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New ‘Star Wars’ model kits designed in a suburb not far away

Sept. 4 is a day “Star Wars” fans have been waiting for, and the fourth is strong with one Chicago area company.

The global rollout of officially licensed toys and other merchandise from “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens” began at 11:01 p.m. (Chicago time) on Thursday. The event even has its own Twitter hashtag: #ForceFriday.

Disney is pulling out all the merchandising stops for this, its first feature film foray into the “Star Wars” empire since acquiring the franchise’s originator, Lucasfilm Ltd., in 2012. Selections from the new toy line debuted globally in Australia on Sept. 3 (check out starwars.com for the videos of all the unveilings).

In the U.S., three Disney Store locations, including Chicago’s Michigan Avenue store, as well as Target stores at 2656 N. Elston, 4466 N. Broadway and 7300 191st St. in Tinley Park, opened their doors at 12:01 a.m. on Sept. 4 to accommodate fans who wanted first crack at the merchandise.

One Chicago area company is an integral part of the celebration. Revell of northwest suburban Elk Grove Village is rolling out four official “hyper-realistic” plastic model kits of the vehicles from the hugely anticipated film (set for a Dec. 18 release date). The kits, which also will be available at Toys R Us, are a first on many levels for the company. For starters, they’re aimed at 6- to 8-year-olds and are designed for ease of use by a child’s hands. The kits feature 16 to 20 snap-into-place pieces, instead of the standard piece “trees” that need to be separated for use.

Elk Grove Village-based Revell is releasing four model kits from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” including this X-Wing Resistance Fighter, as part of “Force Friday” Sept. 4. | DISNEY/REVELL
Elk Grove Village-based Revell is releasing four model kits from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” including this X-Wing Resistance Fighter, as part of “Force Friday” Sept. 4. | DISNEY/REVELL

“It’s the first time we’ve produced a product for such a young age group,” said Lou Aguilera, vice president and general manager for Revell Inc. “[The pieces] just snap together. You don’t need glue or paint. They’re very durable and made with very safe materials. The kits feature robust pieces perfect for small hands.

“And for the first time in our history we’re using lights and sounds on the models. There are also movable pieces. The cockpits open. There are movable wings that open up into ‘attack mode’ position. There’s landing gear that’s retractable. It’s the first time we’ve done any of that using a plastic model.”

And just because the models are for tiny hands, don’t think the end results are tiny spaceships. “The fighters are 6 to 7 inches tall and equally as wide. The wing span is about 8 inches,” Aguilera said.

Revell’s model-designing engineers have a long history of using photographs, blueprints, schematics and gobs of other documentation to ensure detail accuracy. To create the four made-in-China space vehicles for the “Force Awakens” kits, Aguilera said they worked with the company that made the props for the movie.

“We were held to a very strict standard of being exact and correct. We got their computer-CAD data and created our molds from there. We got photo shots from movie scenes as well, for even greater detail and accuracy. What was great and really unique is the props are actually full-size.”

The back end of the Millennium Falcon made from Revell’s model kit. | DISNEY/REVELL
The back end of the Millennium Falcon made from Revell’s model kit. | DISNEY/REVELL

The company, the result of a merger between two long-standing model manufacturing companies — Monogram Models (originally based in Morton Grove) and Revell (originally based in California) — is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. It has survived the test of time, Aguilera says, because of its dedication to accuracy and detail and creating kits that are fun, challenge their users and can yield works of art.

“Model kits were really the rage beginning in World War II,” Aguilera explained. “[Monogram’s and Revell’s] kits were actually used during the war to help the military with strategy. All those little planes you would see on those big war boards, for example, those were made by kids in classrooms all across the country. The models were then shipped off to the military for use.”

In October, the company will be rolling out more traditional “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” kits aimed at kids ages 8 and above, and in November, Revell will release high-end “master series” kits for persons ages 14 and up. Those kits will require paint, glue and a lot of devotion. Some kits will feature more than 900 pieces.

“People build models for all different reasons,” Aguilera said. “We’re still around because, as a company, our ability to capture this incredible level of detail is unsurpassed.”

So what about that other kit-building behemoth, Lego? Friend or foe?

“Lego is great for the concept of construction,” Aguilera said. “The resurgence of Legos proves kids love using their hands and creating. We add a different dimension because our products look so much more like what you’ll see in the movie.”

A Revell model kit for the First Order Special Forces Tie Fighter from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens. ” | DISNEY/REVELL
A Revell model kit for the First Order Special Forces Tie Fighter from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens. ” | DISNEY/REVELL