Thursday, May 19, 2016

1983 Luke Skywalker - Jedi Knight

There is one reason I collect vintage G.I. Joe figures today.  That is the vintage Star Wars line.  In 1978, I was four years old.  My spotty memories of toys from that time are mostly of die cast cars, fire trucks and little plastic firefighters.  The toys were not overly memorable, not overly forgettable.  In the spring of 1978, my youngest brother was born.  He was born with a heart defect that left him hospitalized for months.  During this time, my younger brother and I were shuffled between Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles and family friends.  One rare moment, my father was home on a Saturday.  He took me to the local Children's Palace toy store and let me pick out anything I wanted.  I don't know what drew me to the Star Wars figures.  I was not familiar with the story or franchise.  But, the packaging and figure size drew me in.  I purchased a C-3PO figure.  By Christmas of that year, I had completed the original 12 figures and was ecstatic when the second wave of figures showed up at the local Ed Shrock's Toys at the Glendale mall.  For the next five years, Star Wars toys would dominate my childhood.

In late 1982, though, that changed.  My younger brother got a slew of new G.I. Joe toys for his birthday.  With little on the Star Wars horizon, I became captivated by these new action figures.  As the calendar moved into 1983, my interest in Joe trumped anything Star Wars.  But, as the summer drew near, buzz started building around Return of the Jedi.  My brother's friend around the block found a Biker Scout at the local Children's Palace.  This cardback opened up huge new possibilities and excitement over the new movie.  Shortly before the film's release, Time Magazine published a full spread and article on the movie and whetted my appetite even further.  I saw the film upon it's release and was immediately back into Star Wars full time.

My youngest brother's plight intervened again, though.  He had additional surgeries scheduled for the summer of 1983.  With school out, I was sent off my Grandparent's house in Dayton, Ohio for a few weeks.  My younger brother would then join me for a week before we went to an Aunt and Uncle's home for the final weeks before my youngest brother could return home.  In 1983, my Grandfather was retired.  He and my Grandmother had a few friends in their neighborhood and would play cards or visit with them most days.  But, this left them copious amounts of free time.  Combining this with my Grandmother's innate need to spoil me rotten, they made it a point to take me out shopping every single day.  At the time, I had few of the new Return of the Jedi figures.  So, they took me on a quest to complete my collection.  Each day, we'd hit a different store, look over their stock and buy me one new figure to add to my collection.  Sometimes, the choice between many figures was difficult.  Other times, there was just one figure that I did not own who was available.  (This is how I ended up with General Madine.)  The one figure I most wanted, though, was Luke Skywalker in his Jedi Knight outfit.

The 1983 Star Wars line was a huge upgrade over previous offerings.  While the basic five points of articulation remained, the figure's accessories were upgraded to heights previously unexplored.  Gone were the vinyl capes that were the hallmark of earlier years.  Instead, full cloth goods were offered on many figures.  A few characters featured removable helmets to authentically recreate specific scenes.  And, there was a wealth of new weapon molds made to mimic those seen in the movie.  The Luke Skywalker figure appealed to me on a few of these fronts.  First, he had a cloth cloak with a hood to recreate his Jedi look.  He also included the completely awesome pistol that many of the creatures in Jabba's Palace had used.  But, in general, the figure was an exceptional recreation of the titular character from the film.  Plus, he had a lightsaber he could hold.

The minute I acquired this Luke, he became my go to figure.  No else was allowed to play with him and I kept his gear pristine.  He was unbeatable as he could shoot far away bad guys or slice them up close with his lightsaber.  In the days that followed my acquisition of the figure I found a version at a local K-Mart store with a blue lightsaber.  I couldn't believe Kenner had made such a gaffe.  I thought about buying it as a way to finally correct my Bespin Luke's yellow saber.  But, now that I had the Jedi Luke, there was no need to return to that Bespin figure.  Luke's reign as top dog in my collection was short lived, though.  As the summer wound down, I finally returned home.  Here, playing with my Star Wars figures up in my brother's room one day, I discovered an Airborne figure.  With that, Star Wars began a decline and Joe began its ascendancy to top spot in my toy world.

When I started coming back into the toy world as an adult, though, it was through the relaunch of the Star Wars line by Hasbro in 1995.  While I had bought Joes here and there in the prior years, it was the new Star Wars figures that really piqued my interest in toys in general and ignited my collector passion.  In the fall of 1996, I picked up Hasbro's new take on the Luke Jedi figure in their POTFII line.  It rekindled my interest in this figure.  As Ebay came around in the following years, one of the items I decided I needed to have was a carded, vintage Luke Jedi.  It represented so much of my childhood and really was the last great Star Wars figure I had owned.  At the time, carded Star Wars figures were starting to get expensive as we really didn't understand just how much vintage stock there was out there.  So, I sacrificed a bit of quality in order to fulfill expediency and acquired the carded figure you see below.  While I don't remember the exact price, it was likely between $40 and $50 after shipping.

