In March 2020, TeenageMutantNinjaTurtles.com was looking to expand its media beyond articles and giveaways. One of the ideas thrown out was a podcast.
Seeing as I was the only one that had a background in podcasting, I made a “pilot” episode based on the crew’s suggestions. This podcast, “The Monthly Mutagen“, is all on me…from the name and logo…to the format, editing, coverage, and voice.
The response was shockingly positive. But others wanted a live/streaming direction (which I was uncomfortable with) and the crew proposed a new episode weekly. No one understood the work and structure going into creating something even as silly and trivial as this.
Then the pandemic hit and we all locked ourselves into our assigned sewers.
I came across the file earlier today and figured it might as well see the light of day since I had fun doing it. Anyway, Shellheads, enjoy (probably the only) episode of The Monthly Mutagen!
The mid-nineties represented a reawakening for the Star Wars brand. The trilogy was remastered and released into theaters to coincide with a home video release. Accompanying that, of course, were waves of marketing that made the original release blush. With enough new merchandise to pack a Deathstar and the flannel draped galaxy-master himself, George Lucas, announcing a new film in the works, Star Wars had, once again, eclipsed popular culture.
But this wasn’t just some lazy modern nostalgic cash-grab as it was a way to introduce a new generation to the galaxy far, far away…and recapture the imagination and magic Star Wars brought nearly 20 years prior.
Star Wars was indeed special. A personal realization by experiencing this era firsthand. It was the first time my “newfound” interests were not only encouraged by adults…but shared with them. A time where I thought toys, video games, and comic books were solely for kids…yet shown that Star Wars was for everyone. Afterall, these adults were my age back in 1977. They were doing what I do now: reliving a simpler time through recaptured interests.
What we’re covering today was just a morsel of that 90’s Star Wars-Mania. I was slapped with a stack of Star Wars magazines lovingly shared by my best bud Eric. The intention? To see what overpriced plastic was being peddled to our small feeble minds a long time ago from a galaxy far, far away. And like a Gungan at a Tatooine marketplace, I had to stick my tongue where it didn’t belong.
Star Wars Insider is the official Star Wars magazine that grew out of the official newsletter in 1987. The title changed from the Lucasfilm Fan Club Magazine to Star Wars Insider in 1994. It’s still going till this day, with well over 200 issues at the time of this writing, which truly exemplifies the power of the force that is Star Wars. Though modern issues traded that prideful energy, respectful cadence, and welcoming fan interaction for something sterile, lacking depth, and more expensive. A true representation of not just modern Star Wars, but entertainment as a whole.
Star Wars Insider #38 June/July 1998
Besides the alluring Simpsons crossover cover, this specific issue had a Star Wars catalog of nearly everything available shoved right in the middle of it. My eyes were filled with the heavy nostalgic steam of carbonite emissions. A gathering of merchandise similar to a smattering of cantina patrons: Strange, goofy, endearing and kind of slimy. So lets jump to lightspeed and head back to a time when Star Wars was only a trilogy, heroes were heroes, and special effects were practical. When Star War’s only travesty was George Lucas’s poor judgment.
Technically, this is where the fun begins.
C-3PO Ceramic Cookie Jar
With our first highlight I’d like to state something: Any product that exists in our world…there is a Star Wars version of it. If there are chopsticks, there are Star Wars chopsticks. If there are window drapes, there are Star Wars window drapes. If there are cookie jars, there are Star Wars cookie jars (rightfully so).
Novelty cookie jars peaked in the 1990s for whatever reason. If you had truly broken into pop culture, getting your own cookie jar was akin to getting your own trading card series or Spaghetti-O shape. You made it, man. I can’t recall a single Na-Na being hip enough to actually own a Batman, Looney Tunes, or Star Wars cookie jar. But, hey, the crossover appeal was there. And you can’t blame them for that.
