20 Years of LEGO Star WarsThis year is a milestone year for Lucasfilm’s Star Wars franchise, marking the 20th anniversary of Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace and the conclusion of the Skywalker saga with J.J. Abrams’ forthcoming Star Wars: Episode IX.

Looking back, 1999 was both the return of the franchise for audiences who had been waiting since Return of the Jedi (1983) for further Star Wars adventures and the birth of a new fandom for a generation that would grow up with the Star Wars prequels. While the era also marked a welcome return to the action figure aisle for characters from a galaxy far, far away, it also saw the debut of a then-unusual collaboration with The LEGO Group for a new collection of LEGO Star Wars building sets. At the time, LEGO was not known for licensed product — but the company was struggling. Licensing, as Obi-Wan Kenobi might have said, was “the first step into a larger world.”

When the first LEGO Star Wars product launched, the minifigures had traditional yellow heads (see the evolution of Luke Skywalker above) and Jar-Jar Binks would become the first to feature a custom head sculpt. Over the years, the detail in both sculpt and coloring increased, and short legs for characters, such as Yoda, were introduced to the line. The success of LEGO Star Wars opened up new opportunities and innovations that helped shape LEGO into the company we know today.

LEGO STAR WARS

The evolution of some popular LEGO Star Wars characters over 20 years.

A special presentation, 20 Years of the LEGO Star Wars Story — A Retrospective and Forward Look, will take place on Friday, April 12 at Star Wars Celebration Chicago. Additionally, a limited edition LEGO Darth Vader Bust will be offered as a Celebration exclusive. LEGO Star Wars 20th Anniversary sets are available at retail now, with new sets based on Star Wars: Episode IX slated for release in October.