Christmas is prime time for toy sales, but one particular set of toys is receiving special attention this holiday season.
With the upcoming release of arguably one of the most anticipated films ever, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, there has been extra interest in the franchise that led the charge in toy merchandising for movies.
Co-owners of Mystery Toys Angel and Sandy Kamps have differing recollections for their first Star Wars memories, but Sandy remembers the toys before anything else.
“For me it was mostly the Return of the Jedi figures and a lot of the older ones released around the same time,” Sandy said. “My parents literally bought a shopping cart full of them for us and we ripped into them and played with all of them.”
Angel is Sandy’s younger sister, and her recollection of her experience differs slightly.
“My brothers would always be watching the original trilogy. To me, as a kid back then, it was just a boring space thing,” Angel said.
She identified with Anakin Skywalker in Episode One; the Phantom Menace, being younger when the prequel trilogy launched in 1999.
“I didn’t really watch the original trilogy all together until just a couple years ago. Now I’m like, how did I live without it? It’s my favourite thing now. I don’t get excited about many movies, but (The Force Awakens) has me doing the happy dance,” Angel said.
One woman came in looking for Star Wars toy for a young child during the interview and walked away with an age-appropriate version of Luke’s X-34 land speeder.
“There have been lots of people in looking for Star Wars stuff recently. I guess it’s in everyone’s head and so everyone has been looking. A lot of them have been looking for the original characters,” Angel said.
They recently sold an original 12-inch C-3PO figure to a man for his six-year-old son, a passing of the torch Sandy said.
“It’s going on to a totally new generation of kids, it’s awesome,” said Sandy, who will be taking his kids to the new movie when it opens this weekend. “Kids that age aren’t even familiar with Episode One (The Phantom Menace).”
The franchise has long been heralded for leading the way as far as merchandising, and Star Wars creator George Lucas is often called smart or lucky for taking less pay on the original film in exchange for merchandising rights.
“The toys really kept it alive I think,” Angel said.
Leading up to and after the release of A New Hope in 1977, one of the biggest names in the toy business at the time, Mego, passed on Star Wars and Kenner Products stepped in. Not much was expected of Star Wars at the time prior to the release.
The Kenner toys were not exactly on par with what figures looked like at the time, selling smaller figures, but more of them along with scene backdrops.
“(Kenner) weren’t the first ones to do that size of a figure, but they did it so they were able to make all the play sets create a world you could play with your figures in,” Sandy said. “Because of that it just took off so huge. Instead of having a bunch of eight-inch or 12-inch figures with little accessories, you have all these guys and massive play sets, so you literally set up your whole room like that if your parents could afford it.”
Sandy thinks the toys and merchandising were part of the secret to Star Wars long-lasting success.
Mystery Toys has many of the reissues of action figures in the late 1990s to coincide with release of the digitally remastered original trilogy. The toys were sold to Mystery Toys by a collector who used to run a toy museum in Keremeos.
Toys from the mid-1980s are the rarest, following the lull after the release of Return of the Jedi and before the remastered original trilogy in the 1990s. The figures released in the late 1990s put the franchise back under Christmas trees and into the public sphere once again.
The new film, directed by J.J. Abrams, opens with early screenings in Penticton on Dec. 17. It has Sandy as excited as his sister, though after his experience with the prequel trilogy it is a tentative excitement.
“So far, with Disney owning the franchise, I haven’t seen anything bad. I’ve seen tons of merchandising of course. The previews look very good. Harrison Ford is in it, I don’t think at this point he’d do something to tarnish his career,” Sandy said.
While the reviews are not in, one thing is for sure, the legacy of Star Wars toys will hold a place in the hearts and minds of many children at heart.
“You could open up a place that was nothing but Star Wars and you would be in business all the time. That’s probably the only franchise you could actually do that with,” Sandy said.
Only 17 seats were remaining for the first showing at 7:20 p.m. Dec. 17 as of press time. There are four showings on Dec. 17 starting at 7:20 p.m., 7:40 p.m., 10:20 p.m. and 10:40 p.m.
Tickets can be purchased online at www.landmarkcinemas.com or at the theatre.