The official Star Wars site recently ran a great article about the first Star Wars lunchbox, which hit store shelves 30 years ago. The metal lunchbox from Thermos was actually one of the first available pieces of Star Wars merchandise.
In 1977, I was still three years away from entering school, so I never owned the Star Wars lunchbox featured in the piece. Still, it brought back memories of those early school days. You see, I used to love “Back to School” shopping and one of the main reasons was selecting a new, metal lunchbox each year.
My very first lunchbox, for kindergarten, was Peanuts. This was 1980, though the design itself dates back to the 1960s. Here’s the best picture I could find of one online. As far as I’ve been able to tell, the 1960s version had a predominantly yellow background on both sides of the box. A 1970s version had a predominantly red background on both sides of the box. If I recall correctly, mine had red on one side of the box and yellow on the other. The cartoons were the same, though, on all three variations.
I can actually remember my first lunch in kindergarten. I was all ready with my Peanuts lunchbox and thermos. I had already practiced eating out of it once at home. But the freshly prepared home lunch being placed into the lunchbox and then eaten immediately wasn’t a true test, as I was about to find out.
I remember being quite disappointed on that first real lunch. My ham and cheese sandwich tasted funny (I had never eaten one at room temperature before). And my cherry Kool-Aid in my thermos was…ick…warm. As awesome as those lunchboxes were, the thermoses never seemed to be very good at keeping things cool.
I unfortunately don’t remember all of my lunchboxes in order, but I’m pretty sure the next one was Popeye, for 1st grade. Much like reading cereal boxes in the morning, these colorful lunchboxes provided much entertainment at lunchtime.
In 2nd grade, my lunchbox was The Muppet Show. I was catching this classic show in reruns and loved it. I had grown up watching Sesame Street, so The Muppet Show was a natural fit. Plus, I always hoped that I would see that episode with Luke Skywalker, Artoo, and Threepio again. (Incidentally, season 2 of The Muppet Show was recently released on DVD. The Star Wars episode was season 4.)
I’ve mentioned before that I loved video games, especially Pac-Man. Somewhere along the line, I had a Pac-Man lunchbox. If I had to guess, I would say 3rd grade. I even had a Pac-Man board game, which involved a lot of marbles but didn’t waste as many quarters. Though it may sound like an anachronism, the Pac-Man board game was actually a lot of fun.
Remember Heathcliff? That other orange cat. I even had a Heathcliff lunchbox at some point. This was probably when I was watching the afternoon version of his cartoon. “Heathcliff just won’t be outdone, playing pranks on everyone,” went the theme song.
Incidentally, though a fan, I’m not a lunchbox collector or expert. For more information be sure to check out Lunch Box Pad, which appears to be the definitive online resource on the subject.
You may notice, that’s five lunchboxes so far and no sign of Star Wars, Superman, or Star Trek. Those lunchboxes were elusive when I was a kid! I never found a Star Wars lunchbox until 3rd or 4th grade, a plastic one for Return of the Jedi.
Plastic really was the ruination of lunchboxes. By 4th grade, all of the metal ones were gone and replaced by their inferior, plastic counterparts. I can remember one more lunchbox before I started brown-bagging it, and it was plastic, too, for Masters of the Universe.
But a sticker slapped on the side of an otherwise generic plastic box just wasn’t the same as the intricately detailed lunchboxes of the past. Another American art form was gone, and school lunches would never be the same.