Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Star Wars Hoopla

As everybody knows by now, the newest Star Wars movie is being released by Disney on Friday.  In case you have been living under a rock, here is the trailer.

Disney, a company known for excellent marketing, has been selling the hell out of the picture and its related products.  Some examples:

--Last Friday was "Star Wars Night" at a Memphis Grizzlies NBA game that I happened to attend.
      The Grizz Girls (cheerleaders) were attired in form-fitting white Princess Leia-inspired outfits,
   and other familiar costumed characters -- Chewbacca, Storm Troopers, etc. -- tramped across
   the court during breaks in play.
      Griz, the furry team mascot, donned a cape for a light-saber battle with a Darth Vaderish alter-        ego mascot in black.  Then Griz brought out a big gray plastic blaster (that surely would get him
   shot by a cop on the street) and fired white plastic thingies into the enthusiastic crowd.
     Quite the display.

--If you look up "Star Wars Products" on Google, you will come up with 132 million posts.  (I'm a bit    perverse, and so I also looked up "Star Wars Porn Products," which yielded 1.2 million posts.)

-- If you are buying a holiday present for any child this year, you will find everything from Star Wars
   lunchboxes to Star Wars LEGO sets -- all marked at premium prices.

-- Virtually every merchandiser is selling Star Wars stuff -- Walmart, Target, Nordstrom, Kohls --
    every one of them.

The Walt Disney Company knows how to do promotion.

Star Wars History

This new movie -- "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" -- is the first in a final trilogy.  Two other Star Wars trilogies preceded it.  All the trilogies were born in the mind of George Lucas, the founder of Lucasfilm, which produced the previous six films.

The first trilogy was a boffo-socko cultural phenom, a myth-based narrative from "a long time ago in a galaxy far far away." It was exhilarating and new with excellent production values, great pacing and interesting characters.  The movies were released in 1977, 1980 and 1983.  They are film legends.

The second trilogy of films, prequels to the first, were released in 1999, 2002 and 2005.  I attended the first of these with the younger person.  The CGI (computer-generated imagery) was much better than in the first trilogy, but the characters, the story line and the rest of the film were awful. Neither of us cared enough to see the next two.

Then along came Disney.  Disney bought Lucasfilms in 2012 for $4 billion, betting that the Star Wars name and cultural memory could be monetized in films of the final Star Wars trilogy.  George Lucas participated in the early planning of the film but apparently has not participated in the production of this release.  (Honestly, if I had $4 billion, I might have bowed out myself.)

On the other hand, the stars of the original trilogy are featured in this one and have been making many appearances on the celebrity circuit.

Approximately one jillion screens will open the new Star Wars movie, starting at 12:01 a.m. December 18.  Hopes are high that this could be the biggest movie opening weekend of all time and that its gross sales will be higher than that of "Avatar," the previous record holder.

Star Wars and Disney Stock

Ever since Michael Eisner took the CEO job at Disney in 1984, the company has focused on extorting the highest possible value from its legacy assets. In Eisner's day it started with pricing up the cost of visits to Disneyland and Disney World and other theme parks.

Since then, the company has acquired Pixar, another film studio with many opportunities for follow-on profitable products.

More than a few stock market analysts are saying that Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilms was its smartest move ever.

The magazine "Wired" noted the other day that  "Disney stock has more than doubled since the Star Wars acquisition, which means it’s outpacing a growing market by an additional 50 percent."

Super-hyped trends like these last until they don't but, given its history, Disney deserves the benefit of the doubt.  I wouldn't buy the stock at this point, but unless the new movie is a total stinker, I think it will be a hit in gross receipts and ancillary profit revenues.

The only question is how big a hit it will be.

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