TRANSMISSIONS FROM A GALAXY FAR, FAR, AWAY: EPISODE III

This is the third column in a weekly series from The Rock Father James Zahn. Check back Fridays for the latest in what’s happening in the galaxy far, far away.

This month we thank the maker, as May 25 brings with it not just the U.S. theatrical release of Solo: A Star Wars Story, but also the 41st anniversary of the film that started it all. George Lucas’ Star Wars first thrilled audiences in limited release—just 42 screens—on May 25, 1977. It would actually be nearly four years until it would first be re-titled Episode IV: A New Hope in 1981, a full year after the release of The Empire Strikes Back. The years have taught us that the Star Wars franchise—despite things that have been said, unsaid, later contradicted, denied, or said once more—has never been something that’s stuck to the plan. Every element of the franchise has seen evolution, and the early concept designs of the ’70s have taken on a life of their own over the years, fueling fandom and continuing to inspire future Star Wars projects.

 

When it comes to concepts, the late Ralph McQuarrie tends to get much of the glory (and rightfully so), as Yoda once said, “there is another.” In the years during which Star Wars first began to take shape, artist and model maker Colin Cantwell was hard at work creating the early concepts for what would eventually become iconic ships like the X-Wing Fighter, the Y-Wing, Star Destroyer, and even the Imperial Death Star. Now those designs are getting some overdue attention in a forthcoming sub-line to the Hot Wheels Starships Star Wars Original Concept Series. Series one will feature five vehicles from Cantwell’s designs, including the Star Destroyer, TIE Fighter, Landspeeder, X-Wing Fighter, and a vastly different take on the Millennium Falcon.

Just as McQuarrie’s designs are still helping to shape new characters, locations, and vehicles (especially in the recent Star Wars Rebels), one of Cantwell’s ships will finally come to life on-screen in Solo. One of his Star Destroyer Concepts was repurposed more than four decades later to become the Imperial Arrestor Cruiser. On his art art site, Cantwell notes that this ship was “inspired by WWII’s great aircraft carriers” and features radar-based weapons that would later be incorporated into his Death Star design. And yes, there’s a Hot Wheels Starship available right now.

Being caught up in the fact that May could essentially be seen as “Star Wars Month” with the anniversary of the original film and the yearly debate on whether the true “Star Wars Day” should be May 4 (“May the Fourth Be With You”) or May 25, there is another milestone to note. This month marks the official 50th Anniversary of Mattel’s iconic Hot Wheels brand, but it’s been just four years since they made the jump to hyperspace to become an official licensee of the franchise we all love.

2014 marked the launch of the Hot Wheels Star Wars line, and they hit the ground running and have only stayed on the accelerator since. In fact, in just four years Mattel has issued hundreds of Star Wars products across numerous sub-lines and offshoots, with so many running changes and reissues that completists and variant collectors have had a hard time keeping up. I was the first out of the gate in trying to keep track of things, originally launching a checklist to keep up with the Character Cars, Entertainment and Pop Culture lines. In 2016, Mattel launched the Hot Wheels Carships line, and that led to another checklist all its own while the original lines kept expanding into new areas, like All-Terrain Character Cars and Battle Rollers. With retail and event exclusives, packaging refreshes and often-unannounced new releases hitting stores, one area I failed to keep up with was the Starships, but a dedicated Facebook community has grabbed the saber on that one with daily updates.

The creative partnership between Lucasfilm and the Hot Wheels crew has spawned some very cool things on the toy front, but their creations have also crossed over into the real world with 1:1 full-scale, driveable versions of their Darth Vader Character Car and Red Five X-Wing Carship.

 

The first Hot Wheels car ever released was a ’67 Camaro in Spectraflame Blue…. and in Solo: A Star wars Story, Han gets behind the wheel of a blue Mobquet M-68 Landspeeder. They might be separated by some years and stars, but they actually have a lot in common.

When Mattel co-founder Elliot Handler made his push to create the fastest, best-looking toy cars out there back in 1968, I bet he never considered that there might one day be a time when Hot Wheels would make toys based on a space opera… especially some without wheels at all!

 

Further Transmissions from Across the Galaxy:

  • Star Wars Celebration Returns! For its 20th Anniversary, ReedPop and Lucasfilm are bringing Star Wars Celebration to the Windy City from April 11-15, 2019. Tickets for Star Wars Celebration Chicago go on sale at noon on June 5.
  • Would it surprise you to learn that more physical costumes were made for Solo than any other Star Wars film? Learn more in a new making-of featurette.
  • Fans in the Motor City can check out Star Wars and The Power of Costume at the Detroit Institute of Arts from May 20 through September 30. The traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian is making the final stop on a three-year tour, presenting audiences with one last chance to see original costumes from the first six films in the saga, along with a few newer pieces on loan from Disney. Tickets and details here.