Several decades ago, a visionary filmmaker wove a tale of heroics and villainy in a far-off galaxy, of fated champions vying for control and guided by a mysterious power. I am, of course, talking about Mel Brooks.
While "Spaceballs II: The Search for More Money" hasn’t materialized (yet), it could well be the tagline for "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," which opens today. Merchandising, merchandising! Agencies and brands — many with no apparent connection to sci-fi, sci-fantasy, geek, nerd, gamer culture or even film —camp all want in on the action, and who can blame them? Trailers and ad spend for the film aside, brands are shelling out around $100 million on commercials this year just to associate themselves with the franchise. Call it Star Wars: The Force Rakes It In.
Sometimes these ads are works of art, and sometimes they're a chore to watch, so I did it for you. This list is an attempt to catalog and rank the chaos. All 62 ads from 2015.
Before we dive in, here’s a peek at my criteria. I rated each ad on a 10-point scale on five different axes, totaling to a single numerical score out of a possible 100.
Production values: Is it easy on the eyes? Good special effects? Great costume design? Careful talent selection?
Messaging: Is the copy smart? Does the concept make sense? How well-integrated is the brand identity?
Innovation: Does it offer anything new? Have we seen this idea before? Does it promote diversity or move social conversations forward?
Emotional content: Does it evoke an emotional response? Is it funny, sad, thrilling? Is it relatable? Or do I love Star Wars a little less due to association with this drek?
Longevity: Does it stick in the mind or stick in the craw? Is it forgettable? Ads that linger in the brain but leave a bad taste in the mouth get low scores here.
Ties went to the ad with the highest individual score on a single axis, with the lowest score on a single axis losing in subsequent ties.
I ignored ads for most Star Wars toys, since they are invariably bad and would just junk up the beginning of the list. Plus, how do you fairly judge something like modular lightsabers? Probably effective for the target audience, but it makes canon cry.
In the same vein, I ignored most ads directed toward children, as well as ads for video games that are primarily comprised of gameplay footage. I also avoided ads that threw in a random Star Wars plug. I’m looking at you, Snackeez. (Production values: 2.)
Did I miss anything? Send additions to i-hsien [dot] sherwood [at] haymarketmedia [dot] com or tweet @ihsiensherwood.
62. "Mind Trick" for General Mills Droid Viewers by Publicis: 32%
What could have been a poorly written "I am your father" joke turns into a "not the father" headscratcher worthy of Maury Povich due to bad editing.
61. "Kay Jewelers Charmed Memories Star Wars Collection: 33%
"By some miracle, she actually said yes … to me!" If you don’t understand why she’s with you, neither does she, and a bedazzled Darth Vader charm bracelet can’t make up for fundamental communication issues. I look forward to your very public Facebook breakup. Terrible marks for messaging, but the utter lack of any coherent product tie-in seals it.
60. Subway Fresh Fit for Kids Meal: 34%
If your child doesn’t hate you for taking them to Subway, they will when their glowstick lightsaber stops shining after four hours. And while I applaud a focus on improved diets, "Subway" and "healthy kids" are terms as incongruous as this brand collaboration.
59. "May the Fourth Be With" You for Kmart: 35%
See Kay Jewelers, above. Can we drop this trope? At least Kmart makes sense as a place to buy cheap plastic lightsabers.
58. "The DROID You’re Looking For" for Walmart by The Martin Agency: 38%
One of a series of Star Wars ads released by Walmart, this spot scored far lower than any of its peers due to its reliance on dated gender roles. Disappointing that it came from the same people that made #9 on this list.
57. Kmart Star Wars merchandise by FCB: 38%
Is this an ad, or did someone upload an accidental Snapchat video? Is it one of those things I’m just too old to get? Seriously, someone fill me in and I’ll happily update this list.
56. Yoplait Star Wars GoGurt: 40%
At least his lightsaber is filled with decidedly non-toxic GoGurt, and not …
55."Show Your Disney Side: I Am Your Father" for Disney Parks: 43%
…poisonous mercury vapor. It doesn’t look like this ad is running anymore, which is good, because anyone who tried this at home would get glass and hazardous chemicals everywhere. It’s the kind of irresponsible messaging we expect from blockbuster movies, not theme park commercials.
