Unsurprisingly, it's owned by Disney
by Scott Saffran
Staff Action Figure
Star Wars is the cultural phenomenon of cultural phenomena. Its seven movies have grossed over $6.5 billion. The franchise sold for over $4 billion during the 2012 sale to Disney. Star Wars has come to consume our cinemas, book stores, comic shops, department retailers, and mostly importantly, toy stores. Star Wars toys are merchandising unlike any other. Film and design enthusiasts fawn over the intricate costume and set design, and marketing specialists’ pupils turn into dollar signs. Star Wars merchandise pulled in a reported $32 billion, even before the Disney acquisition. Put simply, Star Wars is toyetic. Each character, no matter how minor or obscure, is uniquely designed and impressively marketable. Boba Fett has about five lines in the entire saga, but has sold no less than one metric shit-tonne of toys. Even I have a little Dengar action figure, the dude with the diaper on his head who never speaks once.
Prior to the acquisition by Disney , the Star Wars property carried on an uneven existence. Comicbooks and novels kept a consistent stream over the forty-or-so years of existence, but the six movies and handful of television shows were few and far between. The market for merchandise over this time, both retail and resale, had been comparably inconsistent and unpredictable. Movie releases often saw stock fly off shelves and resale prices skyrocket, yet Episode II product lingered on the pegs like a bad aftertaste. These valleys can leave toy shelves barren of Jedis and Stormtroopers, or absolutely flush with the brand new, highly articulated or retro-style Rebels and Imperialists.
Back in 1977, during the release period of the original Star Wars film, Kenner Toys (RIP) sold a box of cardboard cut-outs of action figures with the promise that the still-in-production toys would be shipped to purchasers at some later date. Droves of people actually bought them! The toys sold so well in both cardboard cutout and actual plastic form Kenner began to build its brand around the line and drove the Ohio-based toy manufacturer to become one of the leading toy licensing powerhouses in the world up until their oh-so-untimely folding in 2000. Inspired by that initial success, now with each new movie or television series comes a wave of toys based on characters old and new.
Since the production of the phenomenally successful Episode VII: The Force Awakens, Disney and Star Wars execs have hinted at a continuous cycle of films until the year 2020. With each new movie comes the promise of new toys. Initiated last September prior to the release of Episode VII was “Force Friday”, a merchandise extravaganza where all licensed The Force Awakens products were simultaneously released to the joy of fans worldwide. Brand new action figures in the classic 4” scale, four-foot-tall dolls, cardboard standees, hoodies, shirts, posters, POP bobbleheads, lightsabers, NERF guns, and much (much, much, much) more took over about every corner of every retail store across the face of this planet.
To continue on the ever-lucrative trend, Friday, September 28, was 2016’s iteration of the spectacular. Granted, it wasn’t met with the same level of excitement (for obvious reasons), but still new toys, clothes, and accessories lined the shelves at every Target, Wal-Mart, Kmart, and Kohl’s. Though the Star Wars merchandise train has charged on mostly without fail for the past forty-or-so years, is this current model sustainable? Does the Star Wars monstrosity have what it takes to cash in on brand new products every single year with at least comparable success? The answer is probably going to be yes. I mentioned earlier that Star Wars is toyetic, and that’s what most of their success has been built on. Everyone wants a Darth Vader toy because he’s a friggin’ space samurai and that’s just the coolest thing ever. While the critical and financial success of the Rogue One film is months away from determination, new droid K-2SO has almost single-handedly ensured a victory in the toy section. And for a film franchise that does about five times its box office take in merch sales alone, that’s really all that counts.
Star Wars fatigue can only be a product of a lack of innovation. The beauty of the universe is not that every single character can be a marketable action figure, but that every single character is so unique, so fresh on their own that they’re deserving of their own action figure. If the Disney monolith fails in continuing the legacy that George Lucas and Ralph McQuarrie built in designing and inspiring compelling characters, they will fail in the toy aisle and in the cinema, and, in turn, they will fail to reap those monstrous financial rewards. In truth, Star Wars toys are as much a part of the saga as the films; they have facilitated a physical relationship with fans and fanatics that has built the brand into the largest cultural experience in the world. It has become a multi-media experience unlike anything the world has ever seen.
My parting thought? The Ewoks were as much a way to sell toys as any other Jedi, Sith, or Stormtrooper. Don’t hate on Wicket W. Warrick!