It is hard to describe exactly how hyped Episode 1 was leading to its release. It is easily the most anticipated movie I have experienced. Any information about the movie was quickly spread throughout the internet, and even occasionally actually made the news. When the first trailer came out, there was a listing on the official website saying which theater would be playing the trailer. People would pay to see a certain movie just to see the trailer, and leave soon after it played! With the hype for “The Force Awakens” about to hit a fever pitch, I thought it would be fun to look back at a similar time period.
Fast food promotions have fallen to the wayside over the years, but back then it seemed like every major movie had one. To coincide with the release of the Special Editions in theaters, Taco Bell had a promotion with a set of 7 different toys. So it only made sense that when it came time to promote Episode 1, Taco Bell would be involved. It turns out that the plans for Episode 1 were much broader than that.
Taco Bell was owned by the same company that owned Pizza Hut and Kentucky Fried Chicken, so when it came time to do a promotion for Episode 1, it was decided that all three would promote the movie. Each restaurant would represent a planet from the movie, and carry toys specific to that planet from the movie. Taco Bell was Tatooine, Pizza Hut was Coruscant, and Kentucky Fried Chicken was Naboo.
The toys were pretty cheap, but that is to be expected. There are a lot of gimmick toys, like toys like Anakin and Sebulba’s speeder that shoot forward, or a Queen Amidala figure with a Padme figure hidden within. It is definitely a matter of quantity over quality.
At each restaurant, they had 4 exclusive cup toppers. These were actually pretty cool, although the selection of characters is a bit odd. Captain Tarpals? Nute Gunray? It seems like to create an equal amount of toys for each restaurant they apparently had to stretch and include minor characters. I guess we should be grateful they didn’t produce a Ric Ollie cup topper.
It is clear that Lucas and company were banking on Jar Jar being a big deal, considering the amount of toys that he gets in this promotion. Anakin is also all over the promotion, but that makes more sense due to him being an integral character in the saga. Little did they know what the reaction to these characters in the movie. That is the risk you take when you produce toys for a movie. It is never a given that any movie would be great or get tremendous word of mouth among fans and general audiences.
With 28 toys in total and 8-10 toys at every restaurant, I don’t know anyone who ever got them all. It seems like an impossible task, with so many toys spread across 3 different restaurants. It was hard here, since the only Pizza Huts around where I live are just carry out and hardly do any promotions. I ended up with a few cup toppers that went at a garage sale years later, the fate of all fast food promotions.
It remains to be seen what “The Force Awakens” will bring, but I don’t think it can touch the overwhelming hype of Episode 1. I think the conditions that were there for Episode 1 can’t be replicated by any movie. You have a 16 year lay off between movies, a fanbase that crosses generations, and unprecedented media attention. There was so much hype for the movie that it is strange that they felt they needed to do this promotion at all. I don’t think Taco Bell moved anyone who wasn’t already interested into seeing the movie.
The opposite was true. The glare of Star Wars was massive in 1999. Pretty much anything with the name in the title would get a certain level of interest. It is not surprising that companies would want to get in on the action, especially given the pre-prequel frenzy. It is telling, though, that the amount of promotions for Attack of the Clones were WAY down from Episode 1. It turns out that you can’t just sell anything Star Wars if you have characters like Jar Jar clogging the shelves.