For a mere $275 + $14.95 shipping and handling you could be the proud owner of this 16 inch tall cookie jar of everyone’s favorite uptight worrisome british droid, golden-rod himself, C-3PO. Human Cyborg Relations? NOT ANYMORE, Bantha brain. Add Human Cookie Relations to the ‘ol droid resume now, Threepio. This ad boasts (3 times in fact) that this is the BEST likeness of C-3PO EVER MADE. Not only does it look like he stepped right out of the sands of Tatooine and into your kitchen, but he’s full of delicious cookies FINALLY.
My search results on eBay show I can claim this collectable for about half the price offered here. Which, $300 for a cookie jar is pretty steep. With inflation…that comes out to $538. I’m pretty sure I can get Anthony Daniels to bake cookies with me for that price. At least throw in an R2-D2 crockpot for dinner with my dessert. If I’m spending $600 on a C-3PO cookie jar, I’m probably keeping the various keys to my Lamburginis in it….not cookies.
HAN SOLO: SMUGGLER. PIRATE. COLLECTABLE PLATE.
Much like novelty cookie jars, the “Collectable Plate” market is often just as baffling. This hobby peaked in the 70’s and 80’s and was already on the decline by 1998’s standards. But God bless ‘em.
Nothing speaks decadence and class like a 24K gold bordered plate featuring several illustrations of Harrison Ford’s indifferent faces. These days, you may recognize collectable plates from the trailer park of that middle aged Aunt your family keeps their distance from. Walk into any antique store, and you may think that collectable plates were invented solely to feature the likeness of Elvis Presely. Regardless, I don’t know of any fans who were into the “Collectable Plates” of Star Wars. When you can line your shelves with statues, busts and lightsaber hilts…adorn your walls with film posters and original artwork…I’m not sure if “plates” even come into question. But to each their own. Between this and the cookie jar, I’m beginning to think Lucasfilm really wanted to corner the mee-maw market.
This plated collage of Han would set you back $35 (that’s $63 today) but trusty ‘ol eBay, the internet’s lovable cyber-smuggler, had a bunch of these brand new for around $30. If these were slightly cheaper, I’d probably go ahead and create a custom “Hanburger” and serve it on this very plate. I’d dine while watching “A New Hope”. Picking the remnants of my Hanburger toppings off this plate. A few shreds of lettuce revealing Ford’s disgruntled face staring back at me. His judgement seeping through me; making me question my life choices up to this point. The realization of my dinner’s main course…being loneliness.
R2-D2: THE TELEPHONE
Well we found it. We found the thing that I want most in this entire magazine. Understand, I despise talking on the phone. Yet I want it. I have no need for a landline. Yet I want it. It’s large. Cumbersome. Impractical. Probably annoying after the novelty wears off in a few days.
Yet I want it.
This replica of Artoo lights up, swivels his head,and makes authentic noises when the phone rings. The receiver is part of his leg. The image they went with is great too. That warm illuminated cloud city grated floor. A black gloved hand holding the receiver. Is it Darth? Is it Luke? Who are they calling? Do they have phone numbers in Star Wars? Weequay looks like he could’ve been a phone technician.
This bad boy was going for $99 in the catalog (that’s $177 today). Going the eBay route, he looks to be around the same price in box. And Call2-D2 was repackaged various times throughout its lifespan. From the “blue/gold space” Original trilogy aesthetic to the “gold/red/maroon” Episode 1 vibe to the “Guy Feitti’s hot rod” Revenge of the Sith look. It’s clear it was a popular item that the people demanded. If you had to make a phone call, wouldn’t it be through an R2 unit? He is a service droid afterall!
Lifesize Replica Boba Fett
Back before Boba Fett was an aimless boring old man that needed to soak in a Bacta tank to take out the garbage, he was the galaxy’s most feared bounty hunter that had a cult following for simply looking like a complete badass. A character that truly represented the best parts of “less is more” within the fandom. Mystery served Boba best and although those days are far behind us, I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t punt a Porg for a set of that sweet Mandolarian battle armor.
This is a 6 foot fiberglass Boba fett dressed in authentic armor made by the legendary Don Post studios. And I’m pretty sure it’s the most expensive thing in this catalog retailing for $4,500 (that comes out to a little over $8K today). I had to do some digging on this specific Boba in question, as the paragraph doesn’t give much insight. But I tracked it down through the bobafettfanclub.com (est. ‘96) that these were limited editions to around 250 pieces. The armor was cast from original props on actor Jeremy Bulloch from Return of the Jedi. It weighs about 85 lbs and there’s currently (?) one on display in the lobby of Lucasfilm in San Francisco, California.
