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Nostalgia Awakens: How Star Wars Toys Revolutionized Everything (Pt. 1)

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
October 6, 2022 3:00 am

Nostalgia Awakens: How Star Wars Toys Revolutionized Everything (Pt. 1)

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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October 6, 2022 3:00 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, “The Nostalgia Awakens" is an exhibit featuring EVERY action figure toy made by Kenner from 1978-1985 based on the original three Star Wars movies. The Star Wars toys on display are from Jarrod Roll, enthusiast and museum curator from Wisconsin, and he's here to share the story of how Star Wars toys revolutionized movie merchandising, licensing, and even how kids play.

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Speaking of which, the nostalgia awakens as an exhibit featuring every action figure toy made by Kenner from 1978 in 1985. Based on the original Star Wars movies Star Wars toys on display are from Jared role in Susie's museum curator from Wisconsin. He and his brother Kevin owned many of the toys when they were children. As an adult, Jared collected the rest of the original toys. Here's Jared role to share the story of how Star Wars toys revolutionize movie merchandising license and even how kids play will go back to the beginning and that was in 1977. At that time was four years old and my mother is a fan of sci-fi she watched syndicated Star Trek episodes and she had learned of this movie called Star Wars that was coming out by the time we saw it already had gained a lot of interest. Star Wars was released in May 1977 to only 32 theaters in the United States just to put that in perspective.

32 theaters.

It's when the force awakens was released. It was debuted in over 4000 so again there are people who have documented the story of Star Wars in the little movie that could and how we just changed everything that we came out it was nothing like it changed everything changed how we think about the relationship of toys in movies, merchandising, licensing how kids play and it really solidified action figure toys up to that point toys were not licensed for movies like they are now latest movies were around long enough to justify the cost for toy companies to invest in a toy line with the exception of some evergreen licenses like Disney, Looney Tunes. They were around for decades and had other ways of appearing unless it was a TV show action figure toy lines. They weren't made for movies and so that's why when the Kenner toy company signed on to be the sole producer of toys for the Star Wars movies they were taking a risk. If you go to Walmart today are our target or any place where toys are sold, you will see toys in the aisle for blockbuster movies before the movie comes out. That's a given.

You want to just get the most out of it. Help even create excitement for that property but when Star Wars came out in 1977 kids like me who left the theater. We wanted toys for that movie but there were no toys to be had. When George Lucas was in the process of creating Star Wars he knew he had a story that would appeal to kids, so George Lucas shopped around the Star Wars license to the big toy company's first saying I got a movie coming out.

I can't tell you a lot about it. I can't show you much about it because I'm keeping a secret, but it's good to be science fiction involved characters. I think will translate well into a toy line and the bigger toy companies like Mattel we go.

They said it will pass. There is too much risk involved. Quite frankly, you know, science fiction, this really doesn't appeal the kids right now so it's not worth the risk to do that. That's where now the Kenner toy company enters the scene a Kenner at this point they were a small toy manufacturer in Cincinnati, Ohio. There are a subsidiary of General Mills food foods so very Jocular cereal company were talking about, there's the small toy arm of General Mills and so they were willing to take a look at it and it was just one of those stories where where you just had the right people for Kenner at the time that saw the potential of this movie and being a smaller company. They have slightly less risk and they can be a little more nimble versus giant twinkle, and so Kenner toys said we will do this we can do this. They shared some product samples without Lucasfilm and Lucasfilm said yet you you were around the same page when it comes to this and so they signed an agreement with Spillman. There were the ones to make these toys yet people will tell the story about Bernie Loomis being asked the question using the president Kenner at the time, what size shoe you make these action figures, and Bernie Loomis well stretched out his his finger in his thumb and said they should look to be this tall and that size was three and three-quarter inch thick decision that Kenner made was based on the idea that they knew to make this toy line really really catch on with kids. They needed to have a world for kids to play. They needed to have environments recall playsets need to have vehicles for the figures.

