Star Wars

The Star Wars Economy is Bigger Than You Think

How the franchise changed the way movies make money

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1970s Star Wars poster.

If you didn't know that a brand new Star Wars film is coming out on December 18, 2015, then you may be living in a galaxy, far, far away. After all, merchandising for the new film is everywhere with new Hasbro toys on shelves, CoverGirl makeup that promises to show off your "dark side" and even Campbell's soup featuring tiny noodles that resemble Star Wars characters.

But this merchandising is nothing new for Star Wars. It's just the latest example of how the original film franchise revolutionized film making through the merchandising of every piece of its world.

"The interesting thing about this is that it all feeds into the other parts of the empire," says Chris Taylor, author of the book, How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise. "The

CoverGirl sells Star Wars makeup.

 more of a success The Force Awakens is, the more of a success the merchandising will be."

Taylor says, up until the release of Star Wars: A New Hope, merchandising never worked out for the movies. But, because of the long-term popularity of the film, the merchandising hit the shelves at the right time.

"Because it stuck around for so long, it actually meant that you could actually get the merchandising to consumers while the movie was still in the theaters, which was huge, and it had not been done before," says Taylor. "There was an incredible repeat-ability to it and there was a cult."

That cult of fans bought action figures from Kenner, iron-on t-shirts from Factors Inc. and event jewelry in the shape of X-wing fighters from the Weingeroff jewelry firm. Further, they began to recreate the world of Star Wars on their own, making their own memorabilia from scratch.

C3P0 cereal from Kellogg's.

Although fans technically were using the likenesses of Lucasfilm property, the company didn't crack down on most of them. Instead, they let the fans form and build communities like the 501st Legion, a group of fans who made their own storm trooper uniforms based on the design seen in the films and the R2 Builders, a group with a goal to build realistic R2D2s.

Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012 for $4.05 billion in 2012 and adopted the allegiance to fans in the process. For instance, the R2 Builders became so much better at building the sassy robot's engineering they were tapped to work on the R2D2s in The Force Awakens.

But what kind of Star Wars should we expect from Disney?

"I think Disney is very, very smart in the way that it approaches its subsidiaries," says Taylor. "Pixar was treated like the crown jewels, they could make whatever they wanted to make. Same was true of Marvel. We almost don't think of Marvel as a Disney subsidiary and really the same hands off approach has been taken to Lucasfilm."

About 8:55.

Written and produced by Paul Detrick. Shot by Alex Manning.

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