Other Programming

The New Star Wars Toolkit: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Years ago Lucasfilm Ltd., in partnership with Jeff Merhige (then director of YMCA Camp Kern), came out with a Star Wars: The Clone Wars toolkit for camp wanting to run a Clone Wars themed camp. In 2013  they released a new general Star Wars Camp Toolkit to replace the specific Clone Wars Toolkit.

These were both great resources, and the fact that Lucasfilm offered free resources to camps was amazing. Yes, it helps to market their brand, but really that makes it a win-win situation for them AND summer camps. If only other companies, like Warner Bros with the Harry Potter franchise, would do the same.

However, with something like this coming from a huge corporation, there are always going to be certain terms and conditions.

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My Experience

When I originally wrote this post I decided that I wanted to run a Star Wars camp. I contacted Amy Miller, the camp liaison at Lucasfilm, to get permission to run the camp since the activities I wanted to offer were not part of the Clone Wars Toolkit. After some back and forth phone calls I was told that:

  1. I could not do any activities that were not part of the toolkit.
  2. I could not do any marketing without permission from Lucasfilm.

luke_skywalker_cryingAt that point I decided we would go ahead and only do the activities in the Clone Wars toolkit and I submitted my marketing materials to be approved. After a week of waiting Amy informed me that because I was not a YMCA or an ACA approved camp I could not use the Clone Wars Toolkit at all – I was not allowed to run any Star Wars activities. (Side note: being part of a parks and recreation department, becoming ACA is not an approved budget item – but because I come from an ACA resident camp background I make sure I meet all the standards.) Amy said that because the YMCAs and ACA have enough liability insurance, Lucasfilm feels comfortable allowing them to run approved Star Wars activities. I mentioned that our recreation departments was back by our city and they have plenty of liability insurance. Apparently, it wasn’t good enough for Lucasfilm’s lawyers…or was it.

A couple of months later, after I cancelled our Star Wars camp, Lucasfilm and Jeff Merhige came out with the Star Wars Toolkit. This new Toolkit, however, wasn’t limited to just YMCAs or ACA accredited camps. It was for all camps – well not all – it was for non-profit camps. It seems liability insurance was no longer an issue. Interesting.

I sent Amy a few emails to clear up a few things. She decided not to respond to me.

I want to make sure that if you use the Star Wars toolkit you understand what is in the terms and conditions. After all, both Lucasfilm and Disney are known for sending cease and desist letters to companies (including camