So what’s the big deal? After all, it’s just a movie. That sort of attitude could get one severely pummeled by the legions of Star Wars fanatics and collectors who waited outside of Toys `R’ Us, FAO Schwarz, Wal-Mart, Super Kmart, K-B Toy Works and Media Play stores in the U.S. at midnight on May 3. Their mission: to be among the first people in the world to snap up latest Star Wars: Episode I-The Phantom Menace products before the packaging had time to collect but one speck of dust.
Michael Tabakin, director of trend merchandise at Toys `R’ Us, says that the chain was pleased with the turnout, and May 3 revenue ‘was close to seven figures’ (Star Wars creator Lucasfilm has instructed retailers and licensees to keep quiet about actual dollar and unit sales figures pertaining to Episode I products). According to Tabakin, the Toys `R’ Us stores had never opened at midnight before May 3, and he was ‘very, very happy with the first results.’
Hasbro is the master toy licensee for The Phantom Menace, and holds a 10-year licensing agreement for the prequel trilogy that began in October 1997. Hasbro and its subsidiaries, including Tiger Electronics and Galoob, offer a wide range of products, most notably, Hasbro’s action figures with COMMTech technology that speak and can ‘talk’ to each other.
Hasbro spokesperson Holly Ingram says that although the toy maker is happy about the first results, she is not surprised by the enthusiasm. ‘We wouldn’t be partners in it if we didn’t have a lot of faith in it and George Lucas’ ability to put an incredible story out there,’ she says.
Also on the Star Destroyer to success is licensee Applause, which has been affiliated with Star Wars since 1994, and provided the Star Wars premiums for the QSR deal with Pepsi’s Tricon restaurants (Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC) during the release of the Star Wars Special Edition films. It is again involved with the premiums, which began at Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC on May 13. For retail, Applause is producing 79 different Episode I products, including nine- and 13-inch character collectibles, pins, keychains and figurines. Chaz Fitzhugh, senior director of brand marketing at Applause, says that from his experience, the darker Star Wars characters do very well. ‘At the moment, [the villain] Darth Maul leads the way,’ he says, citing the continuing popularity of Darth Vader, Applause’s most popular character from the original trilogy. ‘FAO Schwarz, we’ve been informed, has already sold out of the Applause Darth Maul container.’
Although Lucasfilm will only say that there are more than 200 licensees on board worldwide for the entire Star Wars franchise, other companies releasing Episode I product include: Nintendo (two games), Thinkway Toys (interactive animatronic banks), Lego (block sets), AMT/ERTL (model kits), Intex (inflatables for the pool and home), Dynacraft Industries (bicycles and bike products), Illuminations (glow-in-the-dark wall scenes), Priss Prints (Phantom Menace Jumbo Stick-Ups), Milton Bradley (board games, card games, 3-D and picture puzzles), Estes (rocket sets), Cox (Naboo Starfighter control-model airplane), Hope Industries (watches), Nut Meg (T-shirts and baseball caps) and Liquid Blue (tie-dye shirt). Companies producing Star Wars product on the publishing side include: Ballantine Books (Episode I – The Novel), Random House (books, activity books, unabridged story on CD), Scholastic, Rhino (read-along book with CD), Dark Horse Comics (comic books) and DK Publishing (book about the inner workings of Star Wars vehicles and spacecraft, complete with detailed diagrams). LucasArts Entertainment is also creating two video and PC games, and Lucas Learning is releasing a PC game.