54. "The Adventure Continues" for General Mills Droid Viewers by Publicis: 44%
This is a nice bit of stop-motion, but it offers little else. Also, with his visor up, Buzz the Cheerios bee look more like Dark Helmet than Darth Vader.
53. Bell Canada’s Fibe Internet: 45%
Sorry, kid, that jacket doesn’t look like Han Solo’s vest.
52. Johnson & Johnson Band-Aids: 48%
Yoda impressions really are difficult. Average ad that loses a few points for an annoying child.
51. Bell Canada’s Fibe Internet: 48%
Slightly better costumes and special effects than its sibling.
50. "Find the Falcon" for Kohl’s: 48%
Despite a name that sounds like the house cocktail at a superhero-themed BDSM club, this ad has costumes that are on point.
49. "Awakening" for Fiat Abarth 500 by Doner: 49%
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles rolled out a series of Star Wars ads, and this is the worst of them. A game of chicken with sound effects from a lightsaber duel? Interesting idea, but poor execution. Maybe if the dark car had sliced off the light car’s passenger side mirror.
48. "Poster Wars" for Star Wars Battlefront at GameStop: 50%
Perfectly average. No new ideas, no real storyline, easily forgettable. The only takeaway is that retail jobs make people petty and selfish, which is true.
47. "On Seeing the Bigger Picture" for Walmart by The Martin Agency: 50%
Barely beats out #48 because there are actual Star Wars references.
46. "On Jedi Dress Codes" for Walmart by The Martin Agency: 51%
The messaging is a little smarter than in #47. Honestly, most of the clothes in Star Wars look pretty comfortable (or badass but worth it). Except for Natalie Portman’s whole "elected teenage queen" kabuki getup. Also, that’s Keira Knightley, not Natalie Portman. Good decoy.
45. "Junior Jedi" for Kohl’s: 52%
A coherent conversation and a few bonus points for diversity push this one a bit higher than its sibling at #50.
44. "Star Wars Priority" for O2 by VCCP: 53%
Great production values, but what a wasted opportunity. It’s one of the few ads that could have the characters speak original dialogue, but 3PO and R2 just end up getting some mail. And not smuggled space station schematics, either. Many Bothans died to bring you those movie tickets, BB-8. I hope you can live with yourself.
43. "The Subway Cantina" for Subway: 54%
Subway is that friend who really likes Star Wars but always uses the quotes in the wrong context. The phrase is "The Force is strong with this one" so the tagline "The fans are strong here" doesn’t make any sense. I can’t watch this ad for longer than a few parsecs, anyway.
42. "On Humble Origins" for Walmart by The Martin Agency: 54%
Did you know the Hutts give out moisture subsidies? It’s how they stay in power in the Vapor Belt.
41. "On Relationships" for Walmart by The Martin Agency: 55%
Works two unrelated quotes pretty seamlessly into the dialogue.
40. "Lightsaber Master" for Kohl’s: 56%
39. "Build-A-Bear Workshop Presents Star Wars" for Build-A-Bear Workshop: 56%
Annoying child voiceover but great production values.
38. "The First Time" for Chrysler by Doner: 56%
I can think of a few "firsts" they missed.
37. "On The Nature of the Force" for Walmart by The Martin Agency: 57%
The Force is great for throwing enemies around, but as a metaphysical concept it’s about as useful as "The Secret." Like yoga, it’s better to focus on the athletic benefits: flexibility, breath control, minor telekinesis.
36. "On Morning Routines" for Walmart by The Martin Agency: 57%
Decent Shriiwook, though the dad in the Campbell’s ad did it without cheating.
35. "A Very Special Message" for Walmart by The Martin Agency: 57%
This is one of the few issues on which I am a conservative. One man, one shot. Anything else is unnatural.
34. Coffee-mate limited edition Star Wars bottles: 58%
Once you get past the strange product tie-in, there’s some cute stop-motion here. Then you head back to the strange product tie-in. I can buy the droids as French vanilla and hazelnut, since they’re both a bit saccharine, and Boba Fett probably does taste like Italian sweet crème, else why would the Sarlaac take a thousand years to digest him? It’s savoring the moment. But how is a Darth Vader not dark chocolate?
33. "Restart" for Bell Canada’s Fibe TV: 58%
Spontaneous lightsaber fight. We’ve all been there.
