The Star Wars Toy Empire Launched With An Empty Box

By | August 31, 2020

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New Star Wars toys, particularly action figures, are inevitable with the release of each film in the 40-plus year-old movie franchise. But when the very first Star Wars movie (episode IV, later retitled A New Hope) came out, they didn't exist. That's not an exaggeration: the movie was in theaters, the figures were in development, but for kids stricken by Star Wars mania there were no figures on store shelves. In a desperate move, having no other choice, manufacturer Kenner ended up selling an IOU, and somehow it worked.

It's said that George Lucas didn't get rich off his share of box-office receipts from Star Wars. Well, maybe he got kind of rich off of ticket sales, but the real money came from his decision to hold onto the merchandising rights for the franchise. In the 1970s, distributors like 20th Century Fox didn't see a point in producing spin-off toys, t-shirts, lunchboxes, etc. They were in the business of making movies and didn't care about anything else, meanwhile Lucas knew that there was a truckload of cash to be made in merch, he just had to get the rest of the world on board with his idea.

Kenner Believed In The Movie Enough To Want The License, But Not Enough To Make The Toys

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First shots of the four figures included in the Star Wars Early Bird package. Obsessed fans will note some slight differences between these and the toys that were actually delivered. Source:

In 1977, even toy manufacturers and retailers doubted the ability of a space opera to inspire the fervor of capitalism in the minds of children. On Christmas 1977, Kenner whiffed the launch of the first generation of Star Wars toys completely. The company didn't just miss the release date of the film; Kenner was set to miss the first Christmas season after the release, which was six months later. Kenner ended up selling empty boxes containing a voucher for the first four figures, just what every young Star Wars fan wants to find under the tree.