To keep things simple, I will stick to a list for loose figures, but even then it is surprisingly not a simple affair. Many heated debates have broken out on social media forums about what constitutes a full set of figures and when a collectors job is done. I will go over some of the sticking points, but in the end propose a workable checklist for avid collectors to follow.
It seems a fairly simple task. I mean the original Kenner backing cards pretty much did all the work for you by providing a numbered checklist straight up. First we have the original issue Star Wars cards which features 12 figures to collect. Then a further 8 figures were introduced to take that to 20. Then another figure (Bobafett) was introduced to take it to 21.
Next, a new wave of Empire Strikes Back figures made an appearance which gave us 31 figures. Then Yoda made a debut and created a 32 back. Then we jumped to 41 figures, 45 figures and finally 48 figures rounding out the set of Empire Strikes Back action figures.
The Return of the Jedi wave then hit with their 65, 77 and 79 back cards. Finally when we all thought that was the end, a Power of the Force range came out of nowhere and stated that 92 figures where what you ended up with if you collected them all!
So 92 figures would seem to be the definitive answer, straight from the Power of the Force cardback. Well not quite, let's see why.
The sticking point comes when you look at the 92 back card a little closer. For those with a keen eye and awareness of the starting point of the figures in 1977 - there surfaces an issue with regards to R2-D2. On a 92 back card this figure is depicted with a pop-up light saber. If you look back to previous cards from The Empire Strikes Back and the first issue Star Wars cards, R2-D2 did not come with the pop-up saber. He instead came with a sensor scope and just a plain robot solid dome. And with this one figure we start to get a grip on the problem. The vintage Star Wars figure range adopted figure variations for several of their characters. So in this running example, you can very strongly argue that there are three unique versions of R2-D2 to collect and most people (if not all people) will agree.
Three factory issued character variations of R2-D2
To those that argue any R2-D2 figure, any of the above three, will count for all versions never like to hear about the counter point of Klaatu. A little known character from the Return of the Jedi wave who played a role amongst Jabba's henchmen, this figure had two versions created, filling two slots on the cardback checklist. A vanilla Klaatu version and a Klaatu in Skiff Outfit version. So the precident is set by Kenner themselves that variants of the same character count for multiple figures to collect in a full set. So with these additional variations of R2-D2 (three in total) we are up to 94 characters.
Two factory issued versions of Klaatu - yes, you need to collect both of these for a full set of figures.
In this same line of reasoning, C3-PO has two variations to add to the check list. The original fixed limb version and a second version with removable limbs and a carry net from the cloud city scene where he was attacked and damaged by ambushing stormtroopers. So with these two versions of C3-PO we are up to 95 characters.
Two versions of C3-PO to collect. The original issue fixed limbs and later issued removable limbs
Next, no checklist is ever complete without a discussion of the infamous Yak Face. Recognized as the very last action figure purposely released by Kenner, it was conspicuously never released in America. Instead being released via the UK Palitoy distributor in tri-logo cardbacks and a more desirable Canadian Power of the Force cardback with a collector coin attached. For reasons largely unknown, the Canadian version of this figure ended up being shipped to Australia and South East Asia for retail. Many Australian collectors will tell stories of seeing mountains of Yak Face in bargain bins of the Toy World chain of stores in the late 1980's. All of them also share anecdotes of kicking themselves for not buying every single one of them for the meager 99 cents.
The infamous Yak Face - 93rd vintage star wars figure
Yak Face is interesting because he was never pictured on the reverse side of the figure cardbacks and so lots of kids (especially in the USA) were oblivious to his existence. Due to the nature of the back story, Yak Face is highly prized and one of the most expensive figures to buy. Even though there were lots of this figure made (star wars tracker data shows he is relatively common to acquire), and he is highly available throughout Europe and Australia, the enigma of this guy being a kind of secret figure has elevated the status in the market.
So the inclusion of Yak Face brings us to 96 figures. From here things start to get a little murky in terms of extending the checklist. A lot of collectors will be satisified at this point acknowledging 96 characters for a full run of figures. However, major variations now enter the mix to spark debate on where the true number lies for a loose figure checklist. I will discuss two such examples in turn.
The first recognized figure variation (by collectors) actually occurs right at the very beginning of the initial release. The first set of 12 figures included a small Jawa figure as seen in the desert scenes of Star Wars. Initially this was released with a cheap looking vinyl cape of similar colour to the plastic mold of the body. Upon release, Kenner decided that this looked too cheap to justify the retail price of the other 11 figures. So rather than lower the price, they instead gave the figure a more delux cloth cape.
The first figure variation - vinyl cape jawa
It goes without saying that the vinyl cape version is highly regarded and considered rare to collectors. And it is justified in this case. It was a genuine limited run of an action figure that was discontinued probably just weeks into the retail of this first wave of figures.
So in terms of a checklist here sparks the debate - is a collection truely complete without both versions of this same action figure? I think you can sleep sound at night if you decide you do not need to have both versions. Your best argument would be that kenner did not change the naming of the figure (see example of two Klaatu figures above) and it was just a manufacturing decision to alter the final look of the platonic idea of the Jawa.
A similar scenario exists for the double telescoping versions of the three main light saber weilding figures: Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi. In the early versions of these figures they had the light saber accessory which was a two-part construction. An outer portion that contained an extendible inner filament piece.
Another early manufacturing change, Kenner decided to discontinue this two-part version of the accessory due to the fragile nature and breakage taking place. Instead a single piece weapon was engineered and this became the accessory for every instance of these figures ever after. So here we have an example of a figure variation due to the change in the accessories rather than the figure itself. Again, I do not think any self respecting collector would argue your collection is incomplete when these style of figures are absent.
But there is a compelling case to mark them onto a checklist. If nothing else for awareness of some very interesting and desirable versions. Incidently, the Luke is the most common of the three, with Darth and Obi-Wan being exceptionally rare. Fakes do exist, so collectors are willing to pay a premium for a genuine article that has been professionally authenticated.
When a collector essentially has completed the main set of figures, as intended by Kenner, they start to wonder what is next. How do they keep the passion alive. One answer has been to acknowledge variations in paint, sculpt or accessories that gives rise to a new figure variant.
This keeps the challenge and hunt alive for a collector. There are some well known examples that most collectors recognize such as the Blue Snaggletooth, yellow and brown hair Luke Farmboy (and even orange hair!). There is a version of the first issue Lando Calrissian with and without a gleaming white smile painted on the face.
Figure sculpt variants - Hollow cheeks on the left, solid cheeks on the right
Where all this ends is not quite clear. At the very extreme end, you now have collectors that are doing deep archaeology and cataloguing figures in terms of country of origin marks and minor sculpt differences. This has even got into the detail of doing the same cataloguing for the weapons and accessories in an attempt to claim what version of accessory came with which figure variation.
In any case, I hope you have been enlightened as to why a definitive checklist is such a moving target for vintage Star Wars collectors. I think the best advice would be to recognize the set of 96 and then go from there trusting your instinct on where you would like to go next.
All that said, see our additional resources for a list of all the figures and major variants that are recognized as first class citizen figures in Star Wars Tracker for a vintage Star Wars collector. Best of luck on your collecting journey!