Toy manufacturing giant Hasbro announced that it is releasing a special George Lucas Stormtrooper to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Lucas Film, founded in 1971 (Star Wars would not hit theaters until 1977).
The toy is a symbol of Lucas’ willingness to bet on himself, and his intellectual property, in an era when special effects were still rudimentary and a ‘saga in space’ was far from a sure-thing.
Studio partner 20th Century Fox did not have much faith in Star Wars. Lucas was a young director with a new production company and only one “hit,” American Graffiti, released in 1973. His $500,000 salary for directing Star Wars would have likely helped both his company and his personal finances. But instead of cashing the modest sum, Lucas famously traded the check for licensing and merchandising rights to his brand—a “bet on yourself” play that would eventually make him a billionaire.
Fox, at the time, loved the deal; they were saving money and mitigating risk. After all, a movie like Star Wars, with its occasional silliness and reliance on special effect set pieces, could have just as easily flopped. So the deal was made, Fox released Lucas’ baby in just 37 theaters (in an era when theaters were king), and history was made.
The original movie did over $500 million at the box office, and within a year the merchandising business was good for $100 million annually as well. Everyone got filthy rich, but Lucas made the all-important leap from employee to owner, which can be a difficult transition in the heavily-guarded world of entertainment.
In 2012, Lucas sold his entire stake in Star Wars, including his famed merchandising stake, to Disney for $4.1 billion, making him one of the richest people in the world. Star Wars merchandise is still a multi-billion dollar business, despite the mixed reviews of its new properties, which is a real testament to the staying power of the brand. Lucas, himself, will now get immortalized in plastic to celebrate five decades of selling copious amounts of Star Wars-themed plastic to fans all around the globe.