It is hard to imagine that 20 years have gone by since the release of Episode One toys and merchandise. The anticipation for Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was beyond anything Star Wars had ever seen before or since. Toys ‘R’ Us bought into the excitement with their first of four Midnight Madness events in which the toy retailer opened at 12:01 AM the day toys were released to allow fans and collectors to begin their Episode One collections as early as possible.
The expectation and hype surrounding the release of the toys for Episode One was very enthusiastic. Entertainment Weekly reported at the time, “when all is said and done, Phantom tie-ins ‘will probably represent the single biggest event in the history of the toy business,’ says industry analyst John Taylor of Arcadia Investments, who predicts that sales will hit between $500 million and $1 billion by the end of the year.”
Even CNN Money was reporting how Toys ‘R’ Us was banking on the success of Episode One merchandise, “While upbeat about the first quarter, Toys “R” Us chief executive Robert Nakasone is even more positive about the current three-month period, thanks in large part to a “Force” sweeping movie theaters this week. ‘We are experiencing strong second-quarter sales from the Star Wars merchandise, and anticipate continued sales improvements in categories such as plush, action figures, computer software and video games,’ Nakasone said.”
At the time of Episode One’s figure release, our very own Jake Stevens was working at Toys ‘R’ Us in South Hill, Washington and worked the night of the event:
“I have fond memories of Episode One’s Midnight Madness as I was working at Toys ‘R’ Us at the time and worked the event. I recall putting together the Droid Fighters and huge signage what would be hanging from the ceiling that night on display. I was the first to crack the cases which were on lock-down in the store until that evening and remember the shock and delight I had that Ki-Adi-Mundi came with a purple lightsaber. I recall running along the windows in the front of the store around 11 PM to show the those in line outside the new figure which was met was cheers and screams.”
“As we set up the store, we had so many cases of figures that they would not all fit on the pegs so we started to fill kiddie pools with figures. When the doors finally opened at midnight and let the hundreds of fans in, I was amazed at how many children were at the school night event (May 3rd was a Monday). Darth Maul was the hottest commodity and soon folks started hoarding him and Battle Droids. The Battle Droids were released with four different decos what were not specified on the package. Maul sold so well that night that in the weeks to come, Hasbro would produce sold cases of the Sith Apprentice. Collectors that night, with either Phantom Menace fever or dollar signs in their eyes were witnessed stacking figures 5-6 feet high. The manager of the store had to eventually go around to those looking like scalpers and limit their purchases as there were children coming in the doors who couldn’t find a majority of the figures they were looking for.”
Just recently we learned that the idea for Midnight Madness originated here in the Pacific Northwest. Kevin Hurd wrote in to share the following:
“I was a big-time collector living in Yakima WA and Ryan [Kloepfer] ran the Toysrus. It was a fairly new store, it was a mix of a TRU concept 2000 store with the internals of an older design. One weekend I was on a trip to Seattle, it might have been for a Seattle Star Wars society event, I visited the FAO Schwartz in downtown Seattle. On their door was a sign saying they were opening for a midnight sale in a month or so. I went back to Yakima, and being a good customer of Ryan’s, asked him if he could also open at midnight. From there Ryan asked corporate TRU for the hours and they said yes. Not only could he have the hours but they decided to take the event chain wide, well not the whole chain but quite a few stores. It wasn’t until the following releases that every store opened at midnight.”
To commemorate the event, Toys ‘R’ Us handed out official premiere certificates to all attendees that night.
The hottest ticket the night of the release were the action figures. We strongly believe that the Episode One line is one of the great lines Hasbro has produced when it comes to a fully flushed out and dedicated toy line. It included lots of figures, vehicles, accessory sets, playsets, carrying cases, advanced interactivity (COMMTech), catalogs, checklists, “figure stands”, great paint ops, and so much more. While yes the line was overproduced, the composition and selection included in the line should be regarded for the excellent qualities it had.
