For “Star Wars” fans, Christmas is coming early this year: on Sept. 4, when the toys tied to Walt Disney Co.’s first film in the space-adventure series go on sale.
Three months before “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” opens in theaters, the company is staking its claim on gift lists, with everything from Captain Phasma action figures to Nerf crossbows and blasters. Disney on Wednesday unveiled plans for events leading up to next week’s “Force Friday.” They include a global unwrapping of “Star Wars” merchandise on YouTube by the company’s Internet video division, Maker Studios, and coverage on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
If all goes according to plan, fans, many in costumes, will be lining up well before any new Chewbacca masks, lightsabers or red-armed C-3PO action figures go on sale. The products, built around one of the highest-grossing film franchises in history, could help the toy industry score its best growth in more than a decade, according to NPD Group Inc. The researcher predicts the industry’s U.S. retail sales will increase 6.2 percent to $19.2 billion this year.
“There’s nothing more fun for ‘Star Wars’ fans than being in a crowd of other ‘Star Wars’ fans,” said Steve Sansweet, the former head of fan relations at Lucasfilm, which created the series. Sansweet, who runs the non-profit Rancho Obi-Wan museum, will be showing off “Star Wars” memorabilia at the Toys “R” Us outlet in New York’s Times Square.
Disney, based in Burbank, California, releases the new film in theaters on Dec. 18. It has been promoting the picture almost since it acquired Lucasfilm for $4 billion in December 2012. A month later, the company hired “Lost” writer J.J. Abrams to direct the first installment. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger posed with Chewbacca on the set and posted photos on Instagram, while the Disney XD channel aired a cartoon, “Star Wars Rebels,” to introduce kids to the franchise.
“Star Wars” products generated $2.2 billion in retail sales worldwide in 2013, according to the Licensing Letter. That put it sixth behind such stalwarts as Disney’s princesses and the Hello Kitty brand from Sanrio Co. Sales could “substantially exceed” that number this year, according to Glenn Demby, executive editor of the letter.
“They’re like the maestro,” Demby said of Disney. “They’re playing the orchestra.”
As part of the marketing leading up to “Force Friday,” talent from Disney’s Maker Studios will unwrap merchandise hourly in cities around the world on Sept. 3, with coverage on YouTube. At the company’s ABC broadcast network, “Good Morning America” will carry the product unveilings on TV and online.
It’s all a prelude to a midnight kickoff for stores.