Star Wars

How Star Wars Conquered the Galaxy

The economic power of the greatest movie franchise ever.

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Darth Vader
Oscar Wilson, debutart.com

At the end of 1954, the same year that the family of a youngster named George Lucas bought its first television set, Walt Disney Productions aired four one-hour films about a Tennessee congressman who lost his life at the Alamo.

The company was caught completely off guard when kids went wild for their new hero, pestering parents to buy Davy Crockett-themed toy guns, sheets, watches, lunch boxes, underwear, mugs, towels, rugs, and pajamas. Most especially, they bought his signature headgear, a coonskin cap, which sold at the reported rate of 5,000 units per day in 1955 alone (the price of raccoon fur jumped from 25 cents to $8 a pound). Within one calendar year, Davy Crockett would spin off an incredible $300 million worth of merchandise, the equivalent of about $2 billion today.

Most of that windfall went to independent sellers; licensing as we know it today simply didn't exist back then. But the young Lucas witnessed the results all around him in California's Central Valley and stored the example away in his memory, to be drawn on two decades later as he labored over his third feature film.

In 1976, after finishing principal photography on the movie that would create the modern blockbuster, Lucas cast his mind back to the mid-1950s. "Star Wars," he mused to Charles Lippincott, marketing director of the soon-to-be-released space opera, "could be a type of Davy Crockett phenomenon."

That, of course, turned out to be the understatement of the century.

Even before the December release of The Force Awakens, the Star Wars franchise pulled in an estimated $42 billion total in box office, DVD sales and rentals, video games, books, and related merchandise. And that's just the amount flowing into officially sanctioned channels; the unofficial, unlicensed Star Wars economy has generated untold billions more.

                                   See: Star Wars by the Numbers

Some $32 billion of that staggering revenue was derived from physical stuff rather than an audio-visual experience. Like Davy Crockett, the Star Wars universe made its biggest economic impact in the realm of merchandise—clothing, accessories, food and drink, housewares (Darth Vader toaster, anyone?), and especially toys. But unlike Walt Disney, George Lucas devised a way to pocket much of that money himself. That helped buy editorial freedom, which helped this obsessive creative make the rest of his movies how he saw fit, for good and ill, until Disney bought the rights to the franchise in 2012 for $4.06 billion. Lucas and Star Wars created a category of economic activity that previously did not exist, and in so doing forever changed the face of entertainment.

Action Figure Mecca

To understand the scale of Star Wars' physical presence in the modern world, you need to visit a former chicken ranch in the Northern California town of Petaluma—probably one of the few chicken ranches in the world where appointments are both desired and required.

The wrought-iron gate at the entrance of the property is adorned with a portrait of Alec Guinness. You park by flagpoles flying the banners of the rebellion and the Empire, and walk past a private home that says "Casa Kenobi." There used to be 20,000 chickens on this ranch; now there are fewer than six in a single coop, near the corner of Yoda Trail and Jedi Way. The others have been replaced, in a long former chicken barn, by what the Guinness World Records book has recognized as the largest Star Wars collection in the world. Welcome to Rancho Obi-Wan.

In the building, up a narrow stairway, Steve Sansweet greets you next to an alcove that has a talking head of Obi-Wan. The bust looks like actor Alec Guinness, Obi-Wan number one, but it has the prerecorded voice of James Arnold Taylor, Obi-Wan number three, from the Clone Wars cartoon. "Your visit may provoke feelings of intense jealousy," the voice warns. "But do not give into hate. That leads to the Dark Side. If you're lucky, you won't also give in to a spending spree. So get ready for a galactic, physical and spiritual reawakening…from a certain point of view."

Sansweet is snarky and avuncular, bursting with knowledge—he co-wrote the official Star Wars Encyclopedia, the Ultimate Guide to Star Wars Action Figures, and many more books besides. He's somewhere between a vaudeville comedian and a gossip, always ready with a quip and another collector's item to show you. With bushy black eyebrows framed by a silver beard, he looks like a mischievous Santa Claus. You might think him a retired TV host, which in fact he is: He helped QVC sell Star Wars gear during 60 hours of shows during the 1990s. "And I always bought one of whatever I was selling," he says. He's not kidding.

