Claims of a prototype Darth Vader date back to the early 2000s when the first red Vader helmets appeared. At the time, hundreds became available on BrickLink for a couple of dollars each. This massive release of non-traditional parts prompted an investigation that ultimately led to the dismissal of a LEGO employee.
Why would this be the case if the pieces were prototypes that had just made their way into the secondary market? The answer lies with the word “prototype.”
LEGO uses a variety of colors to test the molds for parts. Traditionally this color has been red and in recent years the color has switched to light bluish gray. Although the casual term for this type of part is “prototype,” the correct term would be a test shot. Toy collectors know the term well, and there are many well-known examples. Due to the nature of its origin, these items are few in number, and LEGO is no different.
Back around to the red Vader helmets. The large number available was the tip off that something was awry. These helmets were being made with official LEGO molds which is why they have the correct markings – mold and cavity number – but were being made in an unofficial manner. The employee was using the machines to create the helmets as a way to make side income. The number created was speculated to be somewhere between 200-500.
In the interim the occasional test shot could be found, but nothing came in the wave that the red Vaders did. Flash forward to 2018 when a new “copycat killer” was created. In true form the first piece was the Type 2 Darth Vader helmet in – you guessed it – red. Initially the price for this item was high based on what other test shots had been going for, but it didn’t take long for collectors to realize that the quantity was again much higher than previous pieces. Also quickly being deduced was the origin of the parts – an employee in the Monterrey factory in Mexico.
Adding insult to injury, a whole rainbow of colors have since been released taking the total count to 24 non-traditional colors including six translucent figures. Recently these translucent figures were shared reporting them as “prototypes” which further adds to the confusion for collectors who aren’t familiar with rare parts. The Catawiki auction where these are up for sale has received a lot of attention with the price climbing much higher than it should be. These helmets can still be found on Bricklink for around $25 each. These are the result of another rogue employee making use of the molds and should not be considered prototypes or even test shots.
The copycat hasn’t been caught yet, and joining the Vader helmets are also a rainbow of blasters, C-3PO heads, Clone Trooper helmets, Emperor Palpatine holograms, and most recently TIE Fighter Pilot Helmets and Rey’s hair. Word has it that Stormtrooper helmets are also coming!
Well that’s the official word on these unofficial parts. Are these just novelties that any collector should have? Should LEGO do something about the misuse of the molds? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
As the chief archivist, Kevin Downard maintains and curates the library catalog.
Getting in at the ground floor when the LEGO Star Wars theme first launched, Kevin has been collecting ever since. He is a self-proclaimed minifigure guru and has a passion for tracking down and cataloging every minifig variation – no matter how obscure. He has assisted Rebrickable and Bricklink in maintaining their set inventories, helped overhaul the rebelscum.com LEGO forum, and created the LSW Collector mobile app.