Star Wars: past, present and future
There’s a discussion on the Rebelscum vintage forums today about finding Star Wars toys marked down to clearance prices in the late 1980’s.
Since I specifically wrote about this in “Collect All 21!”, and since I was just talking about Children’s Palace recently, and also since I’m all hyper that Star Wars Celebration V has been announced for Orlando next August, here’s an excerpt from the book that specifically talks about those years when the original trilogy was starting to fade from the pop culture picture:
When I was in high school, I got a job at the Children’s Palace down by the mall. For most of the 1980s, this was the toy store we begged our parents to take us to. At the time, it seemed absolutely monstrous – it had faux castle towers on its façade, which helped – because the only other toy stores were Kay-Bee Toys and Hobby Center in the mall, both of which seemed just plain pathetic when compared with Children’s Palace and its acres of toys stretching impossibly high into a distantly buzzing haze of fluorescent lighting. I can remember when the place had its own Star Wars section, a canyon wall of black and silver packaging, that familiar logo reproduced into infinity. You’d stretch an arm back between rows of figures hanging on their pegs, craning your neck and pushing each toy aside just slightly to see the one behind it, looking for the one you didn’t have.
Later, when the toys were on clearance, I found a huge pile of Rancor Monsters at the rear of the store, marked down to five bucks each, and I bought one to replace (my brother) Nick and Adam’s, which I’d broken an arm off of.
I worked nights and weekends, starting as a seasonal employee before Christmas of 1988, straightening merchandise, re-stocking shelves. I stayed part-time there for the next two or three years, mostly working the floor and spending some time in the warehouse, unloading trucks and pulling items like bicycles and swingsets for customers, who had to drive around the back of the building to pick up the big- ticket purchases.
I also spent time in the Peter Panda suit. Peter Panda was the corporate mascot, and once a month or so, someone was asked to put on the suit and spend a work shift wandering the aisles and either making kids smile or inadvertently scaring the shit out of them. The panda suit was a huge, padded thing, hot and heavy, but I liked volunteering to wear it. For one thing, it meant not having to interact with the customers, because Peter wasn’t allowed to speak. No having to fake a smile, either, thanks to the one sewn onto the oversized panda face. (Though I have to admit, I smiled at about two hours’ worth of little kids during my first time in the suit before I realized it was just wasted effort. In one of my later Panda stints, I stood largely motionless outside to promote a sidewalk sale and actually put on headphones and listened to Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine.) Panda time also earned the wearer something like a 10-minute break for every 20 minutes on duty, which really made a four-hour weeknight shift fly past.
I even talked my bosses into letting me borrow the thing to wear to my then-girlfriend’s high school graduation party, which was fun, especially driving over to her house wearing the body of the suit, with my huge, furry bear paw cocked nonchalantly out the window as I tried my best to work the gas and brake pedals while wearing costume tennis shoes with soles the size of turkey platters.
There wasn’t a defined Star Wars section at Children’s Palace anymore by the time I worked there – the big crazes during my tenure were The Real Ghostbusters and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – but for awhile, there was still some Star Wars stuff to be found sulking on the clearance shelves and squirreled away in the piles of old merchandise on the shelf-tops. I remember pegs near floor level displaying Return of the Jedi badges and pencil cases, just above some Emperor’s Royal Guard plastic banks. They were all as far away from the rest of the real toys as you could get, sandwiched between the baby bottles and teething rings and the bicycle department.
Using one of the big metal ladders – they were more like staircases on wheels – I fished around the stuff on top of the shelves in the action figure aisle and came up with a Chewbacca Bandolier, a Kenner Micro Death Star Compactor Playset, and a Laser Rifle Carry Case to hold action figures. (There was an Indiana Jones truck up there that I should’ve bought, too.) And during a warehouse shift, I was poking around in the loft up near the ceiling and found a big cardboard box with “C-3PO Cases” written in marker on the side. Inside was a single shiny-as-new action figure case. I was amazed to find that clearance prices for this stuff were still in the computer system: The Bandolier cost me 90 cents; the Micro Death Star $2.90, and the carrying cases were, I think, $1.90 each. And I either bought or swiped (sorry, CP executives) an Emperor’s Royal Guard ink stamper and the Parker Brothers Return of the Jedi Play for Power card game.
Finding Star Wars merchandise was like unearthing a rare prize on an archaeological dig, but I still opened them up and threw away the packaging, which makes me wince a little now, but then I think that because I did open those toys, it means I still saw them at least partially through the eyes of that 6-year-old I had been when Star Wars first came out. They were still toys to me, and not collectibles, and that’s something I’ve tried to keep hold of.