May the Cash be With You


"That just underscores how revolutionary not only the film was, but the demand for merchandise related to the movies," Depriest said. "When 'Star Wars' came out in 1977, it triggered a very sentimental response in a whole generation of kids, because it was not only unlike anything that had come before it, but the storytelling was so intrinsically linked to what it means to be a hero, rising up against an overwhelming foe, and just a great story of human will, that it touched people in a very significant way."

A Juggernaut's 'Je Ne Sais Quoi'

Since the release of "Star Wars" there have been numerous film and television franchises that have followed Lucas' lead in turning a work of art, into a work of cash.

Merchandising for the "Lord of the Rings" film trilogy and a slew of comic-book-inspired movies in recent years for example, mimics the product blitz surrounding "Star Wars." But it's a tough act to follow.

"'Star Wars' spawned a whole generation of sci-fi properties, but it is still the unassailable dominant property," said Depriest. "The best example we have for the continued demand for 'Star Wars' action figures is that to date we have produced somewhere around 25 different Luke Skywalker figures over the years."

The company continues to refine the process of making the toys by adding detail, plus new and old costumes.

But what is it about the "Star Wars" universe that keeps adults buying toys for themselves and has inspired a new generation of fans to collect, acquire and enjoy this merchandise?

"The million-dollar question," said Anita Frazier, industry analyst for toys and games with the NPD Group, via e-mail. "These questions are impossible for me to answer, because while you can identify elements that can lead to a successful toy line, there are plenty of examples of properties that have those elements yet don't achieve the same level of success."

Frazier continued: "I do think the nature of entertainment is elusive -- and if we could really pinpoint why it is that one succeeds where another one fails, I'd take those skills to Vegas and make myself rich!"

Beyond the Force of Film

While battery-powered light sabers and whirring plastic spaceships may bring back memories for those who've grown up with the "Star Wars" franchise, they're just the tip of the iceberg.

Aside from merchandise, the films' unparalleled success has spawned parodies like Mel Brooks' "Spaceballs" and fan favorite "Hardware Wars," not to mention hours worth of "Saturday Night Live" skits. Even George Lucas, who would be a very rich man from the movies alone, has seen his Skywalker Sound and Industrial Light and Magic businesses boom into multimillion-dollar companies since they were created to produce the first film.

And the saga has continued with book publisher Del Rey, a subsidiary of Random House, which has produced almost 250 "Star Wars" novels based on both the films' iconic main characters, as well as additional ones invented by the books' authors.

"We publish about five or six ['Star Wars' books] a year," explained Scott Shannon, vice president and deputy publisher for Del Rey. "It's a wonderful opportunity for us and it's tons of fun."

As if that weren't enough, Del Rey recently released what they're calling the definitive behind-the-scenes book on "Star Wars," titled "The Making of Star Wars."

Dark Horse Comics continues to produce comic books based on the movie, and George Lucas is hard at work on an animated "Star Wars" TV series and TV movie based on the universe.

"Looking forward, to the things that Lucas Films and Lucas Arts [Lucas' video game company] are doing to tell new 'Star Wars' stories to kids, the future for 'Star Wars' looks just as bright as it ever has," said Depriest. "'Star Wars' is forever."

For fans, it's hoped that's true. For consumers, it's almost a certainty.

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