32. "Family" for Ram Trucks by Doner: 59%
Nice landspeeder reference. Also, that voiceover is MARK HAMILL. The copy is banal, but when he hits the terms and conditions it gets painfully dissonant. He sounds like he’s been in Joker mode for too long. Ads for "The Killing Joke" are going to be weeeeird.
31. Subway Fresh Fit for Kids Meal: 59%
I like to pretend this kid is trolling his dad, and poor Johnald is stuck sitting in the car while they eat inside.
30. "Fans Forever" for Bell Canada: 60%
Everyone is using this quote, but it usually works. Plus, Boba Fett motorcycle helmet. Dude, your sister’s way cooler than you. She probably moved to Montreal while you’re still settling for Winnipeg.
29. "On Mixing Metaphors" for Walmart by The Martin Agency: 61%
Finally, an honest ad that’s willing to say what we’re all thinking: the "Galaxy Far, Far Away" doesn’t make any sense. Oh no, the story’s getting bogged down in trade negotiations and an implausible romance between two virgins (think about it). Better distract the audience with laser swords and wookiees.
28. "Target Holiday Commercial 2015: Chapter 4—The Star Wars Chase" for Target: 61%
The other four parts of this five-part series have nothing to do with Star Wars, so we ignore them. I wish I’d ignored this one, too. These kids make me hate Star Wars a little, in a Jake Lloyd kind of way. Excellent production values and a distinctive idea pull its score way up. Fortunately, it fades from memory quickly.
27. "Great Disturbance" for Kraft Macaroni and Cheese by Crispin Porter + Bogusky: 64%
It’s the room of my dreams, and it actually exists on some soundstage. This is one of those ads that appeals to fans but can’t resist making fun of them, too.
26. "A New Generation Awakens" for Walmart by The Martin Agency: 64%
The compilation ad for the Walmart series is better than nearly all of the individual ads. However, the only vignette that doesn’t get spun out into its own spot is the "Red Leader" bit featuring the only people of color. Big oversight.
25. "Light Side, Dark Side" for CoverGirl Star Wars Makeup Collection: 65%
The crowning glory of the crop of confusing product tie-ins. Star Wars makeup? That’s … well … Hey, the gold droid looks amazing. Production values and costume design are off the charts here, since the brand’s global creative design director Pat McGrath created the looks. And judging from the YouTube comments, the market for Star Wars merchandise geared toward women (often overlooked as fans) could be huge.
24. "These Are the Droids You’re Looking For" for Pond5: 66%
Pond5 curates stock images and videos, and they had the brilliant idea to create political ads for Star Wars characters using only assets available from their catalog. Some of the images aren’t perfect fits, but the innovative project is wholly enjoyable to watch. Production values are (understandably) lower, though. This spot uses a few too many generic droid images.
23. "Elect the Empire" for Pond5: 67%
Vader looks like he’s wearing hammer pants, but we're treated to an Evil Empire/Ronald Reagan allusion.
22. "Epic Battle" for HP Instant Ink by BBDO New York: 67%
The sales pitch is woven through an enjoyable storyline. Pretty to look at, and bonus points for a cameo by the actor who played Biggs Darklighter, looking much better than when we last saw him onscreen. In pieces.
21. "Your Father" for Campbell’s Star Wars Soups by BBDO New York: 68%
Nice voice effects from both the dads. Helps to normalize gay couples in advertising by not calling attention to it. Like I’m doing here.
20. "Can’t Play" for Kraft Macaroni and Cheese by Crispin Porter + Bogusky: 68%
You don’t like lies, kid? Fine, I’ve got a little something to tell you about Santa Claus.
19. "The Green Party" for Pond5: 69%
Great voiceover work. Yes, I understand someone had to be paired up with the Ewoks, but the Jawas have a fundamentally different relationship with technology, so it’s tough to swallow. Still, politics makes strange bedfellows.
18. "It’s Not a Trap" for Pond5: 69%
So Leia’s a princess and an ambassador, but she’s running for elected office? Didn't her seat get vaporized? Oh, Lando’s probably leveraging those Tibanna gas mine credits to fund a Cloud City slate. Seems they’ve got the Mon Calamari vote locked down, too, though that means they’ve likely lost the Quarren.
17. "The Circle Is Now Complete" for Walmart by The Martin Agency: 72%
A nice moment of father/daughter bonding. That's actually James Earl Jones doing the voiceover.