It also states (twice) that this is not a costume, meaning they know exactly what I’m thinking.
I often wonder who would buy these and for what reason. I realize the business aspect of marketing this, I’ve seen “props” like this in wax and movie museums, but the ability to sell this privately is something. Eccentric millionaires could line their personal screening rooms with fun things like this…but….let’s be honest…the people who would truly appreciate this couldn’t fit it in their apartment or their wives wouldn’t allow it in their two bedroom ranch home.
There are only one of these listed on eBay currently…and it’s going for $18K. Considered a “grail” piece of Star Wars memorabilia. I’m certainly glad at least one of these survived. They’re worth a lot to me.
Star Wars Buddies and Luke Skywalker Utility Belt
Being me I have to briefly touch on some toys that brought up some nostalgic memories.
The Star Wars Buddies were bean bag plush that I felt like were capitalizing on the Beanie Baby fad of the time. I remember seeing a box of these guys in every toy store I had the privilege of visiting. They never spoke to me though unfortunately. Droids shouldn’t be soft and huggable. Jawas aren’t likable. Wicket and Chewie make sense, yet Chewie looks like some sort of hairy Mr. Potato Head. I would’ve leaned more into a set of various Ewoks personally, as the younger generation would probably embrace them more than the previous. I also find it interesting that Wicket isn’t called by his name. He’s just “Ewok”.
You can still find these galactic “beanie buddies” at various comic cons and online marketplaces for around the same price they are now. I believe more characters were made, as I remember Yoda, a “leather” like Jabba the Hutt, and even purchasing a Max Reebo for my own nefarious reasons years back. I can personally recall my friend Eric, who lent me this very magazine, had a bunch of these strung up adorning his bedroom window when we were kids. Heard he had to fight girls off back then. They were practically an aphrodisiac.
The Luke Skywalker utility belt really stuck out to me for two reasons: roleplaying sets were some of my favorite kinds of “toys” and I’ve actually never seen this set before. It comes with his blaster, adjustable belt to attach your suction cup darts, and “electrobinoculars”. What’s missing, as I’m sure we’ve all noticed, is a Lightsaber. In fact, there isn’t a lightsaber (toy or collectable) available in this entire catalog. Which I find more shocking than sith lightning fingers. The Lightsaber is arguably the most iconic prop in Star Wars and one of the most iconic weapons in popular culture. I did some digging and did find out midway through 1999, Hasbro recalled over half a million toy lightsabers due to “batteries overheating and rupturing”. Yet this catalog is from mid-1998, nearly a year prior. Regardless, it’s just an interesting and surprising insight, as you’d think you could open The Star Wars magazine with The Star Wars catalog to purchase a Lightsaber. It’s like going to Disneyland and not finding Mouse ears to purchase.
This roleplay set was going for $18.95 (about $34 today). It looks to go around $50-80 online, which is interesting for this era of Star Wars collectability as many toys were overproduced. I guess there’s a reason why I didn’t recall seeing this when I was a kiddo. I would’ve certainly begged for it come my Birthday or Christmas time. And it would’ve paired great with an electronic Lightsaber. Damn. Just thinking about this now makes me regret it!
1995 Darth Vader Power Talker Mask
This Darth Vader mask pictured isn’t listed in the catalog I’m sharing. But it’s an important artifact in my personal Star Wars lore. It’s not worth much these days. About $30 new in the retail box. I distinctly remember going to a local Service Merchandise with my grandparents one particular afternoon when they purchased this for me. I don’t know why I was getting this. I don’t know if we went there for this…if it was a special occasion or I was being rewarded in some way. I can recall holding the box in a toy aisle. Getting home. The sturdy plastic with a velcro strap pressed against my face. How it always sort of hurt the bridge of my nose. The slight dark tint the eyes gave my surroundings. It came with a speaker box adorning the “Star Wars” logo you’d clip to your pants. The deep robotic tone it made your voice when you’d speak into the tiny cheap microphone embedded in the plastic. You didn’t really sound like Darth Vader, but it was close enough.
