Forceback Friday: George Lucas rocks these vintage Japanese commercials

Forceback Friday: George Lucas rocks these vintage Japanese commercials

Watch George Lucas use his Jedi mind tricks on a generation of Japanese electronics consumers. 

In 1987, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Star Wars franchise was over.

The original trilogy had ended four years ago, and George Lucas still hadn't started working on the prequels. The spin-off Ewok films had come and gone, the Ewoks and Droids cartoons had been cancelled, and Marvel's original Star Wars series had just ended its 107 issue run. The Expanded Universe of novels and comics was still a few years away from kicking into gear.

Perhaps most importantly, the most visible marker of Star Wars' pop cultural dominance — the toyline — had been discontinued in 1985.

It's almost impossible now to imagine a world without a constant stream of new Star Wars merch and stories, but in 1987, that was exactly the situation fans faced, as the franchise appeared to be dying the same death as countless other once-popular properties that kids eventually lost interest in. 

But in Japan, George Lucas was more visible than ever. 

Lucas celebrated the 10th anniversary of Star Wars by filming a series of Panasonic commercials in secret in America; these were then rolled out with a huge campaign in Japan that went largely unnoticed in the States.

That's partly because there was no YouTube in 1987, of course, but even today, American movie stars routinely appear in commercials that are never officially screened outside of Japan. (Yes, just like Lost in Translation, which was inspired by a real-life series of ads for Suntory Whiskey that Sofia Coppola's father, Francis Ford Coppola, appeared in with Akira Kurosawa.) 

Lucas' ads for Panasonic feature a number of his Star Wars creations, and, well, you really just have to see them for yourself. 'Surreal' doesn't really do them justice. 

I'll be honest with you — I've come to appreciate the prequels, but I still don't think they're half as entertaining as these Japanese ads. 

If you're asking yourself, 'Why George Lucas?', good news — Matsushita Electric (the name Panasonic went by in Japan until 2008) covered that with this advertising caption in Playboy Weekly

George Lucas. The man who directed and produced Star Wars. Combining electronics of high technology and the imagination, a great man who became the genius that created a cinematic world bursting with love and romance. To the people, he is the sorcerer of the big screen. With a strong sense of history and tradition, he is a man who will lead us into the future. Alongside George Lucas, Matsushita Electric brings you its latest concept of “Human Electronics,” an impressive world of audio, visual and computer technology. Gear yourself towards magnificent picture quality and a galaxy of sound. Count on Matsushita Electric to bring you “Always Something New.”

If you're interested in learning more about Lucas' award-winning stint as a Japanese product pitchman, check out this 2007 piece on Rebel Scum by a fan who lived in Japan at the time, which goes into much more detail about the roll-out of the campaign. 

Having sold Lucasfilm to Disney for billions of dollars in 2012, it seems unlikely that George Lucas will ever be persuaded to appear in a series of commercials like this again — but with the 30th anniversary of these ads coming up next year, we can only hope that Panasonic at least tries to bring back their star spokesperson.

Force Material is a podcast exploring the secrets and source material of Star Wars with hosts Rohan Williams and Baz McAlister. Listen and subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, Stitcher, PlayerFM and Castro; stay in touch with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram; and support the show by browsing our range of shirts, hoodies, kids apparel, mugs and more at TeePublic.

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