Disney chiefÂ Bob IgerÂ recentlyÂ announced hisÂ media-and-merchandisingÂ juggernautÂ would soon be launching one of its biggest theme-park expansions in history: A â€œjaw-dropping new world,â€Â sprawledÂ across Disneyâ€™s parks in Florida and California, exploringÂ the Big Mouseâ€™s newly purchased mega-franchise,Â â€œStar Wars.â€
He didnâ€™t sayÂ when theÂ elaborateÂ 14-acre expansions would open, but analysts agreeÂ it hardly matters. In recent years, Disneyâ€™s theme parks have set new records for attendance and profit everyÂ quarter â€” and the final â€œStar Warsâ€Â trilogy, and its big-budget sideÂ anthologies, are planned to release in theaters once a year through at least 2020.
The worldÂ is in the first hours of what Disney hopes will be Star Warsâ€™Â infinite, imaginary empire, itsÂ blockbustersÂ and theme parks fueled by (and helping fuel) the Big Mouseâ€™sÂ store-conquering merchandising machine.
Even before Disney assumed control over theÂ â€œStar Warsâ€ brand in 2012, the $180 billion behemoth wasÂ the strongestÂ merchandising force in the galaxy, with Marvel, Pixar and box-office giants like â€œFrozenâ€ helpingÂ bringÂ the company billions of dollars in revenue every year.
But with the help ofÂ theÂ Jedi knights and decades-oldÂ grandeurÂ of the â€œStar Warsâ€ universe, analysts said,Â Disney has set its sights even higher, eyeingÂ world domination of theme parks, toys and beyond, for potentially decades to come.Â SaidÂ Len Testa,Â co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World,Â â€œThe canon is big enough that they can spin off stories for the rest of time.â€
TheÂ â€œStar Warsâ€-themed lands, atÂ Disneyland in Anaheim and Disneyâ€™s Hollywood Studios in Orlando, willÂ include â€œa never-before-seen planet, a remote trading port and one of the last stops before wild space,â€Â Iger saidÂ Saturday at D23, a Disney fan expo.
The expansions will includeÂ two new attractions: one riding throughÂ a secret mission aboardÂ the Millennium Falcon, Han Soloâ€™s ultrafast smuggling ship, and another involving a â€œclimactic battleÂ between the First Order and the Resistance.â€Â Construction on the Disneyland park will start in 2017, though no date was given for the Disney World start.
Disney wonâ€™t share a price tagÂ for theÂ expansion, thoughÂ some analysts suspect it will cost $2 billion, a staggering total in line with how much itÂ has spent on otherÂ parks.Â Disney spent more than $1 billion in 2012 expanding its California Adventure Park, and next year it intends to open theÂ Disney Shanghai Resort in China, for aboutÂ $5.5 billion.
During the construction, Disney will profit fromÂ â€œStar Warsâ€ throughÂ a few smaller moneymakers: Star Wars Launch Bay, a courtyardÂ of costumed characters and film props, opening later this year; Season of the Force, a limited-timeÂ event startingÂ early next year with themed space-food offerings and fireworks shows set to the Star Wars score; and even a remodeling of the famed Space Mountain roller coaster, which will soon be Hyperspace Mountain.
The fewÂ announced rides, analysts said, will largely serve as attraction points for park visitors. From there, they will shepherded between interactive areas (like theÂ Mos Eisley Cantina, the â€œwretched hive of scum and villainyâ€ made famous in the first film)Â and mega-stores, where all employees (including those at the register) will be expected to stay in intergalactic character.
The hype over Disneyâ€™s theme parks lands only a fewÂ weeks before â€œForce Friday,â€ when Disneyâ€™sÂ stores, online shops and global retailers will open at 12:01 a.m. on Sept. 4 to unveil its new apps,Â books, collectibles, toys, â€œlifestyle accessoriesâ€Â and other goodies.
Disney is already showcasingÂ lines of â€œStar Warsâ€ merchandise, includingÂ a $399 â€œReturn of the Jediâ€ poster and a $149 R2-D2 built-to-scale model, with its own swiveling arm and drinking glasses â€”Â bothÂ of which you can buy with your â€œStar Warsâ€ credit card.
But â€œForce Fridayâ€ has been made into its own consumer spectacle, along the lines of a Black Friday; fans have even kept countdowns.Â Disney has also announced collaborations with seven mega-brands â€”Â Covergirl & Max Factor, Duracell, carmaker FCA US, General Mills, HP, Subway and Verizon â€” thatÂ have developed their ownÂ marketing campaigns.
â€œEvery lightsaber, every action figure, every LEGO set tells a story for generations of â€˜Star Warsâ€™ fans,â€ Josh Silverman, an executive ofÂ global licensing at Disney Consumer Products, said in a statement.
Disneyâ€™s â€œStar Warsâ€ roll-out will likely best even that ofÂ â€œFrozen,â€ the cheeky princess tale thatÂ became both theÂ highest-grossing animated movie in history and Disneyâ€™s 11th franchise to drive more than $1 billion in annual retail sales a year.
Disney Cruise Lines willÂ runÂ eight daylong â€œStar Warsâ€ cruisesÂ in the Western CaribbeanÂ next year, including meet-and-greets with characters like Chewbacca.Â Even the way visitorsÂ get intoÂ Disneyâ€™s parks, viaÂ the wrist-worn MagicBands,Â have been given the Star Wars treatment: Limited-release bandsÂ with Luke Skywalker and a stormtrooper sell for $24.95.
â€œStar Wars: The Force Awakens,â€ the franchiseâ€™s seventh film and the first of its new trilogy, premieresÂ inÂ theaters in December, andÂ Morgan Stanley analysts this summer projected it would makeÂ more than $2.3 billion in ticket sales worldwide, making itÂ the second-biggest box-office sellerÂ in history,Â between â€œTitanicâ€ and â€œAvatar.â€
Star Wars holds unprecedentedÂ cross-generation appeal â€” many viewers of the 1977 original are still mega-fans today â€” and a virtually unstoppable mediaÂ powerhouse. Even the trilogy that launched with â€œStar Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menaceâ€ in 1999 â€” which, with its interstellar trade embargoes andÂ Jar Jar Binks, was widely panned by critics as a disaster Â â€” grossed $2.5 billion worldwide.
And it was very true what Mel Brooks said in the â€œStar Warsâ€ satireÂ â€œSpaceballs,â€ in 1987: â€œMerchandising, merchandising, where the real money from the movie is made.â€Â â€œStar Warsâ€ toys have brought in $12 billion in revenue over the lifetime of the franchise,Â more than itsÂ totalÂ box-office, DVD and video game revenue, combined.
But Iger has said the â€œStar Warsâ€ marketing machine comes with its own risks, including burning out a nation of toy buyers. As he told Bloomberg Businessweek in 2013, â€œI donâ€™t want to over-commercialize or over-hype this.Â Itâ€™s my job to prevent that.â€