Disney Debuts ‘Star Wars’ Charity Push Ahead of 40th Anniversary Celebration

Disney is kicking off the Star Wars franchise’s 40th birthday party with a new fundraising campaign aimed at raising money for UNICEF and Starlight Children’s Foundation.

Star Wars: Force for Change, a charitable initiative from Disney’s Lucasfilm and online fundraising platform Omaze, launched a new campaign on Tuesday that will allow fans of the sci-fi film saga to donate money to those global children’s charities for a shot at winning one of three Star Wars-themed experiences.

Called “Past, Present, and Future,” the fundraising campaign features potential prizes like the opportunity to appear in Disney’s upcoming standalone Han Solo movie or a one-night stay at Skywalker Ranch, the secluded workplace of Lucasfilm founder George Lucas. Another winner will get tickets to the global premiere of the next installment of the Star Wars saga, The Last Jedi. One grand prize winner will be able to experience all three of those prizes, which will be handed out to randomly-selected donors on a weekly basis until the campaign ends on May 11.

To announce the new campaign, Omaze released a video featuring Star Wars actors Mark Hamill and Daisy Ridley encouraging fans to donate for a crack at the prizes:

Ultimate Star Wars Experience Announcement

The campaign kicks off as Disney gets ready for the Star Wars Celebration fan convention that begins on Thursday in Orlando. Star Wars fans will gather at the event to see various actors from the films (Mark Hamill, Billy Dee Williams, Hayden Christensen) and attend fan-focused events and panels while celebrating four decades of a franchise that debuted in May 1977 with Star Wars: A New Hope. The convention is also expected to reveal the first movie trailer for The Last Jedi, which hits theaters in December.

The combination of the Star Wars 40th anniversary and excitement over The Last Jedi likely means the months leading up to December’s premiere will feature a prolonged marketing push from Disney. The latest Star Wars film is easily one of the most-anticipated movies of 2017 and it is a strong bet to help Disney smash more box office records this year. In 2015, Star Wars: The Force Awakens soared to a new domestic box office record with $936 million in North America, on its way to more than $2 billion in global ticket sales.

The Last Jedi will be the second installment in the trilogy of new Star Wars films coming from Disney, which bought Lucasfilm in 2012. A third film is planned for 2019 and Disney is also releasing a handful of spin-offs, like last year’s Rogue One.

From Fortune

‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Crosses $1 Billion in Record Time

Star Wars - The-Force-Awakens

Moviegoers continued to unwrap Disney’s box office holdover “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” over the holiday weekend as the space saga dominated a host of Christmas Day newcomers, including Paramount’s “Daddy’s Home” and 20th Century Fox’s “Joy.”

The latest installment in the “Star Wars” franchise grossed an estimated $153.5 million in the U.S. and Canada in its second weekend, beating the lower end of analyst expectations of $140 million. This drives the J.J. Abrams-directed picture to a to-date domestic gross of $544.5 million.

“The Force Awakens,” which cost an estimated $200 million to produce, debuted last weekend to record domestic ticket sales of $248 million. It also grossed $281 million overseas for a global total of $529 million, topping the previous worldwide debut benchmark set in June by “Jurassic World” ($525 million). This week, with an international estimated gross of $546 million to date, the film became the fastest to surpass $1 billion globally.

From the Los Angeles Times

The Force is Strong with this One….’Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Holds Record for Largest Opening Weekend

Star Wars - Force Awakens

The Force, from a galaxy far, far away, rose from its slumber this weekend to assist Disney’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” at the box office. Grossing an estimated $238 million in the U.S. and Canada, the seventh installment of the George Lucas-created franchise now holds the record for the largest opening weekend of a film ever.

The box office has not seen a performance like this since Universal’s “Jurassic World” opened in June ($208.8 million) and, prior to that, 2012’s premiere of “Marvel’s The Avengers” from Disney ($207.4 million).

Ahead of the weekend, those familiar with audience tracking surveys predicted an opening weekend of $180 million to $220 million. But by Friday afternoon, those projections began to look increasingly conservative.

