This weekend millions the world over celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Star Wars franchise. For three decades a galaxy far away has enthralled the world without any sign of stopping. But I believe the success of Star Wars is more than creative, it is a display of powerful branding that mixes both heartwarming nostalgia and current coolness.
Ever since the original films came out, Star Wars merchandise was popular. The action figures are practically an industry themselves—I wonder how much my cousin's old Millennium Falcon would be worth at this time. And obviously it doesn't stop there. When I was a kid my brother and I had Star Wars sheets and Star Wars towels. Just ten years ago, for the theater release of the Special Edition of the trilogy, I picked up a Darth Vader Pez dispenser. It still sits on my desk at home (with other geek ephemera, like a 1-foot-tall Boba Fett model made from random nuts and bolts).
During the years between trilogies, Star Wars continued to be a success. Dozens of books came out. There were various video tapes of the original trilogy. As the prequel trilogy was released, the flood continued. The usual toys and media products came out. Nothing changed, except for the numbers. The amount of merchandise seemed to skyrocket for Episode 1. I remember there were three different book versions of Phantom Menace—a children's book, a young-adult's book by Patricia Wrede, and the novel adaptation by Terry Brooks. During the hype before the release, I myself bought a 20-month calendar with huge photos from the film.
The real money maker now-a-days is the digital media. There are several DVD editions of the films. On DVD, there are two seasons of the Clone Wars cartoon (with a third season in production). There are many successful video games, from the brilliant Knights of the Old Republic, to the long-lived Star Wars Galaxy multiplayer online game, to the addictive Lego Star Wars games (expect a new version this holiday season—the actual Lego toys are always available).
Lucas has built an empire of licensed merchandise and has made billions of dollars. And for many the Star Wars brand is as powerful today as it was in 1977. I wonder what Star Wars stuff I will be buying in another 30 thirty years. Probably a T-Shirt—those never go out of style.