With three older brothers who were teenagers in the 70s, I was born into a Star Wars family. From the scented Yoda eraser that sat atop one brother's small, black and white television, to their feverish discussions on whether there'd be a "Star Wars 4," I became infatuated with the lore at womb age and never abandoned the love. Less inspired prequels and oversaturated "extended universe" lore might've taken some of the punch out of my intrigue in recent years, but when I plop down in front of the holy box and catch a glimpse of a neatly square-headed biker scout, nothing else in the world matters. I doubt this will ever change.
I was only four or five years old when Return of the Jedi hit theaters - a little late in the game, but I wouldn't have it any other way. The trilogy has a gazillion fans, but the luckiest of them were people like me: kids of just the right age to enjoy every promotional scheme, slice of merchandise and odd movie tie-in Lucas and pals agreed to. There was tons of that shit. Toys, comics, television specials, cartoons - hell, even my notebooks at school had Vader and the Emperor's Royal Guards on the front cover. It wasn't fanatical, really. If you were a kid who loved Star Wars in the early 80s, you could take that love to the playground, to sleep, to school, or even to...the breakfast table.
C-3P0's Cereal, featuring naughty little sweetened bits vaguely shaped like droid parts, hit grocery store shelves in 1984 and enjoyed modest success. They weren't a tremendous hit, but the cereal lasted through at least three different promotional giveaways - a lot more than you can say for, I dunno, Urkel-O's. The lack of marshmallows, chocolate and gratuitous sugar kept C-3P0's from being the cereal with our preferred taste, but no young fan of the movies could resist trying the stuff at least once. I was more fortunate: I actually liked it. For the short time it was available, this was Cereal Choice #1, even slaying my taste-buds' finest lover, Count Chocula. Somewhat of a cross between Honeycomb and Apple Jacks, it was an inoffensive sci-fi delight that was even better for dry snacking than it was in filthy milk.
Plus, it came in a great box. In a solid starlit blue with the famous gold robot peddling his bowl of crunch in the center, C-3P0's plainly stood out from the competition. Every "version" of the cereal came with some kind of free toy (even if they were sometimes only cutout masks), and yes, the premiums always had to do with Star Wars. Even crappy plastic rocket shooters that had been given away in countless cereals for decades were treated to a Mos Eisley makeover with new stickers. As if this wasn't enough, many of the time's grocery stores placed specially made C-3P0 standees right in the cereal aisle. If you're six-years-old in 1984 and passing by a life-sized C-3P0, you're going to take his breakfast suggestion whether he's cardboard of not.
Longtime readers might be thinking to themselves, "why this article?" Using those exact words, too. Yeah, I did pay tribute to C-3P0's in a 2002 feature, but I have good reason for returning to the well: through some miracle, a sealed box of the foodstuff-in-question fell in my lap from the skies above. Odorously rancid, the box shown up there indeed contains a sealed bag of C-3P0's from over twenty years ago. Scary what you can find if you wish hard enough.
SOOO, the year was 1984. The table was mine. It was a Sunday morning. It was breakfast. I sat with my chosen bowl of droid kibble, happily munching away while trying to make sense of the insanely convoluted and not-at-all-like-the-movies storyline found in the Star Wars newspaper strip. No more than twenty feet away, a hundred four-inch action figures had a party on Kenner's "Ewok Village." Times were good. Bellies were full. I can't remember who sat at the table with me, but I seriously doubt that they had any interest in trying C-3P0's -- that box was all mine, and when you're that young, anything that's all yours is a big deal. I recall a great sense of victory stemming from the fact that C-3P0's face rested in our cupboard next to a stack of tomato soup cans. If only life could still be so simple. Rancid as it is, I think I'll keep this box in my cabinet from now on. It won't be the same, but it'll remind me.
The cereal expired on December 21, 1984. Soon it will grow leafy arms and gain the ability to speak. Then, the terror.
Okay, the stench is pretty explosive. Twenty years of fermentation will do that. Still, underneath the very bad odor is a kinda nice one -- a smell I distinctly recall from those long ago mornings. I believe C-3P0's are closely based on a prior Kellogg's cereal, "Graham Crack-Os" (something like that), but whereas the former version couldn't survive with a overbiting cartoon horse mascot, no 1984 cereal could fail with 3P0 on the box. He was a hero. A legend. Made of gold.
Maybe it wouldn't have been such a big deal if I just walked hand-in-hand with Maw into the grocery store and saw a box of robot food. I know I would've liked it, but maybe that's all it would've been. A nice new cereal with a recognizable character. How it progressed from that into something so much more can only be credited to one of the most insanely high-budgeted cereal commercials in the history of breakfast itself.
The C-3P0's commercial was unforgettable, awesome, hunger-inspiring and full of special effects. How could Lucky the Leprechaun compete with mere marshmallow call-outs? How could the Trix Rabbit compete by not being able to eat the cereal he was promoting? How could Sonny compete solely on the merits of being cuckoo? You know why C-3P0's didn't last? The rest of the mascots went on strike.
Look, I know it's not important. I know it's just cereal. I know I'm saying in 40,000 words what could be said in 10. I know, I know. But it's C-3P0's. It's gone and it's never coming back. It's forgotten by all but me and some lost web spirit named Topher. This was a special thing, folks. It wasn't just breakfast. Don't you dare.
