NEW YORK – Throughout the galaxy, a motley assortment of hunters, traders and ne'er-do-wells are on a quest to capture a Jedi — at least the action-figure versions of one.
And it doesn't take a C-3PO protocol droid to sum up what that sentence means: The Star Wars phenomenon is here again, and with it an Imperial fleet of toys and Force-related merchandising.
But don't expect a flood of products like the one that saturated America and made people tired of The Phantom Menace before it even hit screens. Lucasfilm Ltd. has slashed its product tie-ins for Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones to less than 50 items, down from around 85 for Phantom.
"We've scaled it back a lot," Lucasfilm licensing executive Howard Roffman said. "We're going to stick to the basics — toys, video games ... the things our fans prefer, rather than some of the fringe items."
At the Toys R Us in Times Square on Tuesday, the Star Wars aisles were relatively modest, overshadowed by a Jurassic Park dinosaur and an E.T. landing craft.
The frenzied lines of fans that were so memorable at toy stores in 1999 were replaced by a few curious parents browsing through bins of dolls of aliens, droids and intergalactic bounty hunters. Clip-on Jedi braids, Princess Amidala makeup kits and Darth Maul electronic door guards — toys that glutted stores after Phantom Menace — were nonexistent.
One of the few collectors at the store was a 26-year-old computer technician named Brian, who was asking other patrons if they'd spotted a Yoda action figure.
"I didn't collect Phantom Menace stuff because it didn't strike me as the other movies did," he said. "This one feels more like the others did. … but I wish they'd release more of the classic trilogy stuff."
Toys from the first three Star Wars movies can fetch more than $300 on auction Web sites like eBay, whereas Phantom Menace products often languish at 99 cents or less.
But the companies lucky enough to be putting Clones toys out are confident their gizmos will be as popular as those inspired by Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
"So many people have such a strong emotional connection to the movie and the whole series of movies," said Scott Vogel, CEO and president of collectible-prop company Master Replicas. "It has a large fan base and fantastic props and gadgets. People can identify with those props and movies."
To make sure Skywalker-and-Vader fans don't look foolish by dueling for the fate of the Galactic Republic with broomsticks, Vogel's company is offering the highest end of the new Star Wars paraphernalia. The highlights of the collection are nicely weighted limited-edition Han Solo blaster replicas and realistic-looking lightsaber hilts that mimic the weapons of choice for Jedi such as Obi-Wan Kenobi (played by Ewan MacGregor), Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) and Dark Jedi Count Dooku (Christopher Lee).
There's even a pint-sized laser sword for Yoda, whose much-anticipated fight scene in Clones has fans, who have only seen the Jedi Master at an ancient 900 years old, salivating.
But at $449 for the blaster and about $299 for the lightsabers, most people will probably opt for the plastic lightsabers from Hasbro, which won't tempt wanna-be Jedi to the Dark Side, but are more affordable at $8.99.
Naturally, there's an army of action figures, from the armored bounty hunter Jango Fett (Boba Fett's father) to a busty Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman's character) to a senatorial version of the much-maligned Jar Jar Binks. And of course there's an array of shuttles, speeders and starfighters. Adults can expect to shell out from $13.99 for a Zem Wessel speeder to $29.99 for Jango Fett's battle-scarred starship, Slave I.
A Clones roleplaying game and card game are also up for grabs this go round, from the company Wizards of the Coast. The cards include stills from the movie, which may drive demand higher, according to Wizards spokesman Don Williams.
"There is a lot of hype for the movie, and people are looking for glimpses into the movie before it opens," he said.
But Williams admitted he's sometimes baffled by the fans' devotion.
"It's kind of strange because I've been searching my head trying to figure it out," he said. "I think it really appeals to a wide variety of people and the generations that have grown up around it. And it's a really good story that allows you to escape for a while."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.