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Holiday Toys Offer Clues To New 'Star Wars' Movie


Should you need a reminder - I mean, you might be sleepy - today is the official start of the holiday shopping season. And NPR's Mandalit del Barco tested out a few of this year's hottest toys. They are space weapons, drones and droids in anticipation of next month's release of the new "Star Wars" movie.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: The force doesn't awaken until December 18, so "Star Wars" fans are scrutinizing the new toys for clues of what's in the new movie. There's the red light saber used by the mysterious new villain Kylo Ren. There are talking action figures of the new heroes.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As Finn) My name's Finn, and I'm in charge now.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) I never should've rescued you.

DEL BARCO: There are blasters and Lego sets and talking stormtrooper masks.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Drop the weapons now.

DEL BARCO: And with the flip of a button on this mask, you can modify your own voice.

NOMI VELA: To be working on this, it's a toy designer's dream come true.

DEL BARCO: That's Nomi Vela. She's a design director for toys at Disney. She and her team work with Lucasfilm to get the details right.

VELA: We were making the product as the movie was being developed, so we would get swatches from Lucas. We were like, what does this look like, and we would get a swatch from the costume. So they were very collaborative.

DEL BARCO: In the new movie, some of the original characters are back, so is the starship, the Millennium Falcon. There's a new remote control version for sale. But by far, the most popular new "Star Wars" toy is a small adorable droid called BB8. The director of licensing for Lucasfilm, Divia Delall (ph), explains that this BB8 is controlled by a smartphone app.

DIVIA DELALL: So BB8's learning the room right now, learning all the obstacles, and moving around. Then you have the drive mode, and that allows you to move the droid all around the room and allow it to explore, go scare your little sister.

DEL BARCO: Hasbro has a slightly bigger, more affordable version that's not app-enabled. But the little BB8 toy by Sphero retails for $155. It allows users to record holographic messages, and it follows voice commands. Look around. It's a trap.

CHRIS TAYLOR: Disney seems to be playing this up with the signs in store windows, saying, this is the droid you're looking for. So I imagine that that's going to be the hot seller.

DEL BARCO: Chris Taylor is the author of a book on the business of the multibillion-dollar franchise called "How Star Wars Conquered The Universe."

TAYLOR: They've had a lot of people really wondering how they do it, you know. Obviously, it's done with magnets somehow, but it's a beautiful looking toy that is also on the cutting edge of technology.

DEL BARCO: "Star Wars" toys are the number one property of the year, says Julie Lynette (ph), the senior vice president of the U.S. toys division at the NPD group.

JULIE LYNETTE: What's interesting with Star Wars it's been in the top 10 properties for the last 10 years since the last movie. So with the movie, it just is going to exaggerate the sales.

DEL BARCO: She estimates there are at least 50 licenses for "Star Wars" merchandise. Disney and Lucasfilm before it have been very careful and very secretive about their licensees. But they're not the only toys on the market this season. Nerf guns and Hot Wheels, Barbies and Shopkins characters remain perennial favorites. But they'll have a tough time competing because the new "Star Wars" movie opens a week before Christmas with more toys unveiled then. If none of this appeals to the kid in you, there's always a $40 Death Star waffle maker, a $99 Darth Vader silver charm, or the $4,000 Millennium Falcon bed. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.