Force Friday: Disney awakens $3b in Star Wars merchandise sales

Disney launched the campaign with a massive 'unboxing' event on YouTube

Star Wars fans have been queuing through the night to be the first to get their hands on hundreds of toys and other items relating to Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens, 116 days before the film is even out.

The selling frenzy could earn Disney, which owns the rights to the franchise, $3 billion this year, according to analysts at PiperJaffray.

Disney launched the campaign with a massive social media push including an 18-hour unboxing streamed on YouTube. Stores are holding special events and staying open until midnight to make sales when the toys first hit shelves.

The campaign is unusual because Force Friday is taking place over three months ahead of the release date for the new Star Wars film, Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens.

Disney has been hyping the movie by giving glimpses of new characters that haven't been seen on screen yet, such as Sarco Plank, an alien desert nomad that was first seen when Vanity Fair took pictures of the set.

The early release is thought to be part of a sales strategy that will prompt another huge wave of selling nearer the movie’s December 18 release. It also allows plenty of time for the toys to get on kids’ Christmas lists.

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People line up outside a Toys R Us store just before midnight to purchase toys in advance of the film "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" in Times Square in the Manhattan borough of New York, September 3, 2015.

"Here's a new generation of boys and girls who are going to be brought in who may not even be aware of Star Wars yet," said Joe Ninivaggi, Hasbro's senior brand manager for Star Wars.

But the fanatics queuing round the block in Hong Kong overnight were much older, drawn in by the cultish appeal of the 30-year-old franchise and the potential for the toys to become collectors' items. In January an action figure of Boba Fett, one of Darth Vader's minions, fetched a cool $27,000 at auction. It may be a while before the toys sold for Force Friday do the same.

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