LEGO key chains date back as far as the minifigure itself. They’re a cheap, timeless accessory that allows kids and adults alike to keep a piece of ABS with them all day long. When the Star Wars theme was released in 1999 LEGO had already been making key chains for twenty years so they wasted no time with releasing the first ones from a galaxy far, far away.
Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker were selected as the first characters to come with the attached metal chain and ring that distinguishes the category. These early key chains represent a crossover for collectors because they came in polybag packaging which was seen across many themes in the late 90s. These two were first released in the “keyhole” style packaging before being updated to a plain polybag style.
These figures were unique in that the torso was specially printed with the LEGO logo on the back which was also seen with the pens being produced around the same time. Over the next few years, Darth Maul, a Stormtrooper, and Yoda would be added in a similar fashion. LEGO would move away from polybagged key chains, and from here the category would explode in number and variations.
Before getting to the modern day key chain style, LEGO went through two other designs around 2003. One of these was the use of a cardstock backing on which the key chain was zip tied while the other was simply a paper tag with a barcode and item number. The order of these designs is unknown as is the reasoning behind their use, but both are some of the most difficult variants to find.
The next phase in key chain development would set the standard that has remained up through present day which is the introduction of the glossy card tag. This tag includes the LEGO logo and the item number. Opening the tag displays all of the warning and copyright information. It would later be updated to also include the Star Wars logo and minifigure name.
Like most other LEGO Star Wars items, the “packaging” for key chains changed designs over time. Initial tags were a drab gray color that then evolved into black, white, blue, and dark blue. In 2012 a split color design of white and dark blue was used, and in 2013 an R2-D2 keychain became the singular oddity to feature a green tag which matched the retail packaging style of the year. The coloration of the tag would continue to cycle through an orange Rebels-themed one, dark red and black, black, white, and finally the white greebled design.
While the minifigures followed this pattern, there are some other key chains that did not fit the trend. The first of these were two sets of mini-scale vehicles that were released in 2007 and 2008. Technically falling under the category of Bag Charms, they still had the metal chain and ring like key chains and came in unique plastic boxes. In 2014 the first polybagged key chain in over a decade was released as part of the marketing for the Choose Your Side campaign.
Another notable inclusion in the key chain subcategory is the white Boba Fett key chains that were released in 2010. This key chain was given out to 150 attendees of the American International Toy Fair held in New York that year. One variant with a slightly different print is known to exist with approximately 50 given to select LEGO employees in the same year. This pair represents the only exclusive plastic Star Wars key chain and is extremely difficult to track down.
With last year’s exclusive Han Solo in carbonite key chain, the final oddity was added touting its status as the only LEGO Star Wars key chain to be completely made of metal. Available as a GWP exactly one year ago it was smaller than the ABS carbonite block but came in a special box and had VIP engraved on the back.
Although there are some other subtle differences amongst the key chains that create variants for collectors, this is beyond what the average key chain collector would be interested in. However, if you are a completionist there are over 90 different key chains with around 140 packaging variants representing 56 characters known to exist so good luck!
As founding partner and 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.