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So it’s taken quite a bit longer than I planned on to get back to another installment of my unproduced Star Wars gems. But here at last is the untold story of the promotion that you never got to see, and what a doozy it is! A couple of caveats right off the bat: I did not actually have anything to do with this promotion. It was developed and presented by another marketing agency in the wake of the Star Wars Trilogy re-release in 1997 as a possible idea to launch the Prequels, in specific Episode I.  So most of this is strictly going from my memory of how it was explained to me. And the bag illustration at right is just something I whipped up based on what it might have looked like. Cool?

In the wake of the big hits of the Lay’s Spirit of Obi-Wan offer in 1996 and the  Froot Loops Stormtrooper Han Solo in 1995, Lucasfilm wanted another big product tie-in to push Episode I on the masses. Unfortunately for the marketing gurus, pretty much every brand under the sun would be also launching Episode I promotions at the same time. Pepsi cans, Pizza Hut boxes, Taco Bell toys, and KFC cups were just the tip of the iceberg of what would probably be the largest promotional movie launch ever to be seen. Multiple companies pitched ideas to Frito-Lay as to what their big promotion would be, one that would stand out from all the other Star Wars items on grocery shelves and most importantly, what would sell more bags of chips. Keep in mind that Pepsi/TriCon/Frito-Lay paid up to $2 Billion for the license, so you better believe they needed to move product to make that worthwhile.

So what was pitched was this: trading on the success of the Spirit of Obi-Wan, each bag of chips would have a mini-figure inside it. There would be 128 (!) different figures to collect, from Episode I and the Original Trilogy. Not only that, but there would be a handful of rare figures, and a possible mail-away display case for all of them. Talk about an incentive to buy chips! And you have to think back to how it was in 1998: still relatively little Star Wars product was out there, and you had a ravenous base of fans who were desperate for new items to collect! And these would hit months before the movie actually came out, so it didn’t rely on how well the movie was anyway. It really was the only time this program could have been pulled off and been a massive success (and anyone who doubts it would have been a success didn’t go through the pain that was the initial Hasbro Midnight Madness launch!) But Lucasfilm pulled way back on promotions for the next two films, so this was the one shot it had.

Ok, so if I didn’t work on this at all, how do I know about it? Well, my company was contacted to help out a bit on the toy aspect of it, and make some prototypes for the pitch itself. This was fun, if a bit frustrating as we couldn’t affect any details of the actual promotion, just what the figures might be. And that in itself was a challenge; to be fiscally viable, each figure could only cost a few cents! So much of the work we did was exploring the possibilities with such a limited budget.

We had Gentle Giant sculpt and cast a few sample figures. You can see how fragile these had made resin figures are; I don’t think any of the Luke’s lightsabers survived the first time we moved them around. One way to save money was to have limited paint on each one. To save even more, we could have them as only one color. We also experimented with themed materials, as seen below: Luke is a sandstone finish, Leia is pearlescent white, and Yoda is glow in the dark! Another possibility would be for each figure to have a flat back with a peg that would plug into a cardboard diorama that featured a background from the respective movie that the character is from. These dioramas could then be fitted into each other, making one long scene when all connected. The backs of the dioramas would have character/film information on them.

 

 

But even then the cost might have been too high for Frito-Lays’ tastes. If that were the case, we also had a back-up plan: two-dimensional characters that would be die-cut from styrene that could plug into "puzzle bases" that you could make a large display out of.  The bottom of the bases would have added info about each character. The art would either be photos from the films or would be drawn by popular comic artists as almost 3-D trading cards. These samples were drawn by Art Nichols and myself (and I had to cut A LOT of these by hand the night before the presentation…not fun!)

 

So why did you never see these on store shelves? Well, unfortunately the simple answer is that back then it was hard to explain just how big the collector base had become. Frito-Lay executives thought that it didn’t have a big enough payoff apparently, and they went with an instant win game with a limited number of game pieces that had the same movie pics that everyone was using. But it had one million dollar winner, and they felt that was a bigger draw than a tiny plastic figure. But what they just couldn’t grasp was that the chance in millions to be that one winner was no going to drive you to buy more chips. But you would if you were trying to collect 128 different figures!!! Hasbro proved the viability of the mini-figure idea nearly 10 years later with their 2006 Star Wars Saga mini Hologram pack-ins (one of which is shown in some pics above for scale). We tried to explain to them why the collectibility aspect would sell more chips, even if it had less of a surface "wow" factor, but they didn’t get it. We talked about seeding in some gold Yodas that could be redeemed for an instant full collection OR $1000. And we even talked about posing online as a wealthy collector who offered $5000 to the first person who could put together a full set for him. ;) Not sure if we could have gotten away with that one…

So that’s this installment of regrets from my past. Sorry for the huge watermarks on  all the pics, but the last one of these I ran ended up with lots of folks just taking the pics for their websites without a link back here. At least one more Rejected! Star Wars article to come, probably two!

