?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.
5) Do as She Promotes, Not as She Eats
We understand how important it is to market a movie, regardless of what that means for the personal beliefs of those involved. For example, Natalie Portman wasn’t exactly a big meat eater — interviews generally presented Ms. Portman as being fairly outspoken regarding her meat-free existence. So what does Colonel Sanders do? Slaps a big ol’ sticky Queen Amidala on the window of every Kentucky Fried Chicken in the world. Sure, she was great in The Professional, but her true calling was to be painted up like a clown and presented as the poster face for the most meat-centric of the three restaurants during this time.
4) Film + Candy = Fun!
Figuring out how to make fun Star Wars food products has always been a challenge, which is why there is Jabba the Hutt peach yogurt. (Look it up.) OddzOn, one of the companies Hasbro gobbled up in the 1990s, made this film canister thing. The candy wasn’t reported as the best, and the packaging looks more like an explosive than a treat– a point in its favor. Really nice plastic packaging that you may want to keep was starting to come into fashion around this time, although Bionicle probably should be credited for actually making it work. Did anyone buy these silvery canisters with a character staring at them from the top? Nope. That’s why you don’t see them next to the M&Ms today. But let’s not dwell on that, because as a group Star Wars collectors should still be bitter about not getting busts with their cereal.
3) Corporate Synergy: The Phantom Mascot
Rather than have the Neimoidians come on screen and talk about what a bargain two tacos for two dollars may be, the Pepsi eateries decided to have their three big mascots– well, arguably big mascots, only one still persists today– all in an ad together. There were a few spots, but this pretty much says it all.
So yeah, you get some random girl, a dog, and an old Southern dude with a lightsaber for some reason. I guess they’re fighting hunger, or coherent narratives. This seemed an attempt to solidify a “Pizza Hut Girl” as their mascot, although Ash Ketchum from Pokemon was confused as to why he appeared with boobs in this ad. (Admit it, they look alike.) At least Colonel Sanders looks like he could have been in some weird sci-fi movie.
As an added bonus, those “game medallions” were basically just POGs about five years past their prime. But nothing about Star Wars and POG-like products has ever been timely.
2) Buckets o’ Fun
How does a flying bucket topper grab you? If the answer is “in a very inappropriate place” you would be correct. Kentucky Fried Chicken had two flavors of this: Jar Jar Binks, the most annoying character from The Phantom Menace, and the Battle Droids, considered by some to be the most annoying part of Revenge of the Sith. These “bucket toppers” were awkward slabs of rubber that came to you in a plastic baggie, so at no point in this product’s lifespan would it actually top your bucket of chicken. Heck, even if it did, odds are freshly manufactured petroleum products aren’t quite the best thing to have capping your dinner, but at least they could fly, right? No? Not really? Hunh. Well at least they looked like fancy painted manhole covers? We have that, and you can’t take it away from us.
1) Jar Jar Binks Mega Mouth Candy
Sadly YouTube did not exist in 1999, because if it did you’d see a million videos mocking CapToys’ Jar Jar Mega Mouth Candy. What is it? Contempt toward fans given physical form. It’s Jar Jar’s head, and his tongue comes out, and you suck on it. Say what you will about stereotypes or accents or ethnicities in The Phantom Menace, but is there anything more insulting than the notion that someone got paid to develop a product to make you want Jar Jar’s tongue in your mouth? Even more offensive, it didn’t have a sticker reading “FUCK YOU” right on the wrapper. There is a law in the USA to properly label food, after all.