PSA Magazine

PSA Set Registry: Collecting the 1980 Topps Star Wars Empire Strikes Back Trading Card Set - Introducing Yoda, Boba and Lando

Kevin Glew
Apr 9, 2015

"Patience you must have, my faithful collector."

That's what Yoda might say to hobbyists attempting to track down a PSA GEM-MT 10 example of his 1980 Topps Empire Strikes Back "Star File" card (#9). Despite being one of the most submitted "Star File" cards, there has yet to be a PSA 10 example.

Not surprisingly this card is located on the edge of a print sheet, a position that generally makes cards susceptible to condition woes. The Yoda single - which some consider to be his "rookie card" - is regularly found with poor centering. A PSA MINT 9 example fetched $34.99 on eBay in February 2013 and the first PSA 10 is likely to command significantly more.

"There are people out there that love Yoda," said Pete Tolman, who owns the No. 1 Current Finest, 1980 Topps Empire Strikes Back set on the PSA Set Registry. "I mean, you say Yoda and everybody knows who Yoda is. You don't even have to be a Star Wars fan and you know who Yoda is."

The Yoda single is one of the key cards in the 352-card Empire Strikes Back set. In general, pasteboards from this series aren't difficult to uncover in high grade. The PSA Population Report reveals that more than 24% of the cards submitted have been PSA 10s. In comparison, only about 10% of the 1977 Topps Star Wars cards evaluated have been deemed PSA 10s.

But Tolman, who has opened several boxes of the 1980 Empire Strikes Back cards, says these cards do have their share of condition issues.

"The centering is really bad on some of the cards," he said.

Reports indicate that the first Star Wars movie had generated so much buzz that Topps released the first series of the Empire Strikes Back cards before the much anticipated sequel opened on May 21, 1980.

"I think the red series [first series] started coming out in 1980 before the movie actually came out," said David Underwood, who has assembled the No. 9 Current Finest, 1980 Topps Empire Strikes Back set on the PSA Set Registry. "With the success of the first movie, there was a lot more buzz leading up to Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and the cards were part of it. But I remember there was a lot of merchandise that came out around that 1979-80 time period, leading up to the movie."

Series 1

The first-series 1980 Topps Empire Strikes Back cards were available in 12-card/25-cent wax packs that also housed a sticker and a piece of gum. Sean Williams, who owns the No. 10 Current Finest, 1980 Topps Empire Strikes Back set, says the first-series cards were also available in rack packs and cellos. The rack packs held 51 cards, while the cellos housed 40.

Boasting 132 cards, the first series was the largest series of Star Wars cards to that point. The majority of the fronts of the gray-bordered cards in this series showcase photos with red frames around them.

Card #1, which presents a picture of Darth Vader flanked by a stormtrooper on each side, introduces the new film. Underwood says this card is in higher demand because there are people that collect the first card in each series. The wear and tear associated with being on top of collector piles also makes this card tougher to find in pristine form. There has yet to be a PSA 10.

The 10 "Star File" cards (#2 to #11) shine the spotlight on the movie's primary characters. A photo and the character's name are on the card front below the words "Star File Official Business," while the backs offer particulars like the character's classification, height, weight and planet of birth. As you would expect, there are cards of Luke Skywalker (#2), Princess Leia (#3), Han Solo (#4), Chewbacca (#5), See-Threepio (#6), Artoo-Deeto (#7) and Darth Vader (#10), but Lando Calrissian (#8), Yoda (#9) and Boba Fett (#11) make their cardboard debut in this subset.

While Yoda's card has proven to be difficult to uncover in immaculate condition, the Boba Fett single (#11) seems to be the most popular "rookie" card. This card has been sent in to PSA more than any other card in this issue.

"I don't think there's any question that Boba Fett was the most popular new character," said Underwood. "There are a group of Boba Fett fanatics out there that collect anything Boba Fett. He's just a cool looking character."

Located just below Yoda on the print sheet, the Lando single (#8) is also be difficult to find properly centered. Just one PSA 10 has been uncovered so far.

The "Star File" singles are followed by 106 cards with scenes from the movie in chronological order. The backs of these cards offer the card number on the top left, a "Story Digest" description related to the scene on the front and a "Coming Next" teaser that includes a small black-and-white photo of the following card.

