The Hottest Star Wars Toy for Christmas in 1977 Was an Empty Box

iStock/Sadeugra
iStock/Sadeugra

It's hard to imagine a child's face lighting up at the sight of an empty cardboard box staring back at them from under the Christmas tree. But in 1977, young Jedis-in-training were so hungry for anything Star Wars-related that even an I.O.U. was something to get excited about.

When George Lucas's intergalactic gamble first hit screens in May 1977, no one knew quite what to expect—especially the film's toy-making partner, Kenner. Instead of flooding the market with action figures and dolls for a movie that could very well end up being a flop, the company decided not to manufacture any toys right away. Unfortunately, there wasn't just a demand for Star Wars toys that year; there was an outright fever that took the company completely by surprise. And with Christmas just a few short months away, the ill-prepared Kenner needed to act—fast.

Realizing it would be impossible to get a full line of Star Wars toys manufactured in time to meet the needs of the holiday season, a Kenner executive named Bernard Loomis knew he had to improvise. Instead of simply releasing a proper toyline in 1978 and missing out on the Christmas rush, Loomis came up with what is now known as the "Early Bird Certificate Package" (or more colloquially as the "Empty Box Campaign") to satisfy this sudden, rabid fan base.

Basically, parents would go to their local toy store and pay $7.99 for a thin cardboard package, about the size of a manila envelope, with painted renderings of the proposed 12-figure Star Wars toyline that Kenner was promising to release in the months ahead. The cardboard kit could be turned into a display diorama for all the figures, which—at that point—only existed in theory. And since the word "diorama" isn't quite enough to satisfy a kid on Christmas morning, the kit also contained the all-important mail-in certificate promising the recipient would get the company's first four figures—Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, R2-D2, and Chewbacca—delivered right to their homes between February and June 1978.

Kenner limited the supply of this glorified pre-order campaign to 500,000 kits, none of which were to be sold after December 31, 1977 in order to really manipulate the holiday market.

In an attempt to soften the blow of what was essentially nothing but a bunch of cardboard under the tree, Kenner sweetened the pot by including some stickers and a Star Wars Fan Club membership card. After months of waiting, kids everywhere would come home from school and be greeted by their delayed Christmas gift: four figures, along with foot pegs to fit them into their display stand. Eventually the entire first line of Star Wars toys came out in 1978 and could be purchased in stores, whether you mailed in a certificate or not.

From 1978 to 1985, Kenner never again doubted the power of the Star Wars toy line. In that time, the company released a robust roster of more than 100 different action figures based on the film series, scraping the bottom of the barrel of Lucas lore along the way with obscurities like Dengar and General Madine. The company went from having no toys on the shelf in 1977 to having every side character, prop, and vehicle recreated in plastic in just a few years.

Nowadays, intact Early Bird Kits go for big money on the collector's market, especially if they still include the original certificate kids were supposed to mail back (prices in the $4000 to $8000 range are pretty standard). But the biggest winner of this whole stunt, as usual, was George Lucas.

When signing on to direct Star Wars at 20th Century Fox, Lucas agreed to work for just $150,000, as opposed to the $500,000 he was set to earn. In exchange for the pay cut, the director asked for two things: The rights to any sequels to the movie and the rights to all the merchandise, including the toys. Believing Star Wars to be just another science fiction movie, Fox happily agreed to the reduced salary. That empty box under countless Christmas trees was the start of what would become Lucas's $20 billion merchandising empire.

This article originally ran in 2016.

The 3 Best Mattresses You Can Order Online Right Now

iStock.com/diego_cervo
iStock.com/diego_cervo

So you're ready to ditch your lumpy old mattress for a newer, more comfortable model, huh? (Hello, memory foam.) If you don’t feel like fighting off the crowds while shopping at your local mattress outlet, there are plenty of great online deals you can take advantage of—and you don't have to sift through a thousand reviews to find the best one. Check out our buying guide to the three comfiest mattresses on the market right now from Leesa, Allswell, and Linenspa. Several models are on sale for Memorial Day weekend, so grab a deal while you can.

