Star Wars: A New Economy

It's happening all over again. George Lucas didn't mean to do this; it's something that's beyond his control. Well, then again, maybe he is sporting a furtive little smile as he prepares for the release of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith on Thursday, May 19.

According to a recent article on Globeandmail.com, outplacement consultant Challenger Gray & Christmas estimates that the overwhelming desire to see the last Star Wars episode will cost the U.S. economy $627 million in productivity. If you add in the value of lost work from the previous two outings, then you have a number in the neighborhood of $1.2 billion. Not to be outdone by our friends up North -- the article says that some Canadian companies are sending their employees to see the film on its day of debut -- maybe the U.S. should declare a national holiday for Star Wars.

Does that sound too nerdy? Not this time. There's a significant amount of hype surrounding Revenge of the Sith; in fact, as big as the promotions were back in 1999 for The Phantom Menace, this latest installment feels a little different. Everywhere I turn, I see something related to the galaxy that was never really that far away. Promotions notwithstanding, there's a huge sense of history. After all, we're talking about a franchise that saw its birth many years before the arrival of the Internet as a popular mass medium, and right around the time that personal computers first took their baby steps. Star Wars came from nowhere to become a huge part of pop culture, so don't go making fun of all those geeks standing in line to catch a seat.

It wouldn't be a Fool article if we didn't discuss ways to make money off the sci-fi machine. Truth be told, there really isn't an easy answer. Sure, PepsiCo's (NYSE: PEP  ) soda has Yoda inviting drinkers to try out a contest. (The company also has cool stickers stashed away in its Lay's potato chips, of which I already have collected a few.) And Kellogg's (NYSE: K  ) has images of Darth Vader and C-3PO affixed to boxes of its Cheez-It snacks (I've picked up a few of those too) and other foodstuffs. Eidos (Nasdaq: EIDSY  ) has its Lego Star Wars video games, Hasbro (NYSE: HAS  ) has its legendary lineup of action figures, and News Corp. (NYSE: NWS  ) has... well, the film itself. But I think it is inadvisable to latch onto the stocks of companies just because of their associations with Star Wars. Don't forget that George Lucas will be getting the majority of the windfall. Now, if he wanted to offer up some equity in his income from the film and merchandise train, I'd be tempted to buy into that IPO.

But I remember all too well buying shares of Fox shortly after its IPO (its float was recently called back in by News Corp.) and ahead of The Phantom Menace, thinking I might be on the threshold of bagging a stellar return based on the resurgence of the dormant celluloid phenomenon. The stock did nothing for me, and I eventually gave up the ghost at a loss. What you may want to do is look at these promotional partners as a usable idea list and then perform a bit of due diligence to see which of the companies may (or may not) offer long-term value. (Stephen Simpson's recent analysis of Eidos, for example, might prompt you to stay far, far away from its shares.)

Let's hope the loss of productivity isn't too woeful -- Alan Greenspan has enough worries. And even if the whole country takes a day off to see the new flick, well, it will all be over soon. Or will it? Lucas has no intention of letting his most famous brand disappear into a black hole; he has a cartoon and a live-action television show in the works to keep the mythology alive. Apparently, he doesn't want the Star Wars economy to end. And neither do we.

Feel the Force, my young Padawan:

Hasbro is a past recommendation of theMotley Fool Stock Advisornewsletter. To see what Tom and David Gardner like these days, try it out for six months, risk-free!

Fool contributor Steven Mallas owns none of the companies mentioned. He currently is making his way through the Game Boy Advance title based on the movie. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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