The 5 Best (and 5 Worst) Star Wars-Themed Commercials

By Chris Cummins in Daily Lists, Miscellaneous, Movies
Tuesday, April 3, 2012 at 8:01 am
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Sure, Star Wars was a seminal moment in sci-fi history. But as The Police remind us, we are merely spirits in a material world. So don't be shocked if George Lucas' ultimate legacy winds up being how the saga was a license for him to print money. Part of his brilliance is that he had the foresight to gain ownership of the merchandising rights for his films, a move that made him a millionaire many times over and continues to do so to this day. Along with generating income from the films, action figures and other spin-off merchandise, Lucas also earned a substantial fortune from licensing his characters to promote products that originated outside of Skywalker Ranch.

Since Star Wars first hit screens 35 years ago, Darth Vader and company have pitched all manners of dubious necessities ranging from soft drinks to cell phones. There's no sign that this phenomenon will stop anytime soon. Why should it? Even as the brand's artistic merits have increasingly withered, the Star Wars cash cow is still nowhere close to being milked dry. Since the quality of the ads produced vary greatly, today's Daily List puts the spotlight on at the best and worst of these commercial endeavors (expect plenty of gags about Vader choking someone and visual proof of what a dick Yoda is). Just a quick word before we begin, for simplicity's sake this list consists no ads for specific Star Wars products. The reasoning behind this decision is that these items could all merit lists of their own. Plus, it's way more interesting to see how the different ways Star Wars was used to coerce you into buying crap. Just see for yourself.


5) Volkswagen's "The Dark Side"

To tease their 2012 Super Bowl ad, Volkswagen released this adorable TV spot in which differently varieties of dogs bark "The Imperial March." As you can imagine it is completely adorable. So much so that it makes you forget that it has about as much to do with selling cars as the prequel trilogy does with coherent storytelling. Make no mistake; you are being totally manipulated here. But who cares about cheap advertising tactics when there's an iddy-biddy pup wearing Chewie's bandolier? Just look at the little guy. Aww. The odd thing was that this wound up being a much more memorable spot than the Super Bowl one itself, which, great recreation of the Cantina aside, was utterly pointless.

4) Curry's PC World

In 2011, UK electronics dealer Curry's PC World rolled out a fun and ambitious marketing campaign that utilized Star Wars characters to promote their stores. Sparing no expense, they went so far as to hire James Earl Jones to voice Darth Vader in their spots (they got Anthony Daniels for C-3P0 as well, but this is hardly a coup because really, what else was he doing?). Of the various ads that were created, the above is the most effective due to its sensitive handling of the Wookiee grooming issue. Just because Chewie walks around without pants doesn't mean that he's a complete slob.

3) Energizer Batteries

There was a weird period (or, if you will, a dark time for the Force) from 1985-1991 when Star Wars was largely out of the public eye. The toys and comics based on the franchise had halted, the Droids and Ewoks cartoons had run their course, and Lucas was staunchly refusing to create any more adventures in his galaxy far, far away. Then came the publication of Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire and a resurgence in interest in the saga. At the same time, Energizer Batteries were in the midst of their hugely successful Energizer Bunny campaign. He was the most lovable corporate mascot since the glory days of Spuds McKenzie and people went bananas for his unflappable antics. Tapping into the zeitgeist, Energizer decided to have the Bunny go one on one with Darth Vader for an unforgettable 1994 ad. The spot beautifully captured the atmosphere of The Empire Strikes Back and the involvement of James Earl Jones (again) gave the ad an air of authenticity. It was hugely successful because it was clever and pushed all of the proper nostalgia buttons with its audience. For awhile, this thing really did keep going and going and going. Soon after advertisers realized that they too could use Star Wars to pimp everything from M&M's to cell phones. So when you get to the flip side of this list, just remember that Energizer is largely to blame for this whole phenomenon.

2) Hagoromo Sea Chicken

Words fail me here, but I'll do my best. In 1978, Japan's Hagoromo Foods seafood company decided to promote their canned tuna by aggressively ripping off Star Wars. (Because when you think about the space saga the first thing that comes to mind is canned fish). The resulting ad is the cheeiest bastardization of George Lucas' vision this side of Billy Ocean's "Loverboy" video. When this thing exploded upon the Internet like a kitsch bomb last year, much was made about how horrific the music and choreography on display here is. But I don't see it like that. Rather, I think it could be the greatest example yet of just how successful Star Wars was. I bet if you tracked Mark Hamill down right now he'd be the first to tell you that he didn't realize he was a star until a struggling actor half a world away dressed up like his character to violate trademarks in the name of inexpensive dinner providers. The lesson to be learned here is that copyright infringement is delicious.

1) Volkswagen's "The Force"

Last year, Volkswagen tugged the heart strings of Star Wars-loving parents with their Super Bowl ad that depicted a young would-be Sith Lord who wanted nothing more than to tap into the Dark Side of the Force. Unlike the other Volkswagen spot featured on this list, "The Force" actually is an effective sales tool for the company's cars. By cloaking their capitalist intentions with a story that is genuinely touching, Volkswagen has created a clip that will stand the test of time (point to ponder: is this spot the 21st century equivalent of the Mean Joe Greene Coke ad? You decide). The commercial became a viral sensation because people could relate to it, and if it didn't speak to their personal experience then they could at least chuckle at it given the knowledge of what a cultural touchstone Star Wars has become. What you see above far transcends its origins to become something far more important. It's no longer a commercial, it's art. Don Draper would be proud.

Hit the jump for the worst Star Wars-themed commercials ever made.

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