With the annual Toy Fair set to invade New York City on Monday, the new Star Wars
line is ready to premiere.
There's a cool new voice-changer Boba Fett helmet
and a spinning General Grievous lightsaber
. Those are the kind of Star Wars collectibles that have a good chance of being a hit with the kids -- but over the years, Star Wars global licensing sometimes pushed the boundaries of merchandising into a more ridiculous galaxy even further away from taste and reason.
Case in point: a Japanese-made porcelain C3PO tape dispenser that allows droid enthusiasts to pull sticky stuff out of C3PO's crotch. Needless to say, the product did not sit well with R2D2.
Read on for more examples of merchandising at ludicrous speed and a bit of explanation from the man who own his own Star Wars collectible archive.
Steve Sansweet, Director of Content Management and Fan Relations for Lucasfilm, is the grand archive manager for everything in the Star Wars collectible galaxy. He possesses one of the largest private collections of Lucasian merchandise and literally wrote the book ("Star Wars: 1,000 Collectibles: Memorabilia and Stories From a Galaxy Far, Far Away
") on the endless sea of stuff from a galaxy, far, far away.
"The simple fact is one man's kitsch is another man's cool," Sansweet told Asylum from the Lucasfilm HQ in San Francisco's Presidio
. "We have a licensing department that evaluates new product submissions. They're very dedicated to preserving the brand. I collect and catalog what they approve."
But, Sansweet admits there are occasional disturbances in the merchandising Force.
During the lead up to the first Star Wars prequel, "The Phantom Menace,"
there was an ill-fated effort to popularize several products based on Jar Jar Binks. Sansweet calls the reaction to Binks "mixed," but let's face it -- everybody hates Jar Jar, and no one rushed out to Toys R Us to remind themselves of how annoying he was.
"Some licensing companies seemed to think Jar Jar's tongue would be iconic, so there were several products built around that," Sansweet said. "There was a 'wacky wall walker' Jar Jar tongue sold in Europe."
But, there's no conceivable explanation as to how the Lucas licensing legion signed off on the Jar Jar Binks Candy Tongue (above). Apparently, someone thought kids would enjoy French-kissing an intellectually challenged bipedal dinosaur. And no one at Lucasfilm realized they approved a fruit-flavored sexual aid.
"One product that did get turned down was from a German paper manufacturer," Sansweet explained. "For the prequels, the company wanted to produce Star Wars toilet paper. It was going to have Yoda on it with the slogan, 'Wipe out the Dark Side.'"
It seems that a lot of the merchandise that doesn't quite click comes from outside of the U.S. -- where most things suck. For example, the Regal Toy Company in Canada put out a series of fuzzy Chewbacca toys in the 1980s. The set included a hand puppet
that was essentially a mass of hair worthy of a 1970s porn flick, equipped with a big pink mouth.
Not every merchandising misstep has an adult connotation. Some bother kids, too.
"In 1995, there hadn't been new Star Wars action figures in years," Sansweet said. "So Hasbro convinced Lucasfilm that kids would only buy figures that resembled He-Man toys. So, they produced figures of Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia -- all muscled up with oversize heads and hands. The proportions of Leia were so distorted that fans remember her always as 'Monkey Faced Leia
These days, Lucasfilm Licensing seems to get it right more often than not, which we can all agree is very good news for C3PO's dignity.