The go and to do that you can't do that inexpensively with a 12 inch oil line up to that point opted up to 1977. 12 inch was a very common action figure or doll size for for voice dolls or action figures, G.I. Joe really started that certainly solidified it in the 60s and early 70s they knew, to how the millennium falcon that you can't make a millennium falcon for 12 inch Han Solo, there was, you would be so expensive and there with retailers when wanted for their shelves because it would dominate shell for itself. So they had the three and three-quarter inch line that that made sense and Bernie Loomis made that choice to keep the figures to that smaller size. For that reason, but it would take a full year before action figure toys remain available for that property. So when Christmas 77 rolls around kids like me. We want we want Star Wars toys for Christmas that you Christmas is the time that we get our 20s and unfortunately Kenner you know that even though they're all working nonstop weekends round-the-clock to try to get toys out as fast as they can.

There's no way they can get them to shelves in time for the holiday.

77 season and will listen to German role tell the story of our small toy company. These the big company to the market on the Star Wars toy French when we come back more of this remarkable story about Star Wars on our American stores view of the great American stories we tell and love America like we do, or asking you to become a part of the All-American stories family. If you agree that America is a good and great country. Please make a donation monthly gift of $17.76 is fast becoming a favorite option for supporters to allow American stories.com now and go to the donate button and help us keep the great American stories coming to our American stories.com this is Tori Jenny with 210 MG podcast we have such a special episode brought to you by near attack ODT we recorded at at iHeartRadio type event windows came down near attack ODT were magic pants 75 mg can help migraine sufferers still set an exciting event like Wingo tango. It's true. I had one night I took minor attack ODT and I was present and had an amazing time.

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After all, the big toy company's past what seemed to be too much of a gamble.

Kenner began production immediately wouldn't have a single action figure on the shelves until the year after the first Star Wars movie premiere but they had a plan there again is Jared role rather than miss out on all the excitement about Star Wars that Christmas Kenner toys Bernie Loomis is the president of the time he and his team come up with an idea. It was a very risky idea that was the cell package to kids so that at least there's something to go under the tree that year. What that was called earlybird kit and it was approximately 16 inch 59 inch cardboard envelope. Very colorful and in the inside. All you had was a cardboard display arena with pictures of what the action figures will eventually look like there are just presentations of the characters translated in the action figures of little display arena some stickers and then slip that you filled out put in the mail and then it says when these figures are available, which is between February and June 1978, you're going to get him you'll get Luke you'll get Leah art to which a back of the first four and so is a real risk and some people scoffed at the ideas like where you quit with the idea of selling of the package for kids for Christmas. That seems like a non-gift but yet at the same time for the people that did receive those for those kids.

I did receive those earlybird kits under the Christmas tree right.

It wasn't the figures, but it was the next best thing. It was a promise for the figures.

And at least it was something and by all accounts the people that I spoke to personally who did receive one at Christmas time. The accounts I've read. They were excited to get and many of them thousands were sold, and it's one of those just wonderful. Toy Story said is gone down in history about when Kenner sold an empty package to kids when inside all you have is a promise that is kid to be the first again when they're available is not ready right now for you. Merry Christmas. So the earlybird kit. If you can find one sealed like unopened were talking five figures. I honestly don't come up very often but if you have one like I have one as part of the nostalgia wakens exhibit I have the original envelope and thankfully the kid who opened it in a really nice job opening it just on the side just slip the site open so carefully and pull the contents out so it has all the contents yet and that thing cost a few thousand dollars to buy it when I had bought it because again cardboard is what you call ephemeral is not meant to last forever. I did not get the earlybird kit. As a kid at the time I was even aware of it as a kid where when I first started getting toys was when everybody else pretty much did and I was going to be in spring of 1978 so I remember the day actually. So would have been five years old just about five yaks. I turned five in April and it was springtime's. It was warm out and my my my mom and my brother and I were over at her friends house visiting and my mother's friends son Jamie who is my age shows me a little Darth Vader action figure and I love my mom. They have toys of Star Wars. Now can you take me to go get winding after an upbringing eventually went to what we used to call five and dime stores and so remember the creaky wooden floors and walking in there and that kind of smell. Small town five and dime store and walking in and seeing the display for Star Wars and walking really quickly up to it and is looking skinny with my eyes just to see what they made there and is and Is a selection of action figures on blister cards or just standing there taken off.

I look at the back and then I said it in have to make a choice and make a choice my radar and check out. I didn't know which one I can only pick one really hard time. I member C-3 PO is there and R2-D2 was there Sam person was there but but Luke wasn't there was a short, but Michael was there and so he was the one I picked took him home.

He was my first reaction. He's the one that started it all. And from that point on getting Star Wars toys was such an important part of my childhood, you know, it was always on my radar if I could save any little bit of money in we would stop at a small inlet or store whatever grocery store sometimes carried them and they were very expensive. There were originally they were under two bucks apiece, so there you go there it within purchasing power of a kid, but the real big. You have the opportunity to start a collection would have been a Christmas of that your Christmas of 78.

My grandparents were the ones it really gives the toys or grandparents and they would also get the Sears and JCPenney Christmas catalogs in October and I remember that you're getting into laying down on the floor. The carpeted floor in the living room and turning page by page. Just seeing those toys in there and just circling a circling, circling closer circle all you want the ball that your Christmas was wonderful to be received a lot of Star Wars product. The tree and that was amazing. Star Wars had such staying power in the late 1970s I mean we have to remember that it didn't just influence kids kids toys in his imagination influenced everything we go back and look and see the influence on entertainment. For example, Star Wars was parodied on Saturday Night Live. It was there. There were so many knockoff movies that were produced during that time adults to an adult love Star Wars as well. It wasn't just people back then, of all ages really fell in love with that story. Those characters everybody tried to cash in on the excitement surrounding Star Wars was always there. It was always in front of us, trading cards and comic books lived on so even if that Star Wars left your local theater. It lived on a number getting bubblegum cards of Star Wars and those were very important because that helped me as a kid. Remember the movie and also reap. Learn more about the lore of the movie and these cards will tell you the names of the characters will tell you like what was going on in this scene because it happened so fast when you're sitting in the theater only saw twice as a kid and so these cards help fill in those gaps and really expand that story for me and it was almost cannon. It was all Star Wars was like somebody was making stuff up. It was all there, and so that that helps Star Wars stay in my mind all throughout that time. 77 7879 and then the excitement of Empire coming out to never never waned was always there in part two I wonder is that because we were never fully satisfied. You know when you're my kids today and when they see them, we were the theater and see a movie on DVD.

Six months later in the watch over and over and over and over you because it's a great movie. But then this is kind of you. It's gone and you know the next great blockbuster comes along.

We live in a time.

Now where we have so much to me wonderful stories being told of properties that were excited about superheroes in space and things that you know that as a kid this morning. They are, and insulate it has such staying power that, in the anticipation of the SQL we had to find out what happened next and what we saw what happened next, we find out that the good guys really lose in this movie Hansel was frozen. Luke loses his hand to Darth Vader's father will all happen next. We have to wait another three years. What a life, waiting for that but it was always there and people making products made sure we were always reminded of Star Wars and update the they knew it to. There is always something there to remind us all books on tape so we had as a kid, I had a little story about the cassette tape and I listened over and over and over again, so I knew the movies well because I saw the movie a lot because of all the soccer stuff that went along with a great job as always to Greg Jarrard role story of Star Wars merchandising and something more on America and American lives you on our American story is Bobby Bonz with a great time accordance episode for you guys before heading to our iHeartRadio using festival in Las Vegas next Sunday for making this possible. Here's a little taste. Let's play the game. Wireless and artisanal truck using one of the Sanchez Cowboys and guppies. I got a feeling somewhere in Lionel Richie you're beautiful, not just one line.

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