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    Latest <i>Star Wars</i> Hits Theaters -- and Store Shelves

    From snacks to beverages, Revenge of the Sith looks to be a big hit in convenience stores.

    NEW YORK -- The countdown for the final installment of the Star Wars saga, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, began months ago. But with the movie scheduled to finally open today, fans have had to get their Star Wars fix this last month or so somewhere else.

    And where better than the local grocery or convenience store?

    A report in the Asbury Park Press notes that consumers can travel up and down store aisles and see Star Wars Pop-Tarts, M&Ms, Mountain Dew (as well as other Pepsi products), cookies, Fruit Snacks, Eggo Waffles, candy and cereal.

    It's little wonder that food manufacturers are going big with the final episode of Star Wars. It was the first Star Wars movie, released in 1977, that took licensing to a new level.

    "The very first Star Wars movie represented the birth of the modern movie merchandising business," according to Marty Brochstein, executive editor of The Licensing Letter, a trade publication. After Star Wars, he points out, revenue went from being an ancillary income to a line item.

    It's little wonder.

    "Parents and children have an emotional bond to characters, whether it be from Star Wars or a cartoon show," pointed out Charles Riotto, president of the International Licensing Merchandisers' Association. "What other things in your daily life have that emotional bond? And since we need to eat on a daily basis, it's natural to have a bond between the food we eat and the characters we love."

    In 2001, according to Riotto, the royalty revenue attached to all food products was $418 million a year. In 2003, it was up to $440 million.

    "It's been a pretty steady growth," Riotto said. "It's an area that is continually expanding . . . there are many opportunities."

    Star Wars offers a great opportunity, Riotto says, because the movie crosses age and gender lines. In other words, Star Wars fans come in all shapes and sizes.

    So what do fans have to look forward to on store shelves?

    Masterfoods USA, the Mars division that makes M&M candies, has released for the first time dark chocolate M&Ms, which company executives say were specifically developed to celebrate the sixth and final episode of the saga. The dark chocolate Darth Mix features black, maroon, purple and dark blue. The milk chocolate Jedi Mix features beige, cream and light saber-blue M&Ms.

    For a limited time only, Frito-Lay has released the Star Wars-inspired Twisted Cheetos snacks. Fans who bite into the ordinary looking cheese-flavored snacks need only to look at their tongues to discover whether they're crunching on either Darth Vader Dark- or Yoda Green-colored snacks.

    With Kellogg's limited-edition Star Wars cereal, fans will be able to snack on oat cereal with marshmallows shaped like light sabers, C-3PO and R2-D2.

    The limited-edition Star Wars Fruit Snacks feature bite-size versions of Chewbacca, Yoda, R2-D2 and C-3PO among others.

    With Cheez-It crackers from Sunshine, fans can get a limited edition box, along with a synopsis of Revenge of the Sith as well as an opportunity to send away for an exclusive movie poster.

    Cookie company Keebler also got into the act, unveiling Star Wars Lava Stripes, a fudge-covered shortbread cookie.

    Limited-edition Pop-Tarts feature Frosted Lava Berry Explosion with wild berry filling.

    Not to be outdone, Pepsi is partnering with 7-Eleven stores to offer Darth Dew Slurpees.

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