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'Star Wars' awakens holiday shopping


The force will be with us this holiday season.

By the time Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits theaters Dec. 18, even the uninitiated will know all about it.

Pre-sale tickets are available now and some shows at metro area theaters have already sold out. These early ticket buyers are likely superfans, but even average consumers can't hide from the deluge of Star Wars stuff.

The hype began a full two months before the movie was scheduled to arrive in theaters. Remember Force Friday in September? That was an international event to introduce -- not the movie -- but all the merchandise you could buy related to the movie.

Star Wars costumes were among the most popular this Halloween and Star Wars toys have begun crowding the shelves in stores.

"This is the first Star Wars movie since Disney became the owner of Lucasfilm. You have one of the galaxy's greatest franchises combined with one of the galaxy's greatest entertainment marketers of all time," said Marty Brochstein, senior vice president of the International Licensing Merchandisers Association (LIMA), the major trade organization for the licensing industry.

Force Friday, he said, marked the launch of Star Wars merchandise almost two and a half months before the movie arrives in theaters. "Usually this happens four to six weeks before the movie opens," he said. "You have a very strategic marketing effort going on."

That includes releasing new trailers and information about new characters in advance of the film opening date . It includes a new series of attractions which opened Monday at Disneyland in Anaheim and special Star Wars related events on the horizon at local attractions including Star Wars Days at Legoland in Phipps Plaza.

If you don't already know, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is set 30 years after the Return of the Jedi. The film will introduce a new generation of heroes and villains, but also features the return of some much-loved characters.

The Star Wars franchise began in 1977 when Brochstein was covering the toy industry. He and his boss went to the Turtlebay Cinema in Midtown Manhattan to consider licensing opportunities for the film. Who could have predicted what a sensation it would become?

"It was like cowboys and Indians in sci-fi land. They had adventure and humor and weirdness that all combined into this wonderful pop culture phenomenon," Brochstein said. "If I could tell you why, or if someone else could tell you exactly why, we would have had a repeat."

Even when Star Wars films were on hiatus, the franchise kept going through novels, action figures and games, he said. Then came the second trilogy. Now, 10 years later, we've arrived at trilogy number three. With each new Star Wars era, a new generation of children are introduced to the legacy and this year, it's just in time for holiday season.

Star Wars toys could generate $2 billion in sales from Sept. through Dec., according to the Wall Street Journal. Wal- Mart, Target and Toy "R" Us have reportedly more than doubled space for Star Wars toys in preparation for Black Friday.

Just a few of the offerings include oversized Storm Trooper and Darth Vader figures, a Mr. Potato Head Darth Tater and Luke Frywalker, Star Wars vehicles from HotWheels and a new video game, "Star Wars Battlefront."

"Almost every retailer wants to be part of the cultural conversation," Brochstein said. "Star Wars, for this season, is going to be a big part of the cultural conversation."

Of course, it is a fine line for retailers and ultimately, Disney, to walk. Maybe consumers will get so tired of seeing Star Wars stuff, they will just leave it sitting right there on the stores shelves. You can make that decision with your dollars, but you can't avoid the hype entirely.

"I think that you will not be able to escape Star Wars whether you want to or not," Brochstein said. "It will be visible and in as many touch points as Disney can make feasible."


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About the Author

Nedra Rhone has been a features reporter with the AJC for 10 years. She’s written about everything from fashion to food to news.