For Last Jedi Rollout, It’s Star Wars Meets Pokémon Go

Characters from the new movie can be found in a smartphone-powered treasure hunt.

Walt Disney Co. is harnessing all its media might to make the next Star Wars movie the biggest film of the year, employing augmented reality and social media in a global campaign to promote The Last Jedi and related merchandise.

Starting Sept. 1, which Disney again dubs Force Friday, fans of the sci-fi films can use smartphones to take part in an augmented-reality treasure hunt, like the Pokémon Go craze that gripped video-game fans last year. The worldwide Find the Force hunt will take place over three days, starting in Sydney, and will involve more than 20,000 stores in 30 countries, Disney said in a statement Thursday.

Disney’s Star Wars movies — it has released two since buying Lucasfilm for $4 billion in 2012 — rank among the biggest ever, and the Burbank, California-based studio plans a total of at least six. Key to the company’s success has been its ability to draw a new generation of fans, especially now with U.S. box-office sales in decline. The movie opens Dec. 15.

As part of the campaign, Disney has created a smartphone app activated by special logos that appear on cut-out figures in stores. Fans who turn up to buy action figures or drones from the new lineup of products can use the devices to discover such characters as the alien birds called Porgs, pose with them and share the images on social media. Fans who post on social media can win prizes, such as tickets to the movie’s premiere.

“This campaign is on a bigger scale than the first Force Friday, both in terms of geographic scope and the number of retailers,” Paul Southern, a senior vice president at Disney’s Lucasfilm, said in an interview.

At its D23 fan event in July, Disney unveiled a smartphone-based augmented-reality headset, designed with Lenovo Group Ltd. It lets fans play fantasy games from the original Star Wars trilogy, such as Holochess. Characters appear against the backdrop of whatever the smartphone camera is pointed at, making them seem real. Disney’s augmented-reality products coincide with a broader tech-industry push in the field in coming months, including Apple Inc.’s launch of a new iPhone operating system.

The first Force Friday promotion in 2015, tied to The Force Awakens, sparked a sevenfoldincrease in online sales of Star Wars toys for the month of September. The studio drummed up excitement for new action figures and toys with a global unwrapping of Star Wars merchandise on YouTube and coverage on ABC’s Good Morning America. The movie went on to become the top-grossing U.S. movie ever.

While toy sales soared, Disney faced a backlash for failing to adequately include Rey, the film’s female lead character, in action-figure sets and themed games such as Monopoly. Disney underestimated demand, and the shortage was compounded by a limited rollout of new merchandise designed to avoid revealing too much about the new Star Wars hero.

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This time around, Rey features centrally in the promotions, and the company is working hard to avoid shortages.

“This film is focused on Rey, and that is reflected on the consumer product side,” Southern said. “She is front and center.”

In The Last Jedi, Daisy Ridley reprises the role of Rey, rejoined by John Boyega as Finn, Adam Driver as the villain Kylo Ren and Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron. Mark Hamill returns as Luke Skywalker. The film is expected to open with North American weekend sales of $230 million and go on to generate $1.7 billion to $2 billion globally, according to Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOfficePro.com.

The Last Jedi is the third film Disney has made from the George Lucas action series. The first, The Force Awakens, generated $936.7 million in the U.S. and Canada, unseating Avatar as the domestic record holder, and brought in more than $2 billion worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was the first of potentially three standalone stories. Released in December 2016, it generated a more modest $1.06 billion worldwide and was the No. 2 release of the year.