Sansweet was raised in Philadelphia, went to journalism school, and reported on the JFK assassination for the college paper. As a Wall Street Journal reporter in Los Angeles in 1976, he started collecting toy robots after writing a front-page story about a collector; the robots reignited a long-held passion for science fiction. Then one day at the office, he noticed another reporter toss an invitation in the trash. It was to the media preview of a new movie called Star Wars. Sansweet fished it out, and a few days later his life changed forever. That invite, and the movie program, are the first items in his collection. "I was already in my 30s," he wrote, "but realized this was what I had been waiting my whole life for."

Sansweet had to wait another 20 years until he could parlay his love of Star Wars into a job at Lucasfilm, as head of fan relations. By then his house in Los Angeles had gained an extra two floors and five storage lockers, all to hold his collection. And that was before the prequel movies, which saw by far the largest explosion in Star Wars merchandise in the franchise's history. Sansweet is a collecting machine: a scavenger of sets, a friend to every licensee and fan artist. He swoops on eBay offerings and divorce sales. There's a poster in his office, signed by George Lucas, which confers on Sansweet the title of "ultimate fan."

At first, Sansweet was determined to keep his collection private. His Petaluma chicken farm, the only place his real estate agent could find near Lucas' Skywalker Ranch (20 miles away in Nicasio) that was large enough to hold his stuff, was too remote to seriously consider turning into a museum. But after leaving Lucasfilm in 2011 (he's still a part-time adviser), Sansweet was convinced by friends that there was enough interest to convert the place into a nonprofit. It would offer regular tours for anyone who takes out a membership. With just two employees, Rancho Obi-Wan already has more than 1,000 members, who pay $40 a year.

Sansweet provides a quick tour of the library—which contains books from 37 countries in 34 languages—and the art and poster room, where all his unopened boxes of action figures live. His assistant, Anne Neumann, is usually to be found here, still struggling to catalog everything in the collection; her official estimate, after seven years and 95,000 items catalogued, is that there are at least another 300,000 items and counting. To put that in perspective, the sprawling British Museum has 50,000 items on display at any one time.

We travel down a cramped corridor of movie posters, and you can't help but wonder where the real goods are. Then Sansweet knocks at a door. "Mr. Williams," he says, "are you ready for us?" Then in a stage whisper, he adds: "Very temperamental."

As the door swings open and John Williams' Star Wars theme begins, you gaze down the stairs at what a 21st century Davy Crockett phenomenon looks like. It's the large items you notice first: the life-size Darth Vader with red lightsaber drawn (codpiece and helmet from the original costume), the original mold of Han Solo in carbonite, the head of Jar Jar Binks, the stuffed Wampa, the animatronic version of the Modal Nodes band from the Mos Eisley cantina, the iconic bicycle from Skywalker Ranch with lightsabers for handlebars and a Vader-shaped bell (known as the Empire Strikes Bike).

Seconds later, as your eyes adjust, you take in the rows upon rows of stuff. It's packed tightly onto shelves as if it were a department store where space is at a premium—except the space seems to go on forever, with at least two sets of shelves on every wall, vanishing into the distance, where stands a life-size Lego Boba Fett and a Star Wars marquee from 1977. There are rooms beyond that, just out of sight: a corridor constructed to look like one on the Tantive IV leads to the artwork, the arcade games, the pinball machines.

This is the place at which grown men and women have been known to weep. It is also the point at which one of two things tends to dawn on their partners: "I get it now," or "OK, maybe that collection at home isn't so bad after all."

The Wookiee Mug and the R2-D2 Cookie Jar

Star Wars has generated more collectable paraphernalia than any other movie franchise on the planet. But that bounty had surprisingly little input from its creator.

At some point in 1975, working on his second draft and sipping coffee, George Lucas thought of dog-breed mugs (they were all the rage in the '70s). Wouldn't it be fun to have a mug that looked like a Wookiee? That, and the fact that R2-D2 looked like a cookie jar, were the only specific pieces of merchandise that Lucas has admitted envisioning while writing the film.

But that didn't mean Lucas was blind to the merchandising opportunities. Anything but. Having grown up the son of a stationery and toy store owner, having constructed his own toys from scratch—a miniature rollercoaster was a particular favorite with his back alley posse of friends—the director was fascinated by their potential and not the least bit ashamed of his interest. When the famed director George Cukor told Lucas at a film conference in the early 1970s that he hated the term "filmmaker" because it sounded like "toymaker," Lucas shot back that he would rather be a toymaker than a "director," which sounded too businesslike. Movie sets were play sets; actors were action figures.

