toy Fair in New York City, but the figure never went into production in this form because the rocket-firing capability was deemed to be a choking hazard. As a result, the prototypes in circulation are almost all unpainted, blue figures.
Part of a mail-away campaign, people would send in four proof of purchase seals to receive the Boba Fett figure by mail. In response, they’d receive the toy without the rocket-firing ability and a letter apologizing for the change. Some action figure cards had already been produced so stickers were placed over the image of the rocket-firing mechanism on the back.
The original rocket-firing versions are known as L-slot or J-slot, referencing the shape of the firing mechanism on the figure’s back. The one in this collection is the L-slot firing type.
Since they were never sold, Kenner employees who were aware of the major change saved the figures. It is believed that there could be about 75 to 100 examples of all versions of the figure among collectors. The example at Hake’s is the blue/unpainted figure which comes with one rocket, and the full rocket firing mechanism. It is AFA-graded and authenticated by Collectible Investment Brokerage.
The vinyl cape Jawa figure is another rare gem in this collection. When the figure was originally designed, it had a plastic cape like the other figures. However, because it was so much smaller, it had a lower perceived value, despite having the same sale price. As a solution to add some value to the figure, they removed the small vinyl cape and replaced it with a cloth fabric gown/tunic that pulled over the top of the figure. Production of the figure was pulled when they had barely hit the shelves. Often a mid-production run change like that can add a lot of value to the first version of the toy.
There are two different Anakin Skywalker prototype figures in the collection. One is a hardcopy figure, which is a painted prototype, cast in resin, with limbs that are pinned together. The other one was displayed at Toy Fair and painted a little differently with darker colors. It has a mockup card with the rare coin, and a blister held on with double-sided tape. The mockup was made for Toy Fair with Velcro circles on the back that would’ve been used to mount it on display boards.
A Vlix figure made in conjunction with the Star Wars: Droids animated show is another highlight in the collection. The cartoon ran from 1985 to 1986, presenting adventures of C-3PO and R2-D2 years before they joined the Rebellion. Vlix, a villain in the series, was the head of the Fromm gang.
It was unproduced in the United States as part of the never released second series of Droids figures. However, it was released for a brief time in Brazil, with some paint differences, as a part of the Glasslite company’s Droids line, making it an unproduced toy in the U.S. and one of the rarest figures ever released commercially.
Other rarities include many proof cards, which were printing production samples made to finalize the card designs that would provide backing to the action figures. Because of that, only a small number have survived.
Some scarcer proof cards feature the Revenge of the Jedi title, including one for Darth Vader. Any item with the Revenge title is sought by collectors. Though the Revenge title wasn’t used, the proofs were printed, along with other packaging and posters. After the title was changed, all merchandise was changed to the Return of the Jedi title, making these cards the closest collectors can get to Revenge of the Jedi action figures.
Among other notable proof cards is the Max Rebo Band, which is a huge sheet that’s laid out flat. As a toy, the Max Rebo Band included backing blister and edging that came up around the band, in a framed tray box. The large sheet is about 24” x 24”.
Additional highlights among the other proof cards are the Empire Strikes Back Stormtrooper and the unproduced Power of the Force cards.
Playsets include an Empire Strikes Back action display stand, Cantina Adventure, Cloud City, Death Star, Ewok Village, Imperial Attack Base, Land of Jawas, all three Power of the Force Playbacks, and the Rebel Command Center.
Star Wars may have its roots in the United States, but is by no means isolated to American audiences. The worldwide phenomenon led to plenty of toy lines and memorabilia around the world. Japanese foreign issues in the collection include the Takara 7-inch Darth Vader, Chewbacca, C-3PO, and Stormtrooper. Other foreign issue pieces in the collection come from Europe, Brazil, and Canada.
Call them action figures or dolls, the 12-inch series released in the late 1970s represented some of the most beloved and notorious characters in the trilogy. Examples in the collection are Obi-Wan Kenobi, Boba Fett, Han Solo, IG-88, Leia, and Luke. Empire Strikes Back figures, issued near the end of the 12-inch run, include Boba Fett and a very rare Australian only release Chewbacca. There are prototype boxes for Darth Vader and R2-D2, as well as the Lili Ledy Tusken Raider, which was only produced in Mexico.
On the flipside, sometimes the best things come in small packages, and in the case of Star Wars, it’s the Micro Collections. Pieces that will be sold through Hake’s include the Bespin World, Death Star Compactor, Hoth Ion Cannon, the Millennium Falcon, X-Wing, and TIE Fighter. Die-cast examples are Y-Wing, Millennium Falcon, Star Destroyer, X-Wing, Slave I, and Land Speeder.
Some of the most memorable elements within Star Wars were the imaginative vehicles, whether they were in the sky or lumbering over the ground. Darth Vader’s TIE Fighter, the Millennium Falcon, Sandcrawler, special offer Slave I, Sonic Landspeeder, and an X-Wing are just a few vehicles in the collection. Small vehicles, known as Mini-Rigs, such as the Ewok Catapult, Imperial Sniper, INT-4, and special offer PDT-8 are also zooming around waiting for new homes.
“The quality and scope of the collection is really amazing. Just about every figure on their debut movie card is included as well as sealed playsets and vehicles. There is a large selection of proof card material including Revenge of the Jedi and Power of the Force,” Gallo added.
“As an impressionable child, I saw the original Star Wars film upon its initial release. I became obsessed with all things Star Wars and was thrilled on Christmas morning of 1978 when I was inundated by much of the original Kenner line. To this day, I still have all of my figures and accessories and even have some on display in my office,” Winter said. “From a personal standpoint, and as a fan of the original trilogy, offering this collection really takes me back to my youth. That is one of the most enjoyable aspects of collecting, and again, something Hake’s has helped collectors of all ages do over our 50 years in the industry.”
With so many competing auction houses and websites, Branton could’ve taken his incredible collection almost anywhere. When asked why he chose Hake’s he was very clear on the subject. “Because of their passion for my toy collection. With a collection of this magnitude I wanted to put it in the best hands possible. And, Hake’s, I believe, are the experts in this realm,” Branton said.
The Star Wars Collection of Russell Branton is truly incredible, offering collectors the opportunity to cultivate great Star Wars collections with some of the rarest figures. The inaugural portion of the collection will be sold in Hake’s Auction #222, which goes online October 24, 2017 and closes November 14-16. But this is just the beginning, with much more following in 2018.
Collectors who would like to view the collection in person should contact Hake’s Operations Manager Heather Winter by calling toll free (866) 404-9800, ext. 1612 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an appointment. Interested bidders are also encouraged to contact Heather to get a complimentary catalog. Learn more about the collection and the upcoming auction at hakes.com, as well as on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
- Article originally appeared in Antique Toy World August 2017, Volume 47, Number 8