16. "Arturito" for Campbell’s Star Wars Soups by BBDO New York: 74%
One of the few ads in this list that feature people of color. Also, calling R2-D2 "Arturito" is a bit of an inside joke among people who first watched the original trilogy in Spanish. Smart nod to the community, but missing the reference doesn’t detract from the experience.
15. "Epic Phones. Epic Speeds. Epic Network." For Bell Canada: 74%
The flying phones are mesmerizing, and the fade to the Millennium Falcon’s gunner turret is well-executed, even exciting.
14. Kohl’s Star Wars Fangirl Fashion: 75%
Strong messaging directed toward a too-often-ignored audience.
13. "Shooting Star" for Jeep Renegade by Doner: 75%
Stunning space battle and a smart one-liner.
12. "A better network as explained by Star Wars" for Verizon Wireless by Wieden + Kennedy NY: 76%
Two characters who don’t speak! In their own little adventure! Hey, I remember those little mini tanks! And I’m pretty sure this is the only commercial on the list that actually has a stormtrooper being taken out by blaster fire.
11. "The Force Gathers" for Dodge Viper by Doner: 76%
Of course American cars are the Empire. Witty puns and beautiful vehicular choreography that falls flat on the last line.
10. "Let the Wookiee Win" for Pond5: 77%
One of the best but rarely referenced lines from the whole franchise. Modeled after a real political ad, Hillary Clinton’s 3 a.m. phone call, this is the best piece in the Pond5 series and boasts the strongest writing, as well as a passable Alec Guinness impersonation.
9. "On Keeping With the Times" for Walmart by The Martin Agency: 78%
Excellent delivery of a complicated line by a tiny Steinem. Mom shouldn’t be so surprised.
8. "Battle for Christmas Morning" for Duracell by Anomaly: 80%
The only thing that would have made the Battle of Hoth cooler would have been more lightsabers. The special effects are so impressive here that the cut to reality hits like closing credits. Also, I’ll just say this once: THE END OF THIS AD HAD BETTER NOT BE A FREAKIN’ SPOILER!
7. "Startourage: The Foursome Awakens" for Quizno’s by Strike Social & Windowseat: 81%
So dumb that it’s genius. An Entourage/Star Wars mashup created by the Quizno’s Toasty.tv parody channel that hits every stupid trope a drunken frat boy with a cursory familiarity with the franchise would throw into a movie designed to be more fun to make than watch. Tatum, you should get on this.
6. "Become More Powerful" for EA’s Star Wars Battlefront by Heat: 82%
Great visual effects and an initially intriguing concept. Plus Anna Kendrick, who really has nothing to do with Star Wars, but "Pitch Perfect 2" is my jam. However, the execution begs so many questions. Is this The Rapture? That unmanned skateboard is going to hurt someone. Are people around the world dying horribly as train conductors and nuclear engineers disappear? And shouldn’t everyone show up in the game naked?
5. "Like Father, Like Daughter" for Toys ‘R’ Us by BBDO Atlanta: 83%
- Yoda makes her cry.
- Hates Ewoks.
- Inexplicably drawn to lightsaber duel.
- Chooses red-bladed crossguard lightsaber.
The upshot: You've raised a Sith.
4. "Reinvent Romance" for Star Wars Special Edition HP Notebook by BBDO New York: 84%
Pro-tip: this is a terrible way to get a date. Just text "Sup?" until they respond. However, the trash can R2D2 dome is inspired.
3. "The Wait Is Over" for Full Frontal with Samantha Bee: 85%
By far the funniest ad on the list, and the most gory. The cantina scene parody is classic and tired, but this is a great rendition that capitalizes on Bee’s innocent and ignorant on-camera persona. Also, that’s JEJ again, doing another Star Wars voiceover. He just coasts on these, doesn’t he?
2. "Share the Force" for Target by Deutsch: 85%
Very nearly a tearjerker sourced from user-submitted videos of their authentic Star Wars memories. Can we give John Williams a posthumous Cannes Lion?
1. Star Wars Battlefront on PlayStation by BBH New York: 86%
The top few ads in the list are all close calls. But nothing captures the real appeal of Star Wars quite like this escapist office fantasy. Maybe you play video games, maybe not. But we’ve all felt the urge to smash the window and leap to freedom on those days when quitting time just won’t come to take us away from it all. And that’s why it pays to have friends with X-wings.