If you’ve ever owned a light saber, a Han Solo action figure, or a Darth Maul Halloween mask, you’re part of the never-ending Star Wars memorabilia culture. And with the re-launching of the Star Wars Franchise through Disney’s purchase of LucasFilm, you can expect newer, bigger and better toys and games and clothing and collectibles and who knows what else to be at your local toy store sooner rather than later.
A little back story to explain this phenomenon. Prior to the release of the first movie (Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope) in 1977, toy companies were not very interested in getting licensing rights for what they viewed as another run-of-the-mill science fiction film. Twentieth Century Fox, the studio behind the film, approached several well-known companies including Mattel (which made the Barbie doll), and Hasbro (which was famous for G.I. Joe). None of the companies was interested because, at the time, George Lucas was a relatively unknown director and the cast of the movie was made up of actors no one knew. (Yes, it’s true. Harrison Ford was once a nobody.)
Enter Kenner Products and their president, Bernie Loomis. Kenner at the time was making action figures of the Six Million Dollar Man (a television hit of the 1970s) and thought the Star Wars characters might have potential. So they signed a deal with Fox that gave them the exclusive rights to market and sell all the toys related to the new movie. What followed next is collectible merchandising history and leads us to today when virtually any toy store you enter has a dedicated aisle or sometimes an entire section just for Star Wars merchandise.
According to a book called Star Wars: The Ultimate Action Figure Collection, there have been more than 2,500 Star Wars action figures produced since 1977. The book was written by Stephen Sansweet, who owns the world’s largest private collection of Star Wars memorabilia which is housed at Rancho Obi-Wan, a nonprofit public benefit corporation that “serves the public through the collection, conservation, exhibition and interpretation of Star Wars memorabilia and artifacts”. I cannot make this stuff up.
Besides the merchandising, there are Star Wars rides at the Disneyworld and Disneyland theme parks. Each year for the last 10 years, Disney’s Hollywood Studios hosts Star Wars Weekends in May and June in which celebrity guests (usually the lesser known actors, like Warwick Davis who played Wicket Warrick and Ray Park who played Darth Maul attend the weekends to sign autographs and take pictures). Of course, there is event-specific merchandise that includes limited edition trading pins and clothing and posters. (On a side note, I will say that I was in Orlando for a convention a few years ago during one of the Star Wars Weekends and the entire experience is astonishing to watch. These people who attend are dedicated and knowledgeable fans, let me assure you of that.)
And now multiple sources are saying that Disneyland visitors are being sent an online survey when they return home asking how interested they’d be in visiting a Star Wars-themed land at Disneyland? This sounds similar in concept to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal/Orlando that, since its debut in June 2010, has been the star attraction of the theme park. It’s hard to believe that a Star Wars land in Anaheim (or even Orlando) would be any less popular. If time has proven anything, it’s that Star Wars fans are as dedicated and committed a bunch of people as has ever bought an action figure.