Nearing the $400 million mark in North America--and cramming a reported half-million people into its Japanese premiere over the weekend--the Star Wars prequel hasn't disappointed at theaters.
But the business story seems a bit different for the licensees that paid producer Lucasfilm top dollar to sell toys and various other cross-promotional merchandise.
Businessweek reports that Hasbro, which forked over $600 million and offered 7.5 percent of its company equity to Lucasfilm for a nine-year Star Wars toy deal, expects sales to reach only $600 million this year--at best. That's as much as $200 million lower than expected.
Meanwhile, PepsiCo, which focused its $2 billion Star Wars efforts on Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants, hasn't seen any additional traffic generated by the tie-in toys and Jedi-decorated cups and napkins.
The news isn't all bad. Pepsi's Star Wars "collector's cans" have enabled the company to grab a sip of the soda market away from rival Coca-Cola, company officials say.
And Denmark-based building-toy maker LEGO says its Star Wars-related sales are a full 15 percent ahead of projections. Heck, even Hasbro is trying to spin that its sales are in accordance with expectations.
But with moviemakers demanding ever-higher licensing fees, you don't get into the merchandising game hoping to meet what-it-will-take-to-break-even sales goals. And when the licensing fees are as high as Lucasfilm's, you need to sell a lot of stuff to turn a profit.
"For licensees, Star Wars doesn't just have to be big, it has to be huge," explains licensing analyst Marty Brochstein to Businessweek.
In fact, falling on the heels of several merchandising flops, continued lukewarm performance of Star Wars tie-ins could signal a shift in the leverage moviemakers have with licensees.
Recent tie-ins involving Godzilla didn't generate monster sales, and Mattel hasn't been able to sell massive amounts of Disney-related toys since 1994's The Lion King.
Some have gotten out of the tie-in business altogether. Burned by disappointing deals involving Godzilla and Babe: Pig in the City, midsize merchandiser Equity Marketing Inc. has sworn off licensing with the studios.
It's not a predictable business. For the people in charge of making these licensing decisions, success rides on the whims of the very young--many of whom now prefer professional wrestling action figures to Star Wars ones, toy retailers say.
"The only way for [Star Wars toys] to be a real long-term success is to get the kids," explains Thomas Alfonsie, head of merchandising for retailer KB Toys.