Already the entertainment industry’s biggest licensor, the Walt Disney Co. is looking to "Star Wars" to lift it to new galactic heights when it releases three new movies over the next few years. 

"It’s already an extraordinarily robust franchise without all that new content,” said Bob Chapek, president of Disney's consumer products unit. “Imagine what’s going to happen when we have this succession of new movies.”

The next "Star Wars" installment, directed by J.J. Abrams, will be released in 2015.

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Retail sales of licensed products based on Disney brands generated $39.4 billion for fiscal 2012, more than six times its nearest competitor, according to data from License Global magazine.

That strength is due, in large part, to Marvel's “Avengers” superhero franchise.

Disney has been selling superhero toys and other products under the “Avengers” brand, building on the franchise with films including “Iron Man” and “Thor.” The blockbuster movie “The Avengers,” released last year, grossed $1.51 billion worldwide at the box office.

“Since pre-'Avengers,' our Marvel business has basically doubled, not only as a function of movie content, but because we’re selling all the merchandise of the ‘Avengers’ mythology,” Chapek said. “We’re selling all of it under the umbrella of the ‘Avengers,’ which is made possible because of the huge commercial success of that movie.”

Overall, the entertainment licensing industry generated $49.3 billion in retail sales and $2.55 billion in royalty revenue last year, according to the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers’ Assn. Entertainment licensing revenue rose 2.8% over last year, according to LIMA.

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“The major entertainment companies have, over the past few years, continued to get better at creating relationships with major retailers so they can maximize the effect of a merchandise deal,” said LIMA Senior Vice President Martin Brochstein.

The overall licensing industry -- which includes fashion, sports, collegiate, art, music and not-for-profit brands -- grew 2.5% to $110 billion in retail sales and $5.45 billion in royalty revenue.

This marks the second year of growth in the licensing industry, after revenues grew 5% in 2011.

That growth reflects the improvement in the economy overall that has boosted consumer confidence as people become more willing to spend money on goods featuring film characters and logos.

In addition, it’s becoming easier for the major licensors to do big deals with brick-and-mortar retailers and online sellers.

“The good feeling is continuing,” Brochstein said. “People are more open to doing deals and people are more confident that consumers will react if you have something good and use the marketing magic of the entertainment industry.”

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