Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Online toy marathon to launch new film

The latest release will herald a flood of new products

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Before the release of the original Star Wars in 1977, George Lucas made a historic deal with 20th Century Fox to retain merchandising rights for the film, in return for a modest director’s fee. The studio believed it was getting a bargain. Four decades later, Lucasfilm remains a past master at turning blockbuster movies into retail bonanzas.

On Friday, 4 September, fans can get their hands on a new range of Star Wars toys and other products, months ahead of the December release of The Force Awakens, the latest film in the series. Before that, Disney – which owns Lucasfilm – is staging what it says is the world’s first “global live toy unboxing event”.

From early on 3 September, the Star Wars YouTube channel will host a live stream of digital “stars” round the world, as one by one they unwrap – “unbox” – the sleek packaging  containing a key item from the film’s merchandising range.

Top unboxer and Star Wars superfan Chris Pirillo will be opening the final toy at Lucasfilm headquarters in San Francisco. “My whole career has been building to this moment,” said Mr Pirillo, who saw the original film with his father in 1977, and who recently named his baby daughter “Jedi”.


“I still remember the moment I got my first Star Wars figure. I have a deep emotional attachment to that toy,” he said. “For a lot of people, Star Wars is a lifestyle. So many of us have it in common, and the toys are a connection point.”

The first unboxing will take place in Sydney, Australia, at 7.45am local time. The online event then cycles through 12 countries and five continents over 18 hours, with 15 digital celebrities  speaking their native languages as they each reveal a new product.

An official Star Wars replica stormtrooper helmet (AFP)

The broadcast, which is to include the British YouTube personality the Gaming Beaver, will mix the live unboxing clips with other Star Wars-related content, commentary and trailers. The final grand unboxing at Lucasfilm headquarters in San Francisco will happen at 8am local time – minutes before the first Antipodean toy stops stocking the products open their doors at midnight.

The event will be hosted from Los Angeles by a pair of Star Wars pundits, Anthony Carboni and Andi Gutierrez. Disney, taking advantage of the cross-promotional potential of its properties, will also stream the broadcast on the website of its US television network ABC, and that network’s morning show Good Morning America will feature the New York leg of the marathon.

The online extravaganza is likely to be the first of many similar events, said Jim Silver, of the toy review site TTPM. “It’s the new age of launching products,” he said. “YouTube is global, and this an opportunity for Disney to reach billions of people worldwide with their new items.”

Of the 100 most popular YouTube channels, 18 are devoted to toys and toy unboxings. The web’s most popular unboxers often receive hundreds of thousands of views simply for taking delivery of a newly launched product, and can make significant revenue from advertising.

Darth Vader (C) and Stormtrooper figurines are displayed during the kick-off event of Disney's Star Wars Celebration 2015 (Getty)

It’s a good fit for Star Wars, which has made billions of dollars more from ephemera than from the films themselves. “Star Wars toys have always played an important role in how our fans interact with the saga,” Kathleen Kennedy, Lucasfilm’s president, said.

Star Wars is the world’s bestselling toy property because it appeals across demographic boundaries, according to Mr Silver. “You have collectors who are 60 years old, and you have young kids.”

Disney purchased Lucasfilm for $4bn in 2012 and the LA-based Maker Studios for an estimated $500m last year. The latter’s videos attract 1.5bn online views per month. Industry experts predict The Force Awakens will break box office records when it reaches cinemas on 18 December. Meanwhile, a Morgan Stanley report suggested consumers are likely to spend $3bn annually on merchandise associated with the film.