Interview: Mike McClone on Mattel’s Hot Wheels Star Wars Line

The designer of Mattel's new Force-fueled cars discusses bringing an iconic toy line to a galaxy far, far away!

Mattel’s Hot Wheels Star Wars line is hitting stores now and is racing off the shelves. In addition to the character cars, there’s also a limited assortment of eight cars — one for each of the six Star Wars films, another for Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and also one for Star Wars Rebels.

For these eight cars, some of the most striking starship and speeder graphics and liveries from Star Wars were applied, with some liberty where necessary, to original Hot Wheels automobile castings. We caught up with Mattel’s Mike McClone, designer of these vehicles — and Star Wars fan — to see how he came up with their unique designs.

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StarWars.com: How difficult was it to come up with these designs?

Mike McClone: It was a unique challenge to find cars that would fit with the spirit of the inspiration, sometimes without an outright resemblance to the ship from which we borrowed the graphic! When I think of the most iconic vehicles from Star Wars, a short list forms very quickly: the Millennium Falcon, X-wing, TIE fighter and Interceptor, Star Destroyer, AT-AT and AT-ST walkers, the Imperial Shuttle, Y-wing, Bespin Storm IV Cloud Car, etc. All are instantly recognizable, and would seem to be perfect for any toy line, but in this case most of them had a fatal flaw for our purpose: little to no graphic identity that would make sense divorced from its associated ship. Aside from weathered panels, a Galactic Empire or Rebellion badge here and there, and an occasional blaster scorch mark or three, most of these ships are variations of white on white or gray on gray, with relatively simple striping at most for decoration. While this is a testament to the design of ships so stellar they don’t even need a paint job, it made us approach the selection differently than we might have otherwise.

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StarWars.com: What was the choice for The Phantom Menace?

Mike McClone: I immediately saw Anakin’s Podracer when I picked up the Hot Wheels Gearonimo from a table of possible candidates. The graphic fit surprisingly well in the end, and I think this was one of the more successful executions and a great way to start off the line.

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StarWars.com: The car chosen for Attack of the Clone proved harder, is that right?

Mike McClone: Initially I planned to use assassin shapeshifter Zam Wesell’s speeder from the chase through Coruscant, but ultimately decided it was too obscure. Instead I used Jango Fett’s Slave I as inspiration, though by necessity in a much more subtle way. Our Hot Wheels Nitro Scorcher is an open-wheel racer, but from above resembles Slave I more than other casting available for this set. I’m hoping Star Wars fanatics will know with a glance what the source was here!

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StarWars.com: Revenge of the Sith was a much easier choice, though.

Mike McClone: This was another time where the car seemed perfect for a particular livery, in this case Obi-Wan’s Jedi starfighter. This graphic makes for a great auto racing color way, and turned out very nicely in the end on the Hot Wheels Duel Fueler.

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StarWars.com: For A New Hope, I know you wanted to make the Millennium Falcon work here but couldn’t, so you choose the landspeeder instead.

Mike McClone: I realized that the Hot Wheels Motoblade makes a fine landspeeder. This graphic, like many in the set, was modified heavily to fit the car, but I think the spirit was captured very well. I’m guessing everyone will know the inspiration here immediately, and can imagine this one parked outside Tosche Gas Station in the desert outskirts somewhere!

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StarWars.com: I know The Empire Strikes Back is your favorite film, when did you first see it?

Mike McClone: I was 10 years old when Empire came out, and it was then and continues to be my favorite movie of all time!

StarWars.com: So what was your choice for this film?

Mike McClone: Working on this car in particular was great fun for me and the Hot Wheels Spectyte car stood out, and I could easily picture the snowspeeder striping applied when I picked it up. Adding an Alliance Starbird (Rebellion) badge on the sides reinforced the source material while referencing the helmets worn by the snowspeeder pilots, and this one was done.

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StarWars.com: Now for Return of the Jedi, you found a way to reference all of the TIE class fighters at once.

Mike McClone: I’ve always liked the Hot Wheels Ballistik, and more than any of the previous cars it resembles the industrial design of the Empire’s fleet. Adding solar panels to the sides was a start, but no Empire TIE vehicle would be complete without the ocular cockpit detail, which I added as deliberately as possible.

StarWars.com: Was it a challenge to find cars that fit The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels?

Mike McClone: It proved tricky to find an appropriate car for The Clone Wars until I looked down at the top of the Hot Wheels Brutalistic, and realized it would look cool with a modified graphic from Anakin’s Jedi starfighter. The profile of this car has really exaggerated curves, and works very nicely with the rendered style of the show. This one was challenging, but I really like how it turned out in the end!

I knew we would be using the Ghost as inspiration for the graphics, but this one proved very challenging to find a car that worked. The Ghost is square and relatively flat, with sloping sides, and very much unlike most wheeled vehicles. In the end we chose the Hot Wheels Jet Threat 3.0, largely because of the mid-wing section, that proved to be a good place to apply the iconic paint scheme of the hero ship. Adding in the new Rebellion logo completed the deco, and the set itself.

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StarWars.com: I know you’re a huge Star Wars fan, so how was it designing this set?

Mike McClone: Working on these cars was a great privilege for me. As someone who became a designer largely after being inspired by the work of [Star Wars concept artist] Ralph McQuarrie when I was very young, I was extremely excited for the opportunity to apply the unique visual language of the Star Wars universe to Hot Wheels, the brand I’ve been lucky enough to work on and help build for the past 14 years.

StarWars.com: Have you got a message for Star Wars fans and collectors?

Mike McClone: I look forward to the next step in the partnership between Mattel and Lucasfilm, and hope all the Star Wars fans love these cars as much as I enjoyed making them!

The Hot Wheels Star Wars limited assortment of eight cars is available to buy now.

James Burns co-owns and runs Jedi News (with Mark Newbold), the largest English speaking Star Wars fan site in Europe, is the co-host of the UK-centric Radio 1138 podcast and is a regular contributor to Star Wars Insider. You can also listen to James as part of the monthly Curto Burns Collectors Cast, discussing all the latest Star Wars collecting news with co-host Dan Curto and fellow StarWars.com blogger Steve Sansweet.

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