The Star Wars film franchise has inspired two generations of adoring fans to follow the path of the Jedi, being selfless defenders of others — and buyers of merchandise. It’s also created a significant fortune that its stewards have used to try to improve the galaxy.
As the series’ much-hyped seventh film, The Force Awakens, opens this weekend, here’s a look at how the franchise is being used as a force for good.
Movie as Fundraising Tool
The companies that own the rights to the films, Disney and Lucasfilm, recently completed a charitable promotion tied to the new movie that raised $7 million to support Unicef programs. The latest movie’s director, J.J. Abrams, helped create fundraising campaigns for Unicef Kid Power, an effort to encourage young people to help others.
Through the program, children wear activity trackers and earn points for completing specific "missions." When they earn enough points, Unicef delivers therapeutic food to malnourished children.
Another recent Star Wars-themed promotion asked fans to donate in support of 15 charitable causes for a chance to win tickets to the world premiere of the new movie.
The charities were chosen by Mr. Abrams, Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy, and the movie cast. Han Solo — well, Harrison Ford — helped to kick off the sweepstakes campaign by surprising fans during video chats.
The Jedi Master Spreads the Wealth
Star Wars creator George Lucas signed the Giving Pledge in 2010, committing to give away at least half of his wealth to improve education.
When he sold his movie company to Disney for more than $4 billion, a spokesperson from the George Lucas Family Foundation said he would direct much of that money to philanthropy. Gifts and pledges from the foundation have included $175 million to the University of Southern California film school and $25 million to the University of Chicago Laboratory schools to create an arts building.
Skywalker Ranch, Mr. Lucas’s post-production facility, declined to provide information about his personal philanthropic work.
The Young Padawan
Mr. Abrams and his wife give money through the Katie McGrath & JJ Abrams Family Foundation. In fiscal year 2012, the foundation made grants of nearly $1.69 million to organizations including American Foundation for Equal Rights, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the Motion Picture Pioneers Assistance Fund, and Sarah Lawrence College, Mr. Abrams’s alma mater. The couple has also given to the Children’s Defense Fund.
Editor's Note: This story was updated to include additional information about the Unicef programs.