Are Star Wars toys holding their value?

By Neil Heath
BBC News

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Many new collectors will first build up a run of "loose", or unboxed, figures

Star Wars has won millions of fans since it first hit movie screens four decades ago. Following Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm, a whole new generation has fallen in love with the fictional universe.

Predictably, interest in the world of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia, went into hyperspace following 2015's The Force Awakens, leading to a scramble for toys - old and new.

However, four years later - ahead of the release of Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker - there are signs this could be changing.

On Thursday, 40 Star Wars figures from the early 1980s, still in their original packaging, will be auctioned at Hansons, in Derbyshire - the latest test of the value of the vintage toys.

So, how popular are new Star Wars products and are the original figures holding their value?

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Collectors who were children in the early 1980s are believed to have driven a fresh boom in 2015

Why do people collect Star Wars toys?

Mark Daniels was five years old when he saw the original film and he soon began collecting the toys.

By his early teens he had sold most of them, but his interest was reignited when he started art college.

"I bought a couple of loose figures for 50p each from a flea market," he said.

"From there I was able to pick up entire childhood collections at car boot sales for £10 or less, as during the early 90s Star Wars was largely forgotten and very few people were bothered about it.

"Our generation that grew up with these toys have the nostalgic connection with some of these items, younger generations not so much."

Image source, Hansons Auctioneers
Image caption,
The Derbyshire sale includes a rare Yak Face figure and a Boba Fett toy

What are collectors after?

Included in the Derbyshire sale is a Yak Face figure which is highly sought after because of its obscurity and has an estimate of between £700 and £1,000.

A 1980 Boba Fett toy, still attached to its original card, has already reached about £600 in advance bids from an estimate of £300, auctioneers Hansons said.

It is predicted about £10,000 could be made in total from the sale of the 90 toys.

Many of the figures are being sold by former employees of Leicestershire-based Palitoy, which manufactured them for the UK market.

Some were also made by US firm Kenner, as well as companies in Europe and Hong Kong.

Image source, Mark Daniels
Image caption,
Collector Mark Daniels' love of Star Wars led to him becoming an illustrator

Mr Daniels collects Star Wars items from British licensees like Palitoy, Cliro, Helix and HC Ford. He has since made a career as a Star Wars illustrator.

"The great thing about Star Wars, and collecting it, is there is something for everyone whatever your budget," he said.

"Some items will always have a huge following and garner huge price tags, such as props and rarer toys and merchandise.

"[However] the more run-of-the-mill product will ultimately plateau in value at some point."

Are collectors still paying big money?

In April, a prototype model of the Return of the Jedi character Bib Fortuna sold for a whopping £36,000 - its estimate was £12,000.

It had "beaten all expectations", according to Vectis Auctions on Teesside. Prototypes of an ewok called Logray fetched £12,000, and an Emperor's royal guard went for £28,800.

Back in 2013, a vinyl-cloaked Jawa figure sold for £10,200 - and it is believed there could be five more left in the world.

What's more, it's thought many valuable Star Wars toys, bought for as little as 99p, are still out there, unopened and forgotten about in cupboards or attics.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Boxed items still fetch high prices at auction

The Derbyshire sale, which also includes a number of Han Solo and Princess Leia figures, is expected to "spark worldwide interest", according to Hansons.

However, Matt Fox, curator of the May The Toys Be With You exhibition, said while vintage Star Wars toys have enjoyed a "meteoric rise in value" since 2014, prices for some have started to level off.

"After a flood of new collectors these last three or four years, we have returned to a steady trickle and this has led to some stabilisation of the rising prices," he said.

"Prices will continue to rise for high end and rare items, but I suspect that the 'regular' loose figure market will remain quite stable now."

He said the reason was that new collectors will have now built up their "loose figure runs" - about 100 models from the vintage era - meaning the rush to buy has quietened down.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Star Wars Lego toys are the most popular new products

The Last Jedi, released in 2017, was largely a critical success, but fans were bitterly divided with some even calling for Disney to "re-make Episode VIII properly".

Mr Fox does not believe that the quality of the latest films really affects vintage toy prices.

"Star Wars is a franchise that has constantly delighted and upset fans in equal measure," he said.

"Naturally some will tell you today that The Last Jedi is the worst thing to ever happen.

"Personally I find something to love in all of them, and I'm even getting a bit nostalgic for the 20th anniversary of The Phantom Menace this year!"

Image source, Vectis Auctions
Image caption,
Three prototype Star Wars models sold for tens of thousands of pounds at Vectis Auctions

Do collectors buy the new toys?

Ahead of the opening of The Force Awakens in 2015, Disney's first-quarter earnings jumped on the strength of Star Wars.

However, in early 2018 and in February, this year, the firm reported a decrease in revenue from products based on the franchise, with Bloomberg suggesting that movies with toy tie-ins are no longer working.

In the US, it is believed to be because children's movie attendance has dropped in the face of competition from YouTube, Netflix and social media.

The Brick Fanatics, a website dedicated to Lego, agrees it is partly due to a change of habits, along with "dull designs".

"There are lots of Star Wars toys available at clearance prices at the moment," said editor Graham Hancock.

"While that is good for consumers in the short-term, in the long-term it has the potential to make retailers and manufacturers think twice about Star Wars toys."

Image source, The Washington Post/Getty Images
Image caption,
In 2015, Disney's profits jumped due to Star Wars toys, but in early 2019 revenue dropped

Is The Force still strong?

Mr Hancock, who is also a Star Wars fan, said much will depend on the quality of merchandise for the latest instalments The Rise of Skywalker and new TV series The Mandalorian later in the year.

But though uncertainty surrounds the saleability of new Star Wars toys, Lego's range has proved to be the exception.

"They make high quality construction toys, with a mix of characters, settings and vehicles," said Mr Hancock.

"Other manufacturers should do the same - focus on the classic products that always appeal to children [like] affordable action figures, lightsabers and blasters."

Mark Daniels agrees, adding that new products largely have "no secondary value".

However, he said the "global pop culture phenomenon" will always have a strong following and loyal fan base.

"I think it's safe to say it's here to stay," he said.

"These are exciting times to be a Star Wars fan, that's for sure."

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