 


Posted by Jason Geyer [8] Comments
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When I first started collecting toys back around 1990 I would run into other collectors sporadically (this being in the dark days before the internet collecting community at large had coalesced around USENET, for the most part). One way I would know that they were die-hard toy hunters was that they had had "The Dream". Usually this centered around Star Wars, but every collector who I talked with had it at one point or another after they had become totally immersed in hunting down old toys.

 

Make no mistake, The Dream never involved new toys. It always started with you being in a store (most likely a store that no longer existed, frequently a department store that still had a toy section) and as you wander through the store you find all the toys you wish were still there brand new on the shelves. And tons of them: the first 12-back Star Wars figures, all MOC. The original run of Master of the Universe. The 3rd wave of Super Powers. Maybe a Bionic Bigfoot, or Micronauts vehicle peeking around the endcap. And even better, toys that were never made! A vintage Tie Bomber! A Bantha playset!  A whole rack of He-Ro figures!

And then you wake up.

Well, I didn’t have that dream often, but I did have it. Up until about 12 years ago, that is. And then it went away, probably because nothing was hard to find anymore thanks to eBay, and everything you wish had been made in the 1970s was now being made in the present day. But last night, I had the dream again! Sorta…

I dreamt that I was buying Marvel Universe figures. And not just the ones I’ve been passing up, but ones we haven’t seen yet, like the Lizard, and Juggernaut, and Wendigo. And even better, there were a lot of DC characters there too: Superman, Joker, Killer Croc, Blue Devil. All sculpted just like the MU figures. Now, I don’t know what this means. I’m in the process of dumping most of my toy collection for good, and I surely don’t need anything new outside of DCUC to take my money these days. 

But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t do some mental calculations about just how much it would cost to catch up on the MU figures as soon as I woke up…


Posted by Jason Geyer [14] Comments
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Ok. So there isn’t a modern line of toys out there today that doesn’t have flaws, something for the average collector and/or fan to be aggrieved about when they inspect their new purchase.

I know I’ve found them.  Loose joints, bad paint masks, bad tampo printing, oversprays, mold marks, splatters, frozen joints, scuffs, nicks, and on and on.

These things used to really bother me. I mean, really, really bother me, in an OCD/can’t stop fixating on them way. But now, today, they don’t anymore. Because I’ve come to a realization: flaws are inherent in the manufacturing process. They’ve always been there. The toys haven’t changed…I’VE changed. And it’s not just me.

When did this happen? When did we, as collectors, start expecting perfection in a cheap, mass produced item? When did toys stop being toys, and start being "works of art"?  Was it when McFarlane pushed the boundaries of sculpting and modling in the late 90s? Was it when toy companies stopped targeting kids and started catering coley to adult fans? Was it the advances in molding technologies that allowed sculpts to be incredibly intricate while the painting and manufacting processes haven’t changed as much? I don’t know. But I do know my memories of always being this demanding are faulty. 

Now, before I go further, let me clarify the difference between "flaws" and "bad decisions". I’m not talking about figures that look like bootlegs, or that can’t stand due to engineering mistakes, or ones that have clear mistakes, like two left legs.  Those are problems. Scale differences are not flaws. Painted detailsinstead of sculpted details are not flaws. $5 figures priced at $10 are not flaws. 

That said, it took Cantina Dan’s awesome blog that compared old figures to new figures to really open my eyes that figures have been far, far worse in general in the past few decades than they are now. I think when we have such high standards now for sculpts and articulation, when there are flaws it is that much more glaring to the critical eye. I’m not caring too much if Bob the Goon has a lazy eye, but the Riddler better damn well have multiple crisp, clean question marks on his jacket!

But you know what?  I’ve been focusing on things that just don’t matter, even at my nerdy collector level. I’ve now realized that once these guys are displayed on a shelf, especially if they overlap each other in a tight group, I can’t see those flaws, even if I look hard. Yeah, my Metallo’s legs didn’t fit in the sockets. But superglue fixed that real quick. Yeah, the Eradicator’s goggles aren’t clear. But his eyes don’t really work, do they? Yeah, Shazam’s ankles have a bright red overspray. but who is looking at his ankles?!? I look back at my Toy Biz figures from the 90s, and wonder why I wasn’t enraged when those were out of scale, or badly painted, or had crazy articulation that didn’t make sense. I dunno, I just liked that I got a Swarm, and a Stegron, and Spat & Grovel (well, maybe not the Spat & Grovel!).

 

So look closely at the picture above and tell me what you really see: is it a bunch of figures that just aren’t as cool as they possibly could be, or is it sheer amazement that we have figures of all of these characters in the same year? I know what my answer is, and I’m all the happier for it.

 


Posted by Jason Geyer [26] Comments
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SUCCOTASH!!!


Posted by Jason Geyer [4] Comments
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Oh, did I say Star Trek review? I meant my presentation of the amazing cross between "Planet of the Apes" and  "Stop, Look, and Listen": the halucinatory classic, "One Got Fat".

I’ve worked for the past 48 hours with only 2 for sleep, so I didn’t see Star Trek. 

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Enjoy, you Star Trek watching bastards!

  


Posted by Jason Geyer [3] Comments
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Posted by Jason Geyer [7] Comments
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