Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Lego Star Wars and the business genius of George Lucas


I didn’t truly appreciate the business genius of George Lucas until my son, who just turned 6, started asking for Star Wars-themed Lego kits and video games. This from a child who had never seen a “Star Wars” movie or TV show.
There’s little dispute that “Star Wars” creator George Lucas sold out his franchise to cash in on the lucrative toy market. Fans of the first two movies – “Star Wars” (1977) and “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) – saw that first hand when the teddy bear-like Ewoks appeared midway through “Return of the Jedi” (1983) and practically ruined the movie.
Before Saturday morning cartoons were created to sell toys, Lucas hit upon the idea for his Star Wars franchise.
The original “Star Wars” was actually a nominee for Best Picture at the Academy Awards for 1977. Many critics feel that “The Empire Strikes Back” is even better. Those movies were made for adults and kids at heart.
By the time, “Return of the Jedi” came out Lucas was a wealthy man from sales of Star Wars action figures and other toys. So for the third film in the series, he started targeting young kids. He softened the tone of the movie and added more comic relief.
When he decided to make a new trilogy of movies, he continued to market them to kids. The protagonist in “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” (1999) was a 9-year-old boy. The movie features a juvenile character named Jar Jar Binks. And much of the violence in the movie is directed at robots, or droids, minimizing the bloodshed.
“The Phantom Menace” and its two follow-on chapters – “Attack of the Clones” (2002) and “Revenge of the Sith” (2005) – featured a dizzying array of creatures and warriors obviously designed to sell more action figures. And the mindless action sequences seemed more like ads for Star Wars video games.
Which brings me back to Lego Star Wars. These toys and video games are marketed to preschoolers, kindergarteners and elementary school-age kids. My son loves the space ships, robots and light saber fighting.
The Lego sets are outrageously expensive for what you get. A $40 set of Star Wars Legos contains maybe 20 cents worth of plastic. The bulk of the expense must go to packaging and shipping costs and licensing fees to Lucas’ company, Lucasfilm.
Lego, and presumably Lucasfilm, limit the number of Star Wars mini-characters in each set so buyers are encouraged to get multiple sets. And there are a lot of sets.
Lego and Lucasfilm have been working together on toys since 1999. Lego’s Star Wars licensing deal runs until 2011.It’s a shame Lucas couldn’t balance his desire for toy sales with quality filmmaking. The three newest Star Wars films were terrible.

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