The Star Wars Toy Empire Launched With An Empty Box


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.