The EARLY BIRD Gets the Toy Fan (

By:Andrew Kardon
Date: Monday, May 13, 2002

This is the week for movie goers. After all, we're just a few short days away from quite possibly the year's biggest blockbuster. Yep, fans can hardly contain themselves in preparation for Hugh Grant's ABOUT A BOY. This charming film about...oh, wait. Sorry. That's not why rabid fans are polluting theaters nationwide. It's time once again for the Lucas-o-Lympics. In other words, get ready for STAR WARS: EPISODE II-ATTACK OF THE CLONES.

Now, while there aren't nearly as many toys available this go round (massive overproduction on PHANTOM MENACE merchandising saw to that), you'd still be hard pressed to hit a toy store and not come face to face with JANGO FETT. But while you've now got your pick of dozens upon dozens of STAR WARS action figures, it wasn't always that way. In fact, it was the complete opposite when the first film came out decades ago. Let's take a stroll down memory lane, shall we?

Flashback: 1977. Kenner's got the toy rights to this little "space flick" about some farmboy. They're set with the usual stickers, puzzles, games, etc. As far as action figures go, though, the company basically planned on cranking out the standard boring versions at some point after the movie had come and gone. But then the worst (and best) thing happened: STAR WARS was a hit. A monstrous hit.

Suddenly Kenner had a red-hot franchise on its hands, and no serious plans for an action figure line. Since it can take roughly a year to develop a full line (including design, sculpting, producing, etc.), no way was Kenner going to have STAR WARS action figures ready in time for the mega-important Christmas season. So what's a toy company to do?


Enter one crazy marketing ploy and a piece of cardboard. Dubbed the EARLY BIRD CERTIFICATER PACKAGE, Kenner basically convinced retailers (and parents) to buy...well, an empty box. Okay, so there was stuff in it, but you didn't find a single action figure in there. Uh uh. Instead, kids would rip open the box to find a bunch of STAR WARS-related items and the all-important EARLY BIRD CERTIFICATE. After filling the form out and mailing it in, kids could wait a few months until their four-figure set arrived. While the figures were later sold separately, the initial set included LUKE SKYWALKER (with mega-rare telescoping lightsaber), PRINCESS LEIA, R2-D2 and CHEWBACCA.

But what else was in the package besides some crappy old form? Well, there was a nifty display stand to put the figures on... once they arrived, that is. (And the figure set even included little pegs so you could attach the figures to the stand.) There were also some STAR WARS stickers, photos and a Space Club membership card.

Believe it or not, despite the lack of figures so soon after the movie's debut, parents and kids bought it. Literally. Kenner's marketing scheme worked brilliantly. Heck, the mystique about it may have even added to the STAR WARS frenzy. And nowadays, well, now they're opening toy stores at midnight to debut the newest figure lines.


So after you check out ATTACK OF THE CLONES, chances are you can hit the local shop and actually find a figure or two on the shelves. Now finding a Hugh Grant action figure is an entirely different story...