Almost 45 years ago on May 25th, 1977, a small movie about an orphan boy, a princess, a scoundrel, a walking carpet, a pair of droids, and an old man against insurmountable odds debuted in movie theaters across the United States, changing cinematic history forever.
Thus, the Star Wars fandom was born.
Exploding overnight, the movie became a multibillion-dollar franchise with 10 more movies on the way (we won’t discuss the Ewok movies), one holiday special, five animated tv shows, three live-action shows (and more in the works), dozens of comic books, novels, video games, two theme parks, a hotel, and it’s own fan convention. The Force was strong with George Lucas.
Star Wars is easily one of the most divisive fandoms globally – the running joke is that no one hates Star Wars more than Star Wars fans – but it’s also one of the greatest. There’s an unmatched camaraderie among the fans, and frankly, I wouldn’t have met some of my closest friends if it wasn’t for The Mandalorian or Star Wars as a whole.
Several years ago, I worked at a Star Wars-only toy store and was surrounded by these toys daily, from retro to modern, I saw it all! I once sold a Darth Vader collector’s item worth $20,000 and I was even able to see animation cells from the Ewoks TV show.
But the products I loved the most were the promotional ones. I guess you could say Star Wars might have even sparked my passion for promotional products! So, in celebration of May 4th (Star Wars Day), the 45th anniversary of A New Hope’s release, and the 20th anniversary of the Attack of the Clones, I’ve compiled just some of the most popular Star Wars promotional products to share here!
1. Pepsi R2 cooler
A staple in nearly every retro collectibles store across the U.S., this R2 cooler was sent to gas stations by Pepsi to promote the release of the Special Edition films in theaters in 1996 (which also sparked the Han Shot First controversy).
2. The Early Bird Set
Unable to keep up with production while facing incredibly high demand, Kenner, the original manufacturer of Star Wars toys, was not going to be able to get toys on the shelves in time for Christmas. To avoid missing out on the revenue from the holiday buying season, the team at Kenner came up with the idea of a mail-away form so parents could have something wrapped to give their kids on Christmas morning (an essentially empty cardboard box with stickers inside). Parents would send the form along with their money to Kenner, and when the toys were ready, they would be mailed to the lucky kid! The set came with Luke, Leia, Chewie, and R2 as well as a special display stand (that you also had to mail in for), and could put all your figures on for everyone to admire.
3. Shelf Talkers
Kids went absolutely NUTS for Star Wars toys and these promotional shelf talkers were a way to capture kids’ (and parents’) attention and direct them to the Star Wars section at the toy store.
4. The Empire Strikes Back Norwegian Team Jackets
When we pick back up on our heroes’ adventure in The Empire Strikes Back, we find them on Hoth’s ice planet. Filmed on location in Norway, the cast and crew were given these promotional jackets to help protect them from the bitter cold.
5. Blue Harvest Rain Jackets
Did you know that Blue Harvest was the studio code name for Return of the Jedi? These rain jackets were given out to the cast and crew of the film while they were on location at the Redwood National Forest in California.
6. Burger King Glasses
When compiling this list, I asked my Star Wars collecting community friends what promotional products THEY love. Unanimously it was the Burger King glasses. Gracing kitchen cupboards everywhere in the 80s, these glasses were given as promotional items to every person who purchased a drink. They were made for all three of the original movies.
7. Jango Fett Pepsi Nex Be@rBrick Keychain
This one is from my own personal collection and one of my favorites! This keychain was given out during Star Wars Celebration Japan in 2008 to promote Pepsi Nex Products.
8. A Whole Car
For the 2016 release of Rogue One, Lucasfilm and Nissan paired up to make a special edition 2017 Nissan Rogue (only 5,000 made!). Not only did it include fun little Star Wars Easter eggs, but purchasers of the car would also receive a limited edition full-sized Death Trooper helmet statuette and keychain.
9. The Child Fanny Pack
The newest one on our list, this cute little fanny pack/sling featuring an adorable plush Grogu was originally supposed to be available for purchase at Star Wars Celebration 2020. Obviously, that event was canceled so they were released online for a limited time purchase for those with tickets.
10. The Times Square I Heart Lego Event
Seemingly appearing overnight a life-sized replica of Luke’s X-Wing appeared in Times Square. This minifig Yoda was a giveaway at the nearby Lego store with the purchase of the smaller and more manageable Lego X-Wing.
11. Toys-R-Us Naboo Starfighter
Another staple that seems to appear in retro toy stores across the U. S., this Naboo Starfighter was a display that hung from the ceiling at Toys-R-Us to promote Episode 1: The Phantom Menace.
12. Mail-Away Boba Fett
My personal holy grail – the Mail-Away Boba Fett. Kids would get a free Boba Fett with the purchase of any four Star Wars figures and get the action figure before anyone else. Kids would cut out the proof of purchase to send into Kenner and in return receive Boba Fett back. The Mail-Away Boba Fett has become a bit of an urban legend these days as Kenner notoriously removed the rocket firing aspect of the toy before they sent them out citing choking hazards. Some people will claim they received one in the mail, however, no rocket-firing Bobas ever made it into kids’ hands and the only ones that do exist are prototypes that can be found at Ranchero Obi-Wan (the largest Star Wars collection in the world) or in private collections.
So what do you think? Do you remember some of these promotional items or did I miss any that you think would make a great addition to this list? Let me know in the comments below! Do these items have you feeling a little nostalgic? Check out our blog on Retro Promo Products here.
May The Force Be With You.