2017.77: Plastic Story: The Story of Star Wars Toys (2014)
When Star Wars finally came across to our UK shore in Christmas 1977, it rolled out across the regions in early 1978- so by the time it came to my local Odeon in town I was twelve years old. So really any possible interest in the Star Wars figures and toys by Kenner (Palitoy I think over here) was nixed by me being just too old and sophisticated. Although I loved Star Wars, I was more interested in the Marvel comics, the model-kits and the soundtrack and ‘story-of’ albums, and all the kiddies toy stuff passed me by. So I have always been a little ambivalent to the long-running geek culture surrounding those Kenner toys of the original trilogy run.
The chief pleasure for me watching this documentary then, was just the sheer nostalgia for that period, those old point-of-sale items, the old tv ads, the kitsch aspects of the plastic toys and the slightly uncomfortable mania of the collectors interviewed in the film who have back rooms and basements clearly set up like shrines to the original trilogy toys and their own lost childhoods. It’s a little sad, a little bit like a religious mania unique to our commercial age. But I’m certainly not one to criticize- different strokes for different folks, after all, and it’s all a matter of degree and I’m sure largely painless. These guys loved Star Wars as kids and that connection with a film is something I have shared over the years, God knows, and the culture of collecting something connected to that is something that differs clearly by degree. It’s quite fascinating, that whole thing of buying/collecting physical objects that offer some way of re-connecting with a time and a place and a particular pleasure long gone. Afterall, I still have my Star Wars OST cassette from 1978, and my original Blade Runner VHS tape.
It’s interesting really just how much of an impact Star Wars had back then, something that continues to this day, although it has long since lost any of the innocence it might have once laid claim to.
This is one of the doc’s most fascinating points- that nothing like Star Wars had happened before, on a merchandising and cultural level, and that Kenner, who almost reluctantly stumbled on the licensing deal after bigger toy companies had passed on it, suddenly found itself in a No Mans Land and with a huge money-maker (the figures are gobsmacking). There is a very real case of it being uncharted territory and the toy designers, several of which are candidly interviewed here, learning as they went along and being a part of something much bigger than they could know.
So it’s a fun documentary and well worth a watch for Star Wars fans even if you were, like me, simply too old and sophisticated at the grand old age of twelve to be seen playing with those strange little plastic figures. I mean, what would girls say?
(The bitter irony being, I never really had much ensuing success with the girls back then, a geek is a geek and easily caught out by feminine appraisal, so I might as well bought/collected those toys anyway. If I’d been incredibly smart and kept them in the blister packs unplayed with, I’d possibly even be a rich man now. That’s life I guess. Someone find me a time machine… A Delorean will do….).