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The Retail Brilliance of the Star Wars Franchise

In 1977, one of the most successful movie franchises of all time was born. We’re talking about Star Wars, of course. Over the course of 4+ decades, its movies have captivated audiences, created cult followings and spanned generations as parents introduce Star Wars to their children as a rite of cinematic passage.

Many of us here at OnQ are huge Star Wars fans. And while we may not all agree on the best order to watch all the Star Wars films and shows, we share an admiration for this amazing franchise that’s spanned generations and still holds up today.

Our design team recently took their love of Star Wars one step further by studying how masterfully the franchise has been parlayed into retail success. They quickly learned how deeply intertwined the entertainment and retail industries can become when pop culture and consumerism collide.

A Franchise is Born

star wars action figures
Kenner action figures from the 1977 release of Star Wars

Following its initial theater release in 1977, Star Wars enjoyed huge success at the box office, fueling strong demand for toys and merchandise of popular characters and vehicles. Kenner, the only toy manufacturer with rights to merchandise these products at the time, was wholly unprepared for the unprecedented success of the movie. In December of 1977, seven months after the movie’s initial release, Kenner was forced to sell empty boxes with certificates redeemable for action figures, which were then produced months later. Toys are unquestionably one of the largest market segments when it comes to Star Wars merch, and once Kenner got their production lines up and running, they produced hundreds of different action figures, vehicles, dolls and accessories.

The Force is Strong with This One

The phrase “may the Force be with you” is recognizable, even by those who haven’t seen a single Star Wars movie. These exact words were spoken by multiple characters 16 times over the course of seven movies – and variations on the phrase were used countless other times.

But “may the Force be with you” has become so much more than a common refrain repeated by Star Wars fans the world over. A simple play on words – May the 4th – has grown into an unofficial holiday for Star Wars fans everywhere. Now the 4th of May is commonly used as the date to launch new shows and unveil new products related to the Star Wars franchise. It’s also become a massive revenue-generator for retailers capitalizing on the energy and excitement around “May the 4th.”

May the 4th
A simple tagline evolved into an unofficial holiday for Star Wars fans

Immersive Retail

Galaxy’s Edge is an entire area of Disneyland devoted to Star Wars, and its main draw is immersion. From the moment guests set foot in this area of the park, they’re meant to feel they’ve entered the Star Wars universe. From the rides, to the shops, to the employees, even down to the simplest details like Coke bottles, Disney created an entirely immersive experience like no other.

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Examples of the level of immersion in the retail stores in Galaxy’s Edge

Of course any area of Disneyland would not be complete without retail shops, and Galaxy’s Edge is no exception. Different shops have different themes. For example, one shop is entirely devoted to the First Order, another only sells droids and droid parts.

galaxy's edge gift card
Batuuan Spira, the currency accepted at any shop in Galaxy’s Edge

Looking at these shops and displays from a designer’s point of view, it must have been challenging to create displays that don’t break immersion, yet still allow guests to shop and spend real money. Things like UPCs and price tags would have to be hidden or have their aesthetic adjusted to fit the theme. But this is Disney we’re talking about, so of course they came up with an immersive solution! When visiting Galaxy’s Edge, guests can pick up a gift card made to look like Star Wars currency, load it with real money, and use it to pay for things around the area. Not only is it one more layer of immersion, it’s also a smart way to let guests spend money without worrying too much about the actual cost.

What the Future Holds

The Skywalker Saga is the past, and Disney+ is where the future of Star Wars is headed. Due to the success of The Mandalorian, Disney confirmed six new live-action series to premier on its streaming service, two of which are Mandalorian spinoffs, along with a number of animated projects and theatrical releases. And with new shows and movies comes new merchandise and a continuous, ever-evolving presence in retail stores.

According to Wikipedia, The Star Wars franchise is now worth an estimated $68.7 billion. Merchandise makes up $42.2 billion of that figure, with box office ticket sales making up only $10.316 billion of the total. While new content is important to captivate and keep audiences interested, it’s clear that merchandise sales are where the real money is made. With the continued success on both the big and small screens, Disney has made it clear that the Star Wars franchise is not only here to stay, but will continue to grow in the years ahead.

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