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A Silver Legacy Built with Bricks: Lego Star Wars Marks 25 Years of Merging Imagination & Innovation


Michael Chen

May 4, 2024 - 11:00 am


"A Silver Anniversary for a Golden Franchise: Lego Star Wars Celebrates 25 Years of Inspiration and Innovation"

As the iconic partnership between Disney's Star Wars and Lego reaches its 25-year milestone, fans and collectors around the world celebrate this enduring and successful alliance. Notably, this collaboration marked a pivotal moment for Lego, as it became the first time the company ventured into a licensing agreement, laying the groundwork for future partnerships with globally recognized franchises. Over the years, the synergy between the seminal Star Wars universe and the innovative Lego brand has expanded into a realm of its own, complete with video games, apparel, and an assortment of other themed merchandise.

Crafting Memories with Bricks and Dreams

If you've grown up with a love for the galaxy far, far away and a penchant for building, there's a high chance that Jens Kronvold Frederiksen has played a significant part in your childhood memories. As a design director at Lego, based in Denmark, Frederiksen has dedicated the last quarter of a century to conjuring up the imaginative sets that combine the magic of Lego with the lore of Star Wars.

Frederiksen's passion for this endeavor is palpable, as he recounts his early appeal to his boss about joining the product line. "For me, it was just like a dream come true. Star Wars and Lego together, two things I love," he shared with CNBC. This sentiment resonates with countless fans who have engaged with the franchise through an array of products, from keychains adorned with a Darth Vader mini figure to the ambitious Millennium Falcon sets comprising over 7,500 pieces. The range of Lego Star Wars doesn't stop at tangible sets—it extends to a compelling digital presence with several video games and animated offerings on Disney+ and a fresh abode on Epic Games' Fortnite.

When Lego introduced the Star Wars license, it was an unprecedented venture into the world of licensed intellectual property. The Jar Jar Binks mini figure stood out as being the first to feature a custom head sculpt, deviating from the iconic round faces Lego is known for. This maneuver by Lego, as Frederiksen noted, has since become the template for collaboration across various other brands, influencing lines themed around Harry Potter, Batman, and the Marvel Avengers.

Jill Wilfert, who heads global entertainment partners and content at Lego, has been with the company for 36 years and reflected on the initial hesitations the company had about third-party licensing pre-Star Wars deal. However, witnessing the success and positive reception of the venture bolstered their confidence.

The Financial Light Saber: Star Wars' Role in Lego's Revival

The early 2000s were a turbulent time for Lego, marked by financial strain, fierce competition from digital gaming platforms, and an overextended product portfolio. On the brink of bankruptcy, the company's fate was precarious. Yet, the robust sales of the Lego Star Wars franchise, along with the internally conceived Bionicle line, played a crucial role in keeping Lego afloat. This period of strategic recalibration included scaling back product lines and shuttering extraneous ventures.

In 2005, the introduction of a Lego Star Wars video game further cemented the franchise as a powerful force within the gaming industry. Paul Southern, who serves as the senior vice president of third-party commercialization and franchise development at Disney, emphasized the significant impact and enduring success of the gaming franchise, which he regards as having "created the world."

A Force in the Toy Aisle and Beyond

Two decades in, the Lego Star Wars brand continues to dominate the toy shelves, consistently ranking as one of Lego's top sellers. Impressively, the brand maintains robust sales, independent of new theatrical releases tied directly to its products. In a fascinating glimpse into Lego's financial health provided biannually, the company reported a sales growth of 2% in 2023. This achievement was endorsed during a time when the global toy industry saw a notable 7% slump in sales, with data from Circana supporting these figures.

Other product lines like Lego Icons, Lego Technic, Lego City, and Lego Harry Potter have also seen sustained success, but the longstanding charm of Lego Star Wars often leads the way. This consistency in market performance is attributed to the franchise's appeal across multiple demographics and generations. Lego has masterfully crafted sets that cater to varying consumer desires—simple, playful kits for young Star Wars enthusiasts and intricate collector's items that mirror iconic spacecraft, helmets, and cinematic scenes with remarkable detail.

The timelessness of the Star Wars franchise is advantageous to Lego; the company leverages nearly five decades of content to mesmerize and engage fans of all ages. Frederiksen highlights the foremost intent of the partnership: to spark creativity and provide an enjoyable, hands-on building experience for children first and foremost.

To ensure the building process remains enjoyable, the company occasionally departs from strict canonical designs for more practicality. For instance, a predominantly white Imperial Shuttle is transformed with varied brick colors and details to avoid monotonous construction sessions flooded with similar white pieces—a meticulous design decision that epitomizes Lego's dedication to user experience. Frederiksen, although not currently designing products, still keenly builds each set to maintain his connection to the experience and evolution of the product line.

Celebrating the 25th anniversary of the dynamic partnership between Lego and Star Wars, and concurrently, the quarter-century of "The Phantom Menace," Lego has announced the release of several special edition sets. These include a TIE Interceptor model retailing for $230, a Mos Espa Podrace diorama at $80, a Droideka model for $65, and several new BrickHeadz characters, all affordably priced below $10.

Wilfert expressed the shared family aspect of the Star Wars fandom, observing how it's often a generational connection initiated by parental influence. Lego caters to this aspect by nurturing the shared bonding experience with their product offerings. Moreover, the brand's recent foray into digital products like video games and Fortnite enables Lego to meet younger consumers in their digital playgrounds.

An Expanding Universe: The Broader Vision of Lego Star Wars

The transformative evolution of the Lego Star Wars universe encompasses an ecosystem that exists as a unique entity within the broader business spectrum. Southern, who has been an integral part of the partnership story since its inception at Lucasfilm and continuing through the company's acquisition by Disney, stressed the distinct identity the brand has carved for itself.

Humor has become a hallmark of Lego Star Wars content, as witnessed through slapstick comedy in video games and animated series. This distinctive tone, slightly irreverent and always engaging, has come to define not just the Lego Star Wars line but has had a ripple effect influencing Lego's approach across other franchises.

Wilfert appreciates how Star Wars allowed Lego to showcase the potential for integrating charm into intellectual properties that may not inherently possess it. This approach has been well-received when extended to other franchise collaborations, such as those with Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, Batman, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Lord of the Rings, Marvel, Jurassic World, and Pixar's "The Incredibles."

Yet, it's the Star Wars franchise that continues to expand and innovate. According to Southern, the fervor fans and children have for Star Wars has permeated into other areas, such as publishing and apparel.

The diversity and potency of the product range contributed to the renewal of the Disney and Lego contract for Star Wars, which extends through 2032. This enduring partnership, facilitated by the familial bonds forged between the teams at Disney and Lego, has resulted in an open, collaborative ethos. The extended contract duration allows both entities to plan and execute long-term projects, be it in video games, animation, or celebratory sets for significant anniversaries.

As Southern reflects on the 25-year collaboration, the future is indeed bright for Lego Star Wars. "We're celebrating 25 years of working together," Southern extols, "and one of the things that is super important, too, is that we expect to be here in another 25 years, celebrating the way we've evolved our relationship and made it relevant for the generations to come."

In conclusion, as the Lego and Star Wars partnership marks its 25th anniversary, a celebration is in order. The two cultural titans have created more than a lucrative product line; they've spawned a microcosm that joyfully entwines creativity, storytelling, and intergenerational bonding. From a precarious period to a golden age, this alliance has charted a course that has redefined innovation, sustained a company through tough times, and provided joy for millions. As the next generations await the unfolding of this continued partnership, Lego Star Wars remains a shining example of how two widely adored worlds can fuse together to create something that transcends time and space, beloved by fans the world over.

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