Next week, pop culture will be celebrating the 45th anniversary of Star Wars. The franchise marked a major turning point in pop culture on multiple fronts from cinema to toy marketing. My mom used to joke about whether we wanted her to buy the toilet paper for our favorite properties.
I do remember her covering our minor cuts and scrapes with Star Wars Band-Aids. I think it was the first time we had Band-Aids that weren’t the usual beige. We also had Empire Strikes Back glasses from Burger King and Pepperidge Farms Star Wars cookies. We may have had the C3PO cereal once or twice.
Most of our Star Wars merchandise belonged to my brother. Even though I had the distinction of being born the summer the first Star Wars film (later titled Episode IV: A New Hope) was released, he was the one who ended up being the biggest Star Wars fan in our family.
My brother had a bunch of the original Kenner figures. I remember both of us taking turns putting on and taking off Darth Vader’s plastic jacket/cape. He also had a Luke, a Chewbacca, and Wicket the Ewok. I want to say he also had Han Solo and Lando Calrissian and I know there was a Leia for me to play with. We didn’t get to play with our respective toy lines together in their original contexts very often. Star Wars and He-Man and Princess of Power were it for the most part.
We rarely saw the original movies. I think the network television Sunday Night Movies aired before we had a VCR, so most of my earliest Star Wars memories came from seeing the Ewok television special at my cousin’s house.
The little girl in the Ewok special had blond curly hair and a gold headband so she always reminded me of Angel Cake from Strawberry Shortcake.
In 1997, for the twentieth anniversary of the trilogy (and two years ahead of the first prequel) the original trilogy returned to movie theaters. Generally, the Star Wars audience seems to be split between two ends of the Generation X spectrum: the Eldest Xer’s and the Youngest Xer’s and the oldest of the Millennials.
The elder Xers were usually in their late twenties to I think mid-thirties at that point. This was the group that saw Episode IV: A New Hope in the movie theaters back when it was just called Star Wars. This group was also about eight years old and older when the original movie came out, so they have concrete memories of having experienced the original film in the movie theater. For them, it was a cherished memory they had the opportunity to revisit in the form they remember.
Then there were those of us on the other end of Generation X and the first Millennials. I was born two and a half months after the release of the first movie. No one was taking a newborn infant to see that movie. Even if someone had, I wouldn’t be able to remember watching it.
Mostly, the closest we got to experiencing Star Wars was from watching Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs. Spaceballs was not only available to rent, but also aired multiple times on pay and basic cable. We taped it from one of the pay channels and just about wore out our tape with as many times as we watched it.
The really interesting thing about Spaceballs is that Luke Skywalker and Han Solo are fused into the same character: Bill Pullman’s Lone Star. Most of my fondness for Han Solo really comes from my affection for Lone Star.
I was in college at the time of the theatrical re-release of the original trilogy and I went to see them with two friends from my church, Curt and Ryan. My female friends weren’t interested for some reason. Curt was also in college (and also worked at the same KMart with me when he was home on breaks). Ryan was still in high school, but he was in his junior or senior year.
When was this toy line produced?
In 1997, to tie-in with the theatrical release of the original trilogy.
Was there a cartoon?
There weren’t cartoons about the Han Solo character specifically, but there were cartoons for other characters in the Star Wars universe: Droids and Ewoks. I definitely remember watching the Ewok cartoon. My memories of the Droids cartoon are a little fuzzier.
Who was the villain?
Eventually, we would come to find out there were many unsavory characters in the Empire. From the late 1970’s through the mid-1990’s, Darth Vader was the biggest of the nightmare inducing Big Bads.
Only horror movie slashers like Michael Myers, Jason, and Freddy Krueger were more frightening. Darth fit right in with the Skeletors, Hordaks, Destros, and Serpentors of the Saturday morning and weekday afternoon cartoons.
Darth Vader had the black helmet and cape. He had the creepy voice. His Imperial March sent shivers up our spines. The dude was just scary, which made “Dark Helmet” (Rick Moranis) in Spaceballs such a hilarious character.
Only one character in the original Star Wars trilogy was creepier than Darth and that was Jabba the Hutt, a massive reptilian slug creature. Jabba was both evil and gross looking, unlike his delicious looking Spaceballs counterpart, Pizza the Hut.
Where did I acquire this toy?
When I was working at KMart, our time clock was all the way at the back of the store. To get to the time clock, I had to pass the Toys and Sporting Goods section of the store.
I know you’re thinking, “What a hardship”, right? Well, sometimes that walk up to the front was easier than others. We had what they called “the seven minute rule”. From the time we clocked in, all the way at the back of the store, we had seven minutes to get all the way up to the front of the store.
On our way up to the front of the store, however, we were expected to greet customers we encountered and if they needed help finding an item, we were supposed to walk them to the item. If they needed help in Toys or Sporting Goods and the employee stationed in that area was off or helping another customer at the desk, I would need to help the customer from way back at the starting point before I could start to make my way up to the front registers.
The more customers I came in contact with in the back of the store, the longer it took me to get to the registers in the front of the store. And I couldn’t wear comfy tennis shoes either. I had to wear dress shoes and if the floor had recently been cleaned, that was an added challenge.
Anyway, one of the co-workers I got to know pretty well while I was working there was our Toys and Sporting Goods manager, Lester. Lester was somewhere in his late fifties or early sixties with salt and pepper hair and glasses. He was friendly, but not overly friendly in a creepy way.
My dad was very into the speculator’s market model and he wanted to get sets of the re-issued Star Wars figures for each of us. I think my set is in one of the boxes in my closet. I don’t know what my brother did with his.
Lester was really good about telling me when a shipment of Star Wars figures came in. I got a 10% discount on stuff I bought at KMart. I probably gave them back at least half of what they paid me during my four years there.
One day, Lester told me they got in Barbie-doll sized figures of the original characters. He also had a lot to do with my Barbie collecting because he would also let me know when the new Holiday Barbie came out. I’ll get to those in future articles, most likely after Thanksgiving.
Did anything surprise me about this toy?
Looking back on it, I don’t know why I didn’t get a Princess Leia in that size either in addition to or instead of the Han Solo, but I did have big crushes on both Bill Pullman and Harrison Ford.
I didn’t fully appreciate Carrie Fisher and her family’s place in Hollywood history until I was considerably older. I’m somewhat disappointed with my younger self for having missed out on that both for myself and my niece.
I hope you enjoyed my Star Wars/Spaceballs (and KMart) memories. Next week, I will have another Event article as I cover my junior and senior proms in 1994 and 1995. Yes, the proms I mentioned last year on Hot Tag (now known as Hellions Talks) will finally get the article they deserve.
Miss a week? Check out all the toys featured in Toy of the Week