The Force has been with him
After 40 years of designing toys from the iconic “Star Wars” saga, Mark Boudreaux still holds the same excitement for the series that he had when he first started.
“It has been quite an adventure,” said Boudreaux.
As Senior Principle Designer on “Star Wars” toys at Hasbro, he has designed toys for every movie and animated series so far, dating back to the original film, “Episode IV: A New Hope” first released in 1977.
As young 21-year-old industrial design student at the University of Cincinnatti, Boudreaux landed a position as a co-op at Kenner Products in January of 1977. Soon after, the design team returned from a trip to California where they were introduced to and later purchased the “Star Wars” license.
Boudreaux was just as thrilled to begin working on the designs as everyone else.
“I always felt part of the team – I can’t thank the Kenner team enough for that. It was all hands on deck. There was a lot of excitement as you can imagine,” he said.
The toys would take a year before they were released, and he says that was also a source of anxiety.
“I was new to the toy business,” he said. “I certainly had never seen anything like this before.”
Kenner decided on the 3.75-inch action figure scale, as they wanted to make them large enough to preserve the detail of the characters while still small enough to put them in accompanying toy vehicles.
Boudreaux’s first big project was designing the Millennium Falcon – the iconic starship of Han Solo and his Wookie co-pilot Chewbacca.
“The main goal was to identify and recreate the key beats/movie moments from the film – everything from the gunner’s station to the training remote to the Dejarik Holochess board,” he said. “The Millennium Falcon is more than just a transport. It has certainly proven itself to be one of the most important ‘characters’ in the saga – the ‘piece of junk’ that always saves the day.”
He has done five Millenium Falcons so far. With each new movie, Boudreaux’s work showed in his efforts to create a unique character trait and play experience. His goal is to strike a balance between the authenticity and play, to accommodate an audience of all ages that may just collect them for visual reasons or want to use the toy’s features.
“After all, the young fans of today grow to be tomorrow’s passionate, lifelong collectors,” he said, adding that other versions have included updated paint schemes, enhanced mechanical play features, authentic sound and light effects and even a pop–up Nerf launcher for the “The Force Awakens” version.
“But the one thing that always remains at the heart of the ship is the [opening] cockpit,” he said.
Boudreaux worked with Kenner until Hasbro bought out the company in 1991. He was fortunate enough to be able to continue his work on the “Star Wars” toy line under Hasbro, although it required him to later move from Cincinnati to their headquarters in Pawtucket.
Despite having to uproot himself, he is grateful that the company gave him the opportunity to continue working on the “Star Wars brand,” and so far has enjoyed the Ocean State.
“That opportunity also meant moving 800-plus miles away from family and friends, so that in itself was a significant change,” he said. “Over these past 18 years, we have had many family adventures, our kids have grown. Working at Hasbro has been a great experience and, best of all, the seafood is fresh!”
After developing products for a total of eight movies – from the trilogies, two anthology films, and six animated series – Boudreaux has become engrained in the Star Wars brand. He said that, “the experience tends to get into your blood.”
Boudreaux described Star Wars as a familiar uplifting tale of good and evil, adventure, personal growth and overcoming the odds; where you were drawn in because you could relate to the characters and be a part of an inspiring “group” experience.
“I have always loved the fantasy of that ‘Galaxy far...far away,’ the struggle between the light and the dark and certainly the design of Mr. Lucas's universe, which inspires great toys,” he said. “But most of all, it is about the character’s personal journey (hero and villain) and our investment in them – and I can’t wait to see how it plays out.”
He said that the most important thing a toy should do is bring you back to the moment when your memories of the experience were created, and said that a toy should allow someone to relive and become immersed in the fantasy every time they play with it.
“The Star Wars saga has certainly been woven into our culture. For four decades, Star Wars has been part of our everyday life…passed down from generation to generation like a family heirloom,” he said.
He added that one of the designers in Pawtucket is the son of a colleague of his from Kenner.
As new movies are still continuing to come out, with a new Han Solo movie on the way, and Episode IX of the series to be released in 2019, Boudreaux seems to still have a lot left in the tank. Decades after the release of the initial product line, he still holds the same enthusiasm.
“When I see a product on the shelf, I feel very proud and humbled by what the team accomplishes each year,” he said. “May the Force be with us!”