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The Empire Strikes Again

News: Analysis & Commentary: TOYS


The Skywalkers and Chewbaccas have been snapped up. Han Solo, too. Power Rangers? Losing power. Ninja Turtles? Turtle soup. Instead, an empire is striking back, sending parents across the U.S. scouting frantically for Star Wars action figures.

That's right, Star Wars. The marketing juggernaut that once flooded the nation with products based on the movie is back with new figures, videotapes, and games. This Christmas, children not born when Obi-Wan Kenobi talked about the Force have been sold on the idea.

FIVE-YEAR PLAN. Since the August re-release of the videotapes, consumers have bought more than 16 million copies. Computer games connected to the flicks such as Rebel Assault are hits, too. With no megatoy rivals, the action figures, made by Hasbro Inc., rank third on Playthings magazine's annual list of hot toys--first among those geared to boys. "When there isn't some kind of hot commodity, children revert to core brands," says Merrill Lynch & Co. analyst Eric R. Katzman.

The return of Star Wars is a deliberate five-year campaign, masterminded by director George Lucas' LucasFilms. A 20th-anniversary edition of Star Wars, including scenes cut from the original, will open in theaters in 1997. Starting in 1998, one new Star Wars film a year will appear for three years.

To kids, the Star Wars stuff is simply cool. Max Denby, a New York seventh-grader born just after Return of the Jedi opened, watches the video and plays the games. "Star Wars has a fun, adventure-movie sense to it," he says, expressing wonder anything so old could be so good. If the marketers have their way, Denby and his pals will be hooked on Star Wars well into the next century.By David Leonhardt in New York

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