(Soundbite of song "Main Title, Star Wars")
ALISON STEWART, host:
You can find the darndest things when you're moving, when you're packing and unpacking your past. Designer Jason Geyers was in the process of getting from point A to B when he stumbled on some old work that he had done. Ten years ago, he had the opportunity to design merchandise for the new "Star Wars" prequels coming out. Back then, Jason's company was asked to design dealer loaders.
Merchandise stores could use his displays, and then use his giveaways. The thing was, since the company was not an approved vendor of Lucas Films, they had to use the original trilogy as their source material. So Jason and his friend and coworker Steve Ross, they were huge "Star Wars" nerds, their words, not mine, went crazy with the job. Some of the stuff was accepted.
Other stuff like the Princess Leia headphones shaped like her iconic fun buns didn't make the cut. I would have bought those, I have to tell you. Jason has posted some of the drawings of the not-ready-for-prime-time merch, and it's enough to make a fan drool. He's put this information on his blog, which is where we found it. Steve and Jason join us now. Hi!
Mr. JASON GEYERS (Toy Designer): Hi. How're you doing?
Mr. STEVE ROSS (Toy Designer): Hello.
STEWART: Doing great. Jason, so, you are a self-described biggest "Star Wars" nerd around. Just give us a - tell us the degree of your fandom.
Mr. GEYERS: Well, you know, first let me do the caveat, that I was the biggest "Star Wars" nerd around circa 1997.
STEWART: Got you.
Mr. GEYERS: So, yeah, after this project, I think my enthusiasm waned a bit, having immersed ourselves in it for, jeez, like, at least a year. I was just a normal fan. I was really big in the toy community. I was a big toy collector, and slowly found myself becoming a toy designer - where I met Steve Ross, and we worked on promotional merchandise for a lot of different companies like Subway, and Arby's, and Jack In The Box.
And it was normally little properties like "Smurfs," or the regular cartoons, which are fun, no big deal, but when this came on, and it was "Star Wars," it was really amazing - something that we were fans of, to basically be given a green light to just go nuts.
STEWART: How about you, Steve? How did you work your fandom into this particular job assignment?
Mr. ROSS: Well, it's funny with these projects. A lot of times you have to do your homework on anything, so you know sort of that palette from which you can paint these ideas, and this was just kind of fell on our laps. Both of us, we're big fans of "Star Wars." It was something that we liked, cared about from our childhood, and lo and behold, with those prequels coming out, we had an opportunity to work on it, you know, like some dream come true. So you know, we dove right into it, and I guess the foundation of it was, wouldn't it be cool if blank?
Mr. ROSS: You know, or I'd love to see - what would I want? And so, it was actually a pretty easy approach.
STEWART: OK, Steve. So when you asked yourself that question, what would I as a fan want? Give me a couple of examples of what you came up with.
Mr. ROSS: Well, I looked at a lot of "Star Wars" things, and I thought, well, goodness, what do they look like? How can I use this? If I wanted a beanbag chair, wouldn't it be neat if we used Jabba the Hutt as the beanbag chair? You know, or if I wanted some bathroom slippers, well, maybe a big furry bantha would make good slippers.
Or if I wanted a mini-fridge, well, let's have Han Solo frozen in carbonite as the door on it. You know, and I would look like at a lot of things like Cloud City, and that looked like a lamp, you know, and just different things looked like things, different things would work as something, some things were funny. You know, I love to use a lot of humor in there, not unlike the Princess Leia headphones.
STEWART: I would have so bought those when I was ten years old! No joke. Those would have been on in two seconds.
Mr. GEYERS: Well, one thing that's interesting about these - what Steve was saying is when you read about how the original "Star Wars" designers came up with a lot of the ideas for the movies, where they would look at things like a hamburger and get the shape of the Millennium Falcon, or a streetlamp and get Boba Fett's ship, we had to kind of reverse engineer that. We would look at the shape of the item and think, well, what does this resemble in the real world? As - you know, we had the Death Star grill, or like Steve said, the Cloud City desk lamp.
STEWART: OK, so who decided that Darth Vader's head looked like a gumball machine?
Mr. GEYERS: That was Steve.
Mr. ROSS: Yeah, the little grill on the front of his mouth looks like that little metal door that you open to get your gumball out, and then I thought, well, goodness, I guess the Death Star kind of looks like a gumball, so we could fill his head with little mini-Death Star gumballs.
STEWART: Now, the ones we've been talking about really never even - they didn't get made, correct? So, tell me something that you did that ended up actually in some store as merch.
Mr. GEYERS: OK, well, like we said, these were all pitches, and we - and they were for the prequels, but we had to use the original trilogy to design against, so a lot of these - I'm not even sure how much Lucas Film even saw of our concepts. I think a lot of them got knocked out of the running at the, either the Pepsi level, or by our own company, just in figuring out the logistics of what could be made.
So what we ended up doing was one of our concepts that we proposed was a life-sized Chewbacca, because we thought that would be really neat to have in your house, and obviously while they didn't use Chewbacca, they liked the idea of a life-sized character, so they went ahead and had us make life-sized versions of Darth Maul, Yoda, Jar Jar, and Watto, for the prequels.
STEWART: And you, Jason, had to travel to China to supervise the production of them.
Mr. GEYERS: Yeah. Normally when you're making a toy or an action figure, you have about 18 months lead time from design to manufacture, and we took this project on so late we had about seven to eight months from design to manufacture of far more complex projects. So with just the time constraints, and not being really sure how we were going to make these since no one had done it before, they thought it best to park me in China at the factories for a few months so I could figure everything out on site.
STEWART: Did the people in China that you were working with - did they know "Star Wars"? Did they understand what "Star Wars" was?
Mr. GEYERS: I don't think so at all. I think they saw this as - they knew this was an odd project to have. Basically - I'm 6'2, and a pretty big guy, so I towered over all the people in the factory, and I was very much the anomaly, showing up every day, this kind of crazy American making them create strange creatures. I don't think they knew what was going on, to be honest.
STEWART: Before I let you both go, I need to know from each of you what was one of your pitches that you just thought was killer, it was going to hit it out the ballpark, how could someone not want to make - blank? Steve, you go first.
Mr. ROSS: Well, I actually - I go back to that Jabba the Hutt beanbag.
STEWART: Jabba the Hutt, the big slovenly...
Mr. ROSS: Yes.
Mr. ROSS: Believe it or not, Alison, I actually - we actually got one made.
STEWART: You did? Yes!
Mr. ROSS: Yes! And sent it to Skywalker Ranch, and it sat there and sat there and they decided to pass on it.
STEWART: Well, I saw a picture of it. It's a little scary. I'm not sure I'd want to put my tuchas right in the middle of that giant Jabba the Hutt. Jason, what was the one thing you thought for sure would be a winner?
Mr. GEYERS: The one thing I thought for sure would be a winner, I didn't if Lucas Film would go for it, were the Galactic Game Trophies. Like taking all the creatures of "Star Wars" and mounting their heads on a plaque on the wall.
Mr. ROSS: Yes.
Mr. GEYERS: I thought that would the neatest thing, you know, to walk in and see that in someone's house, and it would be a way to get one of these huge beasts, you know, in a way, life-sized.
STEWART: OK, now I know why you guys are friends. Steve Ross and Jason Geyers, thanks a lot.
Mr. ROSS: Thank you, Alison.
Mr. GEYERS: Thanks, Alison.
STEWART: And you can find a slideshow of Steve and Jason's rejected "Star Wars" merchandise on the Bryant Park Project blog.