“He was a smart businessman, George Lucas, He really knew what he was doing,” says Brian Stillman, director of the documentary “Plastic Galaxy,” and it’s an observation that, while obvious, tends to get overlooked in discussions about “Star Wars.” Yes, the sci-fi adventure movie helped change the multiplex landscape forever, but in addition to being a well-executed piece of popcorn, it arguably lives on thanks to the savvy efforts of Lucas and the marketing team behind the movie. And a recent Wired podcast goes deep into the empire that has earned $37 billion to date, with no signs of slowing down.
Joined by Chris Taylor, author of the new book “How Star Wars Conquered the Universe,” they talk about the many decisions that led to “Star Wars” becoming a behemoth at the bank. And in one fascinating example, a toy manufacturer came up with a clever solution to meet the demand for the unexpected runaway success of “Star Wars” during the crucial Christmas holiday season.
“…Kenner approached the whole thing with easy-to-produce, inexpensive-to-produce objects like games, paper products, things that were cheap. And when they saw how successful ‘Star Wars’ was, pretty quickly they realized they had to have toys. Well, at the time it took about a year to get a toy onto the stands,” Stillman explains. “They realized they’d never make it in time for Christmas. ‘Star Wars’ came out in May, it’s only a few months away, so what they did was — it’s kind of the brilliance of a guy named Ed Schifman, who pitched this idea to Kenner and to the president Bernie Loomis — which was, what if we release a ‘redemption kit’? Essentially an empty box. It was called the Early Bird Certificate Package, and you got an empty cardboard envelope, and in it was a little certificate you could mail away, and then Kenner would send you the figures when they were ready, which turned out to be around February or March. So for Christmas you’d run downstairs, tear open the wrapping paper, and you’d get a piece of cardboard.”
It’s a fascinating talk, with discussions of how the introduction of secondary characters became kind of an insurance policy if any of the lead actors — Mark Hamill, and Harrison Ford in particular — got injured or couldn’t come back to reprise their roles in the sequels. It also touches upon Lucas’ own investment in “Star Wars” when studio funding would only go so far. Give a listen below or download it here.