SWCO 2017: First Look at Hallmark’s Incredible Star Wars Storytellers Ornaments

Star Wars ornaments that light up and interact. Tree decorating gets stronger with the Force.

For a Star Wars fan, the only thing cooler than a regular Star Wars ornament might be one that lights up. And maybe has sound effects a dialogue clips. And wouldn’t it be amazing if this dream Star Wars ornament could interact with other Star Wars ornaments, telling a story?

Well, our Star Wars tree-decorating dreams are coming true.

Introducing Star Wars Storytellers, a new line of seven Star Wars Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments, revealed exclusively here on StarWars.com. Launching with three ornaments in 2017 — Death Star and Darth Vader’s TIE Fighter on July 15, followed by X-Wing Starfighter on October 7, with two to come in both 2018 and 2019 — they’re a beautiful mix of design and tech ingenuity. Each ornament lights up and plays sound on its own, but put two or more together and they actually tell the story of Star Wars: A New Hope. Pressing a button on the ornaments sends out a signal syncing nearby pieces; this triggers a performance, including coordinated light and sound. The more ornaments you have, the more dynamic the performance. In total, all seven ornaments can perform five major moments from the movie, and there are an incredible 127 possible story combinations. To borrow a phrase from Darth Vader, it’s most impressive. (It’s also completely charming and really fun.) Attendees at Star Wars Celebration Orlando are in luck: they can see the first wave of Star Wars Storytellers ornaments at PopMinded Hallmark’s booth, #2928.

While taking a break from mentally preparing to make space on our tree for these ornaments, StarWars.com caught up with Star Wars Storytellers product developer Kurt Gaulke to talk about making the most accurate ship sculpts in Hallmark’s history, the greatest hurdle with the line’s innovations, and which moment during development resulted in smiles across the entire team.

StarWars.com: Hallmark has a great tradition and legacy when it comes to Star Wars ornaments, and this is kind of a daring departure in that regard. Was it exciting or scary — or both? — in terms of trying to do something so new?

Kurt Gaulke: The idea of the Death Star battle at the end of Episode IV is a story that we’ve been wanting to tell for a long time. And while the technology has been out there in one form or another for a while, it didn’t all come together in a way that would be feasibly possible and affordable as ornaments until recently. Once we saw that it was possible, we were very excited to move forward!

The biggest challenge was to sync the well-known dialogue and sound effects from the film to the visual light show that each ornament “performs.” As the art director, I also wanted to be certain that these were the most accurate versions of these iconic ships that we have ever sculpted and reproduced. We had a great team of artists, engineers, and writers who are also fans of the films — some, such as myself, who go all the way back to the original in ’77. In the end, we actually got to tell other key portions of the story, in addition to the final battle as they relate to each ship. We REALLY wanted these to be special.

StarWars.com: Were you confident you could get the technology working, or was that a gamble?

Kurt Gaulke: We were confident that we could pull it off, but really, the timing to complete a program like this is always the biggest challenge. I guess I was also a bit nervous that we would get all of the electronic components to fit in the size and unique shape that each ship requires. Luckily, I wanted these ornaments to be a bit larger than what we normally do, so we had a bit more space to work with. Everyone brought their “A” game to this project. I can’t say enough good things about everyone involved.

StarWars.com: This is something that I think will really delight kids and adults alike. Once you got it working, and had all the ornaments talking to each other, what was the feeling on the team?

Kurt Gaulke: When we saw the performance of all of the ships together for the first time, we all had VERY wide smiles! This really brings the film to life on your tree, and we knew it was something special. It’s like “YES, we did it!” High-fives all-around!

StarWars.com: The Death Star tree topper was a really popular item last year, and Star Wars Storytellers seems like an extension of that. What would you say your goals are in developing new kinds of Star Wars ornaments?

Kurt Gaulke: Sometimes our ideas and fan suggestions go hand-in-hand, and this was certainly true of the Death Star tree topper. Fans have been requesting it for quite some time, and we’ve been wanting to do it for quite some time. Obviously, this is the best case scenario, and its success is proof of that. Basically, we want to do ornaments, that as fans ourselves, we would want for our tree. This is probably the best and most simple goal that can be reached. People can tell when something is not coming from an authentic place. Fortunately, the Star Wars universe is so big, there’s a wealth of stories to tell. There’s also a lot of options for the price range of our selection of ornaments — from a “simple,” one-character item, to more complicated function pieces. We want to provide a variety of choices. Personally, I still have to take a moment, and let it sink in that I have the opportunity to play in a small corner of this amazing sandbox that I’ve been a fan of for the majority of my life.

StarWars.com: There are a whopping 127 possible stories from all the ornament combinations. That’s a lot of holidays.

Kurt Gaulke: Yes, it certainly is! If you’re a fan of just one of the ships, you’ll get a great performance. As you add the other ships, the larger and more complete the story becomes. It really is quite amazing to watch and listen to the whole performance once they’re all together!

Dan Brooks is Lucasfilm’s senior content writer and editor of the StarWars.com blog. He loves Star Wars, ELO, and the New York Rangers, Jets, and Yankees. Follow him on Twitter @dan_brooks where he rants about all these things.

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