Movies Toys

That Time The Empire Struck Back

Earl shares his memories of those fabulous Kenner toys that were released for The Empire Strikes Back!

I’m not sure it got better than this for we children of the ’70s who were just a few months into the ’80s.

I have a theory: the merchandise for The Empire Strikes Back may have been the most-anticipated movie merchandise in history.

Let’s put that in context. The movie-merchandising game had – like so many other things about movies – been changed forever by Star Wars. Until those first Early Bird Kit orders finally shipped in 1978, there was no real way to know how awesome being a kid growing up in Generation Star Wars was going to be. But by the spring of 1980, expectations had been raised. There would be another double LP of glorious John Williams music to play while we opened those new action figures and ships. We now had an expectation of what movie merch would be like.

By 1980, we were eagerly awaiting new passengers to be smuggled aboard the Millennium Falcon.

And for once, I think it’s hard to argue that the expectations were met. There were new ships aplenty, new characters (and old friends in new outfits designed for worlds we had yet to see) glore, and new creatures…both large (Wampas and Tauntauns!) and small (Yoda, held back from the initial wave of figures to keep the character a secret).

Deleted scene before Luke goes Imperial Probe Droid hunting.

Of course, you can argue that Return Of The Jedi had an even more lavish toy/merchandise roll-out, by after Empire, we expected that. The first Star Wars sequel and the sheer delight of its attendant goodies was an event that could happen only once. In 1999, when The Phantom Menace and its glut of merchandise arrived, people went into stores with the assumption that they were buying “one to open and one to keep in the box”, precisely because there had been over a decade for the value of the original Star Wars collectibles to increase. But it just wasn’t the same. Movies – even non-Star Wars movies – were now expected to be marketed to death.

The first Star Wars sequel was one of those high water marks that made being a Kid of a Certain Age amazing. Even a Twin Pod Cloud Car Pilot or an anonymous Bespin Guard was a thrill…even though the toys were now arriving before anyone knew what or where Bespin was.

Oh, to be that young – and that surprised by it all – once more.

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