10 Ways Star Wars: Episode I Was Literally Shoved Down Your Throat

By Adam Pawlus in Daily Lists, Merchandise, Movies
Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 8:01 am
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While Star Wars has been a staple of pop culture, it was largely the domain of the nerdy in the 1990s. Books, comics, novels, toys, and videogames were all marketed to kids and loyal fans, plus a group of those like you and me who, frankly, can't stop purchasing these things no matter what gets made. This includes food.

Over than a brief dalliance with C-3POs cereal in the early '80s, Star Wars didn't really do much food merchandising... until The Phantom Menace. Come 1999, Lucasfilm teamed up with Pepsi -- and their subsidiary Yum! Brands, including KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell -- to make sure every got to take a bite out of Episode I.  And even if you didn't want it, it was there, in huge quantities, staring at you when you drove past most intersections zoned for food service. This was the peak of Star Wars-mania after the original trilogy, and a roll-out of this size featuring Jedi and Sith and Gungans was never, ever attempted again. Lucky for us, we have our memories, and trunks filled with artifacts that, with any luck, have not yet attracted bugs.

10) Jar Jar Binks Pez Hander

The Pez Dispenser is, simply but, the most elegant toy-plus-confection product you can buy. The same basic design has been used for years, and the simple form has had numerous licenses grace its packaging, from Garfield to Leonardo to Mr. Spock. For Episode I, they decided to chuck out the push-the-head-back-and-have-a-treat design for this battery-powered tableau which lets Jar Jar Binks lug a Pez at you with his tongue. ABC gum wasn't part of the vast marketing plan, but this is probably the most disgusting candy involving Jar Jar's tongue. Or is it?

9) Drink Brains


Since Pepsi and their subsidiaries dropped a reported billion dollars for worldwide rights to promote Star Wars in the areas of fast food and soda, it only made sense that Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and KFC would come up with a way to suck something out of Boss Nass' sliy green skin. There were about a dozen of these things, so you could suck down Natalie Portman's liquified thoughts, Darth Maul's evil intentions, or Nute Gunray's clammy negotiating skills. They were a couple of bucks each, but they were everywhere. How everywhere? You could find them in thrift stores and garage sales for years, and it's entirely possible you have some at your parents' house still. Go ahead and check, we'll wait. (And for those of you complaining that they never did these for the original trilogy, they did -- in Hawaii KFCs in 1997. Boy, aren't you glad you know that?)

8) Pepsi Cans


What would you say if Pepsi and Lucasfilm joined forces to convince you that your garbage had value? With Episode I they did just that with a line of Star Wars Pepsi Cans. You had to drink Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, and Mountain Dew, plus there were variant cans. There were chase cans. There were special collector can display boxes. 24 "normal" cans were in the collection, plus a chase Yoda which fans could redeem for $20 were they so inclined-- many opted to keep the can. There were multiple Yoda cans, even a different one if you redeemed the normal chase can -- if this sounds complicated and stupid, it is. Today you might be able to get about a dollar a can for the common ones, which is pretty good considering the recycling place usually won't even give you a nickel (it's worth noting that most auctions on eBay for Pepsi cans go without bids).

For the curious, there were four collectible cans in the USA for the Special Editions, although it seems the only place recorded to have had them were vending machines in Wisconsin. I can't make that sort of thing up.

7) Too Much Happy, Not Enough Meals


Collecting fast food toys is as normal for your average kid as breaking an arm or smashing a window. Generally speaking, an eatery will have 4 or 6 toys. Licenses like 101 Dalmations and Star Wars pushed that ahead a bit, and The Phantom Menace demanded kids and fans go on a scavenger hunt. Pizza Hut had Coruscant-themed toys, while Taco Bell got Tatooine and KFC had, for some reason, Naboo. (Wouldn't Long John Silvers make more sense?) Anyway, there were just under 30 toys in a promotion that lasted around a month, so collecting them all would do wonders for your sodium intake. In the frenzy of the Episode I marketing frenzy the stores sold them individually, but the toy by itself cost almost as much as the whole meal, so you may as well just choke down your damn crispy strips. While some of the toys were neat, like an R2-D2 figure that beeped or a Queen Amidala figure that could open and store Padme inside, some of the vehicles just sort of fell limply rather than launch into flight. But at least you got lunch, right?

6) A Breakfast Bust


In the USA, we got zero cereal premiums for Episode I. None. But in the UK, there were a few nifty offerings including honest-to-foodness miniature bronze plastic busts in boxes of Choco Corn Flakes, Coco Pops, Ricicles, Corn Flakes, Frosties, Corn Pops, and Rice Krispies. Sure, we're going mostly negative in this column, but this idea was actually really ahead of its time as Gentle Giant wouldn't introduce its popular minibust line until 2002, or its micro Bust-Ups line until 2004. In the USA we get stuff like glowing spoons or mail-in offers for stuff that won't even show up for six months. But in the UK? Busts. Like something an adult might actually have a use for and use to decorate their desk at work. That is why we fail.

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