Playing in over 4,000 theaters domestically, “Star Wars” began its massive run with a record-breaking $57 million in ticket sales for early Thursday night showings. That far exceeded the previous benchmark of $43.5 million set by “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2” in July 2011. When Friday numbers were tallied, the official first-day total was an estimated $120.5 million. This gave the J.J. Abrams-directed picture the highest single-day profits on record and it became first film to break the $100-million mark in a single day.

The numbers for “The Force Awakens” are also unprecedented for a film premiering in December. The record holder for the biggest opening during the month was “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” which took in $85 million in domestic receipts in 2012.

Audiences gave the new release an A grade, and an A-plus among women and younger audiences, according to polling firm CinemaScore. It also earned a 95% positive rating from critic site Rotten Tomatoes.

Such a showing is on par with the palpable anticipation demonstrated by fans and the movie theater industry ahead of the release. Audiences set a number of records for advance ticket sales on sites like Fandango. The movie racked up more than $100 million in pre-sales by its Thursday night opening. Additionally, when Disney debuted the final theatrical trailer during a “Monday Night Football” game on ESPN that coincided with the tickets going on sale online, the trailer was viewed 128 million times in 24 hours.

The interest of fans led to expectations across the industry that “Star Wars” would drive up ticket sales as October and November box office numbers, compared with last year, are lower. Theater owners set aside huge portions of their auditoriums for the film, with some showings as early as 2 a.m.

Other wide releases also premiering this week included Fox’s “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip” and Universal’s “Sisters.” Neither, however, could come close to the film starring Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Daisy Ridley among others.

The “Star Wars” box office takeover was also supported by some unusual promotions for ticket buyers. AMC Theatres offered new movie posters to people who bought Imax 3D tickets for Sunday showings. High-end chain Cinépolis brought in members of the 501st Legion — a group of enthusiasts dressed in Stormtrooper garb — to take pictures with moviegoers in the lobby.

Disney’s sustained marketing campaign tapped into the nostalgia for the original trilogy and got people talking about the movie via social media. On Twitter, the movie was mentioned roughly 2 million times on Thursday alone, making it the most tweeted-about movie ever, according to social media analytics firm Union Metrics.

Much is at stake for the Walt Disney Co., which, in 2012 paid $4.1 billion for production company Lucasfilm, largely for the “Star Wars” franchise. The big numbers for “The Force Awakens” bode well for the future of the franchise, and not just at the box office. Burbank-based Disney also stands to generate sizable returns across other business segments, including video games, merchandise and theme parks.

It remains to be seen whether “Star Wars” will have a halo effect on the industry and get theater goers to also see other movies. Next week, films including Sony’s “Concussion,” Paramount’s “Daddy’s Home,” Fox’s “Joy” and Warner Bros.’ “Point Break” will hit theaters. Some analysts worry such films could get lost in the shadow of “Star Wars,” though some suggest otherwise as “Star Wars” brought out consumers who haven’t been to a theater in a long time – welcome news to theater owners who have seen their attendance stagnate in recent years.

“You’ve got people coming out who aren’t frequent moviegoers,” said Will Palmer, chief executive of the film marketing analytics firm Movio. “This is reigniting a whole raft of customers who don’t usually go to the movies and have disengaged with the cinema.”

The industry also awaits to see if “Star Wars’” force can help push U.S.-Canada ticket sales to a record $11 billion. The year 2013 was best for the box office at $10.9 billion.

From the Los Angeles Times

Star Wars Episode VII Cast Finally Announced

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From StarWars.com –

The Star Wars team is thrilled to announce the cast of Star Wars: Episode VII.

Actors John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, and Max von Sydow will join the original stars of the saga, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew, and Kenny Baker in the new film.

Director J.J. Abrams says, “We are so excited to finally share the cast of Star Wars: Episode VII. It is both thrilling and surreal to watch the beloved original cast and these brilliant new performers come together to bring this world to life, once again. We start shooting in a couple of weeks, and everyone is doing their best to make the fans proud.”

Star Wars: Episode VII is being directed by J.J. Abrams from a screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan and Abrams. Kathleen Kennedy, J.J. Abrams, and Bryan Burk are producing, and John Williams returns as the composer. The movie opens worldwide on December 18, 2015.