Never before has a feature launch been accompanied by so much publicity and so much secrecy at the same time. Lucasfilm approved the release of four figures based on Star Wars: Episode I-The Phantom Menace seven months before the movie’s debut this May, but when it comes to additional toys in the works, at KidScreen press time, the company is keeping absolutely silent.
Master toy licensee Hasbro, which is producing the figures for the prequel, says that prototypes will be shown at Toy Fair in a separate room with restricted access. Hasbro’s U.S. marketing manager for Star Wars, Deron Ellis, says that Lucasfilm is ‘very carefully controlling access’ to information about the new toys.
Lucasfilm has been mixing ultra-secrecy and blockbuster advance publicity in its marketing efforts as well. The company managed to turn the unveiling of The Phantom Menace trailer into an event in itself last November by carefully controlling access to information about the film until the trailer was shown. It was reported that 500 people showed up for an advance viewing of the trailer at a theater in California, and nearly two-thirds walked out without even bothering to watch the feature that followed. Similar stories surround the production of Phantom Menace one-sheets, about which it was reported that the print run was closely supervised by reps from Fox and Lucasfilm to ensure none of the sheets, which were produced with built-in anti-counterfeiting devices, were leaked to the public early.
Other licensees for the prequel include Scholastic, The Lego Group and Nintendo of America, which recently signed a five-year worldwide agreement for three new Star Wars games, two of which will be based on The Phantom Menace. PepsiCo is the main promotional partner for The Phantom Menace, with cross-promotions planned for Pepsi’s beverage lines, Frito-Lay snack foods, and the KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut quick-service restaurants.
George Lucas recently told the magazine Vanity Fair that he plans to stop producing Star Wars films after the three prequel releases, ending speculation that he would also produce three sequel titles, bringing the series to nine films.