I remember this vividly because that mask gave me a boost of courage. When wearing it, I was no longer afraid of the dark. Or being in the moody basement or damp crawl space alone. The weird natural bellowing noises didn’t make me dart off in fear. I was Darth Vader, baby. Dark Lord of the Sith. I emanated Vader’s iconic breathing to the best of my ability. I thought it sounded legit but who knows these days. The boogeyman himself could’ve jumped out in my darkened path and threatened me with maximum spook-age. But with my Darth Vader POWER TALKER mask on, I wouldn’t have taken his shit in the slightest. I’d probably try to Force-choke him, realize it did nothing, and then ran. My point being though, before that I felt badass.
This era of new Star Wars merchandise was branded “Power of The Force”. And I know I’m thinking too much about this, but it certainly was. It was THE POWER of Star Wars. It has had relevance since inception. And staying power culturally and financially.
Hey, since I have you here…lets get existential for a minute…
I was driving home last night and thinking about thumbing through this magazine and simply asked myself, “Why do I like this shit?” I guess…more specifically…”Why do I like Star Wars?”.
Upon posing that question, I remembered, as a child, tying an old belt around my waist while wearing one of my grandfather’s white v-neck t-shirts. It being at least 3 sizes too big draped over me. Underneath I wore tight cream colored long underwear. A cheap black plastic flashlight gripped in one hand. Running around my grandparents’ hallways. Peaking into rooms, igniting my “lightsaber” flashlight, and whispering “I’m Luke Skywalker, I’m here to rescue you…” to the imaginary Princess sitting captive on the bed. This memory wasn’t unearthed and buried under decades of memory matter.
It was reflexive. Like when a doctor hits your knee with that tiny rubber hammer. The memory I shared is my natural answer to the question “Why do I like Star Wars?”. Natural as The Force itself. As if my brain answered back, “You like Star Wars because you always have.” As adults, imagination fades with time and responsibilities. When we witness children doing this, we now simply see it as “playing”. And it is. But reality tarnishes imagination. It makes us lose sight of our simpler pleasures and interests.
Star Wars, to me, is tied to innocence, simplicity, and limitless imagination. It’s a story of good conquering evil through bravery, selflessness, and doing what’s right…even when it seems most difficult.
Star Wars was a bond between family and friends I no longer have, in places that no longer exist. Each film started with the iconic words, “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” and the warmth of this past I’m describing is beginning to feel a long time ago and with a history that certainly seems far far away. And Star Wars is one of those devices, the force if you will, that takes me back and, in the very least, gives me the memories…the feelings…of being together again. My whole life ahead of me. Plastic flashlight in hand.
Star Wars, now to generations of people, has sparked imagination, determination, and creativity for decades. It has succeeded popular culture. It’s biblical…for better or worse. Blasphemy? I’m speaking on popular culture…also for better or worse. Star Wars represents a simpler time for some. It currently is a simpler time for many. A bonding agent for human socialization. An ice breaker. Maybe even the very foundation of friendships and relationships. A source for positive growth and morals. We can’t all be Luke Skywalker…a simple farm boy destined for greatness…but we all play a role in each other’s destiny.
For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes.
Thanks for reading about some ludacris Star Wars collectables found in a 25 year old magazine and the impact this silly space story had on me decades later. You can always find offbeat ramblings on comic culture such as this at ChrisDoesComics.com. Until next time, May The Ads Be With You…Always.
Besides attending school, my primary extracurricular activity as a child was begging my mom for WWF magazine within our local Walgreens and Osco. Does any institution represent small town americana more accurately than the “corner” drugstore? A near necessity located in Anytown, USA providing simple goods with a helpful smile in every aisle. Perhaps it’s been romanticized over the decades via Andy Griffith or Norman Rockwell. Regardless, the drug store of yesteryear may be gone, but that doesn’t mean the idea is. These stores were a convenient necessity to our daily routine and was often the first place I’d get a taste of my favorite holiday: Halloween.