Israel Matias sent in a photo taken at Star Wars Celebration I in Denver as Midnight Madness occurred on the very last day of the show:
“Oldschool S.A.R.L.A.C.C at celebration ONE. I didn’t buy a single thing…LOL.”
The event made the news in just about every region that night!
Toys ‘R’ Us was not the only game in town, check out the images that James “The Rock Father” Zahn has from K-Mart that night by clicking the pic below.
On Episode 3 of the Galaxy of Toys Podcast, Jason Luttrull and the co-hosts reflect on Midnight Madnesses of the past:
Thanks to The Gamorrean for the shout-out and look at promos from that night!
We still have a few Episode One Anniversary buttons designed by the talented seakae left over from Star Wars Celebration Chicago, so make sure to follow us on social for your chance to win one!
Remembering the Launch of Episode One toys
We reached out on social to collectors and fans to share their memories of this monumental night and here is a wonderful walk down memory lane back to May 3rd, 1999!
At the time of Episode 1 Midnight Madness, I was living in North Carolina and in the midst of exams at the end of my first year of grad school. I was well prepared for the event, and had downloaded all the checklists and guides, so I had an idea of what was available and what my priorities were (Battle Droids — in all the variations. Five of each.)
My girlfriend (now wife) and I got to the Toys R Us in Raleigh at about 9:30 and were about tenth in line. Most of us were in our late 20’s, but there were some kids as well, including a family with two young boys a few spots ahead of us, and they were as excited as anyone. By the time doors opened, the line was around the building and the tension was thick. Of course, as soon as the doors opened it turned into a stampede, and I remember one of those boys tripping and falling to the floor as we all rushed into the store. I was able to hurdle him, but remember thinking that he might actually be really hurt by the oncoming nerd hordes.
Like everywhere else, the whole crowd massed around the figure pegs near the front of the store, and I was lucky enough to be able to hand figures back to my girlfriend who guarded our cart. Thankfully, it never turned nasty and there was a good deal of cooperation — mainly since it was clear that there would be plenty to go ‘round. And I was very relieved to see that kid squirm his way past me to get to the figures, apparently unharmed. After a short while, we wandered back to the permanent Star Wars section back in the aisles, and found all the toys there, and a much more relaxed atmosphere.
I was able to pick up everything on my list that night, and the total came to nearly $800 — easily my priciest Midnight Madness ever. (Although I think 2008 would have topped it, but I found the BMF and AT-TE a couple weeks earlier.) For whatever reason, this store didn’t have the certificate, and I’m not even sure I was aware of them. I did have to go to the other Toys R Us the next day to find the 12-inch figures, but it quickly became apparent that these weren’t going to be rare items. I didn’t have too much time to sort toys the next day, as I was back at school studying for my contracts exam, although I did take the Deluxe Darth Maul with me as a distraction. – Matthew Fox (This Week in Star Wars)
IIRC we didn’t have much of the good stuff but a lot of fun to see all the regulars! My team loved it! I worked all day, then as soon as we closed we had 2 hours to set it all, sign it all, and figure it out. I miss it for sure….. – Ryan Kloepfer (Father of Midnight Madness)
My husband and I went, stood in line and were amazed at the sheer volume of toys. I remember not knowing how to pronounce any of the character names and people saying do you have this one? And thinking oh that’s how you say it….we have been to every midnight toy release since then too. – Tammy Sutherland Eck
Was at the Spokane TRU on Division Street waiting in line. There wasn’t too many people when I got there around 9ish, but as the night got later it definitely got longer. I remember being in the front 10 for getting in. I was able to snag a lot of the figures I thought were cool. Thankfully they had a ton of figures so I wasn’t going home empty handed. Seeing all the new stuff was a blast as a lot of it was unknown! If I remember I came away with just under 100 being that I was a poor substitute teacher at the time. – Dave Edwards
Myself and 2 buddies camped outside the theater for 3 days to purchase tickets for ep1…my girlfriend(at the time) sister was working the box office that day and opened up 20 mins early so I could purchase the very first ticket sold in town…turns out I bought the first ticket sold in the state! Wow! My friends and I were interviewed by the local newspaper and tv station…I also attended toys r us midnight openings for ep 1, 2 and 3…wonderful memories… – Jason Marceaux
