Star Wars The Force Awakens…Childhood Memories

Star Wars fans (like Darth Vader) are built, not born

This week’s excitement over the Star Wars trailer follows the unprecedented Force Friday, wherein “more than 3,000 Toys ‘R’ Us, Walmart, Target, Kohl’s and Disney Store locations in the U.S. started selling movie merch. And that’s not including outside the U.S. and online.

With nearly two months before the movie debuts, you can assume the excitement will continue to build for, nerds, uh, folks like me. If you don’t get the attachment to Star Wars, I offer up this childhood memory to help explain the phenomena. At least as it relates to me.

What’s YOUR Favorite Holiday Gift?

But first, a question: What’s your favorite holiday gift? Think back to your childhood because, if we’re being honest, that’s when the holidays kicked the most butt, right?

Do you remember getting a toy, electronics, an item of clothing or piece of jewelry that made your whole holiday break?

When I got my favorite holiday gift, it was 1978. Just a year younger than Ralphie in a “Christmas Story,” the gift was my equivalent of “a Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle BB gun with a compass in the stock and a thing which tells time.”

“Help Me Obi Wan Kenobi…”

Star Wars: A New Hope hit theaters 20 months before the 1978 holiday season. But studio executives did not think it would be successful. Few toys were made initially to support the release. So the exact opposite of Force Friday had taken place up to this point.

Making matters worse, Star Wars action figures were the first ones to be made just under four inches tall. Prior to this, you had to play with cheap green plastic army men or GI Joe dolls. This seemingly minor change made them even more popular and scarce.

How scarce? My first Star Wars action figures were secured through a relative employed at Kenner Toys.

“That’s No Moon”

Now I needed a place for my action figures to play.

So my eyes were on this prize. The Death Star play set.

My Mom knew the odds of getting one of the year’s hottest toys were slim. So on Black Friday, November 25th 1978, we were one of the first to gather outside the front entrance of Gold Circle, the 70s version of Target.

The Death Star sat just a few hundred yards away from me at this point, behind a set of locked, automatic doors.

Huddling in the cold, with other would-be shoppers, I excitedly shared my dreams of owning the Death Star. We were all cold and hungry for sale items sporting discounts you’d expect at the start of the holiday shopping season. But this was more than a cheap deal for me.

“May the Force Be With You” (and me)

Store employees opened the doors on time. But what happened next was a blur as I learned demand through scarcity can bring out the worst in people.

“Neither my Mom or I knew how dark black Friday would become that day in 1978.”

My Mom and I split up — taking two different paths to the toy aisles. And upon reaching THE aisle, I spotted them.

A small selection of Death Star play sets sat patiently on the shelf for me…in boxes that seemed almost as tall as me.

I grabbed one triumphantly and experienced the joy of shopping for the first, and perhaps only, time in my life.

The planning and waiting paid off and I’d gotten a Death Star play set first — and it was exactly what I wanted for Christmas.

I wanted to alert my Mom that our quest for the holy grail was over. Filled with adrenaline and the pride of such an impressive accomplishment, I spun on my heels, holding my Death Star play set up in the air over my head…proudly yelling “Mom, I got one!”

Mission. Accomplished.

Then someone yanked it right out of my eight-year old hands. Whoever did it vanished as quickly as this all took place. I assume they ran to the register, hoping no one would know they ripped the toy from the hands of an innocent, eight year old boy.

My world was crushed by the reality of blood-thirsty, Black Friday shopping. I felt violated…until I realized why my Mom took a different path to the toy aisle.

We had twice the odds of getting a Death Star.

Emerging from the low price melee, she held a Death Star play set in a way that made it clear you’d have to pry it out of her cold dead hands to get it. Nobody messes with Mom. Not then and not now.

Thanks to Mom, our dash for Death paid off. She single-handedly turned my hair-raising holiday experience into a heart-warming Christmas.

“Mom single-handedly turned my hair-raising holiday experience into a heart-warming Christmas.”

The above photo is from Christmas day, 1978. It may be the only photo of me with what is, to this day, one of my best holiday gifts.

That’s my cousin, kissing my Mom. And that’s my husky, oblivious frame playing with the Death Star and chilling on red, white and blue shag carpeting. I think my Dad bought the carpet on impulse in 1976.

Don’t Be a Jerk

So what’s the moral of this story as excitement builds around the seventh installment of Star Wars and we hurtle towards yet another Black Friday?

You may struggle, work hard and even fight to get what you want. But don’t forget the person standing next to you probably had to struggle, work hard and fight just as hard. So don’t be a jerk.

And after more than 30 years, kids like me are looking forward to sharing the Star Wars experience with their kids. So you’re feeling the impact of a lifetime of memories powering Disney’s fully operational marketing battle station. Just remember that even a Jedi couldn’t win that fight.

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