Well, I have been wanting to do a thread like this for a while now, ever since I got back from Japan with my Kotobukiyas.
There has been a trend over the last couple of years towards higher end collectibles. Years ago this would have seemed impossible, with companies like Icons losing their shirts on this risky endeavor. However recently that has change significantly. I am sure there are several reasons for this. For one thing many collectors have found their niche and have found most of what they want for their collection. Sure there are still a lot of newbies coming into the hobby, but for most of us we only need to keep up with new product, which really dosen't cost much, except for movie years when there is about 5 times as much new product coming out of Hasbro. Another factor is that the "high end" collectibles are really more like low-high end collectibles. We can find some awesome product in the $40-$100 price range. There is also the fact that many of these companies diversify their product which allows them to bring in money from different lines. The limited edition production numbers make them popular among collectors as well.
So let's take a look at the modern high end (or low-high end) collectibles market. Starting with the HIGH end stuff and working our way down.
Life size statues: I really don't know a lot about these, but there have been several done over the years to include Stormtroopers, Darth Vader, Darth Maul, Yoda, Anakin EP1 Pilot and so on. These really are large and are, as far as I know the most expensive high end collectibles. Very few collectors have the kind of scratch to buy even one of these.
Attakus: The Attackus statues go for big bucks. These are limited edition pieces and are very well done. I personally do not collect these for several reasons. First they are cost prohibitive usually going for $300.00+. Second I really don't like most statues, especially the human sculpts which usually come off looking way too fake. The nice thing about Star Wars is that there are a lot of non-human characters, so the fake human look is not as intrusive.
Code 3: These are, for the most part, highly detailed scaled replicas of the ships from Star Wars. Again these go for hundreds of dollars which is why I have never gotten into them. Plus, for some reason the scaled ships never really interested me all that much. I had the opportunity to see the amazing work that Code 3 does at CIII first hand and I must say that they truely are incredible pieces! Recently Code 3 has branched off, like many higher end mfgs. I also had the opportunity to see the new movie poster sculptures at CIII and they are indeed very nice, but again, I will be skipping these, mostly because of the other lines I am already commited to.
Icons: We all know about this company, in some circles they are infamous for leaving collectors holding the bag on their Han Solo blaster. Icons produced a few lightsabers for LFL several years back and started production on the Han Solo blaster everyone wanted so bad. Unfortunatly they went bankrupt and from what I understand only a few collectors actually got their blasters.
Master Replicas: This is the company that has essentially taken up where Icons left off. However, unlike Icons MR has found some innovative and diverse ways to bring in more money. Whereas Icons stuck mostly with full size high end prop replicas Master Replicas has a .45 scaled line as well as Force F/X, Blueprints and recently Movie Vehicles, sort of placing them in a head to head competition with Code 3. They have manged to keep their product fresh by recycling the mini sabers in various incarnations i.e. Obi-Wan weathered, Obi-Wan as first built, Obi-Wan chrome, etc. They offer these to fans as limited edition exclusives (via conventions and various dealers such as Best Buy) and even have the forsight to produce 5% in a gold chase variant. It is clear to me that MR has done a wonderful job of marketing and will continue to grow as a company. They are also very friendly to collectors and make a real effort to reach out to the SW community. I must admit that the price of their LE sabers really put me off to them at first. However after seeing their stuff up close at CIII I would say that for a prop replica collector MR is the way to go. I have decided to stick with the basic .45 scaled sabers and possibly a Vader F/X. Down the line I will probably get the full size LE Maul, Sidious and Vader sabers. MR puts out a quality product and anyone interested in getting into their stuff will be very pleased with their purchases.
Kotobukiya: These are marketed as "vinyl model kits" but in reality they are soo much more. These are really 12 inch scale statues with incredible detail and paint applications. They are esentially Japanese exclusives, though Dark Horse has recently begun importing these to the U.S. and ShopStarWars.com has had a few exclusives. These are perhaps my favorite higher end Star Wars collectible. Retailing for around $100.00 in the U.S. and about $65-$70 in Japan. I first discovered these a few years ago when the Stormtrooper (Luke Trooper) first showed up on the internet. I was lucky enough to go to Japan for a few months and bought 4 of them while I was there (Vader, Maul, Stormtrooper/Luke Trooper and Boba Fett). I have since bought the Black Pauldron (Corporal) and the White Pauldron (Sergeant) Sandtroopers. I also have the Orange Pauldron Sandtrooper, Scout Trooper and ESB Yoda on pre-order with SSW.com. As with most "statues" I don't really care for the human characters all that much, so I don't collect them. Also, with the price being what it is on these I have decided to stick to mostly OT characters, except for Darth Maul. Bottom line Koto puts out a wonderful product and everyone I have spoken to falls in love with 'em after they buy their first one. If you consider getting in to these be warned, it is easy to become addicted!
Marmit: Though they are no longer producing the wonderful 12 inch line of Star Wars figures these guys deserve serious props for creating the best 12 inch figure line in Star Wars history! Marmit is another one of the Japanese exclusives. The figures are marketed as model kits and perhaps more closely resemble "models" than the kotobukiyas. What they are is a highly detailed seriouly articulated 12 inch figure that blows away anything Hasbro has ever attempted! There were only a few figures produced by Marmit, but what they did became an instant successes! To date they have produced Stormtroopers, Sandtroopers (Orange and White Pauldrons), AT-AT Driver, TIE Pilot and Boba Fett (2 slight paint variants). That's 6 total, rumor was that they were going to produce a Vader, but it never materialized. These things were a serious embarassment to the Hasbro line and I believe they were instrumental in getting rid of the Marmit Star Wars line. A few years ago these could be had for around $100.00 each, but demand has driven the cost up on the secondary market to almost $200.00 each (AT-AT and TIE can still be had for less than $100.00 in many cases). Bottom line, I have heard nothing but praise for this line, so if you want an articulated 12 inch figure with exceptional detail, and you have the money for them, Marmit is the way to go.
Gentle Giants: My next favorite higher end collectible is from Gentle Giants. A few years ago GG started producing a line of mini bust (retailing at aroud $45) and I was less than impressed. The first busts had no arms and quite frankly they freaked me out a little. They soon added the arms and WOW what a difference. My fist mini bust was the deluxe Stormtrooper, which comes with different arms and allows for multiple poses, this was a brilliant marketing strategy by GG, who first used the technique on their popular Clone Trooper mini busts. Each bust is produced in a limited number from about 2,500 to 10,000. Like the Koto's these things become an addiction, in just 7 months I have bought 13 of their busts and plan on buying several more as they are released. But GG didn't stop there, they also decided to go with exclusive chrome plated busts. Like Master Replicas they have also branched out, but with Statues, placing them is a sort of head to head competition with Attakus and to a lesser extent Kotobukiya. They currently have Darth Vader, C-3PO and Chewbacca with an upcoming Scout Trooper with Speeder Bike. Much like Master Replicas they also decided to think smaller and have produced a line of "Bust-Ups" which are a 3.75 inch scale line of busts. Again they have done chase bust-ups and other types of exclusives. Luckily most of them are fairly easy to come by. However, the biggest news in their upcoming product line is the "armory" collection. These are 12 inch scaled helmets from the Star Wars films and are incredibly detailed. I was fortunate enough to get a good look at these during CIII and I was beyond impressed. These are slated for release this year, exact date is unknown, retail price is also unknown, however the rep at CIII did say that GG is considering selling these in 2 packs, which would be cool IMO.
If I have left anything out please feel free to add to the list.
So where does your passion lay? Are you an Gentle Giants collector? Kotobukiya? Both? Is anyone here rich enough to collect everything?