Remember the thrill of vending machines? I’m not talking about the ones that distributed soda or chips — I mean the ones that let you trade quarters for gumballs and toy slime. You know, the good ones!
Growing up, those machines were our reward for tagging along on boring shopping trips. We’d suffer in silence as our parents waddled through aisles of light bulbs and vacuum cleaner paraphernalia, knowing that when all was said and done, we’d be able to put quarters into funny red machines, and head home with beautiful nonsense.
From plastic figures to cheap jewelry, the prizes were usually junk. Still, in those moments, nothing in the universe meant more than that junk. Only through the power of vending machines could a kid become so ridiculously fixated on stale candy and prismatic unicorn stickers.
Of course, the prizes weren’t always bad. Some were pretty great! In fact, some were so great that we’d end up pleading with Mom to exchange her 10 dollar bill for a roll of quarters…
For anyone reading this site, the prizes seen here clearly fell under the umbrella of “great.” Officially licensed Return of the Jedi merchandise… from a vending machine?!
Shown above is the original 1983 sample card, indicating the types of prizes quarter-droppers had a chance of going home with. The fact that they were merely school supplies rather than outright “toys” made no difference. If you were a Star Wars fan in 1983, spotting this machine was just cause to crack your piggy bank into a billion pieces.
People in the vending machine biz often had little regard for copyright law, distributing crude doodads of the bootleg sort. By contrast, all of these Star Wars items were perfectly legit.
The silver stickers with the curious holes were sold in school supply stores as Loose-Leaf Foil Reinforcements. If you accidentally tore the punched holes on your 2nd grade book report, these stickers created new ones. (More importantly, they let you submit homework adorned with Salacious Crumb stickers!)
More desirable were the Return of the Jedi pencil toppers. These were sold separately in stores, but from what I can tell, vending machines were the most common places to find them. The opportunity to win a pencil-topping Darth Vader head would’ve driven me mad as a kid. No matter how many quarters it took, I would not have left Kmart without a pencil-topping Darth Vader head. (Not without screaming, anyway.)
It’s likely that the stickers were the more common prizes. While you could’ve outright purchased 48 of them for around a buck fifty, I’m assuming that vending machines only gave out one at a time.
In theory, it might’ve taken you 25 tries before you stopped getting tiny stickers and started getting big, beautiful pencil toppers. Such was the gamble with vending machines!
These were simpler times for simpler minds, and if you can’t imagine anyone going ape over these admittedly small slices of Star Wars memorabilia… maybe you’ve forgotten what it was like to be a kid!