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Vintage SW Jawa Vinyl Cape 12 Back-A AFA 85 (C85 B85 F80) #15907890 (Cape has slight discolorment) - Actual Photo

Vintage SW Jawa Vinyl Cape 12 Back-A AFA 85 (C85 B85 F80) #15907890 (Cape has slight discolorment) - Actual Photo


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The Star Wars 12 Back Vinyl Cape Jawa (or Plastic Cape Jawa) is one of the best known and most valuable vintage Star Wars action figures.  So what makes this small, and relatively obscure character so special?  He was to become the most famous of all of the Star Wars “variants”.  Due to cheaper production costs, Kenner (the manufacturer of the original Star Wars toy line) produced the first version of the Jawa with a “vinyl” or “plastic” cape.  However, due to early negative feedback from kids and parents, Kenner quickly changed course and a new “cloth” cape version of the Jawa was available relatively early on in the product’s life cycle.  So the vast majority of Jawa action figures produced during the late 1970’s were the cloth cape version. 

Why do collectors care?  Well, collecting wouldn’t be quite so much fun if everything was easy to find (or at least relatively easy to find).  The most common core of a vintage Star Wars collection of factory sealed or “carded” examples consists of a set of the first 12 action figures, technically and affectionately referred to as “12 backs”.  Once a set of 12 figures is completed, the question of “What’s next?” arises.  This is where the Vinyl Cape Jawa typically gets introduced.  Collecting multiple versions or “variants” of an action figure is instinctive and compelling to the passionate collector.  So once the first 12 figures are assembled, the Vinyl Cape Jawa tends to be at the top of the list of what to collect next.  Due to its relative scarcity to the other 12 backs, its price is pushed well above the rest of the field, while it is not so incredibly scarce as to make it unattainable for enthusiastic and die-hard collectors.

The fact that this action figure achieved its widespread notoriety early on has solidified its fate as one of the premier Star Wars collectibles of all time.  Interestingly, the Vinyl Cape Jawa had at least 5 other competitors to beat out to achieve its status as arguably the most critical of Star Wars carded variants.
The first challengers to the Vinyl Cape Jawa’s status as the most famous and important carded Star Wars figure variant:

Luke Skywalker was originally released in the Early Bird Mailer with a “telescoping” lightsaber.  The tip of the saber retracted all the way to tuck neatly inside the larger, thicker portion of the saber or extended out to about 1 ¼” at full extension (versus the standard “fixed” lightsaber tip at about ½” in length.  Only a relatively very few of these ever made it to a “carded” 12 back format.  (The version in the Early Bird Mailer was sealed in a plastic Kenner baggie.)  The difference between the standard saber and the telescoping version is not as compelling as the difference between the cloth and vinyl capes for the Jawa.  Another factor that places the Vinyl Jawa ahead of the Luke Double Telescoping figure is that so few were produced carded that it is actually too rare to become part of most serious collector’s collections.  A similar double telescoping version of Ben Kenobi and Darth Vader were also released on 12 back cards.  These were produced in more limited numbers than the Luke.  So these are even harder to find.  While in comparable conditions the Luke Skywalker Double Telescoping, Darth Vader Double Telescoping, and Ben Kenobi Double Telescoping are more valuable than the Vinyl Cape Jawa, they are actually too rare for most collectors to consider collecting.  So while the case could be made for these figures strictly based on value, and that they pre-dated the switch from vinyl to cloth capes for the Jawa, these arguments fail to consider the amount of attention and interest collectors as a whole place on the Vinyl Cape Jawa.  The Vinyl Cape Jawa wins out over these for 2 reasons.  One reason is the variation from vinyl to cloth is more compelling than from double telescoping to fixed lightsabers, and the other reason is that in fact the double telescoping figures are too rare in too find in the original package.  The extreme scarcity of the double telescoping figures carded actually diminished their overall significance compared to the Vinyl Cape Jawa.

After the Double Telescoping figures, another early variant was that Han Solo’s head sculpt was changed from a “small” to a “large” head.  While this was a major change in the appearance of the figure, sufficient quantities were produced of the small head version on the 12 back card to keep its price in line with other standard notable 12 backs, like Luke Skywalker.  So the Han Solo small head actually had the opposite problem of the Double Telescoping figures, as its production numbers were too high to warrant a serious challenge to the Vinyl Cape Jawa (as opposed to the Double Telescoping figures production numbers being too low) in terms of its status as the premier Star Wars carded variant.  If the Han Solo small head had been produced in comparable numbers to the VC Jawa, this variant of one of the Star Wars franchises most popular characters may have been compelling and cool enough to give the Vinyl Cape Jawa a run for its money, and potentially even overtake it.

The fifth competitor, was another variant to Ben Kenobi, which was produced with a white beard and a gray beard on the 12 back card.  The beard color difference is rather subtle.  Due to this, it could never compete with the striking contrast of the Jawa’s vinyl and cloth capes.

Lastly, it is worth mentioning, this discussion relates only to Star Wars figures sealed on factory cards with plastic blisters.  If we focused on figures only, and did not take packaging into account, then we would have to consider the infamous Blue Snaggletooth (exclusive to the Sears Cantina Adventure Set and only available in a Kenner baggie).  Looking at “loose” (out of the package) figure variants, these two figures would be near the top of everyone’s list, but that is an entirely different and more wide open debate that would introduce many more competitors.

In summary, the Vinyl Cape Jawa is a pre-eminent action figure in the world of Star Wars collecting for three reasons.  The variant occurred early on to cement its early “mythic” status among collectors.  The contrast from the cloth cape to the vinyl cape was significant enough to garner significant enthusiasm from collectors.  And finally, it was produced in quantities that were low enough to make it very rare, desirable, and highly collectible, but high enough in number that it was attainable to serious collectors that sought it out.

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