Employee Profile: Jim Hook and Yoda The Jedi Master Game

IMG_0719Greetings Gooney Fans! This past month we were fortunate to meet up with a former Project Engineer (1979-1997) Jim Hook. Jim worked on several product lines throughout his career including Star Wars, M.A.S.K., Starting Lineup, Batman, etc. One of the products he was especially happy to have been a part of was Yoda The Jedi Master board game. Object of the game: “Be the first player to become a Jedi Knight, defeat the Dark Side of the Force and win! Travel to the Dagobah System where Yoda, the ancient Jedi Master, will teach you the ways of the Force. Acquire Jedi merit as you successfully accomplish the difficult tasks and trials Yoda sets for your training. Once you’ve obtained sufficient merit as a Jedi, enter the Jedi Knight circle and out-spin the Dark Side of the Force to win.” IMG_0722In Jim’s own words, he describes what it was like to work on the team assigned with designing the game from the ground up and having been a part of the developmental stages as the product moved into production: “A long time ago, really just back in 1980, in a galaxy far, far away, a group of Kenner Product employees teamed together to create board games. Which may make you scratch your head because, as many of you know, at that time, the cereal, food behemoth General Mills owned Kenner Products, Parker Brothers and Fundimensions. And Parker Brothers was the foremost creator and manufacturer of the finest board games across the galaxy. Apparently, Kenner, when negotiating licensing agreements, was able to carve out a niche to include board games as part of the products they would create, market and sell.

So, back to our story, in 1980, as Kenner was buzzing with creativity to wow Lucasfilm, Ltd. and toy store buyers with numerous Action Figures, Vehicles and Playsets based on the next installment of the Star Wars saga, The Empire Strikes Back, the opportunity that a board game based on one of the new, mysterious characters was declared by the Preliminary Design and Engineering Group. This concept along with a profitability sheet was pitched to the Marketing department and the direction was given to create a Yoda Board Game and add it to the product line. IMG_0721At this step, the concept was handed off to the Boys Toys department and a development timeline was created. Kenner had a connection to printed board stock with strong relationships in their Purchasing Department and the talent and knowledge from the designers who had come over to Kenner from Rainbow Craft. A small team was established to work together and come up with a “fun and exciting” game. My colleagues and I would sit in a corner of an available conference room with a nice square board game with a blue printed image of the pointy eared Jedi and some squares snaking around for kids to travel around the key locations presented in the new movie.

The team would have to submit a “Bill of Materials” list to the Costing Engineer so he could calculate the overall cost of the product. This was a good way to help define the parts and number of cards vital to the play of the game. The Boys Toys Engineering Manager, at that time, had experience on Board games and was able to dictate how to spec the board and the box to prevent warpage and insure a quality looking product.We had an outstanding artist that was able to capture the Product Engineers vision for game play resulting in a product that was a hit for buyers at Toy Fair. What was an Engineer’s role in this “simple” board game? Like all projects, the Engineer had to enforce schedules and cost restraints and coordinate with safety and reliability Departments to insure the game and all its parts would pass stringent testing. IMG_0723Another task I was assigned was designing a nifty plastic spinner for this game to be assembled into a cardboard box onto which was printed number of spaces to move and references to “the Force” and “the Dark Side”. Each player had a Luke Skywalker token which were different colored board stock folded up and wedged into a slotted plastic base. More fun was had, if a player was lucky enough to get to pick a Yoda or Luke card and follow the instruction on your way to defeating your opponents.

It may be easy from today’s perspective to accept how popular a Jedi master like Yoda would become and the idea of traveling to Dagobah may be appealing; but in early 1980, there was a certain leap of faith needed from these game developers to bring to the home what kids and older consumers saw on the big screen. As a sidebar, I do not recall if any of the Kenner Engineering staff was aware of George Lucas’ biggest twist that Darth Vader was the father of Luke and Leia. We were very fortunate to get to go see the Empire Strikes Back during work hours, as a company and most of us were shocked by that turn of events. And it was certainly fun to go back to the office and see the Engineering drawings in process for the various Star Wars vehicles on someone’s drawing board. This was a group effort and the success of these products were only achieved by the great group of individuals I was working with and working for!”

Until Next Time! It’s Kenner! It’s Fun!

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