The 'Star Wars' Universe 2012
Books, rides, games and toys mean that kids as young as 2 feel the force early on.
SHOP: Own the Saber
Derryl DePriest, Hasbro's vp global brand management, credits Star Wars for launching event-movie marketing -- an idea that took off with The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and "became the template for all movies that followed." To capitalize on the release of Phantom Menace 3D, Toys "R" Us in-store boutiques will sell Star Wars Podracer Pilots, vintage action figures and a new version of the high-tech Star Wars FX Lightsaber Darth Maul along with dozens of other related toys. "Star Wars has been very powerful for us," says DePriest. "It has remained a top brand every year, even though the last live-action movie was in 2005. A new generation of kids has watched Clone Wars on TV. Star Wars has proven to be one of those evergreen brands that has a generation of dads eager to share the experience with their kids, which provides a strong parental endorsement."
PLAY: Lego Toys
When Lego licensed Star Wars in 1999, "there was a lot of dialogue about how to make the process authentic to Star Wars while preserving what makes Lego work," says Jill Wilfert, vp global licensing and marketing at the toymaker. Beginning with the Lego X-Wing model 7140, based on the original trilogy's fighter spaceship, with each subsequent Star Wars release, Lego has issued new models, including the latest for the 3D Phantom Menace tie-in: the Star Wars Elite Clone Trooper & Commando Droid Battle Pack, the Geonosian Cannon and the TIE Interceptor & Death Star. Along with large-scale collector sets, mini figures and figurines, Lego has expanded into Star Wars-themed TV specials, books and comic strips and sold 20 million Star Wars video games. Lego Star Wars: The Visual Dictionary was a top children's best-seller for close to a year, and at Legoland, visitors meander through a series of Star Wars scenes made of 1.5 million Lego "bricks" and pose with life-size models of Chewbacca, R2-D2 and Darth Vader.
READ: Scholastic Pop-Ups
When the best-selling Star Wars: A Pop-Up Guide to the Galaxy came out in 2007, it was "an absolutely landmark piece," says Scholastic trade publishing president Ellie Berger -- despite the $34.99 price tag. "A lot of books we're selling are to kids who don't even know the movies. They're too young to really experience them, yet they are attracted either by the visual look or parents saying, 'This is my favorite thing!' " Scholastic has been working with Star Wars material since 1999, progressing from novelizations to character biographies, backstories, scrapbooks and books like Millennium Falcon: A 3-D Owner's Guide, which dissects the movies' famous spaceship. A new Star Wars pop-up from author Matthew Reinhart is due in 2013.
WATCH: The Clone Wars
By their fourth season, kids shows usually are eclipsed by an onslaught of new programming. Not Cartoon Network's animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which has remained the No. 1 children's action-adventure series since its 2008 premiere. Averaging 2.2 million viewers this season, it regularly ranks as the top TV destination for boys 2 to 14. To support September's season premiere, the network, along with Lucasfilm and Hasbro, staged an event at Long Beach's Aquarium of the Pacific featuring the characters and actors, light-saber training, video-game demonstrations and giveaways. Many fans came in costume -- a mini-me Star Wars convention. "It's still one of the most successful boy brands in the marketplace," says Stuart Snyder, president and COO of Turner Animation.
COMPETE: The MMO Phenom
Star Wars: The Old Republic, a collaboration between LucasArts and Electronic Arts' BioWare, is a breakout star in the world of MMOs, or massively multiplayer online games. Created at an expense of $150 million and released in December for $59.95 per box, Republic had 1 million subscribers within its first three days and sold more than 2 million copies in two months. About 1.5 million players pay a monthly subscription of about $15. On average, according to EA, a million of them log in each day and play for four hours. "The future of distribution is in digital distribution and arguably in MMO," says David Black, market analyst at RCC Capital Markets. "EA has never gotten traction in this space before. The Star Wars MMO is their turnaround story."
RIDE: The Attraction
In 1987, Disney Imagineers used flight-simulator technology to debut Star Tours, a theme park attraction that seats visitors on a moving platform in front of flashing screen images, a combination of real and perceived motion and visuals that give the feeling of a roller coaster ride through the Star Wars universe. George Lucas worked with Disney on the story lines and produced the film at Industrial Light & Magic and Skywalker Sound. A top draw at the Anaheim, Orlando, Tokyo and Paris parks, the ride was revamped in 2011 to reflect the second Star Wars trilogy. The new version, Star Tours: The Adventure Continues, has multiple story lines, or what Tom Fitzgerald, executive vp of Walt Disney Imagineering, calls a "storytelling plot machine." For each ride, a new scenario is randomly generated from 54 available "segments," an experience amped up with digital projection, surround sound and 3D effects.
LEARN: Games That Teach
Educational video games are less like medicine when wrapped in the aura of Star Wars. "It absolutely helps us get a foot in the door," says David Perkinson, senior director of global content development for LeapFrog, an educational entertainment company. "We use the intellectual property as a vehicle to present kids with great curriculums, so not only are we entertaining them, we're also teaching them something new along the way." Since 2007, LeapFrog has created a range of inventive teaching tools, from learning games and Jedi Reading videos to educational gaming system software. Lucasfilm "creates boundaries," says Perkinson. "They want to make sure you're respectful of the history and character. They do a really good job of keeping the Star Wars products fresh."