SAN FRANCISCO — We’re about three months away from the release of the next chapter of Star Wars, and anticipation has been brewing. And what better way to continue the hype cycle than by giving fans the next best thing: toys.
The Walt Disney Company is set to release a slew of toys, merchandise, and apparel at 12:01 a.m. tomorrow. VentureBeat was invited to attend an “unboxing” event and here are photos of what you can expect at your nearest Disney store and other retailers starting this weekend. And there’s no question that the demand is there: an analyst reportedly believes that merchandise sales could hit $5 billion within the first year. This is probably helped by the fact the toys go on sale much earlier than they would have for other movies.
Earlier today, Disney and Lucasfilm held an 18-hour global unboxing livestream marathon. It bounced around between 15 cities and culminated at Lucasfilm’s offices in the Presidio neighborhood in San Francisco. This was perhaps the first event of its kind to be held at this particular office, and it allowed the people who may have had a hand in the making of the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens to see the latest toys around this monstrous hit.
YouTube personality and geek culture expert Chris Pirillo had the honor of unboxing the last toy during the livestream. He’s an unabashed fan of the Star Wars films. Besides naming his child Jedi and having a slew of toys, he came prepared to the event armed with his Stormtrooper action figure and also wearing Darth Vader-embroidered socks.
The final unboxing featured perhaps a toy that any child (and even adult) will probably want to have: an updated Millennium Falcon. While it probably won’t be able to make the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs, this spaceship comes with two action figures, including Chewbacca. It also has detachable compartments so you can see inside the ship and comes equipped with a Nerf gun inside so you can fire on incoming TIE fighters or Star Destroyers.
After the event, we were invited to get a sneak peek at the latest toys and apparel from Disney. The company has once again tapped its partnerships with Hot Wheels, Hasbro, and others to produce quite an assortment of items. Paul Southern, Lucasfilm’s senior vice president of licensing, says that the quality of the toys has been enhanced since all the actors were 3D scanned this time around — previously they were sculpted by hand.
Molly Adams, Disney’s executive vice president of global and product development, explained that the entire team worked with director JJ Abrams throughout the entire process to ensure that the authenticity of the film would not only be ensured but that the boundaries of consumer products would be pushed. Throughout the planning and development, Disney wanted to ensure that the story stayed alive with the child, many who often want to escape into fantasy and roleplaying, some thinking that they are Jedis or Sith Lords. We’ve all been there.
“In Star Wars, the fans want to immerse themselves in the character. They want to be them or reenact the story. The more they immerse, the more they are connected with the story,” Adams tells VentureBeat.
Another update to Disney’s game plan is developing toys and apparel that worked for women. It focused on styles that worked for them and also reflected the female characters in The Force Awakens. It’s now more prominent than before. It also has a premium line of jewelry, shirts, and other fashion items.
Technology has certainly been incorporated into the development of the toys. Adams says that today’s kids are digital natives and are used to digital tech: “The intersection of digital and physical play is the norm.” Some of the latest toys the Star Wars lineup have tech within them, such as a adorable and playful BB-8 droid, which seems to have captivated people just like R2-D2 has in the previous films. This toy is built using Sphero technology. Additionally, there’s an animatronic Yoda from Spin master (Southern refused to take it out of the box to show us because it “won’t ever shut up”).
Eventually we might see more technology woven into our favorite Star Wars toys. What about the use of drones to simulate an X-wing versus TIE fighter dogfight? Southern is open to that, but didn’t say whether that was something coming soon or later in the future.
And yes, you can buy lightsabers as they appeared in the movie, including the one used by the character Kylo Ren.
Southern explains that the Star Wars franchise is unique and the films drive everything. It has a robust consumer product now and has an incredible fanbase so by simply announcing new toys will quickly get people into a feeding frenzy. But if this was a new film would Southern execute the same plan? “I probably wouldn’t,” he tells us.
Here are some photos of the toys and other products hitting the shelves of your favorite retailer starting on September 4: