With Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’s release and Star Wars: The Force Awakens before it, Star Wars fandom is seeing a bit of a renaissance when it comes to ways fans can celebrate and explore the franchise.
For those who grew up in the ’90s, however, this wave of enthusiasm for Star Wars is more of a time to wax poetic. Though Star Wars has had an ever-expansive fanbase since the release of Star Wars: A New Hope in 1977, right now is one of the hottest times ever for the franchise as a whole. It’s awesome for hardcore fans.
Just as The Force Awakens and the fervor around it brought Star Wars into our lives, the film releases in the late ’90s had the same effect. From food and drinks to school products and toys, Star Wars was ubiquitous. Here are some of our favorite memories of how it touched our lives in awesome, fun, and sometimes wacky ways in the late 1990s.
Scholastic Book Fairs were an oasis for Star Wars tomes.
Back before the Internet was riddled with easy-to-procure content, kids had to save up their allowances for whatever toys, books, or games they wanted instead of just torrenting them. But there were a few special times a year when an event took place at most elementary schools that usually meant your parents would buy you at least one thing: The Scholastic Book Fair.
Star Wars had typically made some sort of showing at nearly every Scholastic Book Fair I remember, but it wasn’t until 1999 that it absolutely dominated the selection. Just before the release of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, the Scholastic Book Fair went from a somewhat placid affair to something amazing. Instead of the hodge-podge of staid titles you normally saw at the bookstore, there were standees for Star Wars: Jedi Apprentice, pens shaped like lightsabers, DK Star Wars: Incredible Cross-Sections books, and bookmarks and erasers galore.
Just before that I would selfishly beg my grandparents to come to the Book Fair at my school instead of my parents, because I knew they were a gentle touch, and there were Star Wars: Galaxy of Fear novels I couldn’t get enough of. The school library wouldn’t stock them, but I greedily consumed them, especially The Nightmare Machine. I was able to build my Galaxy of Fear collection, scare myself at night, and then join the Star Wars Adventures club.
There were plenty of awesome toys you just couldn’t bear to put away.
The late ’90s was a great time for Star Wars toys. Almost any kind of toy you could think of had a Star Wars-themed counterpart, and several iconic Star Wars toy lines got their start in the years leading up to the millennium. And they were awesome.
In 1995 Kenner started producing Star Wars figures again for the first time since they closed the line in 1985, and instead of having to play with the broken or incomplete figures you got from older siblings or thrift store bins, you could have your very own, brand new representations of Luke, Han, and Obi-Wan. (Even though the early ones were kind of body-building versions of our heroes.) Eventually, as the years went by, pretty much every character seen on screen in a Star Wars film and many from the Legends universe got immortalized in one of Kenner’s, and later Hasbro’s, plastic moldings.
If that wasn’t cool enough, Micro Machines went ahead and premiered its Star Wars line in 1994, too. Whereas before you had to either just pretend there were Star Destroyers and X-wing fighters zipping around your living room, you could actually have tiny, affordable miniatures of your favorite Star Wars ships to deploy into fleets rivaling those at Endor. I had my own mix of them that I’d always leave out strewn across the carpet with my older Polly Pocket sets, much to my parents’ dismay. But really, they worked so well together!
Let’s not forget the amazing LEGO Star Wars sets that debuted around that time as well, which I also had a problem with leaving in the floor. Before the Star Wars line, you had to hope you had the right spare pieces to make an X-wing or the Millennium Falcon. Beginning in 1999 and continuing through today, LEGO has continued to release some of the most challenging and imaginative products in their line-up under the Star Wars brand. Between action figures, Micro Machines, and LEGO toys, my family had their fair share of scraped-up feet for a good while. I’d imagine the same is true for most Star Wars families of the era.
You hated the Jawa sandcrawler. Because Super Star Wars.
Although there were fledgling attempts to capture the Star Wars universe via video games in the ’80s, it wasn’t until Super Star Wars debuted in 1992 on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System that developers could truly sate the appetites of Star Wars fans. The Super Star Wars trilogy was hard (ahem, scorpion-crab things that shoot lasers at you, scaling the Jawa sandcrawler, falling with your tauntaun repeatedly onto ice spikes, etc.). But it was fun, the stories were more-or-less movie accurate, and the games looked beautiful. The wonder of Mode 7 graphics, people. And we were voracious back then. From then on, the ’90s saw a rapid-fire release of high-quality Star Wars titles that would last for the rest of the decade.
That includes Star Wars: X-Wing, one of the greatest simulators ever released, hit in 1993, spawning more excellent space-combat simulators than you could shake a lightsaber at. The Star Wars: Rebel Assault series, also released in 1993, utilized the then cutting-edge FMV technology to help visualize a true Star Wars experience, making it
Two other hugely popular and critically acclaimed game series made their debut in the ’90s as well, including the Dark Forces. It spun the tale of Kyle Katarn, one of the surviving Force-sensitives and a rebel agent, also known as one of my first adolescent crushes and the same reason I’d waste hours writing horrible fanfiction. The other was the Rogue Squadron series, which was a more arcade-style space-combat simulator which followed Wedge Antilles and Rogue Squadron from the Battle of Yavin through the Battle of Endor.
And we mustn’t forget about the Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire multimedia project, with the video game for Nintendo 64 (and later Windows 95) of the same name. Not only was the game one of the best launch titles of the then brand-new Nintendo 64 hardware, it also spawned a comic book series, novelization, action figures, and trading cards. Most importantly, it was the best excuse to have friends over because I was one of the only kids in my circle of friends who actually had a Nintendo 64. Mom and dad couldn’t exactly argue with my reasoning on that.
Things were basically awesome for Star Wars fans in the ‘90s.
In a way, the explosion of enthusiasm for the Star Wars universe that’s ensued from the release of The Force Awakens and Rogue One is a lot like what Star Wars fans of the mid-late 1990s got to experience with the release of the Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition and The Phantom Menace.
Once again there’s an unbridled ardor for all things Star Wars, and although it’s natural to wax poetic for the past, it’s wonderful to see a new generation experiencing the magic of Star Wars and long-time fans rediscovering their love for the universe from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. In the meantime I’m still playing with toys, reading Star Wars fiction, and rocking it out in games that really put me right in the action. It’s like things never changed.
Brittany has been covering video games, entertainment, and tech for over a decade. Follow her on Twitter @MolotovCupcake, then fire walk with her.