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Nostalgia Awakens: The Star Wars Toy Empire Revolution (Part 2)

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
May 26, 2023 3:02 am

Nostalgia Awakens: The Star Wars Toy Empire Revolution (Part 2)

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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May 26, 2023 3:02 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, "The Nostalgia Awakens" is a Star Wars action figure exhibit from enthusiast and museum curator Jarrod Roll. He's here to share the story of how Star Wars toys revolutionized movie merchandising, licensing, and even how children play.

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Exclusions apply. This is Lee Habib, and this is Our American Stories. And we tell stories about everything here on the show, including your stories. Send them to OurAmericanStories.com. The Nostalgia Awakens is an exhibit featuring every action figure toy made by Ken Ortoro. From 1978 to 1985, based on the original three Star Wars movies. The Star Wars toys on display are from Jared Roll, enthusiast and 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. And we're telling this story because on this day in 1977 and 1983, Star Wars and Return of the Jedi premiered.

In part one of this two-part story, we learn that Star Wars was released in May of 1977 to just 32 theaters nationwide. And how George Lucas's movie revolutionized movie merchandising, licensing, and even how kids play. Here's Jared Roll with the rest of the story. One thing that toys allowed us to do is that we could carry on that story. We could relive that story. We could be in control of that story that we saw on the big screen that one time. I mean, this is before the days of VHS. This is before the days of any way to replay this. If you wanted to see Star Wars multiple times, you had to go to the theater.

And being a five-year-old kid, I didn't have any power over that. But the other thing to consider, too, is that it was only at my theater for two weeks. And then it was gone. And then it came back in 78.

During that summer, it was back again for two weeks. So we needed ways to stay connected to Star Wars when we weren't seeing the movies. And how did we do that? Well, the best way was with action figures. Because now I can take Luke and Ben and Walrus Man and I can recreate that scene in the cantina. You know, when Walrus Man tries to attack Luke and Ben steps in and cuts his arm off, I can do that.

And then I can take Walrus Man and I can have him be some other guy and he can have his own adventure. And that was the great thing about being a kid with action figures, is that it allowed you to have control over this little world and be your own storyteller. And that stuff was important because, again, it was our way of re-entering that world when the movies wasn't there. You know, as a kid, you didn't have control over much of anything, but here I did.

And that was a special thing. When Empire Strikes Back came out, just how exciting that was. The toys were there waiting for us.

That was the big difference now, is that when I came out of Empire Strikes Back, and believe me, I was just lit up with excitement, just charged coming out of there. And then thankfully we were able to go to a store within a matter of a few weeks and pick out a few toys. And that was a very different experience then because now the merchandising engine was churning out things, lots of things for Star Wars.

Because Kenner, they learned their lesson the first time, they were prepared this time, and they had wonderful product for us. And that Christmas and the Christmas after that, we just kept on asking for Star Wars toys. You know, granted, three years were in between Star Wars and Empire, and then between Empire and Jedi, there were three years. And we kept engaged because Kenner was smart.

Every year they would release another wave of figures, another vehicle. And in the longevity of this story, of these movies, it had such an effect on us that we kept engaged. You know, kids like me and my friends, most kids were. So that when Jedi came out, we were just as excited. And then something happened after Return of the Jedi came out. You know, again, wonderful toys there waiting for us, and we got them.

We either bought them with our money we saved, or we got them at birthdays or Christmases. But something was beginning to change by the time Jedi left the theaters. What was happening is that kids who grew up with the original Star Wars movie and went to see Empire, some of them were aging out. You know, they were hitting their young teens, and getting into toys isn't such a big thing for them anymore.

Or if you were still in that toy age, you were seeing other toys in the toy aisles that were competing for your parents' money or your meager savings that you had. So right next to the Return of the Jedi toys, you had He-Man in Masters of the Universe. You had G.I. Joe, you know, the small G.I. Joes, the real American hero G.I.

Joes. You had Transformers and Go-Bots and Thundercats, and it just doesn't stop. You have all these toys, these action figure toys, competing for your dollar. But the biggest thing that hurt Kenner Star Wars toys after Return of the Jedi is that George Lucas said, I'm not making any more movies.

I don't have any plans for that. And he didn't say never, but he definitely made it clear that nothing anytime soon. And when that happened, and we knew that as kids, because we wanted to know, and once we realized there's no more Star Wars, then something kind of detaches from you.

And for the reasons I said already, you kind of turn your attention to other things. And so Kenner tried desperately to keep us coming back to the Star Wars section. Again, Kenner went from a small subsidiary of General Mills Foods to one of the largest toy manufacturers in the world because of Star Wars.

