Thursday, April 29, 1999

Invasion of 'Star Wars' toys

Midnight Monday, the long-waited 'Menace' playthings hit store shelves

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The lid on merchandise for the much-anticipated Star Wars prequel, Episode I: The Phantom Menace, is tighter than a Spandex thong on Jabba the Hutt.

        The movie opens May 16. The barrage of Menace toys is due in stores Monday. But the companies lucky enough to nab manufacturing licenses are following strict orders by Lucasfilm Ltd. to keep mum about the details of their lines until then.

        But that doesn't stop them from teasing.

        “The stuff is very cool and we're excited about it,” says Holly Ingram, a Cincinnati-based spokeswoman for toy maker Hasbro. “Our line will be very broad. We'll have hundreds of products, so there's something for everybody.”

        The Woodland Hills, Calif., company Applause will manufacture Menace vinyl action figures, plush characters, cups, key chains and assorted novelties.

        But what about some details?

        “The confidentiality and timing are crucially important to marketing a line of this nature,” says Chaz Fitzhugh, Applause director of brand management.

        Similar responses came from Lego (Menace play sets) and Nintendo (the Menace video game). @subhed:Impressive collection @rbody: Diehard Star Wars fans like Brian Hunter, 25, of Newtown, have also hit a brick wall when it comes to Menace paraphernalia.

        “I've already started looking,” he says. “But I haven't really found anything yet.”

        A fan since age 5, Mr. Hunter has amassed an impressive collection, which includes everything from Star Wars sleeping bags to 900 action figures. He hopes to get lucky with the first wave of Menace collectibles when he attends a three-day national Star Wars fan convention in Denver this weekend.

        “Technology has improved so much since the first stuff came out,” Mr. Hunter says. “I expect to see some really cool things in the look and quality of the new products.”

        Hasbro has revealed that its new 4-inch-tall action figures ($7.99) will feature COMMTech (Communication Output Memory Module), an innovative toy technology. To “speak” key movie dialogue, the figures are positioned on a dog tag-size microchip stand and scanned across a COMMTech reader unit, which is sold separately for $21.99. The chips have holographic images of the actors who play the characters in the film and the reader units have built-in light saber and blaster sound effects.

        The usual rumors are circulating that some retailers are breaking the toy manufacturers' embargo and selling a few items here and there. Some resourceful ones are searching the Internet for information.

        Some national retailers, including Toys R Us, are opening at midnight Monday for fans who are eager to see the new toys and accessories.

        Jon French, owner of FSP Toys in Anderson Township, says he will also open at midnight — if his Star Wars shipment arrives on time.

        Analysts are predicting a record-breaking bonanza. Business Week reported that sales of licensed Star Wars products could exceed $1 billion this year and $6 billion over the next nine years as director George Lucas releases the sequels.


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