Two weeks ago, it was announced that Disney will acquire Lucasfilm Ltd. from George Lucas for $4.05 billion. I learned about the news when I heard my ABC7 iPhone app ping the headline. My immediate reaction was excitement, and then I went straight to the internet to learn what the exact details of the purchase was. I quickly discovered the two videos below featuring the two men at the core of the announcement. They pretty much said in the videos all I wanted to know about what led to this amazing announcement.
Then, I wondered about those new movies they mentioned. As of this time, all we know for sure is:
• It takes place after the events of Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi.
• The story treatments were written by George Lucas, and assumedly not beholden to an adaptation of the popular Heir to the Empire trilogy of books written by Timothy Zahn, the first stories licensed by Lucasfilm relating events taking place after Jedi.
• Michael Arndi is currently writing the screenplay based on his "40 to 50 page treatment" of George’s ideas.
• Episode VII will be released in 2015.
That’s it. No casting has yet been done – only rumors and fan dreams circulating. No director has been hired, but George and Kathleen are looking as the world makes bets on who will take the chair. But I will say there’s a better than 50/50 chance that the new movie will open on Memorial Day, same as the last six episodes. It’s a tradition of George’s. But even that is not a sure bet.
Also, I will be sad that Drew Struzan will not be providing his signature art style to Episode VII’s movie poster. Despite being enticed to produce some new work for a series of limited edition prints, he’s retired now.
I’m also a little antsy about a guy named Williams. When a rough cut of the Episode VII is ready for a composer to screen it (assuming Disney is able to stick to their schedule) and begin work on the soundtrack, John Williams will be 82. And we don't yet know who will be the film's director who will hire a composer to score the film. But obviously, a Star Wars film has never been complete without music composed by John Williams. So I hope Williams will continue to produce the music for that galaxy far, far away.
When the very first Star Wars movie debuted, I was thirteen. I was a Trekkie by then, and that love for Trek was greater than for this new Star Wars movie. But as its two sequels came out over the six years that followed, I couldn't escape the magic of Star Wars. And I became as rabid about the Skywalker saga as I was with the stalwart crew of the starship Enterprise.
Fast forward twenty years, and the digitally remastered "Special Editions" arrived. The adventures of Luke Skywalker, now freshly scrubbed, polished and newly detailed, returned to a world of digitally projected theatre screens. They would arrive in theatres in early 1997, but it was several months before that that I actually found myself diving back into the world of the Jedi and the Sith. That was the time I was a product designer working in the Strategic Alliance division of a company called Applause, and Taco Bell called them up to see if we were interested in pitching a line of kid's meal toys to tie-in with the Star Wars re-release.
Like in every toy company, there were some hardcore Star Wars fans among us toy designers, and it became our mission to make sure we beat out the competition and win this promotion! Designers brainstormed ideas and over the course of a few weeks, passionately debated with each other to defend our toy concepts, recalling scenes from the first trilogy as reasons why they should stay in the mix. Then, money came into the picture to kill ideas outright due to cost. Finally, concepts were narrowed down and presentation boards were rendered up - which was done by hand back then, using pen and ink, colored pencils and Prismacolor markers - for the sales people to make our pitch.
The pitch took place in June of 1996. Taco Bell chose some of our concepts as well as some from our main competitor Strottman for focus testing with kids. By July, the results were in and Taco Bell had decided. It would be Applause that would be making Star Wars kid's meal toys!
After high-fiving each other and patting ourselves on our backs, we still had a lot of pressure on us. The toys needed to start shipping from our overseas factories by November to give Taco Bell time to receive and distribute the toys to all of their restaurants nationwide. We had four months, not the typical six or seven, to not only get the regular designing and sculpting of toy housings done for production, but we also had to allow time for Lucasfilm's licensing department to review and approve things at every step of the way. Four months for all this to happen was tight.
It was decided that as much of the sculpting as possible should to done in Hong Kong where the factories can have immediate input into design the pieces for quicker manufacturing. And because this was such a high-profile license, it was felt that someone from our office should fly over there to oversee the fast-tracked sculpting to make sure they were as on-model (i.e., closely matched character or vehicle likeness) as possible in the hopes that they could get approved by Lucas Licensing that much quicker and production can begin that much sooner. They needed someone very familiar with the ships and characters of Star Wars. A Star Wars fan.
Normally, my boss would’ve gone. But his wife was due to have their first child at that very time, so he didn't want to travel half a world away from his family. Plus, he wasn’t as big a Star Wars fan as me!
So from July through the end of that year, I handled the Creative Manager duties on Star Wars for Taco Bell. I traveled to Hong Kong that week after we were granted the promotion. After our first pass at sculpts were done, I had to travel some more. This time to a place up in Northern California called Skywalker Ranch. There is where Lucas Licensing's offices were located. I visited there several times, usually with another manager and a sculptor or two, to have them review and approve our sculpts, including making revisions right on those sculpts on the spot to get them approved before we left. Then, then more trips to Skywalker Ranch followed to get approvals on our tooling patterns produced in China, then again on new drawings needed for revised bases and characters poses requested by Lucas Licensing, and then more on new sculpts and tooling patterns, before finally getting okays on our paint masters and first production shots, allowing us to finally get to pull the trigger on full production of millions of Star Wars toys.
All I remember of that time is that I was living, eating and sleeping Star Wars everyday, all to make sure we got everything reviewed, approved, produced on budget and shipped on time so kids and fans across the country would be happy to see our toys at Taco Bell, with the promotion set to kick off on January 26, 1997. And we did it! And it was awesome and exciting and the folks at Lucasfilm and Taco Bell were thrilled with them and it was one of the proudest geek moments the designers at Applause ever had!
So while we wait to see what’s in store for Disney's Star Wars: Episode VII, I thought it'd be a good time to share my personal Star Wars adventure with you. Looking back and going through my stuff and researching online proved to be fun for me, and I hope you enjoyed what I've shared here too.
Below are some of the sketches and drawings I did while working on this project, the only project I and my fellow Applause designers ever had the good fortune of having twenty years time to research a project so thoroughly. Glad it paid off. In fact, it led to the chance to work up more Star Wars toy designs for a film announced after this promotion to come just two years later: Star Wars: Episode I. But like that film, the experience meeting expectations were entirely different from what had happened working on the first trilogy. And perhaps it's a tale I'll share with you another time.
Until then, may the Force be with you.
All About Me
A fan of Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Batman, comic books, Blu-rays, Disney, soundtracks, taking pictures, theatre and...Barry Manilow!