Back to the awesome commercial: I work in the advertising business, sort of. I know enough to realize what an incredible amount of cash must've went into putting together this spot. It may very well be the most expensive cereal commercial ever, and there's been at least sixty trillion cereal commercials. We kick off with a shot of the droids running amok, trying to avoid Imperial laser fire as they transport delicious boxes of cereal from Point A to Point B. If you were a Star Wars fan, they just got your attention. Even if you were just a fan of ponies or woodburning kits or something, they still got your attention.
C-3P0 then introduces his cereal to R2, aboard a spaceship that looks suspiciously like a photo lab with all of the employees' family photos and Chinese food calendars temporarily removed from the walls.
He's a proud droid, and why not? Those fortunate enough to be blessed with their own brand of cereal have room to brag. R2 beeps with envy as his counterpart glows and gloats about being the only character in quite possibly the largest cinematic universe ever conceived to have his own cereal. 3P0 really lays it on thick. Like honey thick.
In a shocking Jedi twist, the stuff was good for you. You know, in an arguable sense. While Franken Berry and Sugar Bear were off rotting teeth, C-3P0 was fueling young Jedi with nux-shaped animal feed. It was all about the oats, wheat and corn. Too bad the cereal couldn't have been named after Vader -- maybe then we would've gotten a few marshmallows.
Some of my best Star Wars memories have very little to do with the films, but rather how they inspired me. I don't think I'd be so into creatures, exotic aliens and colorful monsters had Obi-Wan skipped the cantina or if Jabba lived alone. There's a great spread in The Art of Star Wars (a book, see) that displays one of the early sketches of the cantina aliens. The book's been re-released at least once, but I had the original as a kid, and I couldn't begin to count the number of times I followed suit by simply grabbing a few pieces of white construction paper and doodling as many crazy alien creatures as I could dream up. To this day, everything I mindlessly pen while on the phone ends up having three eyes, horns and a bejeweled loincloth.
More on topic, it wouldn't be a big budget extraneous Star Wars commercial if some unknown, unimportant alien didn't make an appearance. I firmly commend the producer for making the alien hold the cereal box, providing a sight so irresistible, so charming, so plooky plocky, it makes me want to jump up and yell "ALIENS HOLDING CEREAL."
If you're a casual Star Wars enthusiast, but a big fan of the many creatures found in the Mos Eisley Cantina and Jabba's Palace, here's a hot tip: pick up Tales From The Mos Eisley Cantina and Tales From Jabba's Palace. The paperbacks go for like six bucks a pop, each containing oodles of short stories that flesh out those unforgettable faces and put a backstory to nearly every weird alien you saw for three seconds in the movies.
GIVEAWAYS:C-3P0's Cereal came armed with enough free shit to entice even the most skeptical-of-droid consumers. One of the better premiums was a plastic rocket toy that could be assembled and shot up to the heavens, but more desirable were sets of four die-cast "micro figures" -- leftover stock from Kenner's somewhat misfired attempt to branch out the toyline with a tiny-sized series. There were other freebies too, though nothing as interesting as dildo rockets or lead-dipped micro figures. One was a set of stickers/trading cards, while the final prize was what's shown above: cardboard cutout masks on the boxbacks. I'm not going to slice up my box, sorry, but if you'd like to BE Luke Skywalker, click here for a full-sized scan of the madness that you can print out, cut out, rock out and rock on with. There were other characters available, six in total.
There's surprisingly limited information on C-3P0's out there, or so says a five second Google search, so I might as we'll go full monty. Shown above is one of the box's side panels -- its intent is to make you look at C-3P0's and see destiny in wait. The "New Force at Breakfast" outsmarted other, lesser cereals with its patented "double crunch" technology, a modification that provides you twice as many crunches with C-3P0's than any foreseeable contender. Symbolic of the advanced technical achievements seen in the films, "double crunching" is more powerful than any cinnamon sprinkle.
The only other notable is the declassification of the C-3P0's secret ingredients: corn, oats and wheat. And sodium phospherella. Click here for the nutritional information panel, if you're a completist.
I know what you're thinking, kid. "Man, life sure is gonna suck when this stuff tanks and I can't buy it anymore." I wish I could tell you that it'll all work out, that everything will be fine...but I can't. I've been there. I lived through it. I've eaten and lost many a fine cereal. I've munched on crunchy Gremlins and cried in their absence. I cry foul at how Fruit N' Fibre dropped at least 47 of its previously available brands, including "Cranberry Walnut" and "Same As Original, But In Orange Box." The truth is, it'll hurt. It'll hurt for a long, long time. You won't be absolved until you die, and at the rate you're smoking due to the associated stresses of having lost C-3P0's Cereal, that won't be long. I guess the only advice I could give you is this: genie lamp last wish. Screw world peace -- we're talking about double crunching here.
I thought I'd feel the same about my miraculously located box of C-3P0's as I did as a child, but I don't. I can look into it, figuratively transform it into a crystal ball and remember things I otherwise never would've remembered, but no, it's not the same. Might have something to do with how much I've changed, and how my priorities have changed, or maybe it's just because I can't eat it. I've taken away one lesson, small as it may be, and consider learning it well worth the eighty-five thousand dollars I spent to get old cereal.
It's okay to pretend. I'm not hurting anybody.
Click here to download the C-3P0's Cereal commercial. (.WMV format)