The wait is finally over. After three years of patient anticipation since the film was announced, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is finally upon us. Expectations were high, and fans who felt disappointed with the last trilogy were afraid that they will be disappointed again. You see, for many Star Wars fans, it is more than a movie—it is way of life, a philosophy, nearly a religion. Although that sounds like hyperbole, the movies had profound effects on our childhood and the way we conduct our lives.
My own history with Star Wars provides one example of the movie’s impact. When my parents started dating in the summer of 1977, Star Wars dominated the box office. My father, a dedicated filmgoer, thought it was a no-brainer to take the woman he worked with—my mother—on a first date to see the popular movie, despite the fact that he had seen it several times already. And, as the tale goes, seeing the iconic movie was not only a first date, but also a second and third date. By the time I was born six years later, the third Star Wars movie, Return of the Jedi, had debuted and my parents were, along with millions of others, fully captivated with the battle of good against evil. As I grew up, our family devoted several movie nights to the series, and the films were often followed with intense light saber battles between my siblings. Truly, Star Wars was a family affair.
When the initial movie was released, few could predict its massive success. It received mostly positive reviews, yet movie insiders had doubts that a space opera would generate much interest. Once the box office tsunami began, Star Wars merchandise turned into a hot commodity. Fans smitten with the movie began to pick up action figures based on their favorite characters. Kenner, the toy manufacturer that licensed with the movie and its characters for toys, was unprepared for the large demand for Star Wars action figures. Scrambling, Kenner sold gift certificates to desperate parents during the 1977 holiday season, promising to ship action figures as soon as it became available, so that children (and even some adults) would have something to open on Christmas morning. Since that time, Kenner (now Hasbro) has sold more than 300 million Star Wars action figures, solidifying the movie’s place as one of the most marketable properties in the industry. In 2012, The Strong inducted Star Wars action figures into the National Toy Hall of Fame, stating that “for more than three decades, kids have used Star Wars action figures—plus accessories, vehicles, and play sets—to tell stories of heroes and villains, of empire and rebellion, and of good triumphing over evil.”
Other Star Wars merchandise was—and remains—popular as well. Whether T-shirts, lunch boxes, board games, books, video games, or breakfast cereal, consumers bought all the latest products from their favorite movie. (Spaceballs, the Mel Brooks spoof on Star Wars, famously mocked this in a scene where Yogurt, the film’s version of Yoda, remarks, “Moichandising! Where the real money from the movie is made. Spaceballs: the T-shirt, Spaceballs: the Coloring Book, Spaceballs: the Lunchbox, Spaceballs: the Breakfast Cereal, Spaceballs: the Flame Thrower!”) The Strong has dutifully collected the majority of this Star Wars merchandise because it shows how we interact with popular culture and incorporate it into our daily lives.
The Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play has also collected items based on the Star Wars franchise. The library recently acquired the original press kit that the movie studio sent out to publicize the original film. The press kit includes photo stills, cast and crew bios, and production notes. It provides an exciting look into the making of the movie, and will be made available in the library. Additionally, in my first blog post, I discussed the Star Wars game documentation that I discovered in the Atari Coin-op Collection. The game documentation chronicles the development of the iconic arcade game, and provides unprecedented insights into how it was made. Moreover, we recently digitized rare promo video footage for the game, which was previously held on 3/4” U-matic tape. A small clip of the promo may be viewed at the museum’s Facebook page.
Now that Episode VII is here, does it disappoint? If the joy and cheers that my children exhibited immediately after the movie is any indication (and not to mention the critical acclaim and record-breaking box office receipts), it does not. With new intriguing characters; former characters that seem like old friends; a soaring John Williams’ score; good old-fashioned filmmaking; and a mix of adventure, comedy, and drama, the movie is thoroughly ready for a new generation. And if some of us can’t make it to the theater right away or we find that the most convenient showings of The Force Awakens are all sold out, we at least have the toys and games to allow our imaginations continue to soar to a galaxy far, far away.