If you were a kid during the Star Wars generation of the original trilogy, chances are you recall storming the candy store or pedaling your BMX bike to the local book shop to buy fresh packs of Star Wars Topps Trading Cards in tantalizing tie-in sets printed with character images, quotes, action stills, stickers and fun facts all wrapped with a stiff stick of pink bubble gum. After the immediate success of its first two editions of cards for Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back,Topps released two brand-new sets of collectible trading cards coinciding with the premiere of Return of the Jedi in 1983, one bordered in red, the other in blue.
These treasured cards have been gathered into a deluxe series of books by The Topps Company and Lucasfilm, celebrating those golden geek years, one for each of the three original Star Wars movies. The first volume for Star Wars debuted last fall, and the second, featuring The Empire Strikes Back cards, in April. The third and final book, spotlighting Return of the Jedi, will be released in August, and we've got a sneak peek and an absorbing chat with the complete series author, Gary Gerani.
In addition to being the co-writer for one of my favorite little horror pics, Pumpkinhead, Gerani was the original editor of all those classic Star Wars Topps Trading Cards sets, responsible for penning the amusing titles, character profiles, brain-teaser puzzles and intriguing trivia on the back of each card. The premium 528-page hardcover contains all 220 Return of the Jedi cards and 55 stickers from the archives of pop culture guru Robert Conte, who provided the pristine cards that were digitally scanned for the book. Includes bonus trading cards, the Photo Card series, rare promo images and a special introduction and commentary by Gary Gerani.
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi: The Original Topps Trading Card Series, Volume Three hits stores on Aug. 16.
Crack open this crisp pack of awesome and hear Gerani's memories of these tiny time capsules, then check out our preview gallery below. Images courtesy of Lucasfilm Ltd., The Topps Company and Robert Conte.
The third volume of your Star Wars Topps Cards books comes out this summer. What can readers expect from this upcoming Return of the Jedi edition?
Actually, it'll be the fourth -- the Star Wars Galaxy book is also part of the mix. With Jedi, once again they'll be getting a reprint of the original card sets linked to the movie's initial release, a bunch of related visual elements, my introduction and commentary (God bless the Gerani brain cells!), and a few surprises that surprised even me.
Why is it so important to collect and preserve these vintage cards and sticker images?
They represent pop Americana, and specifically, how Star Wars and its sequels were more than just movie experiences. It was a sea change in licensing as well as cinema. Putting these card sets between two covers validates what we created, and places on the record the extraordinary impact that was made at the time.
How did you get involved with Topps and Lucasfilm when the first Star Wars cards were being marketed in the '70s?
I had been on staff since 1972, and preparing the movie and TV cards had become my specific responsibility.
What materials and guidelines were you given in writing up the titles, captions and trivia on each card?
We were pretty much allowed to do what we wanted in those days. They even let me write some original dialogue, something that would be frowned upon a little later on.
How was it collaborating with pop culture expert Robert Conte?
Robert did his thing -- contributing a set of the cards for reproduction -- before I knuckled down and started my trip down memory lane. I have original sets of the all the cards myself gathering dust somewhere, along with a few rolled-up uncut sheets.
Why were these Topps Cards such a simple-yet-critical marketing tool and how did they help solidify the brand for fans and collectors?
It was in an age before VCRs and home entertainment had seriously taken hold; this was one of the few ways a fan could own a "piece" of the movie, almost like owning individual frames from the film. And trading cards, like comic books, were part of America's pop culture "collecting" experience.
What were some of the rarest cards to find, and were there any other print glitches like the infamous C-3PO "Golden Boner" card?
Nothing can top that one! I know some of the GALAXY cards contained problematic subject matter, such as the Yoda rendering that depicts his temple of worship. Lucasfilm gave us a lot of freedom, but every now and then an idea like this would cross the line.
Tell us some of the secrets and little-known facts about how these cards were manufactured, packaged and distributed.
We had a bustling plant in Duryea, Pennsylvania, where Bazooka gum was manufactured. Cards would be printed en masse, collated, and stuffed into wax wrappers. Sometimes, collation would be off, with too many of the same cards reappearing in a pack. The collectors would scream bloody murder! That kind of problem didn't happen too often, I'm happy to say.
Do you have any favorite memories of working on these Topps Star Wars cards?
It was a magical period for me, particularly the first film in 1977. I went from zero to hero at Topps, suddenly in creative charge of the company's biggest moneymaker. Being a sci-fi fan, it was especially exciting to be riding the crest of this amazing wave.
What is your next project, and when can we expect it?
These days, I write non-fiction books (for my own publishing label, Fantastic Press, and for Abrams, and other independent companies), graphic novels (a really cool one for IDW coming up), movies (a new John Travolta racing car picture should be starting production later in the year), trading card sets for Topps (including new Star Wars products -- yep, I'm still doing 'em!), even documentaries (finishing up one about a great film and TV composer). So, for an old guy, I keep pretty busy!
Will Pumpkinhead ever get a modern remake?
Proposed a reboot just a few years ago. Nothing came of it. They may want to go with younger, fresher talent. Who knows, right? That's Hollywood...