As Bill Murray’s tune from SNL put it, “If they should bar wars, please let there be Star Wars forever.” It can certainly be said that Star Wars has enjoyed an unprecedented success in toy form that may never end. This year, the baton is taken back up and the toy soldiers are marching again.
Star Wars, a mammoth multimedia franchise began in 1977 with interest ebbing and waning over the decades since. But for some, like toy designer Mark Boudreaux, Star Wars has never truly been over. Replicated in miniature, Star Wars was launched as a toy line that captured the imagination of a generation and remains legendary. For some, these toys have a magical quality that is hard to explain. Even children of today’s digital age are enthralled by them as my own 6 year-old son cites the ’77 Kenner Star Wars action figures as the high water mark for toys.
The latest line of toys heralding the latest installment of the adventure that began long, long ago and far, far away has been made in a style not dissimilar to the classic 3.75 inch line from 1977 with limited articulation and masterful, yet simple detailing rather than super-articulation. The impact is immediate and the toys have been flying off the shelves nationwide.
For older fans, it’s an opportunity to revisit a world from the childhood, but for toy designer Boudreaux, it’s a trip back to the miniature intergalactic trenches of imagination and marketing. Bloomberg News interviewed the celebrity designer on his remarkable history with Star Wars and his bright exciting future.
What follows is an excerpt:
Boudreaux has been behind the scenes all along, crafting Star Wars merchandise since he was a 21-year-old industrial design student at the University of Cincinnati. He landed a paid internship in January 1977 at nearby Kenner Products, which at the time was best known for making dolls based off The Six Million Dollar Man television show. (Yes, the same ones Steve Carell fawned over in The 40-Year-Old Virgin.) A month later, Boudreaux was in a conference room when an executive walked in with a VHS cassette. “He put in the tape, and it was the trailer for Star Wars,” Boudreaux recalls. “We just went bonkers. We had never seen anything like that.”
Kenner scrambled but soon realized there wouldn’t be any Star Wars toys ready in time for Christmas. “It was discussed internally that we should have something that folks could put under the tree, to build that excitement and anticipation,” Boudreaux says.
The solution was selling an empty box marketed as the “Star Wars Early Bird Set,” a sort of IOU from the company that could be redeemed for a real toy later. Kenner, which was acquired by Hasbro in 1991, actually made a television commercial for what amounted to a piece of cardboard that could be folded into a toy display stand. In a sign of just how much of a sensation Star Wars was becoming, parents bought the cardboard in droves. Kids could then send away a certificate from the box to receive four action figures by June 1.
It’s safe to mark this moment as the unofficial beginning of the Star Wars collecting mania. Many of those same kids who unwrapped an empty cardboard box in 1977 are going to be lining up for the first crack at The Force Awakens toys going on sale today. Any collector lucky enough to be holding on to an unredeemed early bird box now can sell the collectible for about $8,000, according to recent EBay auctions.
Now here comes the only exclusive spoiler in this article about the plot of The Force Awakens: There’s no pop-up weapon akin to the Nerf cannon in the version of theMillennium Falcon that appears in the new film, which hits theaters on Dec. 18. And no, Boudreaux admits, even his position as a senior toy designer at Hasbro hasn’t given him enough clout to see the film. As a self-described Star Wars geek, just like all the hard-core fans hoarding toys, he can’t wait to see his muse on the big screen again.
Boudreaux is already making toys for Rogue One, the first spinoff movie for the Star Wars universe, which Disney is expected to release in December 2016. His goal, of course, is to work on Episodes VIII and IX, completing his third trilogy. It’s a toymaking career Boudreaux doesn’t take for granted. He’s a genuine celebrity at places like Comic Con, and he’s made friends with actors from some of the films. Boudreaux has even put his own likeness on the faces of generic action figures, including an anonymous rebel soldier from Return of the Jedi.
“I realize that the position I’m in is once in a lifetime,” he says. “That’s not lost on me.”