Unless you were personally besieged on the planet Naboo on May 3, 1999, you know where everyone went at midnight. They went to department stores and toy stores across America to try to pick these puppies up.
Waves one through three were released simultaneously, and huge numbers of the toys were produced. Collectors who bemoaned the fact that they hadn’t kept their original Star Wars figures in the original packing in the 1970s now bought about half a dozen of each – unless, of course, they were attempting to clean out one of the more conscientious retailers who limited quantities out of fairness. Scalpers abounded during the first few weeks, with Darth Maul prized particularly because the figure was initially shortpacked. Poor Jar Jar, on the other hand, warmed the pegs in many a store for quite a long time, with the character already suffering from a premature fan backlash.
The Episode I toys are fairly good, though some of the first wave are only so-so – particularly Qui-Gon Jinn, whose long hair was transformed into something that looked like a bloodhound’s droopy ears. On the other hand, figures such as Jar Jar and Darth Maul rocked. This new generation of Star Wars toys also included Commtech chips which contained pre-recorded soundbytes of the movie which could be read by the optional Commtech reader, which happened to cost about $20. Many collectors agreed that they would’ve been happy to forgo the “talking” feature in exchange for a slightly lower price tag.
Variations were also snuck into the mix, with four distinctly different Battle Droids available – not counting the unique Battle Droids included with both the Sneak Preview and Episode I versions of the STAP vehicle.
If I might wax analytical for a moment, I learned some interesting things while shopping for these figures. I didn’t learn any new Star Wars trivia, and most of the packaging was very good about avoiding plot spoilers. I had more of a sociological experience, a field study if you will, about modern fandom and collectors. I went with a friend to the May 3rd midnight mÃ¨leÃ¨ at Toys R Us in Green Bay, and I was amazed by the size of the crowd…and, frankly, by the weirdness of some members of the crowd too. One fellow wore Jedi robes and carried a boom box on his shoulder, blasting John Williams music at top volume. Another gentleman was trying to scalp 12″ Darth Maul dolls in front of the checkout lanes – without having first bought them himself. (He was merely trying to get unsuspecting consumers to pay him for the privelege of him handing over the aforementioned foot-high Sith Lord…and then they’d have to pay at the checkout. He was escorted out of the store very quickly.)
But by far the strangest experience occurred in the checkout line. I grabbed three figures and then got out of the way of the yelling, grabbing masses. I just didn’t feel like battling the crowd for chunks of plastic. People were diving into the throng like stage-divers at a Red Hot Chili Peppers concert, almost as if they didn’t think the store would be restocked in a week or two. So I got in, grabbed three, and stood in line behind a fellow who had three shopping baskets full of merchandise. And not just three shopping baskets full – no sir, he had bought everything he could in triplicate.
With my three figures – approximately $21 worth, which I was planning on paying for in cash – I stood in line for 20 minutes as Three Bags Full split his purchase out over at least three credit cards, none of which could handle the entire ticket because they all seemed to be maxed out. Or so the part-time checker kept telling him.
The point of my rant is that these are pretty cool toys. I enjoy having them on my shelf. But I didn’t, and wouldn’t, spend more than I could afford on these or any other toys. Not when there are things like the rent and food to consider. While a toy collecting site may seem like an odd place to go off on this tangent, my memories of midnight, May 3rd, 1999, brought these thoughts to the surface with full force, and I feel they’re worth sharing.
Left to right: Qui-Gon Jinn, Anakin Skywalker, Queen Amidala.
Left to right: Obi-Wan Kenobi, Darth Maul.
Left to right: Jar Jar Binks, Padme Naberrie, Mace Windu (mail-away “sneak preview” version).
All four Episode I Battle Droid variations.
The sneak preview variation of the STAP with Battle Droid.