“Patience is bitter, but its fruits are sweet ” Edmund Burke once scraped onto a blank sheet of paper and may well have had the year 1995 in mind, the year Star Wars returned in full force.
The fine people of Lucasfilm had miraculously transformed an aged entertainment property into gleaming hot media content that formidably stood its ground in the battle for consumer loyalty. Like a resilient flower poking through dry ground in great defiance of the drought of motion picture history, Star Wars merchandise was gently but decidedly expanding.
Lucasfilm’s product pollicy had created a fine quilt of cross-generational consumer interest in between 1985 to 1995. They had mastered the needle of franchise resuscitation with such a delicate hand, the stiches marrying previously disconnected generations were both strong and beautifully seamless.
(1) After the introduction of the original Star Tours in 1987, the subsequent launches at Tokyo, Florida and Paris in 1989, 1990 and 1992, respectively, embraced families around the world and sparked global interest in Star Destroyers, protocol droids, X-Wings, TIEs and, of course, Rex, among all age groups.
(2) Videogamers most definitely got more than they bargained for with virtually every platform featuring conversions of Atari Games’ Star Wars coin-up trilogy, while Nintendo certainly had something special planned for their followers.
(3) The publication of the officially sanctioned sequel trilogy by Timothy Zahn in 1991, and the consequent resurgence of Star Wars-based fiction targeted grown-up Star Wars fans, a group by then handily equipped with both money and nostalgic yearning.
(4) The fast-lane crowd of twenty-somethings got their fill with Larry Holland’s and Ed Kilhalm’s serious-minded, edgy X-Wing and the revolutionary TIE-Fighter. Lawrence Holland remembers: ‘When Brian [Moriarty said that he would do an X-Wing game if I didn’ do it], I thought I have to do it now!’ Especially TIE-Fighter proved challenging, considering the striking reversal of roles: ‘[T]he villain or evil side has a lot of intrigue, and we wanted to design with that in mind. We gave the Empire shades of grey, and gave the player a chance to achieve some nobility.’ (p203, Demaria, Wilson: ‘High Score!’, Osborne 2002).
(5) The Lucasfilm Fan Club Magazine grew into a worldwide publication and was translated into different languages, giving marketers an invaluable platform to create ample anticipation for the Prequels and the anniversary re-release of Star Wars.
(6) The THX re-release in 1995 finally allowed everyone to fulfill their dreams of bringing home those pleasant memories of the motion picture sensation that started it all in prestine quality.
These six steps together triggered an inevitable exchange of information on all matters Star Wars among all consumer groups, with the resultant enthusiasm continuously awarded by an increasing influx of Lucasfilm-approved quality product. And here is where George Lucas’ great mastery of the merchandise business came to play: he never faltered to quickly capitalise on the situation.
Howard Roffman, vice president of Lucasfilm Licensing summarised thus: ‘Our philosophy is that we’re not trying to drum up demand, we are satisfying demand, [which] was there beyond our wildest expectations.’ He continued that ‘There can definitely be too much of good thing, and it’s our responsibility to keep Star Wars enjoyable for the millions who love it’.
True to form, the Lucasfilm companies multiplied George Lucas’ clout a thousand fold through a variety of products that bore the Lucas touch, yet kept Star Wars attractive and fresh. The game, sound and visual effects companies received their due credit for their award-winning efforts, collaborating to build a sturdy foundation of quality, efficiency and technological progress for Lucas to step on.
When Variety’s Rex Weiner travelled to San Rafael to interview George Lucas, he was surprised, as a veteran film reporter, to find the man from Modesto ‘at ease in scuffed Nikes, jeans and a blue plaid shirt’ while Steven Spielberg was in the trenches developing Dreamworks. ‘I keep saying,’ Lucas recounted, ‘ “Why are you doing this? You own the universe, why do you want to go work in the stables?”‘ Lucas was nevertheless putting considerable thought into directing one of the next prequels himself.
Although Weiner describes ‘more Star Wars sequels’ (sic!) as ‘perhaps the closest things in showbiz history to being sure hits’, the task appears daunting, considering the goals Lucas set himself: ‘To make the next Star Wars with a lot more scope than I was able to do before, at a very reasonable cost, and be able to tell more interesting stories’. Jim Morris, VP of ILM underlines the inevitable impression of the new Star Wars projects as massive enterprises, anticipating that about a third of ILM’s 450 employees will be involved, the same workforce that brought Brad Silberling’s Casper to life.
The Prequel production schedule as of summer 1995: 1996 Casting, Second Unit; 1997 ‘the bulk of shooting on the three pictures will be complete’; 1998 First film release.
With the first flash of lightsabers on the big screen still many years away, but hands both young and old eager to re-enact or re-envision the beloved saga, Lucasfilm added the final flourish to their merchandise catalogue in the last quarter of 1995. Kenner finally returned to its most successful range of toys ever.
After the demise of Kenner’s Star Wars range of products in 1985, it was Just Toys, the company behind the popular Bob The Builder line, which introduced the first Star Wars action figures in the wake of Timothy Zahn’s popular sequel trilogy. These Bend ’ems looked good and were great fun, but definitely lacked the poseability of the classic Kenner toys.
Meanwhile Transformers creator Hasbro purchased TONKA, which owned Kenner, and spent several years re-organising the growing toy empire. News of another Star Wars trilogy still could not be overlooked, so that by 1994 plans were afoot to test contemporary toy lover’s tastes and interests.
A dozen designers and engineers formed the team that then 29-year old Tim Hall headed to produce the first Star Wars action figure line from Kenner in 20 years. Hall explained that the chief goal was to satisfy both the children’s and the collectors’ markets, ‘by having all the authenticity and realism that collectors demand, plus the heroism and excitement that kids want in toys today’. When Jim Black, the product manager on the first Star Wars line, and the designer of the original Falcon-playset Mark Boudreux joined the effort, the enterprise to make Star Wars king of toy stores, children’s hearts and collectors’ dungeons once again was destined to be an overwhelming success.
Kenner furthermore combined the power of 90ies technology with the expertise of the very makers of the Saga, involving Lucasfilm very early on in the project to create vastly more detailed sculpts. ‘The stance is very important,’ according to Hall, so in order to keep up with the aesthetics of current toys, the companies collaborated to develop the most fitting pose for every character, with the ‘body proportions a little beefed up.’
In time for the 1995 THX-certified video release, the company shipped the initial wave in the so-called The Power of the Force series, consisting of Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, C3-PO, R2-D2, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Princess Leia and everyone’s favourite moving target, the Imperial Stormtrooper.
Whereas the vintage Star Wars figures lasted a respectable eight years, the range started in 1995 by Kenner – and later taken over completely by Hasbro in preparation for Episode I – continues to this day, more than 12 years on.
As the first boxes of Star Wars toy magic were being shipped in late August 1995, Skywalker Ranch sound wizard Ben Burtt was harnessing his USC filmmaker acumen for a very special IMAX experience. Elsewhere, film poster maestro Drew Struzan was putting final touches to an as-yet-to-be-revealed Falleen underground prince…
1995 – Returned, Star Wars frenzy has.
TO BE CONTINUED….