Before Star Wars, no one had ever made money out of toy merchandising associated with a movie. The most notable previous attempt had come with the hit film Doctor Dolittle in 1967, when Mattel produced 300 Dolittle-related items, including a line of talking dolls in the likeness of Rex Harrison and his menagerie. The producers licensed multiple soundtrack albums, cereals, detergents, and a line of pet food. 20th Century Fox budgeted $8 million, or $57 million in today's dollars, just to market Dolittle dreck in 50,000 retail stores. They placed toys inside puddings and waited for the revenue to roll in. Instead, an estimated $200 million worth of merchandise went unsold, an absolute commercial disaster.

The failure of movie merchandise was not limited to the pre–Star Wars era, either. Steven Spielberg's ET from 1982 was wildly successful—it overtook Star Wars in the all-time box office stakes (at least until special editions of the latter were released at the end of the next decade)—but ET computer games and toys in the shape of the movie's alien protagonist were overproduced and quickly gathered dust on store shelves. Atari produced so many unsold ET game cartridges that it decided to bury them in a giant pit in the New Mexico desert. The movie was a charming story; but it was not, as industry parlance had it, a particularly "toyetic" story. The protagonist did not look especially cute in the cold light of Toys "R" Us.

In retrospect, it seems obvious that Star Wars was the very definition of toyetic. The characters and vehicles were profoundly unusual, the uniforms (plastic spacemen!) bright and arresting, the blasters and lightsabers mesmerizing. Had it been a TV show, merchandising deals would have been no problem. Just look at the Star Trek toys, the dolls, the Starfleet napkins, the Dr. Pepper tumblers featuring Kirk and Spock that you could pick up at any Burger King in 1976. But Star Wars was a movie, not a TV show, and every toy executive in the mid-1970s knew that movies were here today and gone tomorrow. By the time manufacturers got their toys made in Taiwan, Star Wars would most likely be out of theaters and forgotten.

$50 and a Handshake

Still, as the Star Wars release date approached, 20th Century Fox's vice president of licensing, Marc Pevers, persisted in trying to sell toy companies on the then-bizarre idea of action-figure tie-ins. Pevers' top target was the Mego Corporation, which produced Action Jackson and a line of World's Greatest Superheroes. But Lucas didn't finish until the last minute, and with only still photographs from the film available for pitching potential merchandising partners at the February 1977 toy fair in New York, Pevers struck out. Mego was importing a line of action figures from Japan called Micronauts. They were the best-selling toys in America. Who needed Star Wars?

Finally, Pevers got a bite from a Cincinnati-based company called Kenner, which had invented the Easy Bake oven in 1963 and had just found success again with 12-inch Six Million Dollar Man dolls. Kenner was owned by the cereal giant General Mills. The toy company's CEO, Bernie Loomis, was persuaded when Pevers dangled the possibility that Star Wars might be made into a TV show.

The principals signed a contract giving Kenner exclusive rights to all toys, and the company committed to producing four action figures and a "family game." Kenner provided $25,000 up front, guaranteed $100,000 (or $400,000 if a TV series was made), and agreed to pay Fox and Lucasfilm 5 percent royalties. This was a bargain, given that licensees signed up after the movie was released had to pay 10 percent. Mark Boudreaux, a designer who started working at Kenner in January 1977 and soon began making Star Wars vehicles, remembers a joke going around the office that Kenner got Star Wars for "$50 and a handshake."

Lucas later fumed that the deal, a "stupid decision," had lost him "tens of millions." Pevers, a lawyer by training, sued Lucas for suggesting in print that this was Fox's fault—after all, Lucasfilm had signed the contract. The libel case dragged on for three years before Lucas cut his losses and settled out of court.

In the lead-up to the film's release, Fox gave Kenner the trailer for the movie. The toy designers went wild for it and set about making three-and-three-quarter-inch action figures. One story has it that the figures were that size because Loomis asked his vice president of design to measure the distance between his thumb and his forefinger. In fact, the figures were simply the same size as Micronauts. Star Wars dolls couldn't be the standard 8 or 12 inches tall; they had to fit in vehicles. If Han Solo was 12 inches tall, the Millennium Falcon would have to be 5 feet wide. Toys "R" Us would have had to take over the entire mall.

