If you have fond memories of seeing “Star Wars” in the theater in 1977, you can thank Mark Boudreaux for some of that experience. He wasn’t part of the film production, however. He was the one of the chief designers of Kenner’s first “Star Wars” toys and figures. In fact, the 2015 Pop Culture Hall Fame Inductee is still on the job, now with Hasbro.
The action figures, paired with a plethora of playsets and spaceships helped kids use their imaginations to create completely new adventures. “What we realized,” he said, “is that if you could replicate what you see on the screen and allow fans to reenact those scenes and maybe even make up their own, that it allowed those fans to relive that experience.”
It’s unfathomable to think about today, but merchandise for “Star Wars” was almost an afterthought. In 1977, nobody took science fiction movies very seriously, aside from art films like “2001: A Space Odyssey.” The critical acclaim and enormous box office success of “Star Wars” caught the world by surprise.
Kenner had signed on to produce the toys just a couple months before it was released. Early plans focused on the most obvious characters, such as Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, and Princess Leia, but fans took a shine to some of the more obscure and strange characters, too. “I think it became quickly apparent that this was a world that was just more than a half a dozen figures,” he said in an interview around the 40th anniversary of the movie’s release. “This was a world of countless characters, and every time there was a character that was on screen, we thought, ‘You know, this story needs to be told, and the best way for us to tell it is to immortalize this character in plastic.’”
Boudreaux has been at the helm of these toys since the beginning. With the sequels, they were able to plan much farther ahead, as the success of the films and toys was pretty much guaranteed. Another thing that has changed: In the early days, designers worked from black and white photographs and with short notice. Now, everything is digital, and the planning goes on much more in advance.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the enthusiasm for “Star Wars” toys. Not for fans, and certainly not for Boudreaux. “You know, a lot of times you throw a pebble out into a lake and the ripples go out, but eventually fade away. I think it’s the exact opposite with Star Wars.”