Twenty years ago in August of 1995 Star Wars fans were at a pivotal crossroads that few of us would actually have believed at the time. 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm announced that they were going to release the original Star Wars trilogy for the home market one last time. The release was in the form of the wildly popular THX set known to Star Wars nerds across the internet as the “faces” set. If you are reading this I’m sure you’ve seen this set countless times over the years.
I was 11 years old in 1995 and didn’t own the Star Wars trilogy on VHS. I was a big fan in my younger years but my parents had absolutely zero interest in the films. As a result, a home video purchase in my single digit years was out of the question. My mom did record the movies off of HBO at some point in the 1980’s but she was so aggravated by my repeated viewings that she “lost” or destroyed the cassettes at some point. To this day she denies this, but the fact remains that for over 25 years the tapes have never turned up despite my parents hoarding everything else under the sun. Maybe they were recorded over with a John Wayne movie or some vintage pro wrestling. Whatever the case for approximately 7 years I was unable to watch Star Wars as our family quit subscribing to cable in 1988.
Having remembered the films fondly but only barely remembering the major plot points I demanded that my mother rectify her sabotage of our bootleg versions of the trilogy and purchase the new THX releases for me. Although she was not looking forward to having to endure repeated watchings yet again she did agree to my terms and my life literally did change from that point forward. It’s comical to think that obtaining VHS tapes could fundamentally change your future but it certainly is not an understatement.
As a young child in the 1980’s I loved watching the trilogy and was infatuated with Yoda and Darth Vader. However by the time I was old enough to gain any real comprehension of the world around me Star Wars was in the rear view mirror of American pop culture. Other newer franchises had become the “in” thing and Star Wars was yesterday’s news. By the time I was old enough to remember going to buy toys Star Wars was relegated to the clearance bins or shuffled to discount stores. With no advertising or TV presence I naturally gravitated towards the flashier and newer action figures and didn’t look back.
The 1995 Star Wars VHS release caused me to jump down the proverbial Star Wars rabbit hole. The next year I was excited about the Shadows of the Empire multimedia event. In 1997 I was thrilled about the re-release of the Star Wars trilogy for the 20th anniversary of the first film and the unveiling of the Special Edition (little did I know that would be the bane of every Star Wars fan’s existence). As May of 1999 drew closer I was elated to experience a new chapter of the Star Wars saga and eagerly anticipated the prequel trilogy. After that my house began to fill with Star Wars books, action figures, dolls (or should I say 1/6 scale figures), ships, models, video games, replica lightsabers, and whatever other assorted junk Lucasfilm could slap a Star Wars logo on. None of that would have happened without the 1995 Star Wars VHS release. These tapes played a pivotal role in my development as a person.
Easily the most popular version of the faces home video release was the full screen VHS version pictured above. Just about everyone I knew at that stage ended up with those tapes in their household. It is worth noting that those were not the only versions available. Although full screen was certainly the most popular format there were some purists who understood that the “black bars” were actually a good thing, and for them a widescreen edition of the trilogy was made available (which are pictured above). Although I had seen the widescreen release at a specialty video store I didn’t understand it at the time and didn’t know anyone who owned them. Packaging wise the only real difference was the notation of them being in widescreen along the top of the box. For the seven people that owned a laserdisc player the movies were re-released in that format as well.
In addition to the trilogy being made available in every format imaginable at the time, the documentary “From Star Wars to Jedi” was also made available again in packaging that matched the faces set. This was a pretty good piece that includes an interview with George Lucas stating that “a special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing”. Years later he would proceed to produce an entire trilogy of prequel movies that relied entirely on special effects rather than character development. He also testified to congress how important it was to preserve black and white films rather than to ruin them by colorizing them. Funny how people contradict themselves sometimes.
Another inclusion with these tapes was this envelope which was packed with coupons and discounts for Star Wars related items. I’m not sure if the boxed set only came with one envelope or not because for some odd reason my mom decided to buy all three movies separately which ended up costing more money. In my case each cassette included the special offers which I have kept tucked away for the last twenty years. Maybe I’m a pack rat. Perhaps I’m just a sucker for nostalgia. Whatever the case, I’m glad I didn’t toss these out because looking at them fills me with all kinds of warm fuzzy feelings. Seriously this kind of stuff is far superior to any alcohol or drug induced euphoria. It’s just as powerful as the Force. As Yoda explained in Empire “through the Force, things you will see. Other places. The future, the past. Old friends long gone.” That’s how I feel when I thumb through these kinds of things. Like I’ve taken a journey back in time and recall events and people that I haven’t experienced in decades.
So what’s included in the special offers packet? A veritable mashup of assorted promotions are stuffed inside of the envelope. These coupons ranged from Kellogg’s products to movie club offers to, of course, Star Wars merchandise. Without further ado lets examine the contents!
The first is billed as an “exciting offer” from Kellogg’s Raisin Bran. I won’t mince any words here; I hate Raisin’s and the odds of me consuming this cereal are roughly the same as successfully navigating an asteroid field. The promotion indicates that specially marked boxes of the crap came with a rebate for buying the trilogy on VHS. You could save up to $7.00 which is actually not a bad rebate but still not worth eating anything containing raisins in my opinion.
We are then prompted to sign up for the Fox Video Movie Club. Back in the 90’s movie clubs and CD clubs like Columbia House were pretty common. They would lure you in with promises of penny CD’s and movies and before you know it you are obligated to buy 30 items a year. Basically they would send you a notice of a new CD or movie release and give you a time frame to opt out. If you didn’t respond in time you were charged the full list price and the item was shipped to you. Pretty shady, but I never got wrapped up in any of these things.
Ah now we have the bread and butter of the package: The Star Wars Savings Book. The inside cover explains what THX is and why having it is a good thing. We are then offered coupons for life sized stand ups, Micro Machines sets, games, comic books, audio cassette tapes, shirts, books, pens… an entire galaxy of Star Wars schlock! Merchandising! Merchandising! Where the real money from the movie is made! Unfortunately they don’t seem to have a coupon for Star Wars the flamethrower in here.
In conjunction with the home video release of Star Wars, new toys, costumes, books, software and other items were made available to capitalize on the resurgence of the Star Wars phenomenon in popular culture. The 1995 home video release ushered in a renaissance of Star Wars fandom which hasn’t really slowed down. Since the release of these tapes, Star Wars has remained a fixture in the public eye and product capitalizing on the popularity of the franchise has been readily available ever since. Therefore it seems necessary to take a moment and reflect on the twentieth anniversary of the Star Wars rebirth that was ushered in by the sale of these tapes and to celebrate the last time the real theatrical versions of Star Wars were made available to the public on a large scale. Hopefully Disney rectifies the Lucas mistake and makes the true versions of the films available for us to enjoy once again on a modern format.