Cover

Toying with the Force

May 24 1999
Cover

Toying with the Force

May 24 1999

Toying with the Force

Cover

Buy a burrito at Taco Bell—and get the Anakin Skywalker Transforming Bank. At KFC, the Jar Jar Binks Squirter comes with the Colonel’s bucket. And that is only the beginning: hundreds of different Phantom Menacebranded toys and books started arriving in stores on May 3, to be greeted by lengthy lineups and midnight-madness sales. There is the Queen Amidala bicycle helmet ($20), a goo-dribbling Jabba the Hut doll ($25) and the Darth Maul inflatable chair ($29). The Force is with us, and will be at least until after Christmas shopping is done.

The fast food tie-ins are part of a $2.5billion licensing agreement Pepsi signed with Lucasfilms, the production company of director George Lucas, in 1976 for all Star Wars sequel and merchandising rights. The media are also contributing to the mass hysteria. Some 3,500 articles have appeared in print (this presumably makes 3,501), and VH-1, the

American video station, premièred the four-minute video of John Williams’s score for a full hour.

Fans appear eager to buy in. Lucas and Fox, the film’s distributor, had originally wanted to wait until opening day to start selling tickets. But ever-longer lineups threatened pandemonium, and, last week, advance tickets went on sale (across Canada, 175,000 tickets were bought in the first day). Lucas’s decision to limit the film’s release to 3,000 handpicked theatres will keep the demand high. Of the 141 theatres showing the film in Canada, 28 will run the movie nonstop for 24 hours starting at 12:01 a.m. on May 19.

Such extra screenings may help The Phantom Menace recoup its $ 168-million price tag. And if the target audience, 10to 30-year-old males with Jedi fantasies, revisits the theatres as often as predicted, Phantom Menace could go on to gross more than $1 billion. In that case, Lucas would pocket $400 million— enough to buy himself a couple of $145,000 Special Edition Star Wars Hummers.