1. Leesa’s Universal Adaptive Feel Memory Foam Cooling Mattress

Leesa's universal adaptive feel memory foam cooling mattress
Leesa, Amazon

Do you kick off the covers in the middle of the night because you get too hot? Try Leesa’s 10-inch-tall cooling mattress. It has three unique foam layers: The first layer is designed to keep you cool, while the second offers body-contouring comfort, and the third helps relieve pressure and provide core support. The “adaptive feel” label refers to the fact that it adapts to your body no matter what your preferred sleeping position may be. The mattress comes in twin through California king sizes, with prices starting at $425.

Buy it on Amazon or from Leesa's website. The latter is currently offering 15 percent off plus two free pillows with any purchase for Memorial Day.

2. Allswell’s Luxe Hybrid Mattress

This extra-thick mattress is so popular that it frequently sells out from Allswell and at other retailers. It packs 12 inches of high-end material into one mattress, including quilted memory foam and an outer layer designed keep you cool in hot weather. Similar mattresses tend to go for thousands of dollars, but the Luxe Hybrid retails for far less. Prices start at $345 for a twin, $485 for a full, $585 for a queen, or $745 for a king. (Not sure about the difference in mattress sizes? We've got you covered.)

Buy it from Allswell's website or at Walmart starting at $345. Through May 27, you can get 15 percent off mattresses and 30 percent off bedding using the code SUMMERTIME.

3. Linenspa’s memory foam and innerspring hybrid mattress

The Linenspa memory foam and innerspring hybrid mattress
Linenspa, Amazon

Amazon customers swear by Linenspa’s hybrid mattress, which comes in sizes twin ($144) through California king ($288). Ideal for people who like medium-firm mattresses, it combines the benefits of memory foam with the support one gets from a traditional innerspring mattress. The standard version is 8 inches thick, but Linenspa also offers a 10-inch version in all sizes. (We also love the company's incredibly affordable down-alternative duvet, which is only $30 on Amazon.)

Buy it on Amazon, where the 8-inch queen mattress is regularly on sale for up to 20 percent off. It's $225 right now.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

What's the Difference Between Memorial Day and Veterans Day?

iStock/flySnow
iStock/flySnow

It may not be easy for some people to admit, but certain national holidays often get a little muddled—namely, Memorial Day and Veterans Day. In fact, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs sees the confusion often enough that they spelled out the distinction on their website. The two days are held six months apart: Veterans Day is celebrated every November 11, and Memorial Day takes place on the last Monday of May as part of a three-day weekend with parades and plenty of retail sales promotions. You probably realize both are intended to acknowledge the contributions of those who have served in the United States military, but you may not recall the important distinction between the two. So what's the difference?

Veterans Day was originally known as Armistice Day. It was first observed on November 11, 1919, the one-year anniversary of the end of World War I. Congress passed a resolution making it an annual observance in 1926. It became a national holiday in 1938. In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower changed the name from Armistice Day to Veterans Day to recognize veterans of the two world wars. The intention is to celebrate all military veterans, living or dead, who have served the country, with an emphasis on thanking those in our lives who have spent time in uniform.

We also celebrate military veterans on Memorial Day, but the mood is more somber. The occasion is reserved for those who died while serving their country. The day was first observed in the wake of the Civil War, where local communities organized tributes around the gravesites of fallen soldiers. The observation was originally called Decoration Day because the graves were adorned with flowers. It was held May 30 because that date wasn't the anniversary for any battle in particular and all soldiers could be honored. (The date was recognized by northern states, with southern states choosing different days.) After World War I, the day shifted from remembering the fallen in the Civil War to those who had perished in all of America's conflicts. It gradually became known as Memorial Day and was declared a federal holiday and moved to the last Monday in May to organize a three-day weekend beginning in 1971.

The easiest way to think of the two holidays is to consider Veterans Day a time to shake the hand of a veteran who stood up for our freedoms. Memorial Day is a time to remember and honor those who are no longer around to receive your gratitude personally.

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