Jane Wells, NBC NewschannelWatch this story here
This weekend marks the thirtieth anniversary of the very first Star Wars film. Since the release of that film billions of dollars have been sold in Star Wars merchandise.
George Lucas was smart enough to get in on that deal, although it took a little wrangling. "He made a very important strategic decision when he did his original deal for Star Wars, which was to hold onto original sequel rights," says Howard Roffman, president of Lucas Licensing.
When the first movie became a hit Lucas became a force to be reckoned with.In exchange for giving the sequel to Fox he got back the merchandising rights. A generation later Star Wars rivals Disney as the most lucrative licensing franchise in Hollywood history.
The original Star Wars toy manufacturer was Kenner, now owned by Hasbro. Kenner signed on only weeks before the first film came out, meaning action figures weren't actually cast and delivered by Christmas. So Kenner came up with an innovative idea. "They sold rain checks, empty boxes with certificates," explains Hasbro Chief Operating Officer Brian Goldner.
Lucas Films says Star Wars Lego sets alone have topped a billion bucks. "We've seen that the products have only become more popular even in years when there aren't any movies," says Lego's Michael McNally.
At Lucas Film headquarters merchandise clogs every available space. Nothing gets made without company approval. Protecting the trademark is critical, even though folks here often wink at fans who do one-offs out of love. Like the guy who made his own Star Wars car, or filmmakers who spoof online.
It is an amazing toy story that seems to have several episodes left. New products are being prepared for the new stars wars animated t-v show, proof that a long time ago in a studio far far away, one man was right in believing this franchise would not fade away.
"As Star Wars started to die down after the first trilogy, it was George who said to me, 'Don't worry about it, it's not dead, it's just taking a rest and it's gonna come back, i'm gonna make more movies, the kids who grew up with this are gonna become parents some day and this is something that could go on for a really long time'," says Roffman.