Ten years to be exact. That’s when I left the oil fields (where I was shooting industrial video) and entered the world of product design. I got really lucky, having made some contacts through Raving Toy Maniac when I was running it with Eric G. Myers, to somehow stumble into a new career despite having zero experience and minimal skills at the time. What I did have was a crazy passion for the toy industry. And I think my boss saw that, and took a chance on me.Â We were a small start-up agency at first, and chased every opportunity we could come across. Of course, I was happy to be designing crap for A Bug’s Life and Dairy Queen’s Arctic Extreme toys but if you had asked me what I really would like to be working on, super heroes or action figures would have topped my list.
Well, except for Star Wars, that is. In 1998 I was just about the biggest Star Wars nerd around. Not only was I writing about the toys for RTM and hitting Toy Fair and SDCC, but my new co-worker, Steve Ross, was just as big of a nerd as me. Every day at lunch we’d hit Target or TRU trying to find the latest and greatest that Kenner and Galoob had to offer. Our offices were decorated solid with Star Wars. It was always at the forefront of our minds. And then one day our CEO told us that Pepsi wanted us to pitch some ideas of what promotional merchandise they could do for Episode One.
To say we were excited is an understatement. However, there were a few problems. One, since we were not yet an approved vendor to Lucasfilm, we had to use the Original Trilogy to concept with as we couldn’t be shown anything from Episode One. Lucasfilm would review our concepts and let us know if anything could apply to the new movie (this was a painful process that involved discarding far more ideas than the ones that were kept). Two, it was only a year away from the release of Episode One, and most manufacturing lead times were anywhere from 18-12 months to get the product made and to stores. But beggars can’t be choosers, and we hit the ground running. All told, we cranked out well over 100 concepts that were taken to final art, and easily 300 that didn’t make it that far. No part of Star Wars was too small to think about, no character too minor. I’ve never had a situation before or since where someone said to take your favorite subject and do whatever you want with it. Nothing was too crazy or expensive to try.
We even tried to make a big Jabba the Hutt beanbag chair; one prototype was made and it sat in our conference room for many years. Now Gus Lopez owns it. Anyway, I’m not sure I’ve ever had more fun bouncing ideas back and forth where the conversations usually involved talking about how Darth Vader’s mouth had that cow-catcher looking mesh piece that really looked like it could be the door on a gumball machine. Or wondering it it was possible to build a real kid sized Land Speeder? Or thinking, wouldn’t it be cool to have a giant plush Wampa standing in your living room?
It was that last thought that led us to present a giant plush Wampa and a life-like shaggy Chewbacca to Lucasfilm in one batch of concepts. They weren’t so keen on Chewbacca, but they did have this new big sidekick named Jar Jar. And a cool new villain named Darth Maul. So, long story short, we ended up making four life size characters: Jar Jar, Maul, Yoda, and Watto. I got to go to Skywalker Ranch a few times, got to see The Phantom Menace early, and because we had to manufacture them all in half the time an action figure takes, I had to go live in China for a few months at the factory, teaching them how to paint Jar Jar’s ears just right. By the end of the thing, I was all Star Wars’d out!
So why is this post in the “Rejected!” category? Well, when I was unpacking some boxes after my recent move, I found a bunch of copies of our original concepts. Sadly, pretty much our entire creative team moved on not long after that but I think those guys were pound for pound pretty much the most talented folks I’ve ever worked with. So I want to give them their due by showing just a few of the nutty ideas that we pitched. I’ll probably have another round of these later, but these were really some of my favorites. And even ten years later, only a few of these ideas have shown up as products (You’d think someone else would have thought of them in all this time). We all touched every concept in some way, but the main guys who did these were Michael Hawkins, Steve Ross, me, and Kerry Gammill. And pretty much all of the really great ideas were by Steve Ross, who is probably the most creative person I’ll ever know. So without further ado…
Wow. I had no idea that this blog post of crazy Star Wars concepts would get picked up so fast and spread around the web. So welcome, new readers! Go check out the post on Mister Dog, you won’t regret it! And stick around next week for Toy Fair; we’ll have big pictures of lots of crap shown this year at the show in New York!
A few things I did want to clarify about the “Rejected” Star Wars concepts: “Rejected!” is the name of my ongoing series of unmade stuff. But not all of these were rejected by Lucasfilm. We don’t know how many of these were actually seen by Lucasfilm- they were presented to Pepsi first and then those concepts they liked were sent on to Lucas Licensing. So possibly a very small sample was shown to Lucasfilm. Also
That brings me to another point: most of what is shown are “Dealer Loaders”. Those items are offered to retailers (in this case to those stocking Pepsi) and function both as an incentive AND as a display. Once the display is no longer needed, the retailer can keep the item or raffle it off. So it wasn’t quite that we could make anything under the sun. It ideally should be a functional item that a non-Star Wars fan might want, but be cool enough to grab your attention in store. These would not be for sale at retail items. And keep in mind that these are all from 10 years ago when there wasn’t quite so much Star Wars stuff to be found.
Also, it seems the most frequent comment so far is that the Princess Leia headphones were taken from Mel Brooks’ “Spaceballs”. Maybe they were, I didn’t come up with that idea. Personally, I’ve never seen “Spaceballs”, so I had no idea (it came out when I was in high school, and I didn’t think the trailer was that funny so i never went to see it). But really, that is one of the most no brainer ideas shown. Again, I’m amazed that ALL of these haven’t been made by now. We came up with hundreds of concepts and this is just a small amount. Heck, why weren’t more of these in Mel’s movie? Anyway, as far as I know we came up with the idea independently from the film, “from a certain point of view”.
Lastly, I saw a comment somewhere saying that one of the concepts looked like it was from MAD magazine. Ironically, Steve Ross wrote & drew for MAD before he came to work for us, so it makes sense that it looked like that. He also was an FBI sketch artist, did lasers for KISS, was a roadie for ZZ Top, did 3D animation, was a stand-up comedian, and can tell you every President, vice-President and their wives off the top of his head. Seriously, the guy is crazy talented.
Pictures cannot be used without expresswritten permission. All images Â© 1999 TIC TOC, Lucasfilm, Pepsi, andwhoever else might have been involved.