I’m only 28 so I didn’t attend the midnight event, but for some reason or another I stayed home from school that day. We used to take my great grandmother who was the most wonderful woman in the world grocery shopping and she had my mom stop at toys r us because she knew how much i loved the OT. I’ll never forget how it was still mass chaos (and this was the middle of the day) while people were digging through those hard plastic kiddie pools for the figures they wanted because you could hardly get to the few shelves that still had them hanging on pegs. Hands down one of my best star wars related memories and tbh I’m not even sure what I got that day although I believe Qui Gon was my first Ep 1 figure so it would have been him, I’m not positive. – Chris Smith
I saw your request for Midnight Madness at TRU in 1999 stories. I went to my local TRU in Silverdale, WA. I was there around 10pm and was fourth in line. It was my Birthday and mom was buying. When the doors opened the people in front of me got distracted by other Phantom Menace stuff. But I went straight to the 3.75 Hasbro figures and got there first. I started sticking figures in my basket, but then the crowd arrived. I basically switched to distribution and passed figures over my shoulders to people in the back. I was able to move around a bit to grab other figures too. It was amazing how back in those days there was 3 waves of figures that night. Not to mention all the other stuff. There were shopping carts full of figures that were in the aisles. I bought Darth Maul on his speeder and all of the basic figures. I also grabbed a Commtech reader and the Droid Fighters.
I was wonderful how well the night was run. Well over a hundred people got in and were pretty much able to get whatever they came for. The exceptions were of some of the 12 inch figures and maybe some LEGO sets. I miss those days. The last few midnight madness events have brought few 3.75 figures and with TRU gone I doubt it will be that good again. – Anthony Cooper
My town didn’t have a Toys R Us but our mall open at 5 am for KB Toys. Only a few of my friends were there and Wal-Mart at the mall open at 6 am. Nobody was there but there was a ton of stuff. – Shawn Rusty Patrick
I remember coming home from school the day after and my mom has stopped by the Fred Meyer and picked out Anakin, Boss Nass, Padme and Watto. She said something like, I hope these are good ones, I have no idea who any of them are but they looked interesting. – Amy Sjoberg
Let me tell you this day was awesome. I couldn’t believe the people lining up to get in to get the toys for Episode I. I was teenager, and thought to myself it would be cool to get the new figures. I was not ready for the mass of people grabbing rows of figures and putting them in carts. You might see a figure you wanted and by the time you made it to the rack, it was gone. It was complete chaos, but it was fun! The first store I went to was Toys R Us and only walked out with 4 or 5 items that I could afford. Seeing people outside the store who already checked out filling their vehicles full of Star Wars items. Never in my life had I felt such energy in a crowd that was passionate about Star Wars.
Seeing all the new characters and reading their small biographies on the card back. The CommTech reader was awesome! I was finding out things about the movie and how the charscters might interact. The hunt for TC-14 and Sio Bibble felt like it was going to be impossible to get them. I remember getting the playset for the Theed Hanger and setting up Qui Gon, Obi Wan and Darth Maul and playing epic duels from CD from my portable stereo.
There hasn’t been a day like this for star wars since. Yes there has been madness for the other movies to get the figures, but nothing surged like Episode One.
Hope this adds to your nostalgia, – Todd TOAD Van Patten
I still have the free t-shirt still wrapped and free 3d poster. – Raymond Turrell
Long lines. Good times though. – Chris Zazarine
Yes! I was there! Searching for the elusive Darth Maul figure!! – Adam Giles
I don’t think I did go to Midnight Madness. I had already decided that I wasn’t going to keep collecting the 3.75″ line. It was already getting to be too much at that point. I was living in Vegas at the time, though and our collecting club, L.V.C.A.S. (Las Vegas Collectors of Anything Star Wars), had a big movie premier party at the FAO Schwartz in the Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace. That was fun! – Curt Hanks
The 1999 midnight madness for episode 1 was my first experience with the craziness that is Star Wars fandom. I started collecting the POTF2 figures with my dad starting in 1995. We would make toy runs after school or on the weekends, but rarely ran into other collectors. As a result we rarely had difficulty finding specific figures.
