Fans flock to stores for new 'Star Wars' products on Force Friday

Fans flock to stores for new 'Star Wars' products on Force Friday
Fans enjoy midnight madness as Force Friday kicks off at Disney Store in San Francisco on Friday. (George Nikitin / Invision for Disney Consumer Pro)

Disney's mega-merchandising force was with "Star Wars" fans rushing into stores as Friday began for a first stab at products tied to the upcoming film "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."

The carefully orchestrated debuts started with Walt Disney Co.'s launch of an 18-hour online marathon Thursday to showcase the toys and other items and whip up excitement among fans.

Then came Force Friday, as Disney called it, accompanied by twerking Stormtroopers at New York's Times Square as well as online complaints that retailers' shelves were quickly stripped bare.

As shopping events go, it fell short of Black Friday or even a Harry Potter book release at many stores, but retailers are still expecting to sell billions of dollars of "Star Wars" products this year.

At a Target store in downtown Los Angeles, Chris Gomez said it was his second scouting mission to look at the new "Star Wars" lineup.

He had awakened at midnight to check out toys online right when they were released. By midday Friday, the store aisle devoted to "Star Wars" toys was already sold out of many items, including several action figures priced at $9.99.

Gomez, 38, said he's a lifelong devotee of the space opera and had already nurtured that passion in his 5-year-old son — who could look forward to lots of "Star Wars" presents for Christmas and his upcoming birthday.

"I'm looking to pass my toys onto him and buy him some new stuff," said Gomez, a software developer.

Eager fans queued up hours early at stores around the country for the midnight product launch. About 30 people lined up inside a Wal-Mart in Porter Ranch on Thursday night as employees began to stock shelves with some of the 500 items that will be offered in stores, Wal-Mart spokesman Bao Nguyen said.

"We saw a lot of fans and collectors," he said. "A lot of them had done the research and knew who was going to carry what."

Disney and retailers, counting on "Star Wars" to drive toy sales during the upcoming holiday season, have gone all-out to build excitement over new action figures, light sabers and other merchandise months before the latest film in the "Star Wars" saga premieres in the U.S. on Dec. 18.

Analysts have pegged merchandise sales stemming from "Star Wars" to clock in from $3 billion to $5 billion this year. Toy manufacturers and retailers aren't the only ones looking to reap the revenue bonanza.

Pottery Barn debuted a child's bed shaped like the Millennium Falcon. Crocs released a Wookiee version lined with faux fur. Petco unleashed a stable of pet gear, including an Ewok dog costume and a toy mouse resembling Yoda for cats to bat around.

"It's one of the biggest
licensed properties in the toy industry in terms of toy revenue," said Linda Bolton Weiser, senior analyst at B. Riley & Co.

"Big properties like that are parsed up into many pieces so you have many people making all kinds
of toys and products from
A to Z," she added. "Everyone benefits to some extent."

Target created a website so fans can share memories of their connection with the "Star Wars" franchise, as well as see others' recollections, such as actress Minka Kelly and TV host Chris Hardwick.

At the downtown Target store, shoppers were greeted at the entrance by a big cardboard cutout of the Chewbacca character inviting customers to "take a selfie doing your best Chewie roar."

The Toys R Us store at Times Square held art classes and photo ops with Furbacca — a Hasbro Furby that resembles Chewbacca. About 500 people waited outside to get their hands on items such as action figures and "Star Wars"-themed Lego sets, said Richard Barry, Toy R Us' global chief merchandising officer.

"This is one of the most successful franchises of all time," he wrote in an email. "We saw this represented in the crowds that came out to our stores across the country and around the globe."

Not everyone was pleased, however. Some "Star Wars" fans took to Twitter to complain that stores didn't stock enough merchandise, especially action figures, and they dubbed the day "#FarceFriday."

For Disney, Friday's retail crush was a testament to the success of its 18-hour online extravaganza that mixed the power of YouTube stars with the popular trend of watching people open toy boxes online.

Starting Sept. 3 in Australia, YouTube personalities around the world unboxed toys tied to the movie. In between, Disney aired other content, including observations from hosts based at YouTube's Los Angeles production studio.

Disney's all-out efforts have — so far — created significant buzz and focused the spotlight on the new goods, experts said.

"Disney is the king of marketing," Weiser said. "The whole idea is to create a marketing hype phenomenon."

Twitter: @ByShanLi