Atari Nerd Chronicles: 1982-1983: Computer Lab

Note: I’ve been writing these little stories on the internet for the better part of the last decade.   Out of my entire close and extended family, only a very few have taken the time to read them…. Read More

A Nerd Is Born: Star Wars In-Person At Toys ‘R Us September 1977 (updated)

I’m been a consumer of nerd-laden toys and video games for most of my life. There is not a January that goes by that does not see me searching through the After-Christmas red-tag bins at Target, looking for mark-downs on video games and toys that I others would shudder at purchasing. Just yesterday, for example, I found three new Leapster games for my 4-year old for $6.44 each, Sid Meier’s Pirates for The Wii for $13.78, but I passed-up the Spider Man pinball machine for $13.78 because it was the exact same table configuration as the Dora pinball game my 8-year old still plays, plus my girls are still not enthralled by super heroes. Even so, it almost made the cart too.

At Target this week, I noticed a few new Star Wars action figures with the classic packaging: something Hasbro decided to do last year to get old guys like me to buy the same stuff they have bought dozens of times already.

While I was holding a Storm Trooper action figure, I had a sudden flashback. It was to a time before there were any Star Wars toys for sale at all. It was the day I became a nerd consumer.

Some time in October or November 1977 there was an advertisement in the local paper, The Daily Breeze, that announced characters from Star Wars would be appearing in-person at the local Toys R ‘Us in Torrance, California. This was not a just a local occurrence. These characters were showing up everywhere that autumn, from Florida to California. You see, when the movie Star Wars was released in May of that year, there were no toys available at all. It took Kenner months to get toys on the shelves, but even then, they would not be available for Christmas 1977. In fact, there was really only a “promise” parents could buy for their kids that toys would arrive some time in 1978. It was called the “Early Bird Certificate Package” which consists of a cardboard background, a membership card, and a certificate to mail-in to get your toys in 1978. If my memory serves me correctly, these visits by costumed Star Wars characters to Toys R Us in 1977 were designed so that the chain could sell kids on the amazing idea of receiving an envelope some flimsy paper products for Christmas, while waiting months for real molded plastic toys to arrive.

It worked.

This was 1977 mind you. As kids, we had little else to keep us going. There was no internet. Network news and newspapers were still doing their rightful job of keeping public officials honest with real journalism. Entertainment news was scarce, with gossip about celebrities relegated to the National Enquirer. The top TV shows were geared towards adult nostalgia (Happy Days, Laverne And Shirley) or adult situations (All In The Family, Three’s Company). The top selling albums were by bands like Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles (although, to behonest, the Star Wars soundtrack was in the top-10).

In this era, and news for kids existed only in the pages of publications like Boy’s Life and Dynamite, magazines with lead times of 6 months or more. Recent news about products for kids or toys was virtually non-existent. And what would they talk about anyway? Even video games were still an experimental fad. In October 1977, the Atari 2600 was couple months from release.

So when my brother and I read in the Daily Breeze that Darth Vader, Chewbacca and Storm Troopers would be traipsing through the local Toys R Us to announce the new line of toys based on Star Wars, we HAD to go, and our dad decided to take us.

We got up really early that morning. Well, my dad got up. My brother and I never went to sleep the night before. How could we? We were going to meet the guys from Star Wars! When we slipped outside at the crack of dawn to get going, my dad snapped this photo of my brother and I (below). I’m the guy on the left looking glum. I have no idea why I look so upset. My wife says I was probably trying to put on my best Han Solo face. I think she’s right. My twin brother is the moisture farm boy on the right. Our brand-new ’76 Datsun 710 Millenium Falcon is just behind us.

Han Solo And Luke On Their Way To a Meeting with Destiny: : Star Wars Visits Toy’s R Us In Torrance, CA, Fall 1977

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