By Subrat Patnaik
(Reuters) - "Star Wars" toys generated sales of more than $700 million in the United States in 2015, making them the No.1 property in the toy industry during the year, a retail research group said.
Sales of toys such as Kylo Ren light sabers, BB-8 droids and models of the Millennium Falcon spacecraft totaled more than those related to movie franchises "Jurassic World," "Minions" and "Avengers" combined, NPD Group said on Wednesday.
Led by "Star Wars" merchandise, toy sales in the United States rose 6.7 percent to $19.4 billion in 2015, making it one of the strongest performances for toy sales in years, NPD Group said.
Sales took off on Sept. 4, or "Force Friday", when retailers launched merchandise in anticipation of the opening of "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," the first Star Wars film produced by Walt Disney Co.
"With the early release of 'Star Wars' toys on Force Friday, 'Star Wars' managed to become the number-one property for the year," NPD said. (http://bit.ly/1ZMA50c)
Toymakers Hasbro Inc and Mattel Inc are some of the biggest licensees of "Star Wars" products.
Toys based on characters from the new movie were tough to find after Christmas, said Jim Silver, editor-in-chief of toys and sporting goods review website TTPM.
Disney said last week that new toys and collectibles related to the movie are rolling out at Disney stores and mass retailers across the United States.
Many new products feature the female scavenger Rey, the lead character in "Force Awakens." Some customers had complained she appeared under-represented on store shelves filled with male characters from the film.
Disney said it kept some Rey products under wraps to prevent revealing key plot points before the movie's release. The company also underestimated the character's popularity, said Paul Southern, the head of "Star Wars" licensing in Disney's consumer products division.
After the film debuted, sales of Rey products at Disney retail stores grew three times faster than other "Force Awakens" characters, a company spokeswoman said. Others, such as a limited edition Rey and BB-8 figure, sold out quickly.
"Rey came in with a huge amount of momentum and ultimately above what we were expecting," Southern said. "We really struggled to keep Rey on retail shelves."
"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" has become the highest-grossing film of all time in the United States and Canada, beating 2009's hit 3D sci-fi movie "Avatar".
(Reporting by Subrat Patnaik in Bengaluru and Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles; Editing by Ted Kerr and Lisa Shumaker)