Retailers to host midnight 'Star Wars' event to re-awaken merchandise force

Dive Brief:

  • Nearly a year ahead of the theatrical release of "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," the latest chapter in the iconic space opera franchise, Disney and Lucasfilm announced Star Wars Force Friday II, a fan event to promote the latest wave of licensed merchandise.

  • "Star Wars: The Last Jedi"-inspired toys, collectibles, books, apparel “and more” will go on sale at midnight on Sept. 1, with retailers around the world opening for a weekend-long celebration, according to a press release.

  • "Star Wars" fandom boosted toy sales measurably in 2015, when Disney and Lucasfilm released the highly anticipated "The Force Awakens," the first new installment of the franchise in a decade.

Dive Insight:

After slumping in recent years, toy sales are booming, and movie, internet and television tie-ins are a big part of that resurgence. So it's no surprise that Disney, toy makers and retailers are reviving the blockbuster marketing strategy they employed in conjunction with "The Force Awakens." That movie, directed by Hollywood (and sci-fi) favorite J.J. Abrams, restored the Star Wars franchise luster following a series of prequels that irritated fans and critics alike — and its merchandise tie-ins didn't disappoint, either.

"The Last Jedi" promotional efforts planned for retailers appear to closely resemble the in-store events of 2015, when hundreds of thousands of shoppers descended upon Target and other retailers at midnight to be the first to get their hands on branded merchandise and apparel from "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" months before the movie's holiday season release. Disney and Lucasfilm also revealed new toys via a global livestream unboxing event in 15 cities and 12 countries, attracting millions of views on YouTube and leveraging the #ForceFriday hashtag on social media. ("Rogue One," the 2016 film that is part of the Star Wars universe but is independent of the series’ main Jedi mythology, didn’t enjoy the same merchandising attention.)

“Plans for this year’s worldwide event are top secret, but expect something befitting the excitement around the next episode of the Star Wars saga," Jimmy Pitaro, chairman of Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media, said in a statement.

Expectations will be high among fans and retailers alike. In a note published in July 2016 — when just a third of toy sales for the year had been logged — NPD U.S. toys analyst Juli Lennett highlighted Star Wars' impact on growth in the category, which had been slumping. “Star Wars is already at $300 million for the year, compared to $700 million for all of 2015,” Lennett said. “With two-thirds of toy sales yet to come, Star Wars could be even bigger this year than last.”

Many of the most popular toys, like those based on BB-8 — the droid hero of "The Force Awakens" — were tech-based gizmos, including an app-enabled BB-8 from Sphero available through Apple and Best Buy. Disney, manufacturers and retailers hope to replicate that excitement this time around.

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Filed Under: Marketing