For that first holiday season, Kenner couldn't swing into action fast enough. Scrambling in early June when it was clear the movie (which had opened May 25) was a monster hit, the company would have needed to start shipping the action figures in August to make it in time for Christmas, an impossible deadline at the time. A very junior designer at Kenner, Ed Schifman, came up with an infamous solution: a piece of cardboard that promised you the first four action figures as soon as they were ready. It was called the "Early Bird Special." Some fans mock it, some remember it fondly, but there's no denying the gimmick did the trick. "OK, we sold a piece of cardboard," says Boudreaux. "We still kept Star Wars toys top of mind at Christmas 1977." (Like just about every action figure in Star Wars history, the Early Bird Special was too famous to produce just once: in 2005, Walmart sold a replica version.)

Once it was clear Star Wars was a hit, Lucas sat down with Kenner and made sure there would be other toys beyond the action figures. Top of his mind: blasters. Loomis had banned guns from the Kenner line after Vietnam; the generation that protested that war were now parents and were horrified by the prospect of their kids playing with weaponry. Loomis tried to tell Lucas this. He was planning on making inflatable lightsabers, so at least the kids could do battle with something. Lucas took this all in, then repeated his question: "Where are the guns?" The CEO relented; Kenner started selling blasters.

In 1978, the company sold more than 42 million Star Wars items; the majority, 26 million, were action figures. By 1985, there were more Star Wars figures on the planet than American citizens. Then came a lull of a decade, before a new licensee, Hasbro, came along with the "Power of the Force" line. Though these new figures were derided (by Sansweet, among others) as being ridiculously muscular, they still sold like hot cakes. Hasbro hasn't let up since.

Barbie vs. Stormtroopers

After 1977, Lucas started to develop some hard-and-fast rules about the Star Wars brand. The hardest and fastest was that the Star Wars name was not to be slapped on any old piece of crap. The movies were made with incredible care and precision; the merch should be too. Sansweet can show you a prime example made by Kenner's Canadian division in 1977, which hadn't gotten the memo—a Batman-style utility belt and a dart gun, with Darth Vader's image on the box. Lucas was enraged when he saw it. His licensing division, then called Black Falcon, was tasked with ensuring that sort of thing never went on sale again.

Star Wars was also never to be associated with drugs or alcohol. (There were exceptions to all these rules in the chaotic beginning; Sansweet gleefully shows off a piece of sheet music from the cantina band theme that shows Chewbacca with a martini glass.) Until Lucas relented in 1991, there would not be Star Wars–themed vitamins for fear that children might get a taste for pill-popping.

Lucas professed to take a hands-off approach to merchandising, but in practice he retained a tremendous amount of control over it. "If you do something I don't like, I'll let you know," he told Maggie Young, Lucasfilm's vice president of merchandise and licensing from 1978 to 1986. As a management technique that did the trick: Young was too terrified to make anything but the most conservative choices. There do seem to be a few strange blind spots in Star Wars' licensing history: Lucas, a diabetic, held out against sugary breakfast cereals for years (until Kellogg's pitched low-sugar C-3PO's in 1984), even though some of Star Wars' most long-term partners included such sugar purveyors as Coca-Cola and Pepsi.

Inconsistency aside, the overall approach worked. More than $32 billion of merchandise has been sold over the lifetime of the franchise. That's half the overall sales of Barbies—quite a feat, considering the anatomically unrealistic blond doll had a 20-year head start. And Barbie is struggling to remain relevant in the modern world; the doll's sales declined by 40 percent in 2012. Star Wars, meanwhile, is only getting stronger; now that Disney, a publicly traded company, has bought the formerly private Lucasfilm, we know from Securities and Exchange Commission filings that the toy division generated about $215 million in licensing revenue in 2012 alone.

Sansweet's tour seems unending, and he likes to keep it unpredictable. You never know when he's going to pick up a plush puppet of Princess Leia in her slave bikini, say, and start talking in a falsetto voice, or threaten you with a felted wool blaster. Often he affects bafflement about the items in his collection, as if he just woke up to find all this stuff here. He will mock unusual objects no matter where they came from, and he's delighted to show off some of the worst official products ever to emerge from Lucasfilm licensing: a C3PO-tape dispenser where the tape emerges suggestively from between the golden droid's legs; a Williams Sonoma oven mitt in the shape of the space slug from Empire Strikes Back; Jar Jar Binks candy where you click open the Gungan's mouth and suck on his cherry-flavored tongue. Sansweet shakes his head sadly, suppressing a smile. What were they thinking?

