Star Wars Merchandise: The Force Remains Strong

Celebrating The Empire Strikes Back's 30th anniversary, George Lucas has been as wise as Yoda in moulding his product juggernaut.
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Celebrating The Empire Strikes Back's 30th anniversary, George Lucas has been as wise as Yoda in moulding his product juggernaut.

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This week Sabotage Times received these ace lightsabers from Hasbro. They blew our tiny minds as we whirled round the office with the lights off insisting that we were each other's fathers. Available in Luke Skywalker green, Anakin Skywalker blue or Darth Vader red, they are brilliantly close to the real thing - from the way the blade lights up progressively to the menacing low hum of the static saber. If you've ever dreamt of owning your own lightsaber - these are the closest you can get without spending £100,000 on the real thing.

On eBay, there are 35,000 Star Wars items on sale. A Google search for ‘Star Wars collectibles’ will spring up 195,000 hits. Love or hate that galaxy far, far away and its inhabitants, the chances are you have owned some of the franchise’s merchandise.

At Lucasfilm headquarters any space is clogged up with merchandise ranging from the ridiculous (Eau Lando Cologne) to the sublime (an R2-D2 Aquarium). Like a nostalgia hut-cum-storage facility, it’s surprising that the rapacious George Lucas hasn’t commissioned tours in a bid to free up shelf space.

For all his faults as a scriptwriter, Lucas is a remarkably adroit businessman. His original deal for the franchise was to obtain the sequel rights, yet when 20th Century Fox came-a-calling after the success of the first film, Lucas exchanged them for the merchandise rights. And now the Star Warsproduct alone rivals Disney as the most lucrative licensing franchise in Hollywood history.

In 1999, parents watched on as their children mimicked themselves in the late 70s and early 80; as they fawned over the latest dynasty of characters from. The Phantom Menace had arrived in cinemas and nobody could evade its ubiquity in toy shops, cards shops and supermarkets. Even when pouring your cereal out, a Threepio figurine was likely to nestle on top of your Cornflakes.

Yours truly was a sucker for the Lego incarnations in what was a seminal move for the Danish construction toys chain. Anakin’s Podracer, the Gungan Sub, the Naboo Swamp, the Naboo Fighter, Droid Fighter and Lightsaber Duel were all snapped up, assembled and played out by my tomboy sister and I. We never did get the Sith Infiltrator though Lucas won’t mind. Lego sales alone have topped $1bn.

Testament to the ingenuity of Star Wars merchandise is the fact that I wasn’t that big a fan of the films. When the original trilogy was re-released in 1997, I saw the Empire Strikes Back twice because it was an easy day out for the parents with the kids. Returning home from the second screening, I couldn’t contain my confidence that the forthcoming summer smash Space Jamwould blow Episode V out of the water. Cringe.

Hasbro recently paid Lucas $200m to buy back warrants in a deal that runs through until 2018.

Star Wars toys are just inherently cool. Who doesn’t love a Lightsaber? Mine was bought at Disney’s MGM Studios in Florida 11 years ago, and although its sole gimmick consisted of flicking the rod out (ahem) it was still so so chic. It didn’t have to make a noise or flash like these suped-up versions kids get to wield today nowadays because I could still, like Qui-Gon Jinn, unleash my blade to obliterate a droid. In my case, the droid was my sister.

Being a casual bandwagon-jumper of the intergalactic phenomenon, consequently preserving collectibles never appealed. The cereal figurines (thanks Kellog’s) took pride of place on the mantelpiece because they were gold busts of characters old and new, but that’s as close as it got to model replicas. Those who swoop in on Toys ‘R’ Us for a dozen six inch tall Darth Mauls and then precede to leave them sealed in their box for decades always struck me as self-outcast hermits. They probably dabble in schadenfreude at seven-year-olds crying in horror at a devoid aisle.

Yet freaks and geeks, fans and obsessives, adults and children are united by pasturing the cash cow that Lucas continues to milk. We’re all suckers for Star Wars in some way, shape or form. Books, DVDs, toys, costumes and the like continue to populate Christmas lists when there are no more films on the agenda.

In the past few years the products have approached $1bn in sales and Hasbro, the beneficiaries of providing children hours of entertainment with their inanimate objects, even gave Lucas a stake in the company. They recently paid him $200m to buy back warrants in a deal that runs through until 2018.

For the retro crowd, many were left temporarily disappointed at Christmas in 1977. Kinner, who originally made the toys, only signed weeks before to manufacture products before the release of A New Hope. Unable to cast and deliver action figures quickly enough for Christmas, they sold rain checks in boxes with certificates inside as a guarantor.

And the $13bn empire continues to travel at light speed ahead of its competitors. Animated TV show products are now being prepped and will be snapped up by collectors, die-hards and new fans to illustrate that millions aren’t past the point of caring.

To buy your own lightsaber click here

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