Thursday, November 3, 2022

Star Wars in the 1990s

Star Wars has been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember, and it makes more than a few appearances in Sega CD Summer. I still remember going to see Return of the Jedi at the movie theater when I was a kid, my brother and I sitting in the back of our 1982 Oldsmobile Omega looking at movie trading cards while our parents drove us to the theater. The rancor looked absolutely huge on the big screen. I couldn't have been more than 3 or 4 years old.

Return of the Jedi remains my favorite of the Star Wars movies. Even as I've grown older, I still have so much affection for it even as I realize that Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back are probably "better" movies. It's just that when something hits you that hard at that young of an age, it sticks with you.

And Return of the Jedi has stuck with me. Needless to say, the season two finale of The Mandalorian really hit me in the feels.

We had some original Star Wars action figures, including Luke in his Jedi outfit and Tatooine garb (and Hoth), Han Solo (vest and Hoth), Princess Leia (only the Hoth version for some reason), Chewbacca, C-3PO, R2-D2, Darth Vader, a stormtrooper, a biker scout, Logray (whom I always mistook for Chief Chirpa), Wicket, Bespin Lando, an AT-ST driver, an Imperial officer, and Admiral Ackbar. As for vehicles, I can only recall having an X-Wing and a TIE Fighter.

Sometimes I combined my Star Wars and G.I. Joe figures together, although the Star Wars toys were not as impressive as the Joes due to the limitations in articulation. We didn't have a hooded Cobra Commander for a while, so sometimes we'd put a piece of masking tape (get it?!) over Jedi Luke's face to turn him into Cobra Commander (I don't understand how that made sense either).

As the mid-80s came and went, Star Wars was quickly pushed aside in favor of competitors like the Joes, He-Man, Transformers, and the other '80s toys. With no new movies in production and only things like Droids and Ewoks (and those TV movies) keeping the series alive, Star Wars became dangerously close to irrelevance. 

I'm probably overstating that a bit, but Star Wars just wasn't in the public consciousness as much. A lot of the kids who grew up on it moved on to other things. Merchandising really slowed down. Unlike today, there were no Star Wars books or TV shows to talk about. No comics. No Grogu beach towels or Kylo Ren paper plates. No droid advent calendars or Yoda wrapping paper.

I still watched the movies, all of which I'd taped off TV. From Chapter 14 of Sega CD Summer:

My well-loved VHS cassette contained versions of Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back I’d taped off network TV. To get a commercial-free trip to a galaxy far, far away, I had to pause and unpause during commercial breaks when the movies aired. Both broadcast versions were 4x3 pan and scan with a superimposed “edited for television” notification that appeared during the escape pod sequence in Star Wars and during the probe droid launch in The Empire Strikes Back. TV station logos also graced the recordings for each movie: CBS for Star Wars and NBC for Empire.

I later received "official" copies of the original trilogy for Christmas one year, the CBS-FOX video VHS tapes along with a making-of special called From Star Wars to Jedi: The Making of a Saga. I gave the versions I'd taped off TV to a friend who didn't have any of the Star Wars movies at home.

After lying dormant for a few years, Star Wars came back with a vengeance. It started, as did "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show," soft and slow, like a small earthquake, with the release of Timothy's Zahn's Heir to the Empire in 1991. The book, a continuation of the original trilogy set five years after Return of the Jedi, became a bestseller and put Star Wars front and center once again. Two more books, Dark Force Rising (1992) and The Last Command (1993) completed Zahn's own book trilogy, a truly worthy successor to the beloved Star Wars movies that is no longer canon after Disney's Great Purge.

Just like that, Star Wars was everywhere once again. Mugs, t-shirts, stamps, greeting cards, action figures and vehicles, Micro Machines, toy blasters and lightsabers, trading cards, video games (the Super Nintendo's exclusive Super Star Wars series launched in 1992, although there had been earlier games for the NES), beach towels, dinnerware, bubble bath, and comic books (courtesy of Dark Horse Comics). The Holy Trilogy got a VHS re-release in 1995 with THX remastered editions featuring distinctive artwork and pre-movie interview segments with George Lucas and film critic Leonard Maltin. I still have a sealed boxset.

We learned George Lucas planned to write and direct a prequel trilogy about the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker. An incessant tinkerer of his own work, Lucas would re-release the original trilogy in theaters via Special Editions in 1997 with retouched special effects and CGI enhancements.

Star Wars exploded once again. It's never left and isn't going anywhere soon, as Disney, now a decade into its stewardship of the franchise, tries to hit the right balance of new and nostalgic.

But there was definitely a time in which Star Wars almost faded away, a dark time in which few kids played with toys or talked about the movies on the playground. These were the days in which Sega CD Summer takes place, with Tommy, Andy, and Kyle being outliers among their peers.