I remember eagerly waiting in line with my parents to see Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. It was May 1980, and I was a few months shy of 4 years old. Little did I know that 35 years ago, the world would be eagerly awaiting yet another Star Wars epic.
The Star Wars movie saga began on May 25, 1977, and the Star Wars trademark saga began shortly thereafter. Let’s hop on our landspeeders and take a tour of some Star Wars trademark highlights (and lowlights.)
A Long Time Ago…
The first trademark application including the words “STAR WARS” was filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office on July 27, 1977. The application listed two types of goods: comic magazines and toy action figures. The first Star Wars comic book came out in July 1977, so that was no problem. However, the action figures themselves weren’t actually available at that point. In fact, despite the demand, the figures ended up not being ready by Christmas of that year, so, instead, kids were given an empty cardboard box that acted as a gift certificate. The toys were supposed to be delivered by June 1978. This is all very hard to imagine in today’s instant on-demand world.
By the way, that empty box is now very valuable. As of this writing, one of them is for sale on eBay for $7,995.
Interestingly, the first record of a Star Wars-related trademark filing was an application by Lucasfilm to register THE FORCE for t-shirts. That one was filed on July 14, 1977.
Shortly after those initial applications, the STAR WARS trademarks started rolling in…posters (had that), t-shirts (that too, of course), action playsets (ditto), and chewing gum (I think I missed out on the gum)…watches, paint sets, lunch boxes, socks and pajamas (trust me, I was looking pretty cool), board games and puzzles…
The Galaxy Expands
Of course Lucasfilm and its associated companies sought trademark protection for all the most well-known characters: Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Yoda, and so on. But over time, they cast a wider net. Eventually they obtained trademark registrations (many of which have expired) for obscure characters such as Prune Face, Tooth Face, and Sy Snootles & the Bebo Band (the band playing at Jabba’s palace in Return of the Jedi, of course).
They registered not just Wicket the Ewok (that registration was for shampoo; after all, who wouldn’t want a glossy coat of Ewok fur?), and the same character under his full name, Wicket W. Warrick, but also Willy the Ewok. Yes, even the characters from the not very good 1985 TV movie Ewoks: The Battle for Endor made the cut.
And speaking of not very good, I’ll just leave this screen shot from the USPTO here for you to enjoy:
Star Wars Snacks
Sadly, there’s no trademark registration on file for Rootleaf Stew, which is what Yoda was cooking when he first met Luke in The Empire Strikes Back. An actual recipe for the stew was created by Chef Craig Claiborne for a 1983 NPR radio drama. It looks pretty good. And also, why isn’t NPR doing any cool sci-fi radio dramas nowadays? Enough with actual news coverage and public affairs programming; I want my tax dollars going towards more Star Wars stuff.
Lucasfilm used to have a registration for A NEW FORCE AT BREAKFAST, the tagline for the 1980’s C-3PO’S breakfast cereal.
Not much of a breakfast eater? That’s OK, maybe you’ll enjoy some wine from SKYWALKER VINEYARDS.
They’ve also protected some of the distinctive sounds associated with Star Wars, such as the sound of a lightsaber being activated, which is described as “a crescendo beginning with a snapping sound followed by a hiss sound” (click here to listen) and Darth Vader’s labored breathing, described as “the sound of rhythmic mechanical human breathing created by breathing through a scuba tank regulator” (click here to listen.)
The Saga Continues
Earlier this year, Lucasfilm began filing trademark applications for STAR WARS THE FORCE AWAKENS. But of course, that won’t be the end of the Star Wars saga, not by a long shot.
STAR WARS ROGUE ONE (which takes place between Episodes III and IV) will be released in December 2016, followed by Episode VII, Episode VIII, and more to come. You can be sure that Lucasfilm will continue to keep things busy at both the box office and the trademark office. And I’ll keep you posted when any Star Wars trademark news appears on my radar.
Until then, fly casual, and MAY THE 4th BE WITH YOU.