I will start this article by making no claim to chemical engineering or having worked with any types of plastic. Most of my information has been taken from Chemical Engineer and 12” Vintage Star Wars Action Figure Authority Lee Bullock. If you have any questions on this article then I highly recommend that you join the Large Size Action Figure Group on Facebook.
Nobody knows the full effects of aging on a relatively new material such as plastic. We don’t know how long it will be before the plastic breaks down and that our collectibles become a melted blob – although we hope it won’t be for a long time yet! However, we are seeing signs of problems today particularly on the Large Size Action Figures.
What you are seeing above is commonly referred to as melt marks. These are not specific to the 12” line and other plastic abnormalities are commonly found on loose 3.75” POCH figures to name a few. (POCH is the Spanish licensee for Star Wars)
So, how do they occur and more importantly, how do we reverse it?
A 19th Century Scientist called Adolf Fick developed a chemical equation to show the impact of molecules migrating from one type of bond to another. My limited understanding of this is that when Star Wars figures and accessories were created, different types of plastics were used – some with plasticisers and others without. The job of the plasticiser was to keep the plastic flexible so that it would not become brittle and therefore more easily damaged. When plastics that have the plasticisers come into contact with plastics that don’t have the plasticisers then a reaction called vinyl migration occurs. To simplify this, the plasticiser will attack the other plastic hence causing the melt marks.
The most commonly affected figures in the 12” line are IG88, Stormtrooper and Jawa although Boba Fett is also susceptible to the problems. This reaction occurs in sealed boxes too which can be more difficult to monitor. There is nothing that can be done to stop or reverse the chemical reaction although there are some things that we can do to prevent it causing further damage or at least slow it down. Here are some tips but anything which prevents the plastics touching would help:
- IG88 – Remove the bombs (very carefully) from the bandolier and display all of the items loose and not touching each other or the figure
- Boba Fett / Stormtrooper – the main issues appear around the wrists. I would recommend rotating them frequently but I’ve heard of collectors taking the hands off and using talcum powder or cling film as a barrier between the plastics. As cling film is also a type of plastic I’d be wary of that one.
- Jawa – similar to IG-88 in that careful removal of the harness is needed. There is evidence of cloaks which have been melted to Jawas.
Whether this same plastic migration will occur with Chewbacca bandolier, or indeed with TaunTaun and Dewback reigns, time will tell. What about 3.75” figures holding weapons or touching ships? Thankfully, paint can act as a barrier between the plastics but realistically all we can do is monitor carefully and update the community with our findings.
Photos © Richard Hutchinson – special thanks to Lee Bullock for most of the information.