`Star Wars' toy empire strikes gold in this galaxy

Film-related items hit with kids, collectors

April 27, 2005|By Rachel Leibrock | Rachel Leibrock,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

SACRAMENTO - When it comes to Star Wars and toys, it's not just child's play.

With Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith set to open in theaters May 19, fans are already feeling the force from a new batch of movie-related merchandise.

But with everything from action figures to video games beckoning from the store shelf, where to begin?

Since the 1977 release of the original Star Wars film, toys and other items have been hot property - for both kids and adult collectors.

In fact, Star Wars toys are a rare when-worlds-collide example of a product line equally popular among mainstream shoppers and hobbyists, says James Bullock, who runs the Pasadena, Calif.-based collectible-toys Web site Toyrocket.com.

"There is something about the Star Wars mythology that makes people just want to surround themselves with the [toys]," Bullock says.

"The film not only gave way to mass marketing of a film via toys, it also gave birth to the popularity of small-scale plastic action figures."

These days, Hasbro, the main Star Wars toy manufacturer, is smart about gearing each toy specifically to children or enthusiasts - not both.

"There's no single toy that's aimed at both markets," Bullock says. "For the collectors, they'll put out obscure, secondary character items that no kid on Earth would want. They'll also make action figures geared specifically for preschool-age kids. Of course, the real collector will buy all that stuff, too, he says."

Interested in joining the forces of Star Wars hobbyists? Jim Silver, editor-in-chief of the Manhattan-based Toy Wishes magazine, has a few tips.

For starters, take the leap and go over to the Dark Side - the nefarious Darth Vader is always a hot property, Silver says.

"Darth Vader is the best-selling toy villain of all time," he explains. "People get excited about [buying] his toys."

Look for more obscure, odd or limited-edition items. Boba Fett and other secondary-character action figures are particularly hot among collectors, he says.

Also, stores such as Target, Wal-Mart and Kmart sometimes offer exclusive, limited-edition toys that sell out quickly. For example, Target quickly sold out of its stock of 50,000 "Lava Reflection Darth Vader" action figures after they went on sale this month. Now the toy, part of the Revenge of the Sith line, is a popular eBay auction item.

Whatever you do, Silver warns, if you're serious about building a showcase, don't open the package.

"Once you take it out of the box, you've diminished the [toy's] value," Silver says. "If you're concerned about its resale value, make sure your package is perfect."

Jeremy Beckett disagrees.

"There is no taboo about opening any Star Wars item," says the author of the Official Price Guide to Star Wars Memorabilia.

"Because so many people are putting away unopened collectibles, it might actually turn out that those that have been opened will be the rarest of all."

Besides, if you're hoping to build up an arsenal of items to finance your early retirement, you should think again, Bullock says.

"Ninety-nine out of 100 times the hot item today will end up being very affordable down the line," Bullock says. "The long-term collectibility will always be there, but the chances of getting rich off your modern Star Wars collection is nonexistent."

So, relax, rip open that box and get down to the business of play. May the fun be with you.

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