April 15, 2016 – Collectors of vintage Star Wars action figures (1977-1985) will invariably, at some point, face two challenges:
(1) How to properly re-unite or match a weapon with the action figure when they become separated: The tiny plastic weapons and accessories get separated from the assigned figures when, for example, several figures get mixed up in a batch. Or – horrors! – your dog or kids grab them without your permission. Or you receive an orphan figure from a vendor, minus the proper weapon;
(2) Authenticating the weapons and accessories as bona fide vintage parts: There is an ever-growing volume of replacement blasters, rifles, capes, hoods, staffs, lightsabers, belts and other accessories – some of them honestly labeled as “reproductions” or “repros” for sale online, others dishonestly sold as “originals” or “vintage” by unscrupulous vendors. In addition, even an honest reseller may inadvertently advertise all parts as originals, yet unknowingly become part of the problem by passing along a reproduction.
Repros started hitting the market in earnest in the late 1990’s, and the floodgates are now open. Even honest resellers, such as many a vendor on Ebay, might list an action figure in good conscience as “vintage” and “complete” – but these labels could be misleading (and greatly affect the final sale price) if the blaster or cape is a fake replacement. Many times, the resellers simply don’t know.
By one estimate (see video below), up to 90% of the accessories on the market may be reproductions. The reason for the flood of repros is that repros are a lucrative market because of high demand. (Many collectors have a limited budget and/or don’t mind purchasing repros to complete their figures.)
Repros are also a lot cheaper to acquire than vintage parts. Because children, decades ago, often lost the tiny plastic parts, there are more surviving vintage action figures than the original accessories they came with. And so the market dictates price: Vintage accessories can command extraordinary prices – sometimes far higher than the action figure they go with.
Helpful Websites and Tests
Your best defenses are knowledge and vigilance. Some outstanding websites, such as imperialgunnery.com and rebelscum.com, offer photographs of every accessory and weapon. Imperialgunnery.com often features side-by-side photographs comparing authentic versus counterfeit items to help you spot the differences as well as updates on the latest counterfeit sightings.
Rebelscum.com also has a useful “Weapons and Accessories Guide” listed HERE.
Another longtime resource is the Star Wars Collectors Archive at theswca.com. SWCA has an Archive Database, showing several photographic charts and drawings of Kenner vintage accessories.
For hi-res photo comparisons of blasters, rifles, spears and staffs, Jawa’s Armory at loresdelsith.net/rincon is a good visual resource.
You should read the articles on how to authenticate the accessories. Know the strengths and weaknesses of the Float Test, the Drop Test, and the Light Test discussed HERE. While no one test alone will be 100% accurate, collectively they can help the experienced buyer know what he or she is purchasing. Some of the more familiar tests include:
● Float Test: Most repros sink in a bowl of water because the plastic used is heavier than vintage plastics. But this test has flaws (besides being messy) in that some bona fide parts (the Gamorrean Guard axe, Amanaman’s staff, and some pop-up sabers, to name a few) actually do sink while some knock-offs still float.
● Drop Test: By dropping an accessory onto a flat surface, such as a table top, a repro will make a different sound than an original. The is an acoustic test based on the theory that different types of plastics were used, which affect the sound. Needless to say, this test has its flaws, and the inexperienced buyer will not know what he/she is listening for. [CAUTION: Do not use this test on fragile items, such as the vintage light saber tips, or you risk damaging or breaking them.]
● Light Test: Place the accessory over a bright light source, such as a flashlight. Most vintage pieces should be somewhat translucent (i.e., some light will readily shine through the plastic because, in theory, insufficient dye was added during the molding process). Blue and black blasters, for example, will show shades of blue or green against a bright backlight. Again, this test is not 100% accurate for all accessories, but should be combined with other verification measures.
Here is a good video introduction on “How to Spot a Repro Weapon”:
The videographer suggests some other verification tests, including:
● Sound Test: Place your vintage action figure in a small plastic baggie along with the weapon/accessory. Shake the bag. A vintage figure and weapon should make no discernible noise. A counterfeit will. [CAUTION: Do not use this test on fragile items, such as the vintage light saber tips, or you risk damaging or breaking them.]
● Scrape Test: Some repros may be painted, instead of having injected dye in the plastic. You can lightly attempt to scrape the accessory to see if any paint comes off.
● Visual Inspection: Use a good magnifying glass. Brand new reproductions tend to be glossy or shinier than any original. Other possible knock-off signs include obvious or excessive “mould flash” (stray plastic bits, which show where the repro was removed from a cast); wrong coloring (compare items to the verification chart below); and other tell-tale signs discussed in the video.
Ironically, it might make sense for you to actually buy a baggie of repros, so you can make the comparisons yourself, test them, and educate yourself. Just don’t mix them up with your vintage collection. Repros are available on Ebay and via vendor specialists, such as reproparts.net based in the U.S.
If you are still unsure of a weapon’s authenticity, you can post a photo on one of the forums (Rebelscum.com has many), and readers may help you out.
A Visual Match-Up
So what if you’ve done your homework and are satisfied that all your weapons and accessories are 100% vintage? Or you have a mixed lot of originals and repros, but don’t care, and you simply want to pose your action figures with the correct-looking accessories?
While the chart shows only about 75%+ of the accessories, it is a good start to your visual verification. In the end, caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) ought to guide your every purchase.