In 1995, Kenner relaunched the Star Wars action figure line with all the hype you would expect out of one of the biggest collectible toy lines of all time. Naturally, since it came in the wake of the explosions of interest and disinterest in both comics and trading cards, some toys gained insane fame and fortune until cooler heads prevailed several years later. It's worth noting that some of these weird variations or hard-to-get products weren't intentional collector's items made by the designers at Kenner, but were simple product revisions, the kind of things that happen all the time in Play-Doh or Mr. Potato Head that go ignored. Fans had a lot of time on their hands, and in the days of the line's infancy, money too.
It's worth noting that a lot of fans -- perhaps even you -- have many of these items in their closet, stashed away for a rainy day. There was an honest belief that the new figures of 1995 and beyond were to follow in their ancestors footsteps on the secondary market, showing that fans underestimated Hasbro's ability to make dozens of versions of the same character in the same outfit. Obscure little variations like this were the discussion topic du jour of their day, not because they were particularly amazing, but because there wasn't much else to talk about once you bought the first 9 action figures, the first 5 vehicles, and the mail-in action figure from Froot Loops. So sit back, and enjoy a glimpse into what it was like to be a hardcore collector of new Star Wars figures back when the whole line was genuinely new.
10) .00, .01
This may sound like meaningless jargon today, but early on Hasbro used to print a "part number" on every packaged action figure. The suffix -- initially, a .00, indicated it was the first release. It may be followed by a .01 or .02 as other changes were made to the "part." Fans didn't know it at the time, but this only reflected the packaging-- not the contents. There were times that the figure was changed at the same time as a package change, but this wasn't particularly common. Minor changes included a warning label going from a sticker to a printed warning, a word being capitalized, typographical errors being corrected, or a comma becoming a period. While this sounds incredibly dull, fans did pay a $5-$15 premium on a $4.99 figure because they felt the first release had some real significance behind it. Today, these (and other figures on this list) are generally worth a couple of bucks, a far cry from the price they rang up at when purchased at Target or Toys "R" Us nearly 15 years ago.
So to reiterate: fans were searching for and buying multiples of figures just because a little number on the back of the package that you likely would never see changed. This kind of attention to detail was unique to the early days of the modern line, by 2000 fans got over it, and the original 1978-1985 action figure line never got examined in quite this detail -- although today people are cataloging the many variations from the old days in great depth.
9) Lando Calrissian
While fans had very little communication with Kenner when this line launched, one little tidbit was circulating that figures like Lando would be in circulation for some time. The figure first shipped in December of 1995 and disappeared by February of 1996. Panic! The once ignored figure that shipped alongside Boba Fett suddenly became a hot ticket, easily selling for $30-$35 in many comic shops with some fans reporting price tags as high as $60, but it's unknown if anyone actually shelled out that much money for the figure. Lando figures have been historically weak performers, and this figure's popularity is squarely based on the whole speculation that what was out in very early 1996 would be it, but more figures would ship through 1996 and into 1997. What's particularly funny is if you get a look at this one today, you can see that it's a ridiculous, puffed-up muscular action figure with bell bottoms and a passing resemblance to Billy Dee Williams.
8) Tan Vest Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker
What started as a simple goof-up by Kenner resulted in a rationalized
variant for fans to hunt. In the summer of 1996, Kenner released its Shadows of the Empire action figures which featured all-new designs and characters plus a few returning favorites from Return of the Jedi.
The very first shipments featured a Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker, with
his black robes, but with a significant change -- his "vest" was tan,
and not very dark grey or black like it was supposed to be. Because the
character had a tan vest in the Shadows of the Empire storyline
plus it was another obvious, unique variation, speculators and fans
flocked to stores to snap these up as they stopped production almost as
soon as people became aware they existed. Like Leia, this goofy little
error shot up in value, only to plummet years later.
7) Monkey Face Leia
Crowned "rare" before she even hit store shelves, this figure was the eighth release at retail, not appearing on the packaging of her casemates. As such, she was something of a myth to some fans, not believing she was out. Because of this, her price shot up immediately, and she traded for $15-$30 for close to a year after she came out. What's particularly notable is that this is not a terribly gorgeous figure, and fans hated her. If you worked in a collectible or comic store in the Fall of 1995, you would hear someone make a crack about the "Han Solo in drag" or "Monkey Face Leia" action figure, and then plonk down an Andrew Jackson to bring it home.
The "I hate this but I'm buying it" attitude remains with the line to this very day, and can be seen on numerous other products if you watch Star Wars collectible message boards. Due to the premium pricing involved, this remains one of the best examples. Interestingly, the figure's belt had two or three rings molded onto it, depending on which version you stumbled on, yet this never caught on as a widely collected variant because the normal release in and of itself was seen as "rare."
The most important lesson in toy collecting is that things change. These things include prices, colors, and the size of one's accessories. In early 1996, Kenner decided that the action figure lightsaber accessories -- once about 3 3/4-inches long -- were far too large, and were trimmed by about an inch to look more in scale with the toy figures. For those keeping track, five figures were affected by this change: Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Luke Skywalker (X-Wing Pilot Outfit), and Luke Skywalker (Dagobah Fatigues). But of course, there was a transition period!
In this very brief window, Kenner was left with the packaging from the long lightsaber figures, but had new, shorter lightsabers to ship. So the packaging basically had a bigger slot than the weapon needed, and a lot of fans jumped on these transitional releases, with some of them -- particularly Obi-Wan Kenobi and the white costumed Luke Skywalker -- commanding $30-$50. Again, for a tray. The ripple-effect of this variation lasts to this day, as you will still find people trying to get a premium price for these figures on eBay, and fans really did shell out for some of these variations until roughly the time Episode I came on the scene and tens of thousands of new fans decided that it would not be these strange little variations, but things like Darth Maul that would be "collectible."
It's worth noting that the aforementioned Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker (white outfit) with the short lightsaber in a long tray really were tough to find, so there was a good reason for these to command some serious buckage on the secondary market. They didn't become more common with time, it's just that when faced with thousands of other Kenner and Hasbro figures and accessories to buy, fans moved on quickly.