I love Star Wars. I’d go so far as to say that I always have. I was shown Star Wars when I was still in my single digits and received my first lightsaber when I was probably about 6. That was the first Star Wars toy I remember owning. It wasn’t Kenner-made. It wasn’t official, but it put me in the universe I so loved.
Fast forward 5 years. I have a small, but important collection of Star Wars toys. These toys weren’t rare. They weren’t packaged and sitting on a shelf, protected from the sun for resale value. They were scuffed and dirty. Accessories were broken or missing. They were my Star Wars characters, actors in my bedroom plays. I grew up loving Star Wars and I still love Star Wars. I will always love Star Wars.
Add 10 years to the running total. I’m 21 years old and recently started watching the Clone Wars animated series on Netflix. I’m enjoying it immensely. The character development and storylines are filling gaps in my knowledge of characters from both generations of films. I’m a working adult back in the universe that ruled my childhood.
An email comes through as I’m starting the next episode of Clone Wars Season 2. It’s from a publicist I normally do music coverage for. She has a documentary she wants me to check out on the history of Star Wars toys. I respond and get connected to Brian Stillman, Director of Plastic Galaxy: The Story Of Star Wars Toys who sends me a copy.
The day I got the DVD, I shuffled some things around in my closet and pulled out a box. It was dusty and covered in old school binders and notebooks, but the contents were intact. These were my Star Wars toys. I popped in the DVD and started to lay out the figures on my bed.
I’ve seen a lot of Star Wars related films (full list on my Letterboxd profile), many being fan shorts or documentaries. This one is among my favorites. What you get with Plastic Galaxy is 70 minutes of interviews with those that were there. Initial collectors, memorabilia hunters, and employees of Kenner, the company that began the Star Wars toy phenomena that so dominated the industry from 1977 to 1984.
Kenner completely changed the way that children collected toys from the day the first set was (almost) available. Their marketing strategy was so sound that they were able to sell a piece cardboard in a campaign they called the “Early Bird Certificate Package.” This was the first line of toys, a certificate to mail back to Kenner in exchange for four Star Wars figures when they were finally ready. Furthermore, Kenner was the origin of the “collect them all” mentality that had parents and children coming back to stores to get the latest figure.
This persisted for nearly a decade. As each movie was released, new figures became available. Not just the popular characters, either. Creatures, droids, and other non-speaking characters got the figure treatment and sold very well. Plastic Galaxy does an incredible job explaining the different lines of toys produced over the years in the Cincinnati toy factory.
Breaking my own toys free from their carbonite-like tomb while watching made the experience that much better. The Kenner line of Star Wars toys wasn’t just a capitalist’s dream. It was a child’s dream.
What really made the toys so great was the ability to live on in the Star Wars universe while the next movie was being made. In the days of the original trilogy, there were no DVDS, Netflix, or even VHS for that matter. For most, you saw the movies a time or two in theaters, then waited for the next one to come out. In fact, Star Wars was first shown on television in 1984, 7 years AFTER it debuted in theaters and a year after the Return Of The Jedi made its theater run. Being so, it was natural to create your own Star Wars adventures in your backyard or bedroom with the toys. I fondly remember many of those adventures and so do those interviewed in the documentary.
In Plastic Galaxy, you’ll see some of the greatest collections of Star Wars memorabilia ever curated. The interviews with these collectors and Kenner toy designers from the period are particularly interesting. I learned about dozens of rare figures that never made it past prototypes. I also learned about the fall of sales in the Star Wars line after ’85 and the eventual resurgence in the 90s, when I started collecting. The information and research that has gone into the production of this documentary should be commended.
Plastic Galaxy is a must-have for fans of Star Wars and collectors alike. I’ve watched it twice and have picked up on new information both times. The visual archive of Kenner commercials, coupled with first-hand accounts from the designers themselves makes this an easy purchase.
You can purchase Plastic Galaxy: The Story Of Star Wars Toys on Amazon. It comes packed with special features, exclusive information on the Kenner Star Wars line, nostalgia, and childhood memories.