But the officially licensed Star Wars products are incomparable, both in quantity and strangeness, to the paraphernalia that fans and bootleggers have produced over the years. Sansweet can show you some of the earliest bootlegged figures, replicas of which—replicas of bootlegs!—now go for hundreds of dollars. A good chunk of the Rancho is given over to fan-made ephemera from around the world. We're talking a beautiful Bantha piñata and Leia and Han as Day of the Dead skeletons from Mexico; tins of Cream of Jawa soup and canned Ewok meat; a Stormtrooper painted on a 10,000-year-old mastodon bone. There are dozens of tricked-out Stormtrooper and Vader helmets, each one painted by a different artist for the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Australian fans studiously ignored Lucasfilm's alcohol ban and sent Sansweet a bottle of Mos Eisley space port.

"The fan-made stuff turns me on more than anything," says Sansweet. "It shows their passion, their skills, and what sets Star Wars apart from any other major fandom of the last 50 years. I love Harry Potter, but you don't see people building miniature Hogwarts castles. You don't see a lot of kit Quidditch teams. People love those movies. They don't have the same passion for them."

The 501st Legion

Perhaps the most remarkable example of fan devotion is the 501st Legion. This semi-official group of Stormtroopers started out as a project to cheer up Albin Johnson, a South Carolina man who had recently lost the lower part of his left leg in an accident. Johnson and a friend managed to get ahold of some decent Stormtrooper costumes and they started showing up at screenings, comic shops, state fairs, and even preschool graduations in the mid-1990s. Then they started recruiting, handing out flyers at conventions that read: "Are you loyal? Hardworking? Fully expendable? Join the Imperial 501st!"

In 2002, Johnson mustered roughly 150 Stormtrooper costumers in Indianapolis for the second official Star Wars convention, and offered their services to a skeptical Lucasfilm as crowd control when the event's security proved woefully inadequate for the 30,000 attendees. Lucasfilm was won over by the tireless, hyperorganized troopers, and started to use the 501st as volunteers for all its events. Lucasfilm licensees followed suit. If you've ever been to one of the Star Wars Days held at dozens of baseball stadiums across the United States, if you've ever seen multiple Stormtroopers, or Darth Vader, or Boba Fett at a store, a movie theater, or a mall, you've almost certainly been staring at the forces of the 501st.

By 2007, the 501st was a force to be reckoned with. When George Lucas was made grand marshall of the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, Lucas asked for the 501st by name and paid to fly hundreds of its troops from around the world to march five and a half miles with his float. Here they were, finally assembled, the space soldiers, going through actual army drills with actual drill sergeants. Lucas addressed them the night before the parade: "The big invasion is in a few days," he said, deadpan. "I don't expect all of you to make it back. But that's okay, because Stormtroopers are expendable."

The legion roared its approval.

After a breather following the punishing march, the troopers put their buckets—as they call their helmets—back on and posed for photos with Lucas. Sansweet insisted on introducing Lucas and Johnson, two shy men who prefer to run things from behind the scenes. "Good work on all of this," said Lucas.

"This is all you!" was all Johnson managed to sputter before the Creator.

"No," said Lucas. "I made Star Wars." He gestured at the rows of white-armored troopers, standing stiffly at attention and carrying the flags of their garrisons. "You made this. I'm very proud of it."

It was enough to make a guy's head so big it would never again fit in a bucket. But even after that unparalleled moment of validation, Johnson retains a sense of perspective. "Y'all, if we're not having fun, this is just a drag," he tells his commanding officers. "We're plastic spacemen. If anybody in the club is getting too serious, we'll throw out that tagline. 'Yep, we're plastic spacemen.' "

Action Figure Liberation Front

One thing I was grateful to not encounter at Rancho Obi-Wan was an unhealthy obsession with mint-condition collecting and trading, the joyless commodification of playthings. Hasbro, which bought Kenner in 1991, says that the majority of Star Wars consumers don't take that approach. "About 75 percent of our fans do liberate their figures," says Derryl DePriest, Hasbro's vice president of global brand management and chief evangelist for the Star Wars line, who conducts surveys on these sorts of things.