In the late 1990's, I actually had quite a few vintage carded and loose Star Wars figures.  I had plans to complete my loose collection as a side hobby between buying Joes.  But, in the early 2000's, my Star Wars figures could not survive the space freeing imperative that I had.  Almost all of my vintage Star Wars toys were sold off to make way for Joes.  The one that remained, though, was this Luke Jedi.  I simply can't sell it.  The figure retains a few memories for me.
  • The first is the card photo.  Back in 1983, finding photos of Star Wars characters was rough.  So, having a card that showed so many background characters was great.  
  • The second is playing in my Grandparent's front yard with this figure after I got him.  I don't remember the adventure.  But, I remember their perfectly manicured bushes that lines the sidewalk that lead to the driveway.  It's a great contextual memory that keeps their home fresh in my mind even though it's been out of the family for over 25 years now.  
  • The final is an odd memory of the figure's gun.  At some point, I lost it.  Without the gun, the figure began to fall into disuse.  On fall day, I went to close a window in my parent's family room.  The window didn't close all the way.  On top of the sliding pane, I found Luke's gun.  It was close enough in color to the window to not be seen on a cursory look.  But, how it ended up there, I will never know.  The handle to the gun was stressed from getting pinched between the wooden frames of the panes.  But, I quickly went to get my Luke, gave him his gun and used him for a few more days until Joe retook my imagination.
It is memories like these that give these toys value.  While I don't want to be stuck in the past, it's useful to also not forget where you came from.  Seeing this figure immediately reminds me of my grandparents.  There are few things I own that do that as all the mementos from their home were destroyed while I was in college.  As toys were a big part of my interaction with them, I have fond memories of them that are associated with the playthings that should not, otherwise, hold that much meaning.  It's a bit sentimental and sappy.  But, as my kids never knew their great grandparents, it's a way to provide them a connection and make their ancestors seem a bit more real.

With the release of Revenge of the Sith, I started buying modern Star Wars figures again.  I was not a completist and my purchases were limited to figures and characters that I found really cool or interesting.  The one figure that I desperately wanted, though, was a Luke Jedi done in modern style, but based on this vintage figure.  Hasbro released a few figures that were close.  But, there was always something about them that wasn't good enough for me.  This continued all they way through my forays into the Vintage Collection into 2011.  I haven't checked since then to see if there's a modern take on this figure that meets my meticulous demands.  But, my interest in owning such a piece has likewise diminished accordingly.

It is no secret that the fan anticipation and media blitz that accompanied The Force Awakens brought a huge uptick in vintage Star Wars pricing.  Items that were one acquirable by the average collector have taken on pop culture relevance that has risen prices of many items beyond what long term collectors feel they are worth.  Whether this is sustainable or not remains to be seen.  Disney has managed to keep the Marvel world going for 11 years so far with no signs of slowdown.  Will Star Wars keep pace, even with a film per year?  I don't know.  But, I do know that my dreams of one day having a complete set of vintage Star Wars figures has taken a hit.  Graded samples have priced themselves beyond what I'm interested in paying.  And, the flood of repro and aftermarket accessories makes a dive into loose figures much more precarious than it was just a decade ago.

As such, pricing this figure out is difficult at best.  The figure actually has a slew of variations beyond the green/blue saber, some being substantially more desirable than others.  Then, there are a huge number of cardback/cardfront variants, each having it's own, distinct subset of desirability.  Best I can tell, based on which variants you want, a mint and complete loose figure will run you anywhere between $25 and $75.  But, your mileage may vary.  Carded, its even harder to tell.  It appears you can get a figure in a package better than what you see here for well under $100 while high graded variant figures seem to top out around $400.  It's a lot for a small piece of childhood.  But, Star Wars is on the cultural phenomenon that has transcended generations.  It's as equally likely that someone bidding against someone my age who owned the toy as a kid is instead someone 20 years younger whose fascination with the Star Wars universe was forged with the first Prequels.  That's not a bad thing as I've always felt a vibrant market was the key to a strong collector community.  (Which has somewhat died with Joe.)  But, it is frustrating to see things at two to three times the prices they were just 5 or 6 years ago.  Do you jump now and the market keeps going?  Or do you anticipate a decline in interest and, correspondingly, prices?  It's a tough choice and only time tells you if you're right or wrong.

Personally, this figure retains the memories of my childhood and relatives long gone.  As a memento, it's value far exceeds the cash it would bring were I to part with it.  It remains the last bastion of vintage Star Wars in my possession and is an item I will not part with easily.

Luke Skywalker Jedi Knight Outfit, Kenner, 1983, Vintage Star Wars, 77 Back, Carded, MOC

Luke Skywalker Jedi Knight Outfit, Kenner, 1983, Vintage Star Wars, 77 Back, Carded, MOC

6 comments:

  1. Awesome memories, my man. Star Wars was my gateway drug to Joe as well, but under other circumstances. How is your brother all these decades later?

    ReplyDelete
  2. You have a great talent in writing toy reviews. Your awesome blend of personal memories, actual toy review and collector's insights are what make this one of my favorite websites. Keep up the great work!

    ReplyDelete
  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  5. My story was similar to yours in that Star Wars got me into Joe. I was six years old when it came out, and I remember it being a cultural phenomenon. Where I lived, there was long lines at the movie theatres, even 6 months later after the movie's debut.I had a few Empire Strikes Back figures, my favorite being a blue Hoth Han Solo.By the time Return of the Jedi came out,I was enjoying Joe as my favorite figures to play with. By the time Return of the Jedi was released,I was 12 years old, and even then, I did not enjoy the Jedi movie,nearly as much as the first two epics. In fact,I don't think I had a single Return of the Jedi figure. Actually, I take that back. I have as a part of my Joe display the green Rebel Endor soldier, who looked enough like a Joe that he had a usefulness during 83-84. Joe had the articulation, and the cooler vehicles.But, I did use the vintage snowspeeder as part of my Joe/Cobra play dynamic. Interesting how a two year age difference can result in different perceptions of the same event.That's very nice that you had such loving grandparents.This was a terrific story, thank you. By the way,I seem to remember an old, old web site that had a black background with vintage card art thumbnails,in the early 2000's.Was that yours?

    ReplyDelete
  6. My sentimentality extends to one of my first childhood Beast Wars Transformers toys, Claw Jaw the squid. I got him a year after I had moved to a new place with my family.

    ReplyDelete