Star Wars display in Spinneys at Umm Al Sheif on Al Wasl Road, Dubai Image Credit: Pankaj Sharma/Gulf News

Expect the force of Star Wars’ marketing to awaken in the UAE and around the world on Thursday as Disney launches the latest chapter in the popular space opera.

The latest instalment in the nearly 40-year old franchise, titled Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, opens on Friday in theatres globally. Each new release in George Lucas’ space opera has also brought with it a surge in merchandising.

“We saw a pickup of merchandise from the original movies when The Force Awakens was released, and we expect to see a pickup on The Force Awakens line when Rogue One comes out,” said Jonathan Defante, regional buyer for Virgin Megastore MENA.

“Particularly box sets of DVDs. People want to catch up before they see the new one,” he said.

The value of Star Wars merchandise was estimated by Forbes in 2012 to be $30.57 billion, and Disney sought to capitalise on this legacy with a whole new range of products to coincide with the release of The Force Awakens.

“Hasbro and Sphero both released versions of the BB 8 droid (a cute robotic character from the film), and we sold thousands, particularly in the UAE, which is our biggest market for Star Wars merchandise,” Defante said.

The release of Rogue One will be no different, according to Kishan Deepak Palija, Managing Director of Geekay Group MEA.

“We are absolutely certain that Star Wars: Rogue One merchandise will fly off the shelves. Our sales figures prove that Star Wars merchandise has always been among our best sellers, and we expect Rogue One to continue this trend,” he said.

Palija cites last year’s success as an indication of the newly found appetite among Middle Eastern consumers for Star Wars merchandise.

“The Force Awakens was well received by fans in the region,” he said, adding “most of these products sold out as soon as they were displayed in stores.”

Despite the highs of the 2015 release and its accompanying merchandise, Disney has sought to temper expectations for Rogue One’s commercial success, with Chief Financial Officer Christine McCarthy telling investors last month to expect a 20 per cent drop in earnings from consumer products in the fourth quarter because sales of new merchandise won’t match the pent-up demand seen last year, according to a Bloomberg report.

The mood on the ground, however, is much more optimistic. “We are expecting it to be very popular. It is in such high demand that we are currently experiencing difficulty getting stock for the main characters in Rogue One,” said Defante, the Virgin Megastore regional buyer.

According to data from Euromonitor, Star Wars was the second fastest growing licensed brand within traditional toys and games in the UAE, experiencing 50 per cent growth in actual sales from 2014 to 2015. In 2015, the brand reached a market share of nearly 10 per cent in value in the UAE.

For many, these figures came as little surprise, based on the way that the new owners had sought to commercialise every facet of the Star Wars universe.

“Since Disney took over from Lucasfilm in 2012, but particularly with the release of The Force Awakens, sales of Star Wars merchandise has just skyrocketed in our stores across the region,” said Defante.

Disney and its partners have offered retailers a wide range of products to choose from.

A buying manager at Hamleys said: “The franchise has a very broad width of products: towels, bed linens, clothes. But the most popular product line is figurines and toys.”

Hamleys is seeing strong interest in Rogue One merchandise, set to arrive in store next week, according to the manager.

Historically, Star Wars wasn’t as popular in the Middle East as other franchises.

“In this region, Star Wars hasn’t ever had the same response as in Europe or the US, but it’s still huge,” he said.

Star Wars sits behind Frozen (5 per cent) and Transformers (4.2 per cent) in terms of the top three licensed brands in 2015 by value share. Star Wars has a 3.7 per cent value share, according to Euromonitor.

But buyers for multiple leading retail outlets say that Star Wars is getting bigger, comparative to other movie franchises.

This is supported by data from Euromonitor, with Star Wars merchandise witnessing double digit growth in 2015.

When Disney acquired Lucasfilm for $4 billion in 2012, it was banking on the multi-generational legacy of the Star Wars brand, aiming to reignite the franchise with slick, exciting new films and provide a strong source of revenue from movies and merchandise.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the first instalment of the highly anticipated reboot, opened in December 2015 to the highest grossing weekend of all time, taking in $529 million. Rogue One’s reviews have been positive, and pre-release box office tracking suggests it could gross $130 million in its opening weekend.

The success of The Force Awakens boosted Disney’s quarterly profit by 86 per cent, and grew consumer products earnings by 23 per cent, according to 2016 first quarter financial results released by the company.

“Star Wars is a great, consistent franchise in our store. It doesn’t go in and out of fashion, it stays popular,” the buying manager at Hamleys said.

“People always want lightsabres,” he added.

These are the top five best-selling Star Wars products, according to data provided by Geekay Group:

1. Character costumes for cosplay, including masks and helmets

2. The lightsabres of Kylo Ren, Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker

3. Premium figures from Hot Toys for Stormtroopers and other well-known characters

4. Star Wars Funko POP! Figures (playful, stylised pop culture figures similar to bobbleheads)

5. Watches of Star Wars characters, such as Darth Vader and Boba Fett