Cardback Guide Overview

Stéphane Faucourt

Stéphane Faucourt

Jeff Echtenkamp

Jeff Echtenkamp

Stéphane Faucourt

Stéphane Faucourt

Jeff Echtenkamp

Jeff Echtenkamp



The Kellerman Cardbacks variations combination matrix was named after John Kellerman, a renowned collector and author of “Star Wars vintage Action Figures” book in 2003. It was a real accomplishment, establishing the referencing standard for Star Wars vintage carded figures front and backs variations. After being updated until 2007, it wasn’t maintained during the following decade but remained a definitive standard…

With collectors’ habits and foci evolving; it had become a necessity to revisit the matrix.

Building on John Kellerman’s work, a group of collectors teamed-up in 2019 to bring the matrix up-to-date with 10+ years of overlooked references, and proposed a revision of the cardback matrix providing a fresh reading experience as well as setting the base for a very detailed referencing system.

The result is a base widely available to the community through this dedicated section on Variant Villains, a Facebook group, free accessible online documents for download (hosted on Google Sheets), and welcoming submissions from collectors’ at large.

This was made possible via a “think tank” initiated by Stephane Faucourt, relying on extensive research and material gathered by collectors Chris Eddleman, Todd Giganti, Jeff Echtenkamp, and Jason Smith, with the contribution of James Kenneison, Jonathan Robinson, Mark Yeo Yian Hui, David Deans, Chris Fawcett, and John Kellerman himself.

The “Kellerman Matrix” naming remains unchanged for the resulting work as we all praise the original work.


The main drawbacks of the original matrix particularly concerned the Star Wars 20 backs and 21 backs as they are the most varied U.S. Kenner cardbacks with many sticker variations that exist. The original matrix was lacking of traceability between the various shapes of stickers (eg. round or sharp edges), which had become an issue in cataloguing, and specific variants were added to combine the stickers covering the Boba Fett offer and the red offer extension stickers. This led to a wide variety of inconsistent classification systems, resulting in the need for a more specific referencing scheme.

The second major rework concerned the 48-backs which spans from ESB to ROTJ series. As more variants were found over the years, the 48-back numbering alternates ESB, ROTJ, and then ESB again. The matrix revision was an opportunity to correct that as well.

Last but not least, because of those inconsistencies, various websites had slight differences for naming or describing cardbacks, making it more difficult to collectors to speak a common voice.

Whilst reworking the matrix was necessary, our concern was also to keep as much of the existing entries in place as was allowable and provide as much compatibility as possible with the existing classification systems. Hence, the result offers a matrix with two depths of reading:

  • A main matrix with lesser variations on 20, 21 backs, and 45 backs which will fit most collectors’ needs
  • A very detailed secondary matrix providing an exhaustive and precise inventory.

This document serves as a base for collectors who wants to understand the issues with the original matrix, the decisions and changes that have been made. However it is not mandatory, and anyone can rely on the new matrix based on the online table and descriptions.


The first task was to update the original matrix from 2007 to make it the most up-to-date and accurate as possible, as a good start for the community to follow-up.

This was done using extensive collections from the project team using the traditional “mirror picture” (picture of the card back with the card front facing a mirror) as a reference proof.

A total count of 130+ new / unreferenced variations were added from February to September 2019.

Highlighted colouring was used to spot the updates in the matrix as in the example below.

Some of the existing entries which needed clarification (eg. ROTJ 48 backs) were all set to “may exist / to be re-confirmed” – see the related section for explanation.


Star Wars 12-backs

12A, 12B and 12C remain unchanged from the original matrix.

12D remains the large (2/3rd of the height) “collect all 32 action figures” sticker on the back; but it was initially referenced only on a 12C back and has since been spotted on any 12 back. For retro-compatibility with the original matrix it remains a variant on its own in the main matrix as 12D* for any 12-back card it is found onto (the * refers to the extended matrix with one entry for each one of the 12-back).

Star Wars 20-backs

The classification system is based on whether or not the cardback has either a black, yellow or extension sticker (of any kind). A unique naming convention is also set for offer extension stickers in order to reference them accordingly on the extended matrix (see dedicated paragraph).

20A, 20B and 20C remain unchanged from the original matrix.

20D remains and mean any 20 back with a black sticker only except it is renamed 20D* (the * refers to the extended matrix that will show 20D1 and 20D2, respectively for the round and sharp edged black stickers).

