Do you sense a disturbance in the Force? Maybe that’s because May 25 will be the 40th anniversary of the original release of Star Wars in theaters in 1977. To celebrate this auspicious occasion, we’ll be posting Star Wars stories all month, including choice vintage interviews, original videos, and some of our favorite pieces from years past, like this one below, that first ran in 2015. Just keep coming back here all month to see what’s happening in our galaxy.
With the 40th anniversary of Star Wars approaching, we’re thinking back to our childhoods. Specifically, we’re remembering those ads for the original Kenner Star Wars action figures and playlets, in which boys with bowl cuts enthusiastically acted out scenes from the films. High-quality commercials from the ‘70s and ‘80s can be hard to find (those VHS tracking lines are merciless), but lucky for us, a YouTube user named 12BACK has posted remastered versions of over 100 vintage commercials for toys based on Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. Watch our five favorites, above, and read on to find out why they made the cut.
5. Hoth Wampa and R2-D2 with Sensorscope — In this gleefully inaccurate commercial for Empire Strikes Back toys, the characters from snowy Hoth frolic on a sunny beach, and the film’s growling snow monster greets his enemies by yelling, “Wampa! Wampa! WAMPA!” A separate commercial advertised the Tauntaun, which had an “open belly feature” allowing Luke to slide into its dead body for warmth.
4. Boba Fett Mail-Order Action Figure — Here’s an ad that gives us a good look at some of the very first Star Wars action figures, plus the notorious mail-order Boba Fett. (It was originally advertised with a firing rocket, which had already been eliminated for “safety reasons” by the time this commercial aired.) If you had a mail-order bounty hunter in your childhood collection, your parents really loved you.
3. Creature Cantina — The early Star Wars toy commercials didn’t use music from the actual films, so they all had soundalike tunes — like this ad for the Cantina playset, scored with jaunty music that appears to have been rejected from The Sting soundtrack. This New Hope toy lacks the fun details of future play sets like the Ewok Village and Dagobah (see above), but it does have moving platforms that allow the action figures to knock each other down. And yes, Han pushed first.
2. Dagobah Action Playset — This ad for a Return of the Jedi swamp-planet play set shows just how much fun these low-tech Star Wars toys could be: The tree-like environment included a bog for Luke to sink into, a cave for Yoda, and a place where Vader and Luke could have their hallucinatory duel. Best of all, hidden “action levers” could levitate the action figures and accessories as Luke learned to harness the power of The Force.
1. Lando Calrissian, Han Solo, Ugnaught, and Lobot Action Figures — This ad probably should have come with a spoiler warning, since it totally give away two major Empire Strikes Back plot points: Lando’s betrayal of the Rebels, and Han being frozen in carbonite. But it gets major props for the kids’ DIY version of Cloud City, composed of kitchen canisters and a water-glass-and-twine freezing chamber.
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