With the release of Return of the Jedi in 1983, Pepperidge Farm produced the first set of Star Wars cookies ever offered in the US. Pepperidge Farm Star Wars cookies were sold in small boxes in three different flavors: chocolate (Imperial Forces), vanilla (Rebel Alliance I), and peanut butter (Rebel Alliance II), with five different cookies per box. The peanut butter cookies consisted of R2-D2, C-3PO, Chewbacca, Admiral Ackbar, and Max Rebo, and the vanilla cookies were Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Yoda, and Wicket. And of course, the bad guys got the dark side chocolate set with Darth Vader, Emperor’s Royal Guard, Jabba, Bib Fortuna, and Gamorrean Guard. While short-lived, these were in stores long enough to offer a couple of box variations and mail away offers.
As a collector, I’m always interested in learning more about the process of creating Star Wars products and all the artifacts that were required to get to the finished product. These Pepperidge Farm cookies were made using rotary molds. In this process, the negative cookie molds are slightly curved and attached to a large roller. Cookie dough is placed on long conveyer belts in sheets and the molds stamp the dough into the shape of the cookie as the roller turns. Since the roller is making contact with the flat dough sheet as it’s turning, the cookie is cut into a flat piece. The formed dough piece is removed from the mold as the roller turns, and these pieces are then cooked in a later stage in the process.
Several years ago at Star Wars Celebration IV in Los Angeles, a dealer on the floor had a set of original rotary cookie molds from Pepperidge Farm. A number of collectors noticed these but held off from buying them due to a relatively high price. Towards the end of the show, a friend and I approached the dealer to buy the set of molds, but it turned out another friend of ours had beaten us to this and bought all the molds just seconds before we arrived. Fortunately for us, another collection of rotary molds appeared on eBay just weeks after Celebration. With a large production like the Pepperidge Farm Star Wars cookies, there should be many individual molds for each character since a typical rotary mold can contain dozens of individual cookie stamps. All our collecting friends who had expressed interest in the molds coordinated their picks with us via e-mail and we bid on the lots and divided the find as is common in the collecting community for friends to help out other friends to pick their favorite characters.
But how were these rotary molds created for Pepperidge Farm? The answer came a couple of years later when someone contacted me whose father worked for a company based in Michigan that did the engravings for the original Star Wars cookies. They still had the full set of tooling masters for the cookie molds, and he sold them to me as a set. There were 15 tooling masters in all, one for each cookie. Each one was annotated with the quantity to roll in the upper left hand corner, roll diameter in lower left corner, die number in upper right corner, and pattern number in lower right corner. The tooling masters are much more detailed than the rotary molds as each step in the process creates a loss in detail. The source for these tooling masters believed that the original engravings were long lost.
Then several months ago, other Star Wars cookie pieces turned up on eBay. Some collectors believed these to be unused molds since they were not curved like a rotary mold and did not look like the existing molds that several collectors already owned. But on close inspection, it was clear that the detail on these was finer than even the tooling masters. The close-up pictures showed artifacts of the engraving process like little nicks and marks. Each of these pieces was on a ¼-inch slab of brass, which is standard for engravings done in North America. Another clue was on the Jabba, Droopy McCool, and Admiral Ackbar pieces. These had text that was altered on the brass plate, which is not something you’d see on a mold. The final clue in the puzzle was the unique nature of the Admiral Ackbar piece, which had two different negative images on each side of the brass plate. Examining those impressions closely, it was apparent that there were slight differences in the design and that these were created by hand. One side matched the actual imprint of the Admiral Ackbar cookie, and the other side was used to trace the outline of the cookie. These weren’t molds — we had stumbled onto the original engravings for the Pepperidge Farm cookies! During this era, engravings were handmade by skilled artisans using tools and machinery to carve directly into the brass plate. These engravings for the Pepperidge Farm Star Wars cookies are one-of-a-kind examples of the artists’ rendition of the character, similar to sculpts and patterns used for other types of products.
Some of the lots for these engravings had additional pieces — purple slabs that fit into the engravings to form a positive cast. Although we were unable to confirm the exact role in the process, these appear to be flexible rubber hardcopies of the engraving. They likely served as flexible hardcopies to place on a curved platter to create the tooling masters that needed to exhibit the same curvature as the rotary molds.
There were other surprises in these lots, as well. There were engravings for two characters, Sy Snootles and Droopy McCool, which were never released as Star Wars Pepperidge Farm cookies. The only band member to make it to a released cookie was Max Rebo. These two engravings represented the first known examples of unreleased characters from the Pepperidge Farm cookies. Droopy’s name is also listed as “Der Droopy” for unknown reasons.
Having assembled pieces from the various stages, we could now put together the process for creating the Pepperidge Farm cookies through these artifacts. One of the most exciting aspects of Star Wars collecting is that we continue to find previously unknown pieces and connect them to a larger story, something that’s even possible today for cookies that were sold over 32 years ago.
Special thanks to Will Grief for additional images of his engravings used in some of these photos.
Gus Lopez is a Star Wars collector based in Seattle who specializes in rare and obscure Star Wars collectibles. Gus created The Star Wars Collectors Archive (theswca.com) in 1994, the first Star Wars collecting website on the Internet.