Back in the late ‘90s — when the Internet as we now know it was still in its relative infancy — many Star Wars collectors gathered on newsgroups and crude message boards to enjoy their newfound ability to connect with one another.
With eBay still in its formative years, “transactions” were still largely done on a one-to-one basis, with collectors listing off their extras and trying to work out trades. This was at times cumbersome and risky, but between the intimacy and the lack of any trusted value system, the experience carried the air of an awesome (if virtual) flea market.
Among the more esoteric treasures popular in those days was a VHS compilation of Kenner’s old Star Wars toy commercials. Talk about a hot ticket item! As incredible as it was to reclaim our long lost action figures, the chance to see the original TV commercials — which even by that point were nearing 20 years old — seemed downright magical.
Remember, this was the era of limited bandwidth and dial-up connections. Video files weren’t often shared online. Nowadays, you’d be hardpressed to think of anything that couldn’t be found with a bit of digging, and as far as old television commercials go, YouTube is always just a click away.
In fact, nearly all of Kenner’s ancient Star Wars ads are now on YouTube. As someone who once waited weeks for a shaky VHS compilation that broke after three plays, the convenience still amazes me. If you’re an old school Star Wars collector, set aside a few hours and search YouTube for vintage Kenner commercials. Trust me, the nostalgia will hit you like a hundred pound hammer.
Here’s a small sampling of what you’ll find:
Mail-Away Survival Kit!
During Kenner’s big push for the then-new Empire Strikes Back figures, kids could mail away for a “free” action figural survival kit. (“Free” is in quotes because you had to supply five proofs of purchase to get it!)
The set included various guns, backpacks and accessories — most notably a “grappling hook” that let kids recreate the scene where Luke Skywalker sliced away at an AT-AT’s metal stomach.
This commercial was a perfect example of Kenner’s ability to make our imaginations run wild. Notice how they built the entire “Rancor arena” out of materials kids might’ve found in their own backyards. It’s a safe bet that many young Star Wars fans tried to do the same — likely much to their parents’ chagrin!
Tauntaun and Wampa!
Here’s one of the most famous of all Kenner commercials, thanks to that kid who “portrayed” the wampa figure by repeatedly screaming its name. Even fans who haven’t seen this commercial in 35 years still quote it! Earworms know many forms, I suppose.
Boba Fett Mail-Away Offer!
Boba Fett didn’t “become” a cult favorite — he was kind of born one. Introduced as the first Empire Strikes Back figure long before film debuted, he was fans’ first glimpse at how the Star Wars universe would be expanding. The figure would of course become even more popular once we finally saw the bounty hunter ply his trade, but this mail-away offer went a long way in establishing his long-lauded mystique.
Jabba the Hutt Action Playset!
Promoting one of my most cherished vintage Star Wars toys, this is another commercial that truly captured what it was like to play with action figures back then: A little bit of roughhousing mixed with some questionable character impressions.
The Jabba the Hutt Action Playset was my #1 must-have toy from the Return of the Jedi era, and I’d like to think that it was at least partially thanks to these two kids skipping homework to play Star Wars.
The Emperor Mail-Away Offer!
Yet another mail-away exclusive (Kenner sure seemed to love those, huh?), the Emperor would later be released in stores as a regular retail item. Personally, I couldn’t wait that long. This was the big bad, after all. The only character in the entire Star Wars universe that even Darth Vader had to kowtow to!
The six-week wait felt like six years, but when my new Emperor figure arrived — fit snugly in a plain white mailer — he immediately took his rightful position as capo di tutti capi on my bedroom floor.
The commercials featured above barely scrape the surface of what you’ll find on YouTube. It’s a real trip to rediscover a big part of what made us all such Star Wars fanatics in the first place, so if you’re so inclined, start searching!
(Just don’t blame me when watching these old ads inspires you to spend way too much money on eBay. It’s a nasty side effect!)