From 1983: Awaiting ‘Star Wars’ Return

Written by the author  of "Marketing to Moviegoers"


Reprinted With Permission From The April 11, 1983 Issue of “Advertising Age.” © Crain Communications.


By Bob Marich

     The eagerly awaited third film of the “Star Wars” saga shapes up as much a potential blockbuster in merchandising and promotional tie-ins as it is expected to be at the box office.
    Two major packaged goods marketers – Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble – and a fast food chain – Burger King – plan national promotions tied to the $35 million production of “Return of the Jedi,” a 20th Century Fox release opening in late May.
    Pepperidge Farm will have “Jedi” cookies. And Kenner Products, a General Mills unit that holds the toy license, plans to spend more than $12 million to advertise action figures and other merchandise baring the “Star Wars” imprint.
    The “Jedi” creations said to be in line for much hoopla are Ewoks, bear-like animals that dwell in a forest, and the stuffed doll figure to be a new entry in the teddy bear market. All told, Kenner will be adding 17 new characters to its action-figure roster this year. The new items are supposedly under wraps until the films opening.
    For Lucasfilm, the San Rafael, Cal.-based entertainment company owned by “Star Wars” create George Lucas, product extension of his character creations are said to have become marketing concerns separate from the movies themselves.
    The first two movies (the second was “The Empire Strikes Back”) have grossed about $600 million at the box office since 1977, the second and third biggest money making films of all time. On the other hand, merchandising the movie and its characters has generated more than $2 billion in retail sales. Lucasfilm reportedly gets 90% of the royalties and 20th Century-Fox the balance.
    The Coca-Cola and Burger King joint promotion will offer four “Jedi” collectible glass soft drink containers at BK outlets. Procter & Gamble will be offering a set of “Jedi” posters through redemption coupons on packaging of unspecified food products. Among the other 50 licensees involved in “Jedi” merchandising:
  • * Pepperidge Farm, the Campbell Soup Co. subsidiary, will market a new line of cookies in the shape of “Jedi” characters, a first for a “Star Wars” film.
  • * Cooper Care has locked up rights to offer a “Jedi” toothbrush, another first. The Cooper Laboratories division markets Oral B toothbrushes.
  • * American Telecommunications, El Monte, Cal., will offer a telephone in the shape of villain Darth Vader.
  • * Warner Communications’ Atari unit will market a “Jedi” coin operated video arcade game. Parker Bros. Another General Mills unit, has locked up the home video game cartridge, as it did for “Empire.” It plans to offer to “Jedi” cartridges and a board game.
  • * Jovan Inc. is again the toiletries licensee, although its line of children’s toiletries built around the earlier “Star Wars” films did not gain wide distribution.
    Other major licensees are Ballantine Book, Walt Disney Productions (children’s books and records), Times Mirror (newspaper comics strip), Marvel Comics Group, PolyGram Records (soundtrack), Random House, Sales Corp. of America (posters and certain theme clothing) and Topps Chewing Gum.
    A shopping mall promotion, which 20th Century-Fox has mounted for selected films that it releases, is also planned. About 200 shopping centers are expected to participate by leasing a “Jedi Adventure Center” that will promote the “Star Wars” saga and be a focal point for sales of licensed products. CTS Promotions, North Hollywood, Cal., is handling that.
    The third “Star Wars” film, which at one time was titled, “Revenge of the Jedi,” was scripted by ex-advertising agency copywriter Larry Kasdan, who also co-wrote “Empire.” There have been rumors that Lucasfilm wants to use another distributor for future “Star Wars” films because of a rift that has developed between it and Fox over finances. As it stands now, no distribution or even timetable for release further “Star Wars” films has been set.
    The first three “Star Wars movies are said to be the middle of three trilogies (stories No. 4, 5 and 6) in the science-fiction saga created by Mr. Lucas. Whether the next movie will continue the chronology (No.7) hasn’t been determined.
    A Lucasfilm spokeswoman said a plan to film three movies at once, in essence a whole trilogy, that would be release a month apart (during the summer) is under consideration. If such a plan came to pass, it would be a major distribution innovation.


      POST SCRIPT: “Jedi” proved to be a blockbuster and the next (fourth) film would not come out for another 16 years until 1999’s “The Phantom Menace.” Time helped heal any Fox rift since the studio continued as distributor.