Star Wars Trading Cards Explained

Star Wars Trading Cards Explained

Trading cards are issued in the form of sets and series. For example: in 1977, Topps published a set of 330 Star Wars cards that were split into 5 series with each series containing 66 cards each. In this case, each series had a different release date. Each series is often identified in some way to differentiate it from the other series within the same set, such as a colored border. Some collectors attempt to collect every card in a set while others might scrutinize each series and then focus their efforts on just the series they find most interesting. Sometimes a set can contain a number of series with release dates spread out over a large span of time. For example, Star Wars Galaxy series 1 was released in 1993 and Star Wars Galaxy series 7 was released in 2012. Star Wars trading cards have been around for more than 40 years now so it's quite possible to see multiple generations collecting different sets of cards.

All trading cards, including Star Wars trading cards, are further divided into two primary classifications of cards: base cards and inserts.

Base Cards

Base cards, also referred to as common cards (or just commons) consist of the main collection of cards within a series. These cards are almost always numbered and usually contain a title card (the first card) and a checklist card (the last card). Base cards are found in all packs in large quantities and are easy to acquire, hence the term "commons".


An insert card is a card that is "inserted" into packs randomly and at a lesser degree than common cards. Insert cards are also sometimes called chase cards. Inserts usually appear as a smaller subset of cards and as such they usually have their own unique numbering system apart from the numbering system used with the base cards. The rarity of inserts is measured by how often they can be found. For example, each of the original 1977 Star Wars packs included 1 sticker. This rarity is expressed as 1:1. In another example, the Star Wars Chrome Archives set released in 1999 included 9 Double-Sided chrome cards at the rate of 1:12 making them much more difficult to collect.

The rarity of a card expressed as 1:12 should not be confused with the count of card expressed as 1/12. 1:12 indicates one card for every 12 packs but 1/12 indicates 1 out of a total print of 12. (See serial numbered cards below).

Types of Inserts

Insert cards can be anything. In Star Wars, popular insert cards include stickers, chrome cards, foil cards, translucent cards, embossed cards, autographed cards, patch cards, sketch cards, medallion cards, and a special type of insert called a parallel card. These insert types can also be combined, for example: an autographed sketch card. There's no telling what type of inserts we'll see in the future. A few notable types of Inserts include:

Sketch Cards: Sketch cards feature artwork by popular artists and comic book illustrators. In most cases, the number of artists is revealed but the number of sketch cards that each artists draws is unpublished. Before a set is released, artists are permitted to reveal how many cards they sent to Topps, but they can't reveal the art until after the set is available for purchase. Some collectors focus solely on sketch cards and there are even sites dedicated to nothing but sketch cards. On this site, the value next to "Sketch Cards" will always indicated the number of artists and not the total number of artist sketch cards.

Patch Cards: As the name implies, a patch card is a card with an embedded patch. In Star Wars, the patch often depicts a theme or unit symbol.

Medallion Cards: Medallion cards are as thick as 10 base cards and contain an embedded metal medallion. The type of medal, or the color of the medal can be a contributing factor in the appeal of these cards. Bronze, silver, gold, and platinum are typical.

Relic Cards: Highly coveted by collectors, a relic card is a card that has a piece from the movie embedded within it. This is usually in the form of a piece of fabric torn from an article of clothing worn in the film. Sometimes the relic is a literal cell from the film roll.

Source Material: Source material cards are a little like relic cards, except instead of using an item directly used within a film, the source material from which the clothing was cut is used. For example, a jedi robe worn by Obi-Wan cut into pieces and used in cards would be relic cards, a roll of cloth from which the source material was cut to make the robe, would be used in a card with "source material". Sometimes these are mistakenly referred to as "relic cards".

Promo Cards: Promo cards are rarely found as pack inserts, unless they're cards that are promoting other sets. Aside from that, promo cards can be gained from a variety of sources making them much more difficult to chase down. One common source for Star Wars cards is the NSU magazine but other than that, sources can be extremely diverse.

Autographed Cards: Autographed cards in Star Wars are usually autographed by actors, film staff, or content providers such as artists. These cards are also sometimes described as "certified autographed" cards. A Hard-Signed Autographed Card is a card that has been signed directly onto the card’s surface. Under most circumstances, Hard-Signed Star Wars cards are obtained directly from the signer when the card collector meets them in person. Otherwise, most autographed cards are Label Autographed cards that feature a certified signature on an often clear or partially transparent label that is affixed to the card’s surface during the production phase.

Serial Numbered Cards: Due to their rarity, Inserts have become very popular. Common cards are usually numbered, but they are not uniquely numbered. If you find card #5 for example, it's just 1 of 10,000+ cards of the same type that was produced. But an insert card with a unique serial number is quite different than a common card. A common numbering scheme is #/#. For example: 32/50 means that you found card #32 out of 50 cards of the same type. Serial Number cards can be applied to any Insert including Parallel cards meaning that the Serial card would share the same design and artwork of a common card, but with some unique attributes, such as a colorful chrome border and of course a serial number.

Unintentional Cards: Sometimes, a pack of cards will include a promotion with it. For example, the 2018 Denny's/Topps Solo cards included coupons for both Topps, and Denny's restaurants. These promotional cards are almost always printed on a card that is the same size as the trading cards. In some rare occasions, these cards can hold value too. For example, the 1996 Topps Star Wars Finest Cards included a very rare Matrix MasterVisions Redemption Card. Most hobbyist and collectors would send in the redemption card to receive their reward. Due to the fact that most redemption cards were turned in, and coupled with the fact that the redemption card had a rarity value of 1:360 (1 in 10 boxes), many collectors consider the redemption card to be the most valuable card in the set.

Parallel Cards

Parallel Cards: A parallel card is a card that is identical to a base or insert card with the exception of a visual component within the card. This difference could be the addition of foil or chrome, or perhaps a different color or styled border. A parallel card could also offer something that the base card did not, such as an autograph. Fewer Parallel cards are printed than common cards therefore collectors are often willing to pay for them. Some collectors like to collect entire sets based upon their parallel counterparts.

Parallels can have multiple insert attributes. For example, a translucent sketch card with a blue-chrome border that is autographed by the artist and numbered #/100.

In rare cases, there might be a 1/1 serial card meaning that there is literally only 1 of a specific card. An example of a 1/1 card could be a printing plate - the same printing plate used to print other cards in the set. For many collectors, obtaining a card with a serial number can bring a great deal of satisfaction and generally speaking, these cards are considered by most to be worth more. But the design of the card is also an important factor and sometimes a very rare card can have very little value due to the card content or art, or lack therein.


Cards are inserted into packs that often range from 5-10 cards per pack and then placed in boxes that can range from about 10-36 packs per box. Under most circumstances, publishers such as Topps, will include information about inserts and their rarity on the packaging including packs, boxes, their website, press releases, or all of the above. Retail Boxes are usually designed for display allowing shops to sell individual packs or the entire box. A Hobby Box usually has a higher number of inserts and sometimes a guaranteed number of inserts. A Hobby box can also contain cards that a Retail box will not, and vice versa. These boxes will often indicate how many guaranteed inserts (called hits) of a specific type are in each box. While most boxes are printed cardboard, some sets or series are shipped inside metallic boxes called tins.

It's also possible for retail boxes to include a guaranteed number of hits. Read the details carefully to understand which inserts are guaranteed, and which are not.