'Star Wars' most valuable toy: How rocket-firing Boba Fett became 'grail' collectible

Less than 100 Rocket-Firing Boba Fett prototypes are believed to exist

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Never sold publicly because of safety concerns, the rocket-firing Boba Fett is one of the world's most rare toys. (Credit: Heritage Auctions)

Many vintage "Star Wars" action figures are capable of commanding massive prices at the auction block.

On a monthly, if not weekly, basis original figures from the 1978 Kenner release, as well as other rare variants, achieve prices well into the five-figure range and beyond.

But there is one "Star Wars" toy that has secured the crown for most valuable — and it never even hit retail shelves. No other toy seems to come close, with the record price for a rocket-firing Boba Fett prototype notching $236,000 (June 2022).

One of these rare Boba Fett figures is at auction at Heritage ending this month, with bidding sitting around $100,000 as of Friday afternoon.

The 1979 rocket-firing Boba Fett prototype is to action figures what the T206 Wagner is to baseball cards or Super Mario Bros. for NES is to video game collecting. Simply put, it's the pinnacle of any high-end collection.

Routinely selling for shocking prices each time the toy crosses the auction block (which is not very often), it's a total anomaly that these figures exist at all, let alone so stridently claim "grail" status.

It wasn't meant to be this way.

Grounded before takeoff

Riding high off the success of Kenner's first few "Star Wars" releases, the company ran a mail-in promotion in August 1978, rewarding fans who purchased four "Star Wars" models with a brand new Boba Fett action figure, highlighted by its backpack rocket launcher.

The plan was foolproof. Until it wasn't.

A January 1979 press release from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announced the complete recall of Mattel's Battlestar Galactica toys, which featured a rocket-firing mechanism similar to Boba Fett's.

The recall came in response to reports of the toys becoming choking hazards for small children, including at least one confirmed death.

Over at Kenner, development of the Boba Fett was immediately shut down. All prototypes were supposedly destroyed.

“Projectiles were always touchy subjects,” says former Kenner engineer Jacob Miles III, an original member of the company’s Star Wars team tasked with keeping that rocket safely in Boba Fett’s backpack. “But when Battlestar Galactica had their issues, we immediately just shut it down and destroyed everything. We were concerned about disappointing kids because we had shown that thing [the rocket] taking off. But we had a much bigger concern if we shipped it.”

Kenner removed the feature, sending out revised Boba Fett figures to collectors who qualified for the promotion, complete with a "Note to Consumers" explaining the original "spring-launched rocket" had been removed for safety reasons and offering to replace it with any "Star Wars" mini-action figure.

Though the prototypes were scrapped from retail releases and meant to be completely destroyed, a precious few survived unscathed, smuggled by a few ex-Kenner employees. In total, somewhere around 70-80 "L-Slot" variants are believed to exist today, identifiable by its lack of any mechanism meant to stop the rocket from accidentally firing.

As these "first shots" represented such an early trial, they lacked any copyright stamps, with the vast majority remaining unpainted. Just five hand-painted L-Slots are believed to be extant, according to Heritage, with just two featuring the "production paint scheme."

The example offered at Heritage, one of the two production paint scheme Fetts, has the added intrigue of provenance tying it to the legendary Kern's Collection, which was once home to no less than nine different rocket-firing Boba Fetts.

Detailed research conducted by experts, dubbed "hobby academics" in the Letter of Provenance, is able to pinpoint its origins down to the exact floor (10) of Kenner's offices, where it is said to have been "salvaged from a box of discarded toys deposited there for employees to take home."

This is the only hand-painted L-Slot example to appear in public auction records and represents approximately the seventh time since 2016 an L-Slot variant with an intact firing mechanism has been sold publicly.

There have also been J-Slot variants (updated to prevent accidental rocket-firing) sold in recent years, including an AFA 50 example which sold for $204,435 at Hake's in March 2022.

Will Stern is a reporter and editor for cllct. You can follow him on X at @Will__Stern.