Toy ‘Wars’ invasion

Shoppers tie-in to sequel at warp speed

NEW YORK — FAO Schwarz spokesman Alan Marcus found himself in the Star Wars Boutique at precisely 10 a.m. Monday when the Fifth Avenue toy emporium opened to a roar that, he said, “sounded just like you hear at the ballgame when someone hits a home run.”

Someone had — and his name is George Lucas.

With his “Phantom Menace” premiere still about two weeks away, the “Star Wars” creator managed to draw more than 1,500 shoppers out to FAO’s flagship store for a special minute-after-midnight opportunity — the store had been open from 12:01 to 3:30 a.m. for really impatient shoppers — to buy as many of the several-hundred new “Star Wars” items as they liked.

And buy they did: Early feedback reveals the average customer added between seven and eight pieces to their “Star Wars” collections for an average outlay estimated at $100.

Then again, Marcus said, more than a few of those customers “went out of here with two or three shopping carts.”

It was a scene replicated in the Southland and across the country at stores including Wal-Mart, Toys R Us and KayBee Toys.

At a Toys R Us in Los Feliz, 30-year-old construction worker Gil Juarez dropped more than $100 on action figures and children’s underwear, noting that one benefit of being an adult is that your parents can’t say no to such purchases anymore.

The “Star Wars” tie-in juggernaut got off to a rollicking start as well, with Pepsi-Cola shipping for retail shelves this week the first five collectible cans of what will ultimately be a limited-edition set of 24.

Anakin Skywalker is already out there on Pepsi; Darth Maul on Mountain Dew, Queen Amidala on Diet Pepsi, Chancellor Valdrum on Pepsi ONE and Qui-Gon Jinn on select-market soda Storm. Total number of collectible cans: 5 billion.

Pepsi’s also distributing 250,000 special Gold Yoda cans, which can be kept as collector items themselves or redeemed for a $20 “Star Wars” check.

The promotion is but part of the $2-billion multimovie licensing deal Pepsi put together with Lucasfilm three years ago.

Tricon Global Restaurants, a part of PepsiCo when the deal was struck, has since been spun off, but its “Star Wars” connection remains intact.

The owner of Pizza Hut, KFC and Taco Bell, Tricon confirmed Monday that, beginning May 12, each chain will be dressed up “to represent a different part of that galaxy far, far away” (Variety, April 26-May 2).

KFC will serve as Planet Naboo, Pizza Hut as Planet Coruscant and Taco Bell as Planet Tatooine, Tricon said of a massive promotion that will also feature 28 toys and “cup toppers” with characters from the movie.

As for FAO’s “Phantom” frenzy, the buying op was in strict adherence with the controls Lucas Licensing exacted from licensees and retailers — specifically, no sales until Monday, May 3.

Having opened at 12:01 a.m., FAO stayed opened until 3:30 a.m. to satisfy the initial 1,000-plus throng, only to open at its normal 10 a.m. hour to another line of “Phantom” faithful.

Spokesman Marcus remained in the store the 6-1/2 hours it was closed, often surveying the special second-floor “tremendously interactive” boutique designed in conjunction with Lucasfilm Ltd.

“It’s breathtaking,” he reported, being packed, as it is, with “everything from life-size R2D2s to a giant screen that runs the ‘Phantom Menace’ trailer as a nonstop loop.”

Thus his conclusion, based not only on the boutique’s design but on “the Mardi Gras atmosphere” that sustained itself all the way through “Menace” Monday: “I can safely say that, in our 137 years, we have never seen an entertainment property create anything near this much excitement.”

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)