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Saturday, May 07, 2005

Darth Vader Merchandising

I took a visit to K Mart yesterday and had occasssion to browse down the toy section devoted to Episode III merchandising. Just about every item aimed specifically at young children, such as kid's cups, bowls plates, card games, dress ups stickers, puzzles, colouring in books, costumes, masks, bedspreads, sheets, pillow cases, pyjamas etc - were all Darth Vader-o-centric.

Is this designed for 5 to 10-year old boys acting out revenge fantasies about their mothers?

Obviously there is a little confusion here as to what constitutes an heroic figure for children.

From Episode I, there has been confusion as to who is the actual hero of the saga - lots of Anakins, Amidalas, Jar-Jars and Jedis - and, in competition, tons of Darth Mauls, enough to rival Herr Binks. Let's not forget that the character only had about 10 minutes of screen time and two lines of dialogue (dubbed by a voice actor and not the of the actual Maul persona, Ray Park.)

Episode II gaves us more Jedis and less Jar Jars, and focussed on adolescent Anakin - a brooding troubled youth appearing on black T-Shirts and bedspreads the world over. He is an ambiguous character, and attempts to do the right thing, even if he is angry at his mother. So he is a hero in deed, if not in motivation.

Contrast this to the original (and re-release) Star Wars merchandising. The familiar shaggy haired Luke Skywalker appearing on every childhood plaything imaginable. Clear lines were defined between who is the goody and who is the baddy. A morally ambiguous universe we have not.
Vader is "redeemed" fromn the Dark Side by the heroic actions of his son, and peace and justice (Christian values? American ones at least) are restored to the galaxy - good triumphs over evil, light over dark, right over wrong.

Now Anakin / Vader is the focus, marketers and childrens attentions are likewise attuned to the main character. But when the main character is a "Master of Evil", it is questionalbe as to whether such a character is a suitable role model for children. Campbells' Hero with a Thousand Faces is revealed by Lucas in Episode III to have only one - and it is thoroughly rotten.


Article on this cultural phenomeonon published in The Age on May 19th here

Director George Lucas admitted it was not appropriate for children.

But advertisers are still targeting young children through toys, children's magazines and breakfast cereal packets.

Young Media Australia president Jane Roberts said children would expect to see the movie because of the merchandise

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