I was 11 when episode one came out, and as a result was just on the cusp of being “too old for toys”. Because of this I had not planned to go to our toys r us for midnight madness. I remember going to sleep around my normal bedtime that night…only to be awoken a couple short hours later by my father who said “time to go get new Star Wars toys!”
We rolled up to TRU around 11:30. I was still drowsy at the time, but as I saw the bright colored lights and line of people waiting I quickly became excited. I ran to the back of the line, which was probably 30+ people deep at this point. The next 30 minutes passed very slowly, then all of a sudden there was the “mad rush” after the doors sprang open.
As I finally got inside I hurried to compile a complete set of the action figures. This took some serious maneuvering as everyone else was grabbing and throwing stuff in carts. I got down to one figure that I couldn’t find…and of course it was Jar Jar Binks. I looked back and forth at our shopping cart to confirm that I didn’t actually grab him already. No luck!
As the store started to clear out we went and looked at the Lego sets. I remember getting Anakin’s pod racer set specifically, though I know we ended up with others. As I picked up one of the larger Lego boxes I felt something hit my foot. As I looked down I noticed a figure had fallen down, bubble facing the floor. I picked it up and, to my utter amazement found a Jar Jar Binks figure. Someone must have sat it down in the Lego’s during the “madness”. My set was complete. I was one happy kid.
Looking back now it is hard to imagine that I had ever decided to not attend this event. Thankfully my Dad had different plans. To this day the episode one midnight madness remains a favorite memory of collecting. My Dad and I were able to repeat the experience when we attendee the midnight madness for Episode 7: The Force Awakens a few years ago. This time we were first in line…and thankfully I didn’t have to worry about finding a Jar Jar. – Trent Bailey
I showed up at my local toys r us around 11:40 pm and was thinking I wonder how many people are going to be at this?? I was floored as I rounded the corner and saw a line around the building. I thought Oh my! I didn’t know there were this many star wars fans in the area. This is crazy. I’m not going to get one toy. I parked next door and started my journey towards the line. The news was there interviewing people in line. Once again I thought this is nuts! I saw an old high school buddy standing maybe 13th or 14th in line. I said “hey man what’s up.” He said there you are! Get over here. So yes I did line cut. I’m not sorry for doing it though. The doors opened a few minutes later and we calmly walked in. It was nothing like the last few where people ran in and grabbed all they could grab. We were friendly and only grabbed one of each. Once we had them we helped others find figs they needed. It was awesome. I still remember seeing Darth maul and looking at the .00 on the back. Then finding all 4 battle droids. It was great! I still have the figs in storage and still have the fond memories. My buddies and I saw episode 1 12 times. We loved it. We even caught a screening of it at a screening for the deaf. We even loved reading the movie. Good times with friends I still go to midnight showings of all different movies along with Star wars.
