Last month, Disney turned the heat right up with the launch of Force Friday II, a global celebration of a sci-fi saga that has fired imaginations since its first appearance in 1977. Now, in it's 40th anniversary year and in the run-up to Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Disney has returned, with a slate of products more powerful than you could ever imagine.
The success of Disney’s inaugural Star Wars consumer event that debuted in 2015 was always going to take some beating.
Coinciding with the release of the first Star Wars movie in a decade, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Force Friday was what Disney would go on to call ‘a huge success'. Over the course of 24 hours, taking over social media, online and live streaming platforms, as well as a vast number of retail giants, the global initiative provided a moment in time for Star Wars fans and drummed up huge momentum for the studio’s slate of innovative consumer products.
So successful was the launch and the ensuing demand for its toy lines following the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, that the franchise stormed to the top of the toy charts, generating more than $700m in sales in the US alone.
One year later, and 2016 saw the launch of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the first spin-off movie for the sci-fi opera that helped Star Wars maintain its position as the most successful film licensing franchise of all time.
This year, and in the run up to the hotly anticipated Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the world was brought Force Friday II and a revolutionary augmented reality activation that landed in over 20,000 retailers worldwide. Disney certainly can’t be accused of doing things by halves.
“The AR activity and in-store experiences delighted fans and built further excitement around Force Friday II, making it another big moment at retail,” Mike Stagg, SVP of retail and digital commerce at The Walt Disney Company, told ToyNews.
“Force Friday II also saw many stores across the UK open their doors at midnight, driving buzz and excitement among thousands of fans who could purchase the latest product as soon as it hit shelves.”
In a year that marked the 40th anniversary of the first Star Wars movie release, one thing was always clear: Force Friday II was going to be one to watch. And, thanks to recent advances in consumer tech and its application within the big franchise space, Disney delivered on a myriad of platforms, propelling Star Wars beyond the 21st century and into a raft of consumer products akin to the genetic make-up of the world Star Wars inhabits.
“Industry and fan reaction to our technology-powered product lines has been particularly strong, especially for Star Wars: Jedi Challenges, an AR experience developed by our games and interactive experiences team, alongside Lenovo, who has created a smartphone-powered Mirage Augmented Reality Headset,” continues Stagg.
It’s a product that allows players to train to perfect their lightsaber skills as they take on some of the most menacing villains the Dark Side has to offer, as well as command armies in combat missions to defeat the Empire and outwit their opponents in Holochess, all in the AR sphere.
Beyond this still, Star Wars is also tapping into the STEM sector, doing its bit to inspire the innovators of tomorrow through a franchise that embodies the engineering ethos in an entirely holistic matter. The Droid Inventor Kit created by LittleBits, for instance allows fans to create and code their own droid. What better way to bring Star Wars to the younger generation, one to whom Star Wars is a new and exciting concept?
Of course, Disney couldn’t forget about the core product lines that make up the staple offering of a modern day merchandising programme, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t continue to push the boundaries across these categories, too.
“We also continue to innovate in the core categories of action figures, construction, books, games and dress-up and expect huge consumer demand for all of our new Star Wars products,” explains Stagg.
Among them, LEGO revealed its biggest building set to date in the 7,500-piece Millennium Falcon set, while Sphero released the First Order’s BB-9E droid and the R2-D2, Wow Stuff introduced the Jedi Training Remote Set and Funko is on hand to deliver lines to the pop culture collectors. That’s just a snippet of the many varied launches last month.
Disney and Lucasfilm has never shied away from innovation and since the launch of the Star Wars concept back in 1977, it has been a movie series that has pushed the boundaries in technology and culture. Star Wars is, after all, widely credited with kickstarting the modern day approach to movie merchandising and licensing.
It’s a rich heritage to have, so it makes sense that in 2017, the franchise continues to explore new lines of innovation, embodied by the leading characters of the Star Wars off-shoot, Forces of Destiny.
Widely covered in consumer and trade media, Forces of Destiny places the movie series' female protagonists at the centre of their own adventures through an animated series, and a corresponding line of adventure figures from Hasbro. The idea? To open up the Star Wars franchise to a new audience, at a time when female empowerment in the big movie stakes is finally getting the break-through it deserves.
Stagg says: “We have been thrilled with the fan reaction to Forces of Destiny. The product range fuses traditional dolls and action figures with authentic and unique styling to create a whole new play pattern for Star Wars.”
While it’s still early days to get a true reflection of product sales, Disney is expecting significant demand for the line once the show establishes itself with strong viewership. And that can’t be far behind. Star Wars has, after all, had over 14 consecutive months of being a number one property.
“This only looks to continue as we see the results from Force Friday II and the campaign around Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” enthuses Stagg.
“[Star Wars] has an enduring legacy and a richness of the universe that keeps fans interested year-on-year. But it’s just as important to remember that for a new generation of kids, they are only just getting to know Star Wars, so to them everything is brand new.”
The thing is, for the adult fan base, everything is new and exciting, too. Disney has managed to bring the Star Wars lore even closer to the consumer through its newest raft of partnerships across the toy and entertainment space, be it through video games, AR and VR technology or the new Star Wars Lands scheduled to open in the US by 2019.
Star Wars has become about far more than a movie slate that follows the Hollywood doctrine of good versus evil – the new Disney attractions will allow visitors to choose whether to join the rebels or fall in with the First Order – it is about consumer immersion within an expansive entertainment universe.
And the toy firms are only too keen to play their role in the saga, too.