A 35-year-old toy from Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back has sold for £18,000 ($27,000). The toy, which originally cost £1.50, was not a movie prop – like the blockade-runner spaceship that California-based auctioneers Profiles in History sold for $450,000 – but a Boba Fett figurine.

Toys specialists Vectis Auctions sold the 9.5cm moulded plastic figure in January on behalf of British collector Craig Stevens. Now various collectors' hordes of Star Wars memorabilia, including items so rare they may be unique, are piled up in Vectis, ready for auction.

Kathy Taylor, Vectis's Star Wars expert, said: "It isn't anything that's just a toy. It's actually a way of life and a cultural thing. People even look at some of these cardbacks that we sell as works of art. They're encased in plastic. They're set in beautiful display situations within their houses. It is a different sort of area to anything else really."

The most valuable toys are those that are sealed in their original packages, having never been used. One of the most sought after lots includes 24 Imperial Death Squad Commander figurines, still in their original packaging and boxing, made by now defunct British toymaker Palioy.

"They are factory fresh, just as they would have been delivered to a shop and they would have been taken out, one would have been put on the shop for sale. A kid would have bought one for 59p and now it's probably hopefully going to be £10,000 plus," said Andrew Reed, auctioneer at Vectis.

One of the oddest items is an inch-long piece of plastic about the size of a small pencil that is a prototype for a Boba Fett rocket, never produced, and estimated to sell for £800 to £1,200.

"Initially they were going to make him with a device that fired a rocket from his rocket pack, but it never happened because there was an issue that it could cause choking if someone ingested it so it just never happened. The prototype is exceedingly sought after by collectors," Taylor said.

The Star Wars collecting market, previously seen as unfashionable with items available for next to nothing, is now generating big money. Even Sotheby's auctioneers, renowned for dealing in multimillion dollar paintings, is getting into the act, offering the Star Wars horde of a Japanese collector on 11 December. At Vectis, they say that they do not see one particular type of collector for Star Wars toys.

"There isn't really a generalised person, there're all people from all walks of life, all different ages. Sometimes you'll get fathers with children because Star Wars is something that is absolutely universal and it appeals to a very wide audience," said Taylor.

With items ranging from Death Star pencil sharpeners, to a wind up R2-D2, Vectis will hold another in a series of online auctions of about 700 pieces on 8 December.

Additional reporting by Reuters.