Thank you – Dave OBrien
My sister and I were at Toys R Us at midnight! I bought 1 of everything – 4″ & 12″ figures, ships, etc! Spread them all out on the living room floor when I got home. – Jade Bowie
I went…. but probably shouldn’t have at the time. Back then, my wife and I were a young couple with baby under the age of 1. I’d forgotten all about the event and actually drove by to see a handful of people standing outside. I rushed home and told my wife, and without skipping a heartbeat, she “ok’d” me to go back. I left with a cartfull of figures and vehicles. I’m a “one of each” guy, so this was a hefty haul that more or less ate up our collective paychecks. We truly didn’t have a dime to spare at the time, but somehow we made it work. No joke, we scraped by until we got paid again, living off spare change for gas and Ramen noodles for dinner. I remember reluctantly needing to return a few items we’d recently bought to get cash in order to get a couple gallons of gas to be able to make it to work! Dammit, you struggle and sacrifice to be a Star wars collector! While financially things have changed for me, that feeling never changes. Its exciting finding new figures, let alone being given a night to grab all sorts of brand new things from a brand new movie. That first event, realted to such a highly anticipated movies… was nothing short of magical. I’ve never missed a Midnight Madness since. I’d be remiss to say it’s a little heartbreaking to think about having one coming up without Toys R Us. – Andrew Bricker
I was in Denver that night with a whole bunch of people from Sarlacc. The day of was the last day of Celebration 1 in Denver. I was flying out the next morning. I didn’t buy anything at tru. Was waiting till I got home to buy the toys. Knowing that these toys were going to be everywhere. – Jason Wood
I didn’t attend the midnight release but went to walmart that weekend and loaded up on most of the heroes and 3 or 4 battle droids. – William Thousand
I remember it like it was yesterday. My nephew and I were the first 2 people in line at the Alderwood TRU. We got there about 6-7 hours early. I remember people fighting (punches thrown) over Darth Maul. I was interviewed on Channel 7 (KIRO) when I was checking out. The next day my sister called me asking if I was at TRU the night before, she saw me on the news. I have looked for video of it, but have never found it – Mark Willstrop
I remember going to the old south center mall tru. I think I just got the battle droid with STAP speeder and the Darth Maul that had the light saber you could plug into his back to activate the action feature. I also got the Beast Wars Optimus Primal, haha. I was 17 years old and my car had blown up a few weeks before so my mom took me. – Ryan Farnam
I was 11 so no lol but I did go to Target the next day after school and remember the aisles being black and red(so many episode 1 products) I remember getting anakin, obi wan, and qui gon – @under_an_atomic-sky
I went to the one at toys r us in Everett, Washington. It was awesome. Huge line to get in enough figures for everyone. – @stuffinjabslife
Bridgewater, NJ TrU .. I waited in a small line. I recall one figure was sold out quickly, can’t recall which one, but I grabbed one of each. I have the midnight madness flier too! – @pleidy
I was there! Throwing figures to the back of the crowd to make sure they got at least one. – @brongielthomas
Yes and it was awesome. Went with my older brother and still have my 12” Darth Maul that he was able to grab for me, “hey this one looks cool, want it?”
I also remember a father with his young son asking me if I thought any of this would be worth anything. My answer was, “it’s hit or miss on what item might be, if not the value I remember as a kid was playing with them.” – @saeltmarae
I went with my dad and it was insane! We had the only Toys R Us in like 200 miles, so people were coming in town just for this. I grabbed main characters and doubled up on Darth Maul. I traded the extra Maul with a friend the next day. Good times. – @cowabungaclay
I was there, w/ my Sister and 2 Cousins. Where my then Local TRU was, there was also Walmart in the same Parking Lot so I got to hit both that night. TRU was fine. Walmart was NUTS. I got everything i was looking 4 in 1st couple of waves. The only thing that got sold out was the 12” Maul. And of course I heard later from friends they sold out of 3.75” wave 1 Mauls. – @chuckchucklesjones
I went. I attended alone but with dozens of fellow fans at the same time! The 3.75” Darth Maul figure was rare and scooped up before I could get one. It would be another month before I found him again. – @misterwages
Still have the Certificate of attendance that they handed out – @vintagehan
I did, at the TRU at Old Spanish Trail in Houston. It was amazing to see all the excited folks waiting to get in. It was INSANE once we were invited into the store… luckily I brought a non-collector friend to manage the cart as I grabbed what I could. Sadly, too much Jar-Jar. – @waltertreash
Yup, I was there, remember getting Darth Maul 3 3/4” and the amazing 12” Darth Maul. Such an amazing piece for the time, still holds up 20 years later. Also grabbed a Naboo fighter. Still one of my favorite starship designs by the amazing Doug Chang. – @thecollector77
If you have memories from this night and the release of Episode One toys and merchandise, send them to us and we’ll add them to this wonderful walk down memory lane!