Chances are you don’t yet know who Kylo Ren is, and what he means to the plot of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Children have not yet had the chance to re-create his on-screen action with their action figures. But the adults, who would rather keep them boxed for future enhanced value, are already going wild for the villain’s gear. “The Kylo Ren lightsaber has gone into the collectible realm in the last week or so,” says Josh Durazzo, co-owner of the Star Wars-only specialty store Order 66 Toys in McKinney.
Kids and collectors are the two mainstays of Star Wars marketing dollars. Lucasfilm and now the Walt Disney Co. make most of their money from merchandise, specifically toys. In Star Wars terms, the $4.3 billion in box office sales from all six movies are impish Jawas compared with the toys’ $12-billion snarling Rancor.
Those sales figures are destined to only grow now that there’s a seventh Star Wars movie in theaters. The Durazzo family started their shop at a tiny location off East Virginia Street in 2009 using their combined knowledge of collecting and pop culture. Just before this year’s Black Friday, they moved to a 4,000-square-foot space on South Chestnut Street and opened a second location in the Collin Creek Mall.
Since then, they’ve plugged into the “Star Wars Network.” This is the industry term for businesses connected to Lucasfilm’s cash cow, like Topps trading cards and Hasbro Toys. The Network elevated them to their position as an “official pricer” of all things Star Wars for Beckett Entertainment, a Dallas-based publishing company that specializes in magazines for collectors and price guides. They’ve built their store for a fan community that can’t get enough lightsabers, figurines and well-preserved Return of the Jedi Dixie cup sets.
Director and “Star Wars” creator George Lucas pioneered the art of movie merchandising. Devin Pike, a 10-year event emcee who hosted events at the Dallas Comic Con and hosts screenings at the Alamo Drafthouse, says merchandising wasn’t a big deal before “Star Wars” hit the theaters in the late 70s.
“People didn’t have lunchboxes,” Pike says. “People really didn’t have any merchandising to put out and the fact that George understood that the market was going to be there for it, I don’t know if you’d call it savant but it’s pretty close. It took everybody by such surprise that Kenner Toys, which won the original contract to do the majority of the licensed toys, were so unprepared that in the Christmas of ’77, all they were selling was an empty box with a gift certificate in it.”
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Now Star Wars is in the hands of Disney, the company that the term corporate synergy “probably was invented for,” Pike says. The merchandising will only continue to grow since Disney announced plans to release a new Star Wars film every two years, including two more main episodes and a slew of origin story spinoffs, according to Empire magazine.
The sale to Disney was a welcome call-to-arms for the Durazzo family. “When Disney announced the purchase of Marvel and Lucasfilm, that was such an upswing for us because now toys were going to be produced,” says Jeffrey Durazzo, Josh’s father and store co-owner. “Josh is on all the websites and fan pages and all that stuff and when he saw that, he said, ‘Dad, this is huge. When this becomes a Disney property, this is going to be fantastic.’ After that announcement, for the next month afterwards, people just flocked in here. It wasn’t just about the casual collector anymore.”
Here’s the best news for the Durazzo family and other toy vendors: The Force Awakens is bringing more kids to their stores. This demographic has been missing for a line of toys that hasn’t had a new movie in awhile — at least not one that fans want to remember. The short-term sales are a welcome boost, but a good movie seen by a child will sow a new generation of adult collectors. “It’s a building process that recaptures each of those generations,” Jeffrey says.
Stores like Order 66 (named after the command given to Imperial clones that forced them to turn on the Jedi, if you didn’t catch the reference) are riding waves of popularity but rely on the hardcore fans of all ages to stay in business. “We work really, really hard to make sure we have the best selection of what is the most sought after at that time,” Josh says. “The second they are sold out at big box stores, then that’s our area. We’re going to hunt the stuff and make sure that the 12-year-old kid looking for a Captain Fasma action figure can find it here.”