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The Walt Disney Co. India has signed 44 brand association deals for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the eighth instalment of the 40-year-old franchise which opened to rave reviews across the world last week. The film is slated for release in India on 15 December.

Brand experts aware of the deals said, on condition of anonymity, that two of the brands—Chinese smartphone maker OnePlus and automaker Tata Motors—have together spent Rs36 crore in acquiring the rights from Disney and carrying out brand promotion activities.

Menswear firm Celio, toy brands Hasbro, Hamleys, Lego and Funskool, e-commerce company Amazon, online fashion retail firm Myntra and publishing company Scholastic are expected to generate nearly Rs200 crore in retail sales, by selling licensed Star Wars merchandise.

“Star Wars has become a worldwide popular cultural phenomenon that is enjoyed beyond the big screens. As The Last Jedi releases on 15 December (in India), we felt it was the perfect opportunity for us to bring about a range of experiences for fans to relive the Star Wars saga and make it a part of their everyday lives," said Sanjeet Mehta, executive director, consumer products, Disney India.

The deal with OnePlus is being seen as the most dominant in the marketing campaign. The company is launching a special 5T limited edition series of smartphones, besides giving away 10,000 complimentary tickets to Star Wars fans. “We are excited to join the force and dedicate the exquisitely designed Star Wars Special Edition to the OnePlus and Star Wars fans in India as a part of the three-year anniversary celebrations," said Kyle Kiang, head of global marketing, OnePlus. “We’ve worked hard to refine every last detail and are confident that fans will appreciate the homage that we have paid to the iconic Star Wars saga," Kiang added.

Hasbro, which has brought out a collection of lightsabers (a weapon that is part of the narrative), action figurines and a Star Wars Force Link Starter Set (a wrist accessory that emits sounds and dialogues), is bullish about being associated with the movie brand. “At its core, Hasbro is an organization that prides itself on the stories it tells consumers. The same ethos is a part of the Star Wars world too," said Bhavesh Somaya, country manager, Hasbro India.

The international marketing campaign for the Rian Johnson-directed film, on the other hand, is more digital friendly. For instance, Google has launched a slew of special Star Wars augmented reality stickers that are included in the camera app as part of the latest Android 8.1 Oreo update. Meanwhile, American video game company Electronic Arts (EA) has launched the Star Wars: Battlefront II game for fans.

“A lot of the new-age licensing relationships, as far as the international industry is concerned, are digital in nature, be it through games, virtual or augmented reality instead of physical merchandising," said Saurabh Uboweja, founder and CEO of brand consulting firm Brands of Desire.

“It’s so much easier to measure outcomes and the performance of the campaign that way. In India, we are still not able to innovate to that level. Also, the big digital brands or media players like Google, Facebook or Twitter don’t come from India and it works for them to strike an international deal."

The OnePlus initiative, Uboweja added, may be seen as some kind of an exception but it’s neither entirely digital nor completely out-of-the-box. The relatively safe marketing campaign in India, industry experts said, has to do with the fundamental box office potential of the space opera film. Iconic as the franchise may be, the 10-year gap between The Force Awakens (2015) and Revenge of the Sith (2005) meant that the brand had lost out on an entire movie-going generation that had lapped up other Hollywood science fiction and superhero franchises in the interim.

“For countries like the US and the UK, Star Wars is as big as a Rajinikanth film is for India. They are blockbusters that make a serious amount of money for the producer and therefore a lot more marketing money is spent on them," said Anand Chakravarthy, managing partner, Wavemaker India, a GroupM-owned media agency.

Besides, Chakravarthy added, this is the holiday season in Western markets so there will be at least three or four big films launching, competing for eyeballs and, therefore, they will spend significant money. Also, the production cost of Star Wars is huge—if it doesn’t do well in the US or the UK, it will not recover its money.

“For Disney in India, Star Wars is a good franchise but when you compare it to the world, India will add a drop in the ocean in terms of revenue. So their marketing budget in the country will also be limited," Chakravarthy said.

But expectations from the iconic franchise continue to be high.

“When The Force Awakens opened two years ago, there wasn’t really a huge Star Wars fan base in India. J.J. Abrams’ film quickly changed that simply because it was so memorable," said film critic Mihir Fadnavis. “The sense of ‘discovery’ in Star Wars is something that’s unique, and if Disney continues to experiment with the saga the way it currently does, one can expect this to be a bigger brand than Batman very soon."

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