Star Wars merchandise has become nearly as big as the films themselves.
Most fans think back to the early days of Kenner and the toys that launched with the saga but for me…it was that wave of merch in the late 90s, after all I did grow up in the prequel era.
The Phantom Menace came out when I was in kindergarten (1999) and it unleashed a MASSIVE line of merchandising and marketing that I feel hasn’t been seen to that scale since. There was dozens of characters from the film who were given figures, there was fast food toys at multiple restaurants (more on that later), there was a toy set for nearly every scene, multiple video games, and so much more! We’ll try to get to all of that…
Let’s start with the goddamn fast food toys. SO this is something I have an odd nostalgia for. I remember going into Taco Bell, KFC, or Pizza Hut as a kid and getting the Phantom Menace toys. Upon entering there was posters and standees everywhere, soda cups with characters on them, and of course the toys for the kids meals. Each restaurant had it’s own unique list of toys depending on what planet it corresponded to. Taco Bell was Tattooine, KFC was Naboo, and Pizza Hut was Coruscant.
I was more of a Taco Bell kid I guess so I had nearly all the toys from there, then I had a couple from KFC and Pizza Hut. These were some quality kids meal toys too! We aren’t talking about those cheap ones they hand out these days. The crown jewel of the lot was the Jar Jar that when you raised his arms his long ass tongue came all the way out. My next favorite was probably the Naboo submarine squirt gun. Classics!
Another big thing I remember was the marketing through Pepsi products. Pepsi cans were riddled with Star Wars awesomeness! There was nothing like grabbing a Mountain Dew with Captain Panaka on it. They got deep with the characters for these things too, with people like Ric Olie and Chancellor Valorum.
I swear I wasn’t the size of Jabba the Hut with all this talk of fast food and soda.
It’s unbelievable the amount of merch there was for this movie, it makes sense since it was the big return of Star Wars but still. The Rise of Skywalker only had marketing on things like yogurt, cereal, and some terrible McDonald’s toy things..maybe it’s because I’m more nostalgic over the stuff from ‘99 but it just doesn’t seem the same. Even the toy line with TRoS wasn’t that strong, they promised they’ll be more but we’ve yet to see it.
Anyways, 1999 was a trip in terms of Star Wars stuff and I love looking back on it. I recently went to visit my parents and ended up digging through the basement to find some of my old merch, it was quite the mission.
Honorable mention: I probably won’t do a post on the merchandise of Episode II or III so I’ll just stick this here. Does anyone remember those Frito Lay puzzle pieces?!?!