Cashing in on Star Wars

The other empire that George Lucas built is booming still. Star Wars played to packed houses a second time around last summer, maintaining its position as the most successful box-office attraction in history. Star Wars toys and games were even more prominent last Christmas than the year before; for the first time, supply matched demand for Darth Vader masks or Death Star board games or remote-control R2-D2s.

The movie itself has now returned more than $230 million worldwide to Twentieth CenturyFox, more than $180 million of that in America. Lucasfilm takes 40 percent of the profits. Sales of all the toys and gimmicks, mirrors and marshmallows, sold under the Star Wars banner have now gone over the $00 million mark; Lucasfilm and Fox split royalties of between 5 and 10 percent on the retail prices. Their earnings must now, say insiders, be well over $20 million.

At the end of 1978 thirty people were still working full time for Black Falcon, Lucasfilm's marketing offshoot. They were managing the toy licenses which produce 70 percent of the royalty income-and also deals such as a Thanksgiving TV special about Wookies; Ballantine Books's exclusive franchise to use Star Wars characters on paperback covers; a newspaper strip, closely supervised by comics buff Lucas himself; and the sugar-free bubble gum demanded by diabetic Lucas.

As the second Star Wars movie goes before the cameras, the overriding Lucasfilm interest in characters and names will begin to erode Fox's money interest in the merchandising. The other Star Wars empire will be George Lucas's personal fief for the life of his copyrights.

The merchandising money has meant struggle: hundreds of thousands of dollars spent in lawsuits pursuing copyright pirates who marketed such ingenious devices as The Force Beam, a long hollow rod which contains a lurid pink light. FBI and Customs cooperation kept the Star Wars image pure. Alcohol, cigarettes, and sex were all held far away-from the fantasy. In America, nutritional advice dictated which food licenses were granted, and very few were; in Europe, where sweets-makers are accustomed to brisk selling seasons tied to a film's promotion, Lucasfilm was more generous.

In 1977, children went away with empty packages and the promise of C3-POs to fill them—because assembly lines could not produce fast enough. But last Christmas, ardent fans could buy Star Wars sheets, Star Wars slippers, bubble bath (". . . just pour one capful under the
Force of your faucets . . ."), wallpaper, watches, electric toothbrushes, and notebooks labeled "R2-D2's Memory Bank" or "Princess Leia's Rebel Jotter" or "Chewbacca's Space Notes."

As for the movie itself, submerged in all the razzle-dazzle marketing, its big-screen earning life continues. In July 1978 it was re-released in small communities in America where it had not played before. The release started with 1700 theaters in a week, and built up to 2000. The second release was an impressive success. Now the ballyhoo may die down for a while as we wait for the next installment of an epic that Lucas himself reckons could run as long as the century.