Why The Mandalorian Brand is Bigger than Star Wars

The Toy of the Year Awards (TOTY) usually happen during the New York Toy Fair and have become coveted awards to win, given that the nomination committee is compromised of industry professionals (play experts, academics, retailers, journalists, and other toy experts). Last week, Star Wars won five Toy of the Year Awards:

  1. Toy of the Year – Hasbro’s Star Wars: The Child Animatronic Edition Toy ($59.99)
  2. Innovative Toy of the Year – Hasbro’s Star Wars: The Child Animatronic Edition Toy ($59.99)
  3. Plush of the Year – Mattel’s Star Wars: The Mandalorian The Child 11” Plush ($24.99)
  4. Construction Toy of the Year – LEGO Star Wars The Razor Crest ($129.99)
  5. License of the Year – Star Wars: The Mandalorian
Hasbro wins the top TOTY Awards | credit Hasbro

Four years ago, Star Wars won the final Property of the Year Award. This category was retired given its’ similarity to License of the Year, along with other outdated categories like Boy/Girl Toy of the Year. Since then, Star Wars toys have still been winning in categories like Construction (LEGO) and Creative Toy of the Year (for toys revolving around droids) but have not taken a top category like Toy of the Year. This year, they won three big ones: Toy of the Year, Innovative Toy of the Year, and License of the Year. And all three of these are for The Mandalorian. In fact, all five are for The Mandalorian, even though The Rise of Skywalker, Galaxy’s Edge, and Droid Depot toys were likely in contention. That is a brand statement. The comparisons of The Mandalorian to the rest of Star War’s properties are often to used to vent frustrations (justified and unjustified) with the Sequel trilogy. But let’s look at the comparison in terms of Brand Value.

Given that 2020 was the first year that no Star Wars film was released in theaters since 2014, one would expect Star Wars toy sales to be down overall. However, per Hasbro’s earnings report for last year, The Mandalorian was a saving grace for the toy manufacturer. CNBC states that while “the Rhode Island-based company saw sales of its licensed content from entertainment studios fall 12% to $1.08 billion for the full year, its sales of Star Wars grew by 70% over that period.”

This is all The Mandalorian and its’ Brand Value. And when I talk about Brand Value, I am going to use Seth Godin’s definition:

“A brand’s value is merely the sum total of how much extra people will pay, or how often they choose, the expectations, memories, stories, and relationships of one brand over the alternatives.”

Seth’s Blog

There are hundreds of consumer electronic companies in the world in which consumers can purchase laptops, phones, tablets, etc with varying degrees of price. However, the top two consistent brands per revenue are Apple and Samsung, both on the expensive end of the price scale. Why? Because these companies have high brand value with consumers and are regularly regarded as having high-quality products. 

This can be applied to what is happening with The Mandalorian toys versus general Star Wars toys. Consumers are just willing to spend more on The Mandalorian merchandise that they might not spend on The Rise of Skywalker (using that comparison as that was the last major Star Wars release on par with the production scale). The Toy of the Year and Innovative Toy of the Year are one and the same: Hasbro’s Star Wars: The Child Animatronic Edition Toy. With a price point of $59.99, it is still hard to get your hands on at retail price and is on backorder at most major retailers. For other online retailers, like Amazon, you can only purchase through a third-party seller. Good luck finding any of those toys for the retail price. 

The Mandalorian gets a Best Drama Series nomination for the 2020 Emmys | credit Television Academy

This value also translates to awards and critical recognition. In the show’s first season, it was nominated for 15 Primetime Emmys, including Best Drama Series, and seeing The Mandalorian alongside critical darlings like Better Call Saul, Ozark, and Succession was surreal. Giancarlo Esposito got a nomination for his role as Moff Gideon, his other past nominations being for Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. And, while it ended up winning seven awards in technical categories, being in the same space as those other shows significantly elevated The Mandalorian’s brand to a level that Star Wars has not seen since the Original Trilogy. 

Let’s look at it from this perspective: in 1978, Star Wars was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Director, and won seven. The Empire Strikes Back did not get as many nominations (four) but still won two in 1981. Return of the Jedi increased its nominations and got five total, but only won the Special Achievements Award in 1984. Since then, a Star Wars film has not won a single Academy Award, even though everyone released has been nominated. 

The Mandalorian has brought Star Wars, not only back on top of the merchandise heap, but as a contender for top-tier awards (An Emmy is Television’s equivalent of an Academy Award). The show has also been recently nominated for Best Drama Series at the Golden Globes.

This is all good news for Disney, Lucasfilm, and their manufacturer and retail partners. It’s really good news for Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni, whose Disney+ phenomenon is the gift that keeps on giving. But is this good for Star Wars overall? Can the upcoming Disney+ series reach this level of success with both merchandise sales and awards? I have a feeling Andor and Obi-Wan definitely could and that would be the first test for creatives outside of Favreau and Filoni (Deborah Chow is manning Obi-Wan and Tony Gilroy is running the show for Andor). The jury is still out on the other shows, though it is hard to bet against Ahsoka.

All Star Wars Movies and Shows announced at Disney 2020 Investor Event
Can any of these Star Wars shows reach the success of The Mandalorian? | credit Lucasfilm

As for Star Wars theatrical films, who knows. Both Patty Jenkins and Taika Waititi have directed Academy Award-winning films (Waititi recently bringing home the prize for Original Screenplay) so there is a possibility. And despite, Jenkin’s blunder with Wonder Woman: 1984 (every great director has at least one) Rogue Squadron is a deeply personal film for her, given her family history in the Air Force. Also, a Star Wars film that centers on pilots and their ships should be able to print money as far as merchandise sales…keyword should. There is no information on Waititi’s film but it would be great to see a Star Wars film in the Best Picture category of the Academy Awards again. 

Why does this even matter, you might be wondering? It is all apart of the same brand: Star Wars. Well, Ant-Man 2 and Captain America 2 are also both apart of the Marvel brand, but the latter outgrossed the former by almost 100M in the global box office (and Captain America 2 came out four years before Ant-Man 2). It makes a difference. It sets expectations internally and it informs the budget allocated to future projects and it dictates how much merchandise gets produced. While you can’t directly compare the box office of a film to the popularity of a streaming show, merchandise sales and awards contention are two great indicators of the health of a brand. Star Wars has taken a hit and, until it can get back on its’ feet again, Disney seems satisfied with The Mandalorian taking center stage. 

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