Star Wars: The Force Awakens Ph: Film Frame ©Lucasfilm 2015
Storming ahead: Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the latest film in the saga set in a galaxy far, far away

For nearly 40 years the force has been strong for Star Wars toys, which have generated an estimated $20bn in sales.

And it is expected to get stronger. Walt Disney will launch on Friday a range of toys to accompany Star Wars: The Force Awakens, its new film in the saga. Analysts say the new line could generate $5bn in global sales, eclipsing the $3bn in toy sales generated by Disney’s Cars series.

“This would easily net Disney about $500m in licensing and retail revenue by our estimate,” said Tim Nollen, an analyst with Macquarie Securities.

Anticipation is growing for the new film, set 30 years after Return of the Jedi and featuring Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and other characters from the series. It is the first of six new releases commissioned by Disney since it paid $4bn three years ago for LucasFilm, the company created by George Lucas.

The co-ordinated global launch is being screened live on Disney’s Star Wars YouTube channel and started on Thursday with a family opening light sabres and other toys from the range. Videos featuring “unboxing” of toys are among the most viewed on YouTube.

Mr Lucas’s decision to defer part of his salary in return for the merchandising rights to the first Star Wars film made him a billionaire. Disney knows it has much to gain from a smooth rollout of the new range and is launching the toys over 18 hours in 15 different cities and 12 countries. “Star Wars toys have always played an important role in how our fans interact with the saga,” said Kathleen Kennedy, president of LucasFilm.

Disney is also using intellectual property from the LucasFilm acquisition to bolster its portfolio of theme parks, and recently unveiled plans for two 14-acre “lands” at its California and Florida parks.

The toy launch comes after a month in which Disney shares fell sharply as part of a broader slump in media stocks. The sell-off was triggered by Disney revising its growth outlook for its ESPN sports cable network. Viacom, Time Warner and CBS were among the companies hit by the fall.

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