"It showed you on the back what the next card looked like if you were missing it," explained Underwood. "It made you feel like you needed to go out and get the next card."

Cards #119 to #130 flaunt "Space Paintings" by Ralph McQuarrie, the revered artist who helped George Lucas create several of the characters and whose conceptual artwork served as the basis for numerous scenes in the film.

"At the time when these cards came out, I remember thinking that the Ralph McQuarrie artwork cards were not that cool," said Underwood. "But now, in hindsight, I've grown to appreciate Ralph McQuarrie's work. Those cards are one of the things I love about this series."

Williams agrees.

"The Ralph McQuarrie art cards are some of my favorite cards in the set," he said

Despite their appeal, these cards generally don't sell for more than the other commons.

The final two cards (#131, #132) are checklists.

Series 2

Like the first-series cards, these singles came in wax packs (12 cards) and rack packs (51 cards) and boast gray borders. They can be distinguished from the first-series cards by the blue frame around the photos on the card fronts. The introductory card, which depicts Han Solo in a romantic moment with Princess Leia and Darth Vader looming ominously in the background, is one of the movie's most iconic illustrations.

Rather than "Star File" cards, this series includes "Star Craft" singles (#134 to #143) that highlight the most famous space craft in the movie.

"Those are great cards," said Williams. "I remember when I was opening packs as a kid, I was hoping that I would get one of those cards and not just a standard scene from the movie."

Cards #144 to #250 present movie scenes, but unlike the first-series singles, the backs offer "Star Quiz" questions rather than "Story Digest" descriptions. The questions cover both Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, and the answers are revealed on the following card.

Further evidence of Boba Fett's popularity is that two of the most submitted second-series cards - #210 "The Captor, Boba Fett" and #220 "Bounty Hunter Boba Fett" - feature the enigmatic henchman. A PSA 10 of #220 sold for $39.99 on eBay in June 2012.

Twelve behind-the-scenes photos are featured on cards #251 to #262. These cards introduce us to key off-screen personnel, like director Irvin Kershner (#251) and makeup artist Kay Freeborn (#252), and provide insight into how some of the scenes were filmed.

Two checklists (#263, #264) close out this series.

Series 3

The third 1980 Topps Empire Strikes Back series was shortened to 88 cards. With their yellow borders and green frames surrounding the photos, these cards can be easily differentiated from cards in the first two series.

It appears that this series was not as widely distributed as the previous two series.

"The yellow bordered cards in the third series are harder [to locate]…the only thing I've ever seen them in is wax packs," said Williams.

Underwood says the third series cards are also generally more difficult to find in high grade than the first two series. This is because imperfections show up more readily on the yellow borders of these cards than they do on the gray borders in the first and second series.

A card featuring Darth Vader introduces the series, followed by 16 cards (#266 to #281) that present drawings of the characters (that were also reportedly used in comic books) on their fronts, while the backs share memorable quotes from Star Wars or The Empire Strikes Back. There are then 54 more "Star Quotes" cards (#282 to #335) that showcase movie scenes on their fronts. 

Card #318 "The Ominous One," which boasts a mesmerizing shot of Darth Vader emerging out of smoke, is one of the standout cards in this series. Another memorable card is #331 "Yoda's Instruction," which fashions a classic photo of the diminutive Jedi Master poised to espouse his wisdom. There has yet to be a PSA 10 of this card.

Ralph McQuarrie's artwork returns on cards #336 to #345, before the series finishes with six behind-the-scenes cards (#346 to #351) offering "Movie Facts" on their backs and a checklist (#352).

The great thing about this set is that the cards - even in PSA 10 - remain affordable. PSA 10s have been selling in the $20 to $30 range.

That said, the first PSA 10 Yoda "Star File" card (#9) will likely fetch big bucks - if collectors can find one.

Yoda, himself, would probably encourage collectors to keep looking.

"A collector must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind," he might say.

And a little "patience" wouldn't hurt either.

Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Thanks to Roger Rumsey and Sean Williams for providing cards for this article. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted and Set Registry rankings reported are those as of March 2015. Please note that the Yoda quotes that I've made up are based on quotes he used in the Star Wars movies.