May the Cash be With You


Jeff Ayers likes to tell people exactly where he was when the first "Star Wars" film hit movie theaters 30 years ago.

"I was still in mom the day 'Star Wars' came out," he jokes.

A manager at New York's world-famous comic book store Forbidden Planet where's he's worked for 12 years, the womb didn't stop Ayers from becoming a diehard fan of George Lucas' intergalactic opus ... after birth, of course.

Like any good fan, over the years Ayers has collected more than a few "Star Wars" knickknacks -- a Yoda hand puppet adorns the top of his TV set, a fact he proudly shares. He's made his modest contribution to the multibillion-dollar empire that the movies have spawned over the last three decades, but at the Planet, he's also been witness to the voracious appetite the public has for anything "Star Wars."

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"They're rabid to the extent that people have to buy $1,000 glass cases just to house the stuff they buy," Ayers said.

From the series' iconic action figures and groundbreaking toy line, to clothes, video games, jewelry, books, comics, art, foodstuffs, lawn sprinklers and almost every other conceivable product, the power of the Force is nothing compared to the power of "Star Wars" merchandise to reel in the bucks.

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Because Lucas Films is a privately held company, it doesn't disclose revenue figures, but estimates suggest that between all six films, they've generated roughly $4.5 billion at the box office alone.

But while the movies themselves represent the entirety of Lucas' epic, they represent only a sliver of the financial might of the "Star Wars" brand.

At the forefront of the sci-fi franchise's merchandise juggernaut is the series' pioneering toy line originally made by the now defunct Kenner Products, and now by Hasbro, which acquired Kenner in the early '90s.

"They were different than anything the industry had ever seen before because they encouraged kids to make their own plays and continue the story themselves," Bob Friedland, a spokesman for Toys' R' Us told ABC News. "It was one of the first movies that really broke out on toy shelves."

Though Friedland said Toys 'R' Us doesn't share sales figures on individual product lines, an analyst at the investment bank and institutional securities firm Piper Jaffray Co. estimated that since 1999, when Hasbro acquired the "Star Wars" license, retail sales have hit a whopping $2.4 billion.

Hasbro's take is a paltry $1.9 billion, according to the firm. That's a lot of Han Solo figures.

"I can't think of any other property that has done that well in sales," explained Anthony Gikas, a managing director and senior research analyst at Piper Jaffray.

Not bad considering the first "Star Wars" toys were just slips of paper.

"The very first 'Star Wars' toy that was put out on the shelf was an empty box with the promise you'd get a toy down the road," explained Derryl Depriest, senior director of marketing for boys toys at Hasbro.

Because Kenner wasn't able to get "Star Wars" toys into stores in time for the all-important Christmas shopping season following the first film's release in 1977, it issued "early bird kits," which amounted to an IOU promising four action figures -- Luke, Leia, Chewbacca and R2-D2 -- some time after the holiday.

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