Netflix’s new documentary series The Toys That Made Us celebrates some of the most iconic and influential toy franchises ever to capture the world’s attention and imagination. The show’s first four episodes are streaming now (four more will follow in 2018), and its premiere installment couldn’t be timelier. As Star Wars: The Last Jedi is taking moviegoers back to the Galaxy Far, Far Away, Toys‘ opening hour revels in remembering when George Lucas’ space saga was like nothing anyone had ever seen – or played with – before.
Star Wars toys forever changed the way we play! Check out the opening of our Star Wars episode, streaming now on Netflix! #TTTMU
Posted by The Toys That Made Us on Saturday, December 23, 2017
Over the course of the episode, you’ll see plenty of milestones from Star Wars toy history. You’ll see an empty box from Kenner’s gutsy “Early Bird Certificate Package” (which successfully enticed consumers to put down money for action figures that toy manufacturer Kenner couldn’t deliver until months after the 1977 holiday shopping season). And you’ll see its major Millennium Falcon playset, which sold for the budget-busting price of $24.77 in 1977 (that’s equivalent to $100.06 today).
The prototypes for the infamous Boba Fett mail-away figure are here, too, along with the truth about why, despite stubborn rumors, nobody received one that actually fired a rocket.
And you’ll get to glimpse Star Wars merchandise you may never have known about. One of the episode’s highlights is a whirlwind tour through Steve Sansweet’s Rancho Obi-Wan, which the Guinness record-keepers have certified as the world’s biggest Star Wars memorabilia collection – over 400,000 pieces strong. Where else can you see a Pez dispenser shaped like Jar-Jar Binks sticking his tongue out or the brazenly pirated, hysterically misnamed toys from overseas? (Hey, maybe Blue Stars and Head Man will finally get their time to shine in Episode IX.)
But for all the fun you’ll have seeing Star Wars toy treasures from times past, it’s the interviews with and insights from the people who made them that really make this episode worth watching. As a kid, I never gave a thought to the fact that someone had to be designing these 3 3/4-inch plastic people, their ships, and their settings. This episode introduced me to the real heroes of Kenner’s Star Wars line, people like senior product designer Jim Swearingen – who saw the movie’s potential to hit big even after toy industry giants like Mattel and Hasbro had shown no interest – and design vice-president Dave Okada – who sacrificed one of his brown socks so that the prototype Jawa figure approved by Lucasfilm would be wearing a cloak.
As small and scrappy as the Rebel Alliance, Kenner poured real passion into its Star Wars merchandise. Sure, the movie was “toyetic,” as Kenner president Bernie Loomis said. Its impressive roll call of characters, creatures, vehicles, and gadgets made it a natural fit for toy adaptations.
And of course, they knew a good product would make a good profit. Because Kenner’s initial contract got it 95 cents of every Star Wars toy dollar made, the toymaker’s profit was good indeed. (No wonder George Lucas reportedly called it the dumbest deal ever made in Hollywood.)
But as you watch the designers, modelers, and executives responsible for Kenner’s line talk about their work, you can’t help but believe they were motivated by more than money. As Swearingen says near the episode’s end, they hoped and believed the toys they were making would fire kids’ imaginations so much, those kids would go on to design real spacecraft or other innovations that would help bring this world a little closer to the fantastic universe seen in Star Wars.
Packed with fantastic examples of Star Wars merchandise, as well as plenty of vintage TV commercials and creatively repurposed clips from the movies themselves, this episode of The Toys That Made Us is a strong start to the series that will delight Star Wars fans or toy collectors from any generation.