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'Star Wars' Toys: Imagination and Profit

  • Jim Randle

The newest Star Wars movie brought in a half-billion dollars in ticket sales in the first few days, and appears on course to bring in another half billion dollars in sales of related toys, clothes and other movie-themed merchandise.

The ticket sales for Star Wars: The Force Awakens broke several records, and retailers and theme parks are hoping for a similar boost.

Disney theme parks, for example, are providing instructors and classes for young would-be Jedi knights to train for imaginary combat against the film's terrifying villains. The park also is offering games and rides and even Star Wars-themed restaurants to amuse patrons.

Meanwhile, retailers were seeing strong demand for movie-related toys, games and trinkets even before theaters began showing the film.

Steven Aarons, owner of Barstons Child's Play in Washington, says the filmmakers and toy firms have done a good job of creating and promoting appealing merchandise.

FILE - Moviegoers cheer and wave lightsabers at "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California, Dec. 17, 2015.

FILE - Moviegoers cheer and wave lightsabers at "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California, Dec. 17, 2015.

"We are going to sell tons of every Star Wars item,” he said.

One of the largest U.S. toy retailers, Toys R Us, says Star Wars merchandise is "immensely popular." Jessica Offerjost, speaking for the company, says action figures and LEGO construction sets are among the top-selling toys.

Huge online retailer Amazon reports "a lot of interest" in Star Wars-themed products, new and old. Lori Richter, Public Relations Manage, reports a boost of several hundred percent in sales of previous films in the popular Star Wars series.

Companies want piece of action

Disney bought the Lucasfilm franchise three years ago, and now owns the rights to all Star Wars products.

David Weitzner was the brand's marketing chief when the first film came out in 1977. He is now at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

"The film opens and becomes a phenomenon and all of a sudden, every company that wants to have a product licensed from Star Wars is banging on the door of our merchandising department," he said.

Light sabers and other toys sell well because they remind people of a movie they enjoyed, and the friends who shared the experience, according to marketing professor Janee Burkhalter of Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia in a Skype interview.

"Some of it is just about the story,” Burkhalter said. “But some of it is about the social elements around enjoying the story with other people."

Burkhalter also says an astonishing number and variety of companies are finding ways to use Star Wars themes in their advertising.

"Everything from Coffeemate to Cheerios” and ice cream, toothbrushes and other items,” she said.

But Steven Aarons, who owns four toy stores, says a hot toy does not necessarily expand the overall market for toys. Parents have limited budgets, he said, and money that goes to Star Wars toys is likely to mean less to spend on competing toys.

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