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Friday, 27 September 2013

Star Wars original merchandising of the 1970s – and why the value of mine is almost zero

The Star Wars: Escape From Death Star board game,
from Kenner in the US and Palitoy in the UK

Collecting original Star Wars merchandising is the ideal pastime for the wealthy or the crazy. The rest of us may struggle to keep up.

You might imagine that, since I have the effrontery to blog about Star Wars in the 1970s, I would have some kind of merchandising collection worth telling my home insurance company about. But that's not the case.

The thing about Star Wars merchandising is that it became extremely valuable as long as you hadn’t removed it from its packaging and used it for its intended purpose. My records were played endlessly, my books and comics read several times, my posters Blu-Tacked to walls. How were any of us to know that you weren’t supposed to actually enjoy these things?

The Story of Star Wars LP
Star Wars was, as has been pointed out many times, the most heavily merchandised film ever seen up to that time. Successful television series like Thunderbirds, The Six Million Dollar Man and Planet of the Apes had been spun off into lucrative ranges of toys and games, but the notion that films could perform the same way ran counter to the conventional wisdom – especially at Twentieth Century-Fox, where the idea had been tried unsuccessfully with the flop Doctor Dolittle in 1967. George Lucas’s business acumen changed all that.

Today, of course, every major film release comes accompanied by a line of toys, games and stationery, but back in the 1970s, the ubiquity of Star Wars merchandising seemed astonishing. Record stores gave over their windows to the double LP of the film’s soundtrack, its gatefold sleeve pinned open to display a host of colour pictures. Stores everywhere displayed the official posters – the droids in the desert, or an endearingly cheesy shot of Luke and Han firing their blasters as Leia clung to a roaring Chewbacca. Ice cream vans were soon selling a Star Wars lolly that came with a free cardboard See-Threepio mask. Clothing stores had Star Wars T-shirts depicting Han and Chewie with blasters poised. You could buy all the Star Wars stationery you might need, from pocket notebooks to large scrapbooks via the Han Solo pencil case. DIY shops had Star Wars wallpaper, and household stores displayed bedspreads and pillow cases.

The very cool Han
Solo pencil case
Whole books have been written about Star Wars collectibles, providing invaluable reference information for people who think a toy’s place is in its original box. What I'm going to do over the occasional entry on this blog is just to recall some of the products I enjoyed at the time – and some of those I never got my hands on.

So, if, like me, you enjoyed the Star Wars board game, the Story of Star Wars LP, the poster magazine, the digital watch, or even the incredibly cool Han Solo pencil case, please check back for future posts.

* What was your favourite piece of Star Wars merchandising? Was there something that you coveted but never managed to own? And was there a piece of merchandising that you wore out through constant use, but which you now wish you'd kept in pristine condition? I'd love to read about it. Please leave a comment below.


John White said...

I played with and played the hell out of my figures and soundtrack album. I removed covers from the comics and tacked them to the wall for their pin-ups [most of the walls were covered in SW]. Now many of the covers are lost.
Over 30 years later I dug out the figures and let my son play with them. My only precaution was to hold back the packaging and the guns. it's been worth more to me to play with them as a kid, and then see my son play with them, than to hope for some great day when I'd retire on the proceeds of their sale.

I would have LOVED the Death Star play centre. And right now? I'd like to have good copies of all of the early comics. UK versions and US, and perhaps the trading cards. Look what I did with mine! A geek's nightmare!

Richard Bent said...

I was extremely lucky that I had a friend whose mother worked in the packing department of Palitoy and landed us free Death Start Playsets, minus the packaging and plastic parts. I already had a shop bought playset so this was essentially an extension to the one I already had. Seeing the Story of Star Wars LP and Escape fro Death Star game brought back many good memories, but I also had an electronic Star Wars dogfight game. I cannot remember the name and the only electronic game I can find online is a Battleship style game, but that wasn't it. The game I had was more like a board game format, with transparent red and green plastic discs representing the X-Wings and TIE fighters. From what I remember, the aim of the game was to make the space under the ship icon light up. It must've been over the Death Star as well. I'm very vague as I am just now remembering this game, but if you can be of any help in rediscovering the name of this game for me, I'd be very grateful!

Darren Slade said...

Many thanks for commenting, Richard. You must have been the envy of your classmates after that Death Star windfall.

That dogfight game: I don't suppose it was either of these?

Let me know if you find it!

Hywel Evans said...

Hello all.I too had the Destroy the Death Star game,but I never had the patience to learn the rules.I vividly remember having a poster of the main cast(it was a promo from the same photoshoot they used for the Rolling Stone magazine cover).I seem to recall it having a black background though.I've never been able to find it on ebay or even a photo of it.