DePriest has been liberating his Star Wars figures since the age of 12. When I first met him at San Diego Comic-Con, he pulled out his smartphone and showed me how he stores his collection at home. They were arranged on dozens of shelves, each shelf representing a major ensemble scene from a Star Wars movie. You could re-enact the original trilogy in three and three-quarter inches, right there. (It was the first time I'd seen something Rancho Obi-Wan actually didn't have.)

As DePriest thumbed through his photos, I pointed out a shelf full of Stormtroopers surrounding the Millennium Falcon, and recalled that one of the most puzzling things I had done with my collection as a child was to trade a Snowtrooper from the Hoth base in The Empire Strikes Back for a friend's regular Stormtrooper figure, one that was more beaten up than the regular Storm-trooper figure I already had. It's hard for an adult to remember what kind of logic was at work there: Aren't collectors supposed to crave the dissimilarity of collector's items? But DePriest was able to absolve me and remind me why I did it: everyone needs a whole bunch of Stormtroopers. "Part of the fun is having the good guys outnumbered by the bad guys," he said. "The rebels always have to be fighting against an overwhelming force. So we make sure we have those figures in abundance." Call it the spirit of the 501st in miniature. No trooper should troop alone.

Despite this inherent advantage, the Storm­trooper is only the second-best-selling action figure in Hasbro's line. Consistently on top, year after year, is Darth Vader. We're drawn to the iconic villain, it seems; no wonder Lucas evolved the character from a second-tier role in the original Star Wars, with little more than 10 minutes of screen time, to the centerpiece of the first six movies.

As the technology of model-making im-proves, Hasbro is able to sell more and more varieties of Star Wars action figures—and Vader is the primary beneficiary of the shift. This is quite a shock for a casual fan from the 1970s and 1980s, when there was only one model of Vader sold (because why would you make more when the guy never changes his costume?). From 1995 through 2012 there were 57 new versions of Darth Vader, and that's not even counting the dozens of Anakin Skywalkers produced during the period. Those on the Light Side of the Force will be glad to know that Luke has his dad beat in sheer numbers, with a grand total of 89 figures in every conceivable costume and pose. Sadly, Princess Leia has a mere 44 figures in her name. In total, there are now more than 2,000 kinds of Star Wars figures—a far cry from the 300 originally sold by Kenner.

I put the latest Hasbro figures next to my old Kenner models; it was like looking at a Rembrandt next to a medieval fresco. The old figures, so vibrant in my youth, now seemed like blobs of plastic with eyes and a mouth drawn on. Their 21st century counterparts were exquisitely crafted miniature humans. DePriest explained that Kenner's factories in China used to crank out millions of figures from the same plastic mold. As the molds degraded, the figures looked less and less screen-accurate. The factories were rushing to feed a phenomenon that could have collapsed at any moment. These days, with Star Wars on a stable footing, the molds are precision-made and can be changed every few hundred figures.

The film franchise has proved to be a strong prop for Hasbro. In 2013, the company scored a hit by collaborating with videogame company Rovio on Star Wars Angry Birds. In one month, the company sold a million Star Wars "telepods"—physical toys that interact with the app. Not only does the company have a range of figures in the works for Episode VII, it still has molds left over from the first six movies that have never been turned into toys. You may think every single character in every single scene has been made into an action figure by this point, but DePriest says there are still plenty of aliens from the cantina and Jabba the Hutt's Palace that have never seen the inside of a store.

Still, the real money is in the more popular characters, and in making ever more precise, screen-accurate versions of them you can sell to collectors. There are whole teams at Hasbro dedicated to doing just that. At Comic-Con, DePriest showed off a forthcoming figure, a $20 version of Princess Leia in her eye-opening slave bikini from Return of the Jedi. The blueprints were covered in notes to the design team: "Eyes should be more sultry. More petite overall. Smaller breasts. Outer parts of nostrils not so tall. Please sculpt some under-pants!" I couldn't help but think of Carrie Fisher's acerbic attack on a Leia model she once received that seemed a little too revealing. "I told George, 'You have the rights to my face,'" she said. "'You do not have the rights to my lagoon of mystery!'"

But the audience of collectors, men and women, were thrilled. Then DePriest asked how many of them actually take their figures out of the packaging when they buy them. Only a smattering of hands went up.

"Play with your toys, people," DePriest sternly told the crowd. "Play with your toys."