Over the recent years, I’ve come to feel nostalgic for these “corner drug stores” of all things. It’s not surprising considering most of my childhood establishments have been reduced to empty lots and condominiums. This forces my mind to peel away the obvious nostalgic layers to unearth some truly pure unfiltered personal nostalgia long since buried. Memories that existed, yet laid to rest, but slowly creeping up and bursting out of my mind-soil. Once risen, I’m hit with a rich old-found Thriller-dance of nostalgic thoughts. The type of memories that breed silly pointless articles. No one can escape the evil of the Thriller after all!
So this season, I decided to return to some of the drug stores that, unknowingly, made my Halloween a bit more magical. To haunt that seasonal aisle once again and document their spooky offerings in 2022. The appeal of the American drugstore is convenience. So throw on your coziest hoodie and let’s conveniently crunch along the leaf-covered block to the corner drugstore. I’ll buy you a pop.
I visited two drug stores: the first being Jewel-Osco. A Chicagoland grocery store chain that has existed for as long as Halloween itself. I’ve spent countless hours of my childhood at “The Jewels”, much to my dismay, with the only other store competing being my local K-Mart. These days, I actually enjoy my Jewel trips as it evokes a sense of comforting nostalgia. Mainly because Jewel hasn’t changed. From the store layout to the logo, grocery bags, smells, and employee uniforms. Even the dated intercom voice announcing sales and grocery code garble. I truly believe Jewel peaked in 1981 and thought, as a collective company, “we’re good. Let’s stay here.”
Entering through Osco drug, the “seasonal” aisle glowing a familiar orange greeted me with open skeleton arms. One side full of spooky assorted party favors and decor while the other a towering wall of limitless fun-size candy. You know how it is. “It Must’ve Been Love” by Roxette echoed throughout the aisle, confirming that Jewel indeed hasn’t changed in decades. Yet…neither have I. And I don’t want either of us to.
As previously mentioned, the drugstore was often the first place I’d get a taste of Halloween. Grocery shopping with my mother come September, there was a certain expected brew bubbling inside me as our cart neared the seasonal aisle. Turning a corner and seeing bags of candy, rubber bats, and plastic jack o’lanterns was mere confirmation of what we all knew was coming…yet it was still exciting to see it was finally here.
Understand that the Halloween aisle offered here isn’t anything spectacular. It never was. Yet the same Halloween aisles of my childhood seemed more thorough. Could be a case of rose tinted glasses, but these offerings always served as a mere kickoff to the season. I always enjoyed the simplicity of it: The often present generic icons of Halloween such as the witch, ghost, black cat, or vampire. Not to mention the ever-present cutesy window decals and plastic bags of fake spiderwebs.
But nothing screams “Halloween” more than some cheap drugstore masks and makeup kits. The past 2 years these have been absent from the aisles entirely. I’m not surprised at this decision, but I’m still bummed to see this tradition dry up. Michael Myers always grabs his mask from a local drugstore after all! I guess he’ll have to settle for a paper bag this year.
I suppose Walgreens has become “America’s Drugstore” since Mom and Pop’s were effectively taken out back and put out of their misery decades ago. The Walgreens of my childhood was quite literally on the corner and although I’m not as fond of it today as The Jewels, I have positive memories nonetheless. Walgreens was a place where I obtained most of my then music library (including a couple spooky Halloween soundtracks) which was found on a spinning counter rack carrying cassette singles. I’ve also decided what to be for Halloween a few times during a trip to my local Walgreens as I recollect their decent amount of kids costumes and accessories back in the day. These days, the only time I find myself in a Walgreens drugstore is during the Halloween season.
But that’s not an insult, as the drugstore has some pretty cool stuff. It has a lot of classic standbys (like Ghostface masks, candy corn, and pumpkin carving kits) as well as a lot of licensed stuff from Disney and various horror films. They seemed like they weren’t fully stocked just yet, but there was enough to oogle and make some impulse buys. I especially loved the plush horror “waddlers” as they literally harass you while playing music at the touch of a button. Oddly enough, there was no Chucky…who seems to be perfect for this line.
