As part of Star Wars ad campaign, C-3PO and R2-D2 once helped sell Mitsubishi cars in Japan

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away a couple of droids landed on a remote, unremarkable planet of mostly water. Its primitive inhabitants had yet to discover interstellar travel, but for some reason these advanced droids got really stoked about this one specific ground transport manufacturer. Today is Star Wars Day, so let’s take a look at the time C-3PO and R2-D2 appeared in a series of Japanese ads to promote Mitsubishis.

The campaign was known as Star Cars (get it!? So clever) and was launched in 1996. It was a rather strange time to bring back C-3PO and R2-D2, as it had been nearly 20 years since Star Wars debuted, and the prequels were still several years away. Mitsubishi’s lineup, on the other hand, wasn’t outdated at all. In fact, it was overflowing with models, from Lancers to Liberos, Minicas to Mirages. There were no less than three flavors of Pajero: Mini, Junior, and regular-size.

Maybe the tie-in with Star Wars made sense, since some of Mitsubishi’s models had vaguely sci-fi names, like Eclipse and Delica Space Gear. Not to mention, there were past models like the Celeste, Eterna, and Starion, and what droid could resist a brand that made something called the Mirage Cyborg? The duo appeared in TV commercials, newspaper ads, and on brochures. There were many promotional items with the Star Cars theme, like boxes of tissues, jigsaw puzzles, and little figurines.

Many of Mitsubishi’s TV ads featured only a brief Star Cars title card at the end to remind people of the campaign. In a bizarre clash of IPs, that title card appeared in a spot for the Mitsubishi RVR that also starred Bugs Bunny and other Looney Toons characters. Apparently there’s no such thing as too many cross-promotional partnerships.

It wasn’t just C-3PO and R2-D2, either. In another TV commercial, the droids go berserk over a Mitsubishi RVR (sold here as the Expo) while Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith, lovingly polishes a Diamante.

It kind of makes sense that the Supreme Commander of the Imperial Army himself would align with Mitsubishi. Its parent company, the Mitsubishi Group, is involved in everything from shipping to banking to owning entire islands for mining purposes. It’s the Galactic Empire of Japan’s economy. Vader’s participation is commemorated with a Star Cars promotional wristwatch with his face on it (above, right). Sadly, the ads never capitalized on the fact that in real life, Darth Vader drove a modified Mitsubishi GTO.

Happy Star Wars Day and May the 4th be with you.

Images: hmx9900, muuseo

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