Spring of 1999 was a great time to be a Star Wars fan. I was 11 years old and was riding high after the thrill of seeing the Special Editions just two years before (my first Star Wars movie-going experience). As a kid, Star Wars seemed to be everywhere from KFC to Burger King, to McDonalds to even Borders Books. Everywhere I went, there was Star Wars (even in the Scholastic school book order forms from school) and I had to have it all. From fast food game pieces to little cardboard posters they gave away with purchases at Borders Books, it was all stuff I needed to have (even pictures from newspapers). In fact, the Anakin cardboard picture I got from Borders Books, as well as many other posters, calendars, and even toys such as Micro Machines, are still on display in my bedroom back home.
Of the many toys I had in my room my absolute favorites were my Micro Machines. I would buy the little “bases” or heads that opened up as well as packs of the little figures and set up little battles. The Battle-Droid, Jar Jar, the Trade Federation Troop Carrier (that opened up to the battle of Naboo) were just a few of the sets I bought and still have in my room. The Star Wars (Phantom Menace especially) versions of Micro Machines matched my “army men” or “heroes vs. terrorist” sets that were so classically common in Micro Machine collectors man for man, base for base. Often there would be Star Wars vs. Army Men battles with hundreds, if not thousands, of figures headed by Jedi leading the way through the machine guns.
The posters and calendars were extra bonuses, the Sith vs. Jedi Poster with Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan vs. Darth Maul was up in my room for a decade, and a calendar was opened to October where the image was Padme as a Handmaiden for almost a decade straight.
With toys and images found in every store, fast food restaurant, and even schools for all of 1999, what surprised me was after The Phantom Menace set box office records, Star Wars seemed to disappear. As a child I had no comprehension of the hate some people had, and still have, for that film. To me it was the greatest thing since sliced bread and was the best film I had ever seen. I watched it repeatedly and had my figures do massive battles across my bedroom. I loved that film (and still do). But what changed? Episode II rolled around, and I remember being excited, just not as much. I remember images, speculation, Supershadow, trailers, and more, but the presence of Star Wars was weaker.
The first thing I noticed, as a Micro Machine collector, was that there were next to none. In book stores there were no giveaways and even the fast food giveaways were far less than they had been. Everything seemed to be scaled back and afraid to promote Star Wars. A child of 14 then, I still didn’t realize, or care, about the hate some had for the film, or that many products were still on the shelves from Episode 1 because they hadn’t sold. To me, another Star Wars film was coming out, but for some reason the product was gone. Some of this was due to a purposeful scale back by Lucasfilm and their partners, but why so much? This was incomprehensible then and today.
Answers did not come until I saw The Phantom Menace 3D release in theaters. Still a huge fan, of course, I went with a lightsaber and Star Wars T-Shirt and enjoyed the film in the clearest, best presentation I had ever seen, complete with the now digital Yoda. What did I notice as The Phantom Menace came around? Figures were back on the shelves, posters were in book stores (the few that remained), fast food promotions, and again Star Wars was everywhere from billboards to newspapers. Now in the years after that film, I came to the conclusion of why products were not around for Episodes II and III, and it came as I went to Shopko late 2014 and looked on the toy hooks. On those hooks were lone action figures (no Rebels figures could be found of course) of Ric Olié and a Battledroid, still remaining from the 3D release. As I dug behind them there were many, still unsold over the years.
Something struck me that day; there is an excitement that I felt for The Phantom Menace, it is an excitement that Lucasfilm and its merchandising partners also felt. It was evident on the toy shelves as it was in bookstores, restaurants, and even movie theaters. There was a hope and expectation that Star Wars was back and that meant life was good. It was a feeling that was felt in 1999 and that Lucasfilm tried to have everyone experience again with the 3D release of the film. Alas, it was an excitement that some felt and others did not.
A child of 11 still comes out when I see my Phantom Menace merchandise, it’s still everywhere in my room at home, visible to me when I visit and, as I do, the magic comes back; The magic of a child who wanted more Star Wars than George could ever give, who got it through the toys, books, games, pictures, and world that was everywhere in 1999. Alas, it has only resurfaced a little when the 3D release came out, but perhaps,this being 2015, the year Star Wars returns with its sequel trilogy, that magic will return and I will be a child again.
Jeremiah is the host and owner of Bombad Radio, a Star Wars and more podcast. He is a father of one, a future podcaster, and resides in Provo, Utah.Powered by Sidelines