Once upon a time, kids, getting Star Wars toys for the holidays meant looking forward to an empty box. I don't mean this facetiously, because in the Winter of 1977 when Star Wars mania was at its height (the first time), the movie that would go on to become a phenomenon had precious little merchandising. As a result, ten of thousands of parents were desperate to find something to give to the tens of thousands of children pining anxiously for anything Star Wars-related.
It was Kenner Toys that came up with a novel solution: sell parents the promise of toys to come.
Officially, this was called the "Star Wars Early Bird Kit" and it consisted of a cardboard display stand, a few pieces of cheap swag and a promissory note that four actions figures (Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, R2-D2 and Chewbacca) would arrive in the mail sometime in the near future. This was either the most impudent or most ingenious marketing ploy ever... but since it worked I think we'll have to mark it as the latter.
This holiday season, the children of the world will have no "empty box" worries if my experience today at the local Toys R Us is any indication. Aisle after aisle of Star Wars toys, slickly packaged in an ominous red-and-black veneer, didn't just overwhelm my senses... it crushed them. Curious, I thought, that while in 1977 the movie was devoid of toys, now many of the represented toys are devoid of a movie and will be until Episode 7 hits theaters in December. To the dozens of people I saw purchasing them, however, it didn't seem to matter. They may not know exactly who Captain Phasma is, but at this point Star Wars is religion and merchandise its holy icons. And if you're not ready to snap up Episode 7 toys until you've seen the film, fear not as the whole pantheon is well represented from the first trilogy to the Clone Wars. In fact, the only thing I didn't see was merchandise for the 1978 Star Wars Christmas Special... but maybe that will come too?
I've been an avid Star Wars toy collector since 1977 when I tried to talk my mom into purchasing that "Early Bird Kit." (For the record, she didn't.) But with time I've come to see these toys in a different light. Most of what's out there is dreck and you have to be more circumspect about what you take home. A couple of decades ago I might've at least concentrated my buying power on one line of Episode 7 stuff — probably action figures — but I won't even do that now. Frankly, I know that line will never end I don't want to become the toy equivalent of a crazy cat lady.
But beyond the insane expenditure in time and resources, there's an argument to be made that Star Wars merchandise ceased to be special when it became so ridiculously commonplace. Whether it's the Death Star Chip and Dip bowl set or the Stormtrooper Silicone Oven Mitt or the AT-AT Halloween costume for your dog (all real things), the prevalence of Star Wars merchandise had burned me out. I guess there really can be too much of a good thing.