Walgreens also had a great variety of Halloween novelty candy. I’m not talking about the 8 lbs sacks you buy for the trick or treaters, but the ones you grab for yourself as a sugary impulse. Little plastic monsters that “poop” candy pellets, Skeleton flashlight tubes holding sweets, gummy vampire fangs, and spooky pez dispensers just to name a few. Speaking of, I had to get a little something during my journey:
Remember Nestle Wonderball? It was a plastic “egg” holding a prize, covered in chocolate, and wrapped in foil. Well, these are called “YOWIE”s and they’re basically the same thing but cooler. They look like monsters from Sesame Street (I chose “Rumble” and “Crag”) and they hold little plastic figures of animals with cool “super powers”, along with a scroll explaining how freaky these guys are.
I was honestly expecting a figure of the monster I chose, but this turned out to be better in every way. I loved that it turned into a learning experience and focused on creepy critters. It took me back to the days of Zoobooks and Animal Planet (back when it was thoughtful and educational and not just shows about Bigfoot becoming a Lawyer or something) . These candies originate from Australia, as I assumed they were foreign because they were educational, and I’ll definitely be picking some of these up during those monotonous grocery trips.
These drug stores were mere pit stops along the way to something more interesting, yet I now look back at them with a collective fondness. The joy the Halloween season brought me became more apparent within these simple stores. As my mother picked up some quick essentials, I recall persuading her for a pair of plastic vampire fangs or a rubber glow-in-the-dark skeleton. Involuntarily taking in that rubbery smell when thumbing through a short rack of cheap plastic “smock” costumes. Wondering what I would go as during my school’s halloween party as I’d haunt the small collection of bargain masks and makeup kits. As the kids say, It was a vibe…little did I know at the time.
The Halloween season, in itself, celebrates monsters, mystery, and macabre. In our modern society, it’s become a tradition of gratuitous amounts of fun-size candy, overpriced superhero costumes, and obnoxiously long lines for haunted houses. And, like Abraham Lincoln lighting a deep fried bottle rocket, it’s undeniably American…for better or worse.
Tradition is inseparable from nostalgia. Take Dracula and his casket or Dr. Frankenstein and the monster, you can’t have one without the other. As each new Halloween season approaches, I harken back to those of yesteryear. There was never any extravagance among my favorite Halloween memories. It was something as simple as taking in neighborhood decorations with my mother, attending my school’s fall fest with some friends, or strolling the Halloween aisle of our local drugstore like we just did.
And I believe that’s a big reason why Halloween has always remained special to me: it’s what you make of it. And Halloween doesn’t have the overwhelming pressure of, say, a Birthday, Christmas, or Thanksgiving. It’s the only holiday where you can watch Ghoulies Go To College alone while downing an entire bag of fun-size snickers and it’s considered time well spent.
Writing this article dredged up another fond Halloween memory: I was about 15 years old. An age where you’re considered “too old” for the usual Halloween traditions…yet “too young” to partake in any new ones. It was a growing realization that Halloween was just becoming another day. That “childhood” aspect of it losing its spark. Sensing my depression, my mom and cousin went to the local drug store and purchased some cheap plastic halloween masks and we all went trick or treating that evening.
I remember walking down the block in my Spider-man costume and seeing a bunch of children with smiles and jack o’lanterns of candy in hand. My natural reaction was almostfeeling embarrassed for myself. I’m too old. I look so stupid. I thought to myself. But I turned back and saw my mom and cousin dressed in their spooky slap-dashed costumes, newly acquired masks adorned, giddy and excited gripping old treat bags. It was somewhat of an epiphany.
There’s no age limit to Halloween. You can outgrow Halloween, but it doesn’t outgrow you.
So this season, make sure to celebrate with a childish mindset. Harken back to those magical Halloweens of yesteryear. And if you never had one, there’s no better time to make one. We’re not here for long after all. So take those you cherish to celebrate with the spooks before we all become some.
If interested in some other related spooky offerings, here’s an episode of my podcast where my best friend and I peruse Jewel for Halloween goodies!