20E remains and mean any 20 back with a yellow sticker only except it is renamed 20E* (the * refers again to the extended matrix that will show 20E1 and 20E2, respectively for round and sharp edges yellow stickers). Note: There is a font difference between some stickers but it is overlooked at this time.

20F is changed from the original matrix (which was a combination of black and extension sticker = now 20G). The new signification is the presence of BOTH a yellow and black sticker, except it would be 20F* (there are four possible combinations that are present in the extended matrix).

20G represents ANY cardback with a red extension sticker, and again it is renamed to 20G*. These are the most varied but the extension sticker is the most important.

20I and 20J from the original matrix are dropped and existing entries are added to 20G* because of the presence of the red extension sticker.

20K remains the Bossk Secret Offer sticker but it renamed to 20O for Special Offer.

This result in the following conversation table from original matrix to the revised matrix:

Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back 21-backs / 45-backs

The SW/ESB 21 backs are much like the 20 backs, but certainly not as varied, the 21 backs involve stickers as well as extension stickers in a variety of ways. The problem with the original matrix is that it used the same classification despite the card front changing from SW to ESB. For a more logical approach, the revised matrix starts the variations with A with the ESB cards… so that original ESB21G becomes ESB21A. This allows a unique designation for the ESB 21 backs and allow for a more progressive approach. Plus it makes more logical sense.

SW21A, SW21B and SW21C remain unchanged from the original matrix.

Starting from SW21C, which is covered by the large 2/3rd sized secret figure offer, additional extension stickers are found in the same scheme as for the 20-backs. So only SW21C remains in the main matrix as SW21C*

SW21D, SW21E and SW21F from original matrix are dropped because of the presence of extension stickers; existing entries are moved in the extended matrix as additional variants of SW21C.

Empire Strikes backs 21 backs follows the same treatment:

ESB21G from the original matrix becomes ESB21A in the revised matrix as 21A*

ESB21H and ESB21I from original matrix are dropped because of the presence of extension stickers; existing entries are moved in the extended matrix as additional variants of ESB21A.

ESB45B from the original matrix is dropped as it is designated by an extension sticker on the back of the regular ESB45A backing card; existing entries are moved to the extended matrix.

This result in the following conversation table from original matrix to the revised matrix:

Empire Strikes Back & Return of the Jedi 48-backs

Since the original matrix was last updated, more significant variants have been found on both ESB and ROTJ cardbacks; those variants are based on the “Star Wars Action Figures Collect all 48!” mention text placement on top of the card back, which varies depending on the Asian vendor the card originates from (K for Kader, S for Smile, and U for Unitoy).

On the ESBs, the original matrix referenced only 3 different 48 backs (A to C) with the pitch text written over two lines: “Star Wars” + “Action Figures Collect all 48!”. Two additional variants were found with the text split differently: “Star Wars Action Figures” + “Collect all 48!”.

On the ROTJs, the original matrix referenced only a single 48 back (D) and the pitch split as “Star Wars” + “Action Figures Collect all 48!”, but two more variants have been spotted with different text placement – the 2nd with “Star Wars Action Figures” + “Collect all 48!” and a third one split over 3 lines: “Star Wars” + “Action Figures” + “Collect all 48!”.

Even if those variants have been referenced over time, it has led to an inconsistent numbering on the 48 backs, for which A to C were ESBs, D to F ROTJs, and G to H ESBs again. In addition, since the matrix wasn’t maintained for 10+ years, matching figures have never been referenced.

Because those variants were overlooked in the original matrix, all of those entries can’t be accounted for sure and need to be reassessed as previously identified ESB48A/B could be ESB48G/H and any previously identified ROTJ48D could be a ROTJE/F.

In order to bring more logic, a renumbering was necessary: existing ESB48G and ESB48H are respectively renamed ESB48D and ESB48E, and ROTJ48D is renamed ROTJ48A with following ROTJ48B and ROTJ48C.

This result in the following conversation table from original matrix to the revised matrix:

Extension stickers

Extension stickers were a cause of inconsistency and useless variations in the original matrix because they are used and also combined on various card backs.

In addition to move sticker combinations in the extended matrix, it was also required to give them a unique reference with a same usage regardless of the card back: ER# for Rectangular offer extension stickers, and EC# for circled shape ones.

EC1= small round red “offer extended until 3/31/80”

EC2= large round red “offer extended until 3/31/80”

EC3= very large red “offer extended until 12/31/80…. The Secret Action Figure is BOSSK”

ER1= rectangular red “offer extended until 12/31/80. Allow 6-8 weeks for shipment”

ER2= rectangular black “offer expires July 31, 1982”