Star Wars Merchandise Arrives In Stores

By ANTHONY BREZNICAN, AP Entertainment Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) - New merchandise for "Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones" arrived in stores Tuesday as fans lined up for midnight sales of the latest bric-a-brac from a galaxy far, far away.

After a large surplus of merchandise languished on store shelves following 1999's "The Phantom Menace," products for the new film are being kept much simpler.

"We've scaled it back a lot," said Lucasfilm licensing executive Howard Roffman. "We're going to stick to the basics -- toys, video games ... the things our fans prefer, rather than some of the fringe items."

There are still loads of action figures and shiny space vehicles. But you won't see Queen Amidala's face on your Pepsi can or be able to relax in an Anakin Skywalker inflatable chair, and you won't have any Obi-Wan Kenobi clip-on braids to add to your hair.

Merchandising executives at Lucasfilm Ltd. dramatically reduced their movie tie-ins for "Attack of the Clones," which opens May 16, cutting the number of products by about half and reducing licensees from about 85 to less than 50.

"Last time, they just shipped too much," said Dave Gerardi, senior editor of the toy trade magazine Playthings. "After a few months, retailers had to put a deep discount on them and still couldn't move them."

A lot of the surplus toys -- many of which featured the much-maligned Jar Jar Binks character -- hung in store aisles so long they earned the dubious title of "peg warmers."

The "Star Wars" merchandise line was still wildly successful, earning about $2 billion worldwide.

The previous "Star Wars" film, "Return of the Jedi," had come out 16 years before "The Phantom Menace," and Lucasfilm and toy manufacturer Hasbro Inc. acknowledged overestimating the market.

"When you have a large breadth of characters and products like that, you're not going to hit on every single one," Hasbro marketing executive Martin Pidel said.

About 20 different "Attack of the Clones" action figures, priced at about $6, were released Tuesday, with the number increasing to about 50 by year's end.

At a Toys R Us in Los Angeles, about 100 fans were lined up by midnight to grab their "Star Wars" products first thing Tuesday.

Carla DellaGatta, 26, was a little alarmed to be one of the few people in costume for the event - especially since it was 57 degrees and she was wearing a custom-made Princess Leia "slave girl" bikini from "Return of the Jedi." Luckily, she had a black topcoat.

Ivan Munguia, 30, was first in line, waiting with his mother-in-law, brother-in-law, his mother and his wife -- who was sleeping in the car.

"Last time, the store limited buyers to two of each action figure, so I had to bring a lot of people," Munguia said.

Highlights of the new toy line include bounty hunter Jango Fett and his horn-shaped spacecraft Slave I, and Jedi warriors Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker, molded with magnets in their hands so they can use "the Force" to draw weapons into their grasps.

For about $100, there's an 18-inch R2-D2 droid that is moved around by voice command. "You can even say, 'Hey, Artoo, it's Darth Vader' and he'll get real scared, his electric eye will glow red, and he'll back up and squeal," Pidel said.

Meanwhile, "Attack of the Clones" promotions through Frito-Lay chips and General Mills cereal are expected to be low-key compared to 1999, when about 8 billion "Phantom Menace" Pepsi cans were produced and Pizza Hut and Taco Bell "Star Wars" commercials were ubiquitous on television.

There are no soft drink or fast-food deals this time.

"Last time, we really went for promotional tonnage," Roffman said. "But I think that just contributed to the sense that you couldn't turn around without seeing 'Star Wars' in your face."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)