Paul Palmer recalls fondly the sense of anticipation among grade school friends to see the science fiction movie "Star Wars" at an Indianapolis theater in 1977.
They were about to see something spectacular.
George Lucas’ futuristic big-screen adventure captured the imagination of a generation, spawning such pop culture characters as Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo and Darth Vader, and the affectionate astromech droids R2-D2 and C-3PO.
Palmer and his friends had seen the future and quickly became adoring fans. And, little did he know it, but Palmer also had a glimpse into his own future.
As a senior brand manager of Hasbro Inc., the 1989 Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology mechanical engineering graduate helps coordinate aspects of the diverse Star Wars product line. He was one of the first people to review the script for the latest installment in the sci-fi saga, "Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones," helped determine which characters and objects would be featured as toys this year, and played a key role in marketing and promotions for this summer and the all-important Christmas shopping season.
"Really, I’m a big kid. If the toy interests me, and I want to play with it, it’s going to fascinate a Star Wars fan," says Palmer, 34, who hasn’t changed much from the 5-foot-9, 250- pound fun-loving person who was affectionately nicknamed "Scooter" and helped patrol the defensive line on the Engineers’ football team. "Working in toys just seemed to be a natural fit."
Palmer’s world has soared like a Jedi Starfighter during the past two years in anticipation of a line of toys — from authentic action figures to motorized vehicles to high-tech interactive products — designed to continue the fantasy for the young and young at heart.
Star Wars is one of the most popular and successful entertainment properties of all time, according to Brian Goldner, president of Hasbro's U.S. toys group, which also includes Playschool, Tonka and Milton Bradley, and such popular toys as GI Joe, Monopoly and Play-Doh. The company worked closely with both LucasFilm Licensing and retailers to develop a product line that offers exciting play features for kids, while also providing products that crazed collectors will cherish.
Sixty new action figures put the power of "The Force" into kids hands with animated "force" and "flipping" features; two versions of lightsabers, the Jedi’s weapon, allow for people to act out their favorite scenes; and Hasbro’s vehicles, including Jango Fett’s Slave I and the Jedi Starfighter, are more actionpacked than ever before. Plus, kids will be able to have their very own R2-D2 interactive astromech droid (the most expensive toy at $99.99) that answers to their call, obeys their commands and shows the spunk that made R2-D2 famous. Each new toy is an authentic reproduction of the item featured in the film, with Hasbro representatives being on the movie set to assist LucasFilm Licensing with toy development. Three-dimensional full-body images were created to showcase each character in the appropriate costumes — from the scene depicted in the action figure set.
"If you make a mistake, you’re going to hear about it from Star Wars fans," stated Palmer, who has met countless fans during promotional exhibits. "Fans are passionate about the series and they don’t miss a thing, right down to the color of shoelaces on a character’s boots. We try to be as precise as possible to maintain the authenticity of Star Wars."
When filming concluded in January, 2001, production began on "Episode II" toy products. Hasbro’s exclusive product line took flight in April to nationwide retailers.
In May, Palmer returned to his hometown to organize Hasbro’s display at the largest Star Wars convention, Celebration II, attended by more than 35,000 fans. Hasbro’s Star Wars-related exhibits, displays and events, including an appearance by original Princess Leia, Carrie Fisher, covered a majority of the 340,000-square-foot Indianapolis Convention Center and cost approximately $250,000.
Palmer’s fingerprints can also be found on all aspects of Hasbro’s Star Wars product development, marketing strategies and promotional campaign, hoping to create excitement — and ringing cash registers — throughout Christmas and 2003.
"We’re hoping that every kid in America is begging their mom or dad to buy them a Star Wars toy before they walk out of the store," said Palmer, adding that Hasbro has committed several millions in product development, marketing and promotions of its "Episode II" Star Wars products. "The lifecycle of a typical toy is one year. Just look at Pokemon or Furby. Here today, gone tomorrow. You have to take advantage of every day if you’re going to meet sales projections. It also helps to have a great brand identity and having George Lucas developing outstanding films. We think Star Wars is an evergreen property that will live on in the future."
"Attack of the Clones" is set 10 years after the events of "The Phantom Menace." The galaxy has undergone significant change, as have Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman) and Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen). Anakin and Obi-Wan are assigned to protect Padme, whose life is threatened by a faction of political separatists.
"I think we have a winner. George (Lucas) has developed a film that will capture the imagination of die-hard Star Wars fans and expand the fan base with new fans," says Palmer, of course, an avid Star Wars fan. "I eat and breathe Star Wars every day. People have challenged me, thinking they know more about Star Wars. I’ve quickly proven them wrong."
Palmer still utilizes his engineering skills every day. However, it’s his people skills, his ability to contribute to a team and being a goal-oriented person — traits developed at Rose-Hulman — that have helped him succeed in the competitive toy business.
"Every day is a new adventure. I walk into the office every day not knowing how many things on my ‘To Do’ list are going to get accomplished today … What got me here is that I got tired of being a functional engineer. I wanted to use the other side of my brain," says the former Alpha Tau Omega member, who joined Hasbro in 1998 to work in girls toys after being an engineer with the Procter & Gamble Company (Cincinnati, Ohio), Firestone Industrial Products (Carmel, Indiana) and Vitro Corporation (Bloomington, Ind.). He also earned a master’s degree in business administration, specializing in marketing and international business, from Indiana University in 1996.
"Everything starts with believing in yourself," added Palmer, who participated in a half marathon in Anchorage, Alaska, on June 22. "Why Anchorage? It's a fun thing to do and I'm ready for the challenge, much like my days at Rose-Hulman. I wasn’t the top student and sometimes I coasted along. Now, I recognize that I have been very fortunate to be associated with several fine people and institutions — Dr. (Samuel) Hulbert, Dr. (Andrew) Mech, Ron Reeves and ATO (fraternity) at Rose-Hulman, my engineering experiences at Procter & Gamble and now being a part of a great team at Hasbro … They’ve helped me grow as a person. I’m hitting the stride of my life."
Palmer doesn’t have much time to celebrate this year’s successes: "Episode III" is on the horizon in 2005.