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New merchandise for ‘Star Wars’ out in full ‘force’

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Star Wars fans shopped at a toy store at midnight Friday in Hong Kong as part of the global event called Force Fri- day, a massive marketing blitz releasing new Star Wars toys and other merchandise to promote the upcoming movie Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens, above.
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NEW YORK >> The release of the new “Star Wars” movie may still be months off, but Disney is unleashing its full marketing “Force” behind the launch of hundreds of toys and other items related to the film.

The massive marketing blitz, which Disney has named “Force Friday,” spans all kinds of media and included an 18-hour global “unboxing” streamed live on YouTube. Meanwhile, major toy retailers around the world opened their doors and held special events when the toys first became available just after midnight Friday. Among the first cities was Hong Kong, with toy stores open at midnight.

(In Hawaii, customers at the Salt Lake Target started gathering about 9:30 p.m. Thursday and the line snaked through about 40 aisles in the store in anticipation of the midnight release. “There were definitely a lot of people there looking for particular toys,” Target executive team leader Brandon Wong said.)

The marketing push behind “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens” is unique because it’s so far ahead of the movie’s U.S. release — 116 days, to be exact. But analysts say it can work because “Star Wars” is such a popular franchise.

Leaked images of action figures of characters that have not even hit the big screen — like Sarco Plank, some kind of alien desert nomad that has been glimpsed only in a Vanity Fair on-set shoot — are only likely to fuel consumer demand, says Steve Pasierb, CEO of the Toy Industry Association.

“It’s pretty rare, but in the age of social media, you can get those characters out and create buzz around these things in ways that you couldn’t in the past,” Pasierb said.

Industry analysts at PiperJaffrey say they expect some $3 billion worth of “Star Wars” merchandise will be sold this year and that sales next year could be even larger.

Even in a nonmovie year, “Star Wars” merchandise has consistently sold well — $2 billion annually around the world, according to Pasierb. So it’s not far-fetched that Disney will exceed that in the publicity-blitz-filled weeks ahead of the premiere of the first “Star Wars” movie since “Episode III” in 2005.

Toy makers both big and small geared for a big rush Friday, then another wave of sales as the holiday shopping season gets going and the movie’s Dec. 18 release date draws closer.

Hasbro Inc., which has been making “Star Wars” toys for more than 30 years, planned to unveil more than 100 different items Friday.

“There’s a new generation of boys and girls who are going to be brought in who may not even be aware of ‘Star Wars’ yet,” says Joe Ninivaggi, Hasbro’s senior brand manager for “Star Wars.”

The Pawtucket, R.I.-based toy maker’s offerings include Furbacca, a Chewbacca version of its Furby toy. It’s also selling several different versions of light sabers that feature the glowing daggers noticeable in the movie’s previews.

Sphero, a Boulder, Colo.-based robot maker and one of the first members of Disney’s Techstars program for startups, created a $150 mini version of the BB-8 droid featured in the new movie.

In the film, the BB-8 is kind of like an updated version of R2-D2. It’s a giant rolling sphere, with a traditional droid head that somehow manages to stay on top. The mini version created by Sphero moves much the same way.

Officially unveiled Thursday, the BB-8 had generated buzz by Friday morning.

Developing and producing its BB-8 used up the majority of Sphero’s resources for this year. But the company, which has received funding from Disney, expects that investment to pay off for years to come.

Other toys coming out include Toronto-based Spin Master Corp.’s “Legendary Yoda,” a 16-inch version of the Jedi master that boasts lifelike movements and voice recognition. It’s yours for $180.

Fuhu, which makes the nabi tablet computer for kids, has created $170 “Star Wars”-themed accessory bundles that include a new 7-inch tablet. They come with sound effects, themed wallpapers and stickers designed to let kids customize their tablets.

Retailers also did their best to cash in on the “Force Friday” frenzy. Target, Walmart and Toys R Us all had many of their stores open and held special events when the toys went on sale at 12:01 a.m. Friday. “Star Wars” toys were also prominently displayed on their retail websites.

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