Star Wars Episode 4 Art: the First Trilogy Began a Mania

by Patrick Bain

Star-Wars-9-by-Gil-Kane-and-Tony-DeZuniga-195x300 Star Wars Episode 4 Art: the First Trilogy Began a Mania

I recall feeling blown away AND completely elated when leaving the theatre the first time I saw Star Wars as a thirteen year old.  Obviously, I had the foresight to stash away mint in package toys, sealed collector cards, and of course, the variant 35 cent edition of Star Wars 1.  Wrong!  Ohhh, how could I have been such a fool!  On the other hand, those treasures wouldn’t sell nearly so high if every 13 year old mesmerized by the movie shrewdly saved away all the tie-ins.

Star Wars 9 cover art from the first Marvel series more/less featured the heroes of Episode 4.  The art by Gil Kane and Tony DeZuniga sold for $52,280 in 2018 through Heritage Auctions.  For a graded 9.8, GoCollect lists FMV for Star Wars 9 as $80.

The Trilogy that Began a Mania

Luke-Skywalker-action-figure-220x300 Star Wars Episode 4 Art: the First Trilogy Began a ManiaFollowing up on my article Dark Horse Star Wars Art, I’m going back in time to where the merchandizing frenzy began.  The first article presented an overview but keyed on the Dark Horse years.  This time we’ll focus on early collectibles derived from the first three movies.  Naturally, I’ll share some original art; which sadly, also sold much cheaper in the seventies and eighties.

First, we’ll start with a toy.  I had just transitioned out of my G.I. Joe phase, so requesting tiny Star Wars action figures for birthday or Christmas didn’t cross my mind.  The tens of thousands of children that bought these toys now fondly recall them.  Thus, Collector demand fuels huge prices for quality condition toys like this Luke Skywalker.

According to Heritage Auctions, this Star Wars  Luke Skywalker 12 Back-C w/Yellow Hair Action Figure (Kenner, 1978) AFA 95 MT was the highest graded at the time of sale.  It sold for $28,800 in 2018.  By the way, plastic mold toys are kind of a modern version of a sculpture, therefore, it is art!

The Comic Strip Based on Star Wars Episode 4

Star-Wars-Comic-Strip-4-15-79-by-Russ-Manning-300x198 Star Wars Episode 4 Art: the First Trilogy Began a ManiaThe problem with a great film: it’s two hours long and then you have to wait three years for the next one.  At least that’s how it went with the first trilogy: 1977->1980->1983.  Hence, fandom clamored for new stories of their favorite characters.  Besides the Marvel movie adaptation in comic book form, readers also wanted fresh tales.  As seen above, Marvel Comics cranked out stories and art that supplemented the lore of Star Wars Episode 4.

Additionally, in March 1979, newspapers began carrying the Star Wars comic strip.  With art by Russ Manning, one could argue that the comic strips surpassed the comic books in quality.  Manning Sunday strips sell in the neighborhood of 3 to 6 thousand dollars.  Characters and content on the page are of paramount importance if you have a hankering to buy one.

What to do with Trading Cards?

Star-Wars-Series-1-Wax-Box-1977-300x281 Star Wars Episode 4 Art: the First Trilogy Began a Mania

I’m not old enough that I stuck trading cards in the spokes of my bicycle, but I did enjoy unwrapping a pack to see what was inside.  (Each one a tiny mystery box.)  Again, only foolish people actually open a package of cards, let alone a whole new box!  Four of the sealed boxes of 1977 Topps Star Wars Series 1 Wax Boxes sold in 2020 through Heritage Auctions.  Interestingly, the first to market scored biggest with a sales price of $8,100.  The other three sales came to about $5K each.  Let this be a cautionary tale.  Certainly, any time an object is not unique, new supply may enter  the market.  Also, note the 15 cent sales price!

Star Wars Spanned the Galaxy and the Globe

Star-Wars-The-Empire-Strikes-Back-Weekly-125-UK-by-Carmine-Infantino-and-Gene-Day-224x300 Star Wars Episode 4 Art: the First Trilogy Began a ManiaStar Wars fans can find friends in all corners of the globe.  The Marvel comic book stories created avid readers in America and across the world.  In a future article, I’ll discuss foreign variants with someone who enjoys a fascinating niche collection along those lines.  More on that later.

Carmine Infantino and Gene Day produced the UK cover for Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back Weekly 125.  To GoCollect’s credit, they list some of the UK editions including Star Wars: Weekly.  Since Overstreet Price Guide does not typically include the international series, I don’t include their art in my price guide.  However, for fans of good original art, buying an original cover created for an international series saves some serious dough.  For example, this cover sold for only $3,227 in 2017.

Ralph McQuarrie, Concept Artist for Star Wars Episodes 4, 5, and 6

Ralph-McQuarrie-Photo-241x300 Star Wars Episode 4 Art: the First Trilogy Began a ManiaBefore I quit, I want to give a shout out to a major contributor to the Art of Star Wars,  Ralph McQuarrie.  I don’t know if McQuarrie is still doing Star Wars concept and preliminary sketches, but forty years ago he produced countless design pieces for the first trilogy.  I’ve never seen his original paintings up for auction, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they dwarfed realized prices for the concept art I shared in Lady and the Tramp Two Dogs In Love.  If you can find a copy of the Art of Star Wars or the subsequent books they contain many examples of his designs.

Finally, I’m not a complete klutz.  At least I bought a copy of the 30 cent Star Wars 1.  I think it was part of a three pack.  How about you?  What did you squirrel away from the first Star Wars trilogy?  Why not share your treasures with other readers!


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