For young Star Wars fans of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, there was no finer reading material than the Sears Wish Book.
Every holiday season, Sears shipped out a bazillion brick-thick catalogs, filled with everything from clothes to electronics to furniture… and of course, lots and lots of toys.
During the original trilogy era, kids with certain “galactic inclinations” flipped through those hundreds of pages hunting just one thing: glorious Star Wars toys!
While Sears receives most of our Christmas catalog nostalgia, the truth is that most major retailers, from JCPenney to Montgomery Ward, all shipped out their own versions of the Wish Book.
No matter which ones landed in your mailbox, it was always the same score: We’d flip through the frustrating sections for pajamas and gold watches, focus on the toys, and write up our holiday wish lists.
“Dear Santa: Just get me everything on pages 320-346.”
While virtually every toy line you could name was featured in these catalogs, Star Wars was one of the biggest brands, with the advertising space to prove it. It wasn’t uncommon for a Wish Book or a similar catalog to devote 4-5 pages exclusively to Star Wars stuff, running the gamut from action figures to bedsheets.
Look, we all loved going to toy stores, but our time there was depressingly finite. Our parents may have indulged us to a degree, but few kids were allowed to spend hours there, laboring over which action figures to take home, while salivating over the bigger toys that only a lucky few could afford.
With Wish Books and similar catalogs, it was a whole different ballgame. We COULD spend hours — heck, even days — poring over the goodies. Many collectors now consider themselves to have “textbook knowledge” on Star Wars toys, and they could not mean it more literally. We devoured these books. We read them, reread them, and practically memorized them. It never felt like work. Those catalogs were toy stores in paper form.
Looking back on them now, you’re sure to find dozens of Star Wars items that you’ve either totally forgotten or never knew existed. If you’ve been relying on YouTube playlists full of old TV commercials to get your “retail nostalgia” fix, I think it’s time to broaden your horizons!
Kenner’s toy collection was the heart and soul of these old catalogs’ Star Wars sections. As if seeing so many vintage goodies on one page wasn’t enough, the stores often built custom sets for the photograph shoots. For example, the AT-AT vehicle might’ve been photographed over mock snow, mimicking the Hoth battle from The Empire Strikes Back. A few years later, the Ewok Village playset would be photographed in what appeared to be a real forest.
These cosmetic touches just made us want the toys that much more. It was as if we subconsciously believed that the Millennium Falcon was really gonna come with a 10-foot space backdrop and paper-mache asteroids.
You’ll be amazed at how many memories these catalogs can spark. While skimming through, I suddenly remembered that long ago Christmas spent with Kenner’s Jabba the Hutt action playset, and how its tiny plastic dungeon made me the happiest kid ever. Every picture was worth a thousand mental words — most of them of the “yay” or “oooh” variety.
While scans from Sears Wish Books and similar catalogs are found commonly enough online, there’s nothing quite like owning one yourself. Fortunately, they’re fairly easy to find on eBay, and considering their ephemerality, the prices — while not dirt cheap — aren’t too bad.
Hey, maybe you can just ask Santa to bring you copies of some early ‘80s department store catalogs? He probably doesn’t hear that one too often, so at least you’ll stand out!