Consumerism and the Darth Vader Toaster

The week of Thanksgiving, I was watching a news report on Good Morning America about the hype for this year’s Black Friday. Of course, they went for the money-shot of consumer insanity: interviewing the people camping out, waiting for the stores to open. When asked what the hot item was this year, a lot of them responded with a particular answer:

The Darth Vader Toaster.

Vader Toaster 1
It’s either that I can only think about how ridiculous this is until I realize it’s pretty cool, or I can only think about how cool it is until I realize how ridiculous it is.

I really should have written this around Black Friday, but as we get closer to the Force Awakens it becomes more and more clear.

Changing the film’s release date from May to December was the best decision that the studio (or – whoever it is that makes money off the merchandise) could ever make.

I recently went to a small Secret Santa event with some of my friends. I actually received a Darth Vader Ornament, this lil guy with the Santa hat on.

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He’s adorable! When I get back home, I’m gonna put him on my Christmas Tree. It’ll be great.

But I’m almost astonished at the amount of merchandise with the Star Wars brand. They didn’t have what I really wanted to get for my Secret Santa gift, but I knew the guy I was buying for liked Star Wars, so I got him a Stormtrooper mug I had seen around the store.

When I went through the clothing section, I heard a woman perusing the graphic tees, saying “Star Wars, Star Wars, Star Wars,” as she went through. Among these, I found a Kylo Ren t-shirt. Kylo Ren? Kylo Ren?! KYLO REN?! Who would buy that, until he proves to be an interesting character?

But that wasn’t it. Every corner of the story had some type of Star Wars-related display. Lots of Legos, lots of toys, lots of memorabilia. Then again, merchandise has always been something Star Wars does a lot of, to the point where Spaceballs parodied it, extensively and hilariously.

vader Toaster 3
“Spaceballs the Flamethrower! The kids love it!

Sure, Lucasfilm might have been disappointed when they realized they would have to push the movie back about six months, leading to the first film in the series not to debut in May, but once they realized all the money they would make from the merchandise, they must have been over the (that’s no) moon. Now, not only can they sell Darth Vader ornaments, but they can sell an ornament of Darth Vader wearing a Santa hat.

Vader Toaster 4
There could be someone who bought a Jar Jar Binks T shirt before Phantom Menace hit theaters.

I had heard a few people complain when Spectre did the same thing. James Bond-sponsored cologne? Sure, makes sense, Bond being so suave and all. James Bond-sponsored Heineken? Uh, Bond usually drinks martinis, but okay. James Bond and  Gillette Razors? Yeah, I guess he shaves. James Bond and Phones? Oh, come on!

I was going to do a full-length post about Revenge of the Jedi – the original ideas for Return of the Jedi  namely including Luke becoming evil, and Han dying in a heroic sacrifice.

This is my own, impossible-to-prove, theory: there has been a gradual decline in quality since Revenge of the Jedi was changed to Return of the Jedi – and this has to do with merchandising and making the franchise more marketable, rather than better. Harrison Ford quipped that the reason that the ending, which “would give the movie more weight and resonance,” was axed because George Lucas saw no future for “dead Han toys.” Now, this ending may or may not have been better, and this could very well just be Ford’s interpretation of things, but it shows what kind of thought goes into the way the plot is mapped out. Merchandise, such a big part of Lucas’ wealth, is clearly on their minds. (Check out this post from Indiewire’s Kevin Jagernauth on the control that action figures have over Lucasfilm.) In many ways, that was when Star Wars became too big for its own good.

My point is this – Star Wars distracted most of us by making Star Wars the movie, so that we wouldn’t notice while they made all their Star Wars the Brand. Now, I recognize that these things go hand-in-hand, and by buying the merchandise, I help to fund the things I love, but doesn’t it cheapen the value of these things? If you believe everything you hear, Han’s heroic sacrifice was removed to sell action figures, the Ewoks were made to get kids in the theaters, and General Grievous was made to sell Legos. In 1977, George Lucas and the other creative minds behind Star Wars presented a fantastic world, and explored it with a story. What we have with Force Awakens is a potentially interesting story that will be lost on many people who are tired of seeing all this merchandise and media coverage. The Force Awakens has fused itself with Christmas, thus creating a money machine.

It’s a little overbearing. I hope, desperately hope, that Force Awakens is a great movie. But if the studio’s only concern is making money, and not art, then they’re doing it wrong.

Eh, we’ll just have to see how this all pans out. Either way, I’m still putting that ornament on my tree.

UPDATE: It was just recently announced that Star Wars Episode VIII was delayed from May 2017 to December 2017 – is this a continuation of their cash grab, or a necessary delay for quality’s sake?

Additional Reading:

Adam Driver Brings Monologues to the Military: Arts in the armed Forces

Pop Cultural Studies: Intertextuality: Star Wars and Avatar the Last Airbender

 

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