This chapter examines the cultural and social importance of one particular aspect of the Star Wars franchise: the toys. Speciﬁcally, I suggest that the action ﬁgures bought, sold, and collected around the world are an intrinsic part of the Star Wars franchise universe and its meaning making. The commercial success of the 3¾-inch action ﬁgures is well known. In previous work I contended that the production and collecting of Star Wars toys from the ﬁrst trilogy of ﬁlms represented a return to the tradition of war “play” in American youth culture (see Geraghty, 2006). This was in response to America’s own lack of self-security after defeat in Vietnam and the eﬀects of the “end of victory culture” as described by Tom Engelhardt (1995). Those children who watched the ﬁlms and then played with the action ﬁgures were participating in a “ﬁctional world” created by adults (the toy company, the government, and the parents who bought the toys) that represented a redressed and revised form of reality in which the psychic wounds of Vietnam could be healed. As the original ﬁlms passed into Hollywood legend and the prequels moved to
the forefront of Lucas’s mind, Star Wars fandom continued to thrive and toy collection became an integral part of belonging to and participating in adult fan groups just as it still remained part of traditional child “play”. As the children who once played with Luke and Leia were growing up and learning the ﬁscal advantages of having kept some of them sealed in their original packaging, notions of “war play” were changing due to the reactionary nature of contemporary American foreign policy. Adults who used to play with the original action ﬁgures did not necessarily understand them to be representative of the American national consciousness, or part of a speciﬁc reaction to American military action overseas. As the franchise grew and new toys were released to coincide with the three new prequels, issues over fan collecting became far more signiﬁcant than the experience of playing at war. Therefore, I argued that the production and collection of toys in
the late 1990s and early 2000s represented a new form of cultural capital where fans collected the actions ﬁgures as part of their, as Anthony Giddens (1991) would say, “self-identity” and at the same time claimed some form of personal ownership over the Star Wars movies and texts (Geraghty, 2006: 210). Star Wars toy collecting is about constructing an identity as a fan and creating new meanings from a preestablished universe. The acts of preserving objects from childhood, accumulating new additions and creating new toys from old are all part of expressing one’s own Star Wars fandom and claiming some form of individual ownership over a franchise that is adored by millions and controlled, until recently, by one person: George Lucas. It is my intention in this chapter to develop some of the ideas introduced in my
previous work on Star Wars toy collecting and understand more fully the importance of the physical object to the collector and how each toy takes on new meanings brought to bear by the individual. Where I had acknowledged the inﬂuence of war play on previous interpretations of meaning with the original toy action ﬁgures I would want to posit in this chapter that the act of collecting and recollecting these objects from youth overrides any and all possible culturally embedded meanings. For Fiona Candlin and Raiford Guins “objects have symbolic functions, embodying and representing our gods and spirits, averting demons and encapsulating memory” but they also “have social meanings”. These meanings can be used to “assert status or power, circulate value, demarcate our habitats and habits … as well as to connect us to and disconnect us from friends, colleagues or strangers” (2009: 1). Therefore, with these qualities in mind, I want to re-examine Star Wars toys and the collecting of them within the contexts of material culture and the processes of meaning making that collectors undergo with every object in their collection.