Plastic Galaxy: the Story of Star Wars Toys Brian Stillman
Published Aug 26, 2014Plastic Galaxy is niche even by the extreme standards of Star Wars. While the films and their lore continue to draw in new generations of fans, the original three- and three-quarter-inch figures are mostly the domain of collectors, particularly the ones who grew up with them. But as this Kickstarter-funded film explains, the merchandising machine behind Star Wars was groundbreaking for its time, and set the bar for such campaigns for the next 25 years.
The story of the Star Wars toy line doubles as the story of Kenner, the company that produced it. Tiny by toy industry standards, the Cincinnati-based company lucked into the license after Mego, at the time the standard-bearer for action figures, rejected it. Like the movie studios that turned Lucas away, the toy industry was sceptical about the director's space opera.
The Star Wars line was notable both for its length (it was produced from 1976 until 1985) and its depth (the number of characters produced was staggering). It set many industry precedents, including shrinking the size of action figures from the established 12-inches to 3-3/4 inches. The filmmakers do an admirable job of tracking down the Kenner employees who designed many of the figures, vehicles and play sets, and their stories about the frenzied production, especially in the lead up to the line's launch — they weren't ready in time for Christmas 1977 and Kenner had to sell an "early-bird" set, which amounted to a cardboard picture of what kids would receive in the mail in the spring) — are amusing. But director Stillman too often relies on collectors to drive the film's narrative. Consequently, there are long diversions into the creation of specific pieces from the line, not to mention variants and other ephemera from the era.
Increasingly crowd-funded media allows those funding the project to dictate its direction, so while there are nuggets in this film for the average viewer, there's little to hold their interest over its 70-minute run-time. The additional featurettes on the Micro line and toy lightsabers only dive deeper into minutiae. Plastic Galaxy is a film about Star Wars toys for collectors of Star Wars toys. All others need not apply.