The new Star Wars flick, The Force Awakens, isn't due in theaters until December 18. But Lucasfilm—and its newish parent company, the Walt Disney Co.—has been busy generating buzz for months.
The latest push? A massive collection of new toys, apparel, and other Star Wars-branded merchandise, which was unveiled via a series of live "unboxings" over the course of 18 hours, starting on Wednesday (Disney tapped another of its acquisitions, Maker Studios, to provide online talent for the events, which were streamed over the Star Wars YouTube channel).
The upcoming Star Wars episode, the seventh installation in the space saga, is expected to bring in $2 billion in global box office sales. But that's just the tip of the lightsaber. Ancillary products like video games, T-shirts and, yes, toy lightsabers (the ones with the new crossguard design, but of course) are projected to earn an additional $5 billion in 2016 alone, according to Morgan Stanley analyst Benjamin Swinburne. That's good news for Disney CEO Bob Iger, who paid $4 billion for San Francisco-based Lucasfilm in 2012.
While Lucasfilm has licensed its IP to toy manufacturers, game developers, and the like for years, Disney (dis) is a branded products machine—on a Millennium Falcon-sized scale. The Mouse House knows how to milk a franchise. Frozen, the highest-grossing animated film of all time, not only made a killing at the box office. Thanks to the hit movie about an icy queen and her sister, the company's consumer products division had a record year in fiscal 2014, bringing in nearly $4 billion, a 12% increase from the year before. (According to the company, one Elsa doll alone generated retail sales of $26 million in the U.S. last year.)
Star Wars is about to get the Frozen treatment. Already, plans are in place to bring Star Wars paraphernalia to markets that are largely new to Lucasfilm, like Brazil and China.
Another new dimension to the impending Star Wars craze is that this time around, there is a woman helming both Lucasfilm, the studio that created the franchise, and the upcoming third series of the trilogies. Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm and producer of The Force Awakens (and other Star Wars movies currently in the works), is trying to help steer this crop of consumer products into uncharted territory: The arms of female Star Wars fans. That was apparent at the launch event that took place at Lucasfilm Thursday morning. In addition to women's Star Wars T-shirts, purses and even a Stormtrooper's dress, new female characters from the new movie—like Rey, played by Daisy Ridley—were represented in figurines helmets and other products.
But the hope is that many of the new toys—from a lifelike, talking Yoda to Star Wars-themed edition of Monopoly—will appeal to both genders, and to different age groups. One tiny gadget that is generating huge buzz is a miniature version of BB-8, a round, rolling droid that will make its debut in The Force Awakens. Made by a Colorado-based company called Sphero, the toy, which can be controlled by a smartphone app, will be sold for $150.
The company says all new products will be available at major retailers starting this Friday. Over the next few months, a steady trickle of additional merchandise, glimpses of the upcoming movie (including more trailers?) and all-out publicity pushes will only add to the unmistakable buzz. The only big, unanswered question at this point remains: how good will the new movie, the first Star Wars film in a decade, actually be?
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