The Star Wars Economy is Bigger Than You Think

Blasters, games and books- We’d like a Star Wars poster please. Home theater- More of a success than The Force Awakens is, the more of a success than the merchandising will
be. No time for anything else. If you didn’t know that a new Star Wars film
is coming out in December 2015, then you may be living in a galaxy far, far
away. After all, the new film is everywhere with new toys on shelves, movie trailers online and even Campbell’s soup cans in your local
supermarket. But this merchandising is nothing new for
Star Wars. Careful Luke, we’ve got company! In fact, it’s just the latest example of how the original film franchise revolutionized
film making and changed the way Hollywood movies make
money. I was always able to see it as more than just
a movie. I came to it first through the back of a cereal
box, instead of at the theater, that was when I first, first learned the story
of Star Wars. That’s Chris Taylor and he’s the author of
the book ‘How Star Wars Conquered the Universe the Past, Present and Future of a Multibillion
Dollar Franchise.’ The total dollar amount through the movies,
through the prequels, the books that are made, the toys, is there like an actual dollar amount that
we could say, this is how much Star Wars has made. Yes, the best estimate that we have based
on the numbers that are already out there from what was a privately held company, Lucasfilm, is roughly in the region of 42 billion dollars. 42 billion and 32 billion of that is from
merchandising. From Kenner Star Wars collection, large size
Darth Vader with his lightsaber. You had Kenner which was making money hand
over fist with the toys and not just the action figures but all sorts
of toys, blasters, board games, the Factors T shirt company back in 1977 produced
these very quick almost knock off style T shirts. You had the Wagneroff jewelry firm that made
the items of Star Wars jewelry. And it doesn’t stop there, Star Wars sold
you underwear- It’s Underoos, Star Wars Boba Fett is here,
that means Darth Vader’s always near. Fast food: Hello, welcome to Burger Shell. We’d like a Star Wars poster please. I knew it! Cars: And although this may not be officially licensed, Star Wars even sold you Japanese tuna. And then you have on top of that the roughly
4 billion dollars Star Wars made at the box office, 4 billion dollars for home theater, which
includes VHS, DVDs and then pretty much everything else is games
and books. And that includes what Disney has done ever since it bought the Star Wars franchise
from Lucasfilm in 2012 for a little over 4 billion dollars. But not every piece of merchandising worked
out for Star Wars. Anyone remember the Star Wars holiday special? You know, the quazi-reality TV special that
aired on CBS just before Thanksgiving and after the first film was released? It was chock-full of all the things you dreamed
about, Chewbacca’s back story, a probably high princess Leia, and Bea Arthur singing a pub song at the Mos
Eisely cantina. There were a number of items that were supposed to come in after the Star
Wars Holiday Special. There were action figures based on the wookies that formed a big part of the holiday special. There were, you know, books on the wookies, I think a lot of that was scaled back when
it came out. But no, Lucasfilm thought that was going to
be big. If you look at the original scripts for the
holiday special, it was going to be a bit better than it turned
out, it just ended up in the hands of a couple
variety producers who made it way more cheesy than it was intended, flipped the story around so it was basically
unwatchable. Speaking of unwatchable, how about all those
prequels? Don’t they count as failures too? Meesa no think so. They were all profitable. Someone went to see them. Episode One was the one that has made the
most money. In pure dollar terms, yes, un-adjusted for
inflation, Episode One made more money. Interestingly it made most of it’s money abroad, so consider the fact that what most people
hated about the prequels was, you know, the stilted dialogue. Anakin, chancellor Palpatine is evil. From my point of view the Jedi are evil. The lack of good acting. None of these things can you see if you’re
watching it internationally if it’s dubbed, if it’s, or you’re looking
at subtitles. That may sound like good luck but it speaks
to the innovation of the franchise. Innovation it developed after the first movie
hit theaters, back when few people thought Star Wars would
be a hit, and even fewer thought it would make money
on, of all things, merchandising. Movie merchandising did not make money, it worked for TV franchises like Star Trek,
it was not expected to work for Star Wars. And it almost didn’t, the process of making
toys took so long that Kenner ended up selling cardboard versions
of their toys at Christmas time with the promise that they would arrive later. They’ll be sent to you at home between February
first and June first. The Star Wars early bird certificate package,
new from Kenner. You know, they took so long to ramp up their
production that by the time the toys actually arrived
in the stores, supposedly we thought Star Wars would be out
of theaters. Of course as it turned out it was there for
a year. So what was different about Star Wars, how did it change the movie industry as far
as merchandising goes? Because it stuck around for so long it actually meant that you could get the merchandising
to consumers while the movie was still in the theaters,
which was huge, and that had not been done before. Sort of because of the fans. It was because of the fans, it was because
there was this incredible repeat-ability to it and there was a cult, almost immediately. There were local entrepreneurs who came along
and made T shirts. This was the era of making buttons, right? Making buttons at home, the little button
entrepreneurs, so immediately you ‘may the force be with
you’ became a button. And that was very much a sort of, you know,
oh do you understand this? you’re in with the hip crowd. What about the underground merchandising,
you mentioned buttons, but also people made their own costumes, people
made their own fan-fiction, people made things on their own because they
were fans of what was going on, whether they wanted to sell it or not. And Lucasfilm really wanted to encourage that
at the start. The only part of the fan, the traditional
fan fiction side of things that they looked askance at was the slash
fiction, which is basically fan written porn. This had been huge in the Star Trek community, but otherwise, other than that, they used
the power of the fans right from the beginning. That power’s on full display from the R2 Builders, a group of amateur droid engineers who make
their own R2D2s and share their work online. But they tend to spend, on average, I’d say
about 10 years on each R2D2 I mean it is so meticulous. They’re in their garages, you know, honing
their metal domes and just trying to get every detail accurate. But in so doing and in being so obsessed with
that goal and tinkering with the R2D2s they became so much better than Lucasfilm
at building an R2D2. So they were actually tapped by Kathleen Kennedy,
the president of Lucasfilm, to create the R2 that will show in The Force
Awakens. It’s, again, you know, treat your fans well,
you get this tremendous, not quite unpaid labor, but you know, you
get a little skunk-works. What kind of Star Wars do you think we’ll
expect from Disney? I think Disney is very very smart in the way
that it approaches it’s subsidiaries, if you look at the way it treated Pixar- Which was originally owned by? George Lucas, still calls it ‘my company.’ But Pixar was treated like crown jewels, they could make whatever they wanted to make,
the same is true of Marvel. We almost don’t think of Marvel as a Disney
subsidiary. And brilliantly the same hands off approach
has been taken to Lucasfilm. There’s very much a ‘it ain’t broke so don’t
fix it.’ Let the nerds who are in charge of the franchise
stay in charge. Let the guys in the story group figure out
where all the bits of the universe go. You know I think Episode Seven has the distinct
potential to be the highest grossing film of all time. And I think the interesting thing about this
is it all feeds into the other parts of the empire. It’s more of a success than The Force Awakens
is, the more of a success the merchandising will
be. You know you just referred to Disney as ‘the
Empire?’ They are, I mean it’s, you know, but then
Lucasfilm saw itself as the empire as well I mean Lucas would often refer to himself
as Darth Vader and the Lucasfilm headquarters was known as
the Death Star. But yes, when the Mouse House moved in, I
mean that is a real empire. No question about that.

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