They're not going to give up easily on this brand. And in 1985, they decided, listen, George doesn't have another movie lined up for us. Why don't we do something where we create a property that sounds like another Star Wars movie, even though it's not? So they created a toy line called the Power of the Force, complete with its own logo. And so they have the Power of the Force toy line, the packaging looks different, but the characters that they were making, the action figures and the vehicles, they were all from the first three movies. And there are some really neat figure choices in there, like Luke in Stormtrooper uniform.

You can take off his helmet and see that it's Luke. What a neat figure that would have been to have as a kid. But again, the problem, it was just too late. These toys did not sell. And you've been listening to Jared Roll talk about his experience and all the merchandise and Imagineering that went on thereafter. It allowed the kids to be their own storytellers, he said. As kids, we didn't have much control of anything. With our toys, we did. When we come back, more of Jared Roll's story, a story about his American youth, so many Americans who adored the Star Wars franchise and what they did with it in their imagination and beyond. The story continues here on Our American Stories.

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For more than 50 years, physician associates have been going beyond for patients, providing high quality care that's as personal as it is comprehensive, giving you the confidence that when you see a PA, their only priority is you. Learn more at PAsGoBeyond.com. Music And we continue with our American stories and with part two of this story from museum curator Jared Roll. And we're telling this story because on this day in 1977 and 1983, Star Wars and Return of the Jedi premiered.

Let's pick up where Jared left off. George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, decided to pull the plug on the series after the first three. But the Kenner Toy Company decided to create a new line of Star Wars action figures and playsets.

Here again is Jared Roll. I recall a time, so it was in 19, it was probably around 1985, could be even 86, stopping at a pharmacy and walking past to the magazine aisle and there was what we call a dump bin and that's like a square shaped table with low sides and inside is just stuff they're trying to clearance out. And this dump bin had Star Wars figures in it, Power of the Force figures. I remember stopping and picking one up and looking at it and here was a Han Solo and carbonite figure. Kind of cool idea, it was neat. It was like the Han Solo figure and he had a piece of carbonite and you can put them in the block and see them through it. And I remember looking at it and thinking that's kind of neat but eh, I don't, whatever.

And what struck me too is I remember this. Looking at the price tag, there were like three or four layers of price stickers on it and the top one said 69 cents because they were probably like $2.95, $2.50, $1.95, 69 cents, just clearancing this stuff out. That figure today is worth thousands because kids like me looked at them and said, eh, and tossed them right back in there. And we went and bought a Thundercat instead or we went and just bought a magazine about music. I don't know what we were into but we weren't buying that stuff and nobody did and because of that, some of those toys, the Power of the Force line, they're the most coveted among collectors and they're so cool to see because it wasn't until I was an adult collector that I even knew they made a lot of the stuff that they made towards the end because it just didn't hit the shelves. So like a lot of kids at this point, you know, we move on either to other toys or stop getting toys but my toys were very valuable to me. And so even though I was in my teenage years, I did store my toys in actually one big old refrigerator box in the garage of my parents' house.

And you know, grew up, went to college and it was shortly after graduating from high school, I went to a record convention in Milwaukee. But one of the vendors at this record convention sold a newspaper, a trade newspaper where you could buy and sell music but they also sold one for buying and selling antiques and all of a sudden, I look and here is the Millennium Falcon and somebody's saying that they're selling one for $80. I'm like, wait a minute, you mean the stuff from my childhood now has value?

I mean, it was an expensive toy but it wasn't $80 and they're saying $80 and it's not even in the box. So after a while, like I'm hunched over this booth and I start kneeling and then I sit on the floor and I'm looking at this and the woman working at the booth, she's like, you can just take that home with you now. You seem to be really attached to it. I'm like, oh, thanks. So I took it home and I poured over inch by inch and that got me thinking, I need to know, I need to go look at my toys from my childhood because if they have value, I could be rich.

You know, I think that was one of the ideas that went through my head. That and you just want to know, do I still have all these things? So I go home in my parents' place. So I was in my first year of college at the time, but I go home and I dig out this big box in the garage and I was a little sad because they weren't as white and pristine as I had remembered them, but I still had a lot of them. But now I've got this new bug inside of me that wants them all. I want the things I never had as a kid.

How am I going to do that? Well, this was 1992 and there was, you know, before the internet for anything like that. So I started typing up lists on a typewriter of the things I wanted or handwriting notices, little flyers, and I hung them up in laundromats in my hometown. I hung them up in the grocery stores when you first go in.

There's a little community board there. And there was a radio call-in show on our local polka music station called WTKM where you could call in, buy, sell, and swap. And I, you know, I'm saying, hey, I'm looking for Star Wars toys.

You know, if you've got any, give me a call. And in some ways it worked because what had happened is that at the same time this is happening, moms all over the United States are getting rid of their kids' toys. Kids from my generation, we're going off to college, mom's cleaning out the house, and they're like, they're not going to want these toys anymore. And so they're calling me and they're saying, yeah, I've got my kid at a lot of this stuff.

You know, he's moved away or whatever. Come and take a look at it. So I'd go to their house and on their dining room table, there'd be a selection of toys, like a whole mix. I always remember, I'd go there. I'd just ask for Star Wars stuff, but there'd be some GI Joes, some adventure people, just a whole mix of things. And the mom didn't know. She just called them all Star Wars toys. And I'd say, OK, I'll just take this one and this one. And she's like, oh, no, no, no, you're going to buy everything. It's all or nothing. OK, so I just bought it all up.

I brought it home. But it wasn't until George Lucas announced in 1993, I believe it was, he said, I have plans to make more Star Wars movies. And when he said that, all of a sudden, people from my generation like, whoa, Star Wars, I love Star Wars. Can you believe that there is actually more movies? And then shortly after that announcement, there was an announcement, a follow up announcement saying that he was going to re-release the original trilogy, Special Editions. And that came out in 97. So in 93, 94, you're starting to hear rumblings of Star Wars coming back. And that's kind of waking things up in us.

They're like, oh, this is exciting. Around that same time, Kenner toys is bought by Hasbro Toys. Hasbro, they're big. They're one of the big two toy companies. They always have been. You know, they're known best for G.I.

Joe, I guess. But Hasbro is huge and they buy Kenner. And in 1995, they do something that we never thought would happen. And that is they started creating Star Wars action figure toys again. So the first time in 10 years, action figure toys are in the toy aisle.

By the way, this is a new thing now. We're adults who collect toys and we've got a lot of purchasing power and we're hungry for this stuff. So up to that point, people like me, we're now we're buying vintage Star Wars toys and the price started going up.

I saw it right away. I'm like, oh, man. But then now that we have new Star Wars product, we're thinking two things. One, this stuff is awesome. I want it. And two, this stuff is awesome.

I want it. And I'm going to buy two of them. Two of everything. One to open and to enjoy and one to store away because it's going to be worth something big. Just like my childhood toys.

Well, we know that never happened, but at the time we thought it was a good plan. So we're buying up all this stuff. And I remember it was in 2001 and I'm sitting in my office at my apartment and I get a package in the mail. Normally it's really exciting. I open it up and like, oh, I know what this is. This is a 12 inch figure of 4 LOM. He was a bounty hunter from Empire Strikes Back and they made a nice 12 inch figure, very detailed with the right weapons. And it's just a beautiful 12 inch figure that I remember holding in my hands and thinking, I don't feel anything about this.

Like, there's no I don't know. I was like, I feel nothing for this anymore, for this new stuff. And that really marked the end of of toy collecting, especially the new stuff. And so I just packed everything up and put it aside. And that was it for toy collecting for a while for me.

And then life continued to happen. You know, I got married, have kids. And yet these toys is kind of follow me around in my you know, I wasn't collecting anymore, but they were taking up a lot of space. And then that brings me to 2015 in the winter of 2015, when my colleague said, Jared, didn't you used to collect toys? Star Wars toys?

What if he brought those out and he put them on display in anticipation of this new movie that's coming out? And so those a lot of those new toys I then started just dumping, just selling for whatever I could get. But I got it out of my house and I was able to earn some money to buy some of those pieces that eventually went on display in what I call The Nostalgia Awakens, which is the exhibit that I created of all the vintage Star Wars toys, which I still still love. And I'm grateful to be able to share it with so many people of my generation who have those same feelings and memories of Star Wars and childhood as I do. And a special thanks to Greg Hengler for a great job producing that piece and getting the story.

Star Wars and Return of the Jedi were released on this day in 1977 and 1983 here on Our American Stories. I'm Malcolm Gladwell. I live way out in the country. I drive everywhere.

And you know what scares me? That feeling of finding myself stuck on the side of the road. But now all of us can avoid that pain by getting our vehicle the part it needs before that breakdown. Oh, no moment with eBay guaranteed fit and over a hundred and twenty two million parts and accessories. You can make sure your ride stays running smoothly for the parts and accessories that fit your vehicle. Just look for the green check. Get the right parts, the right fit and the right prices. eBay Motors dot com. Let's ride eligible items.

Only exclusions apply. Get ready. Xfinity Flex has unlocked shows and movies from all over the globe, and you can watch for free right from your couch. Journey to Japan with shows from Anime Network. Go back to the Wild West with Billy the Kid and other MGM Plus picks. Celebrate Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month with hits from Kokawa and Haya. And break out your dance moves with I Heart Radio's K-pop hits playlist. Find new entertainment on Xfinity Flex, all for free, no strings attached.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-26 04:32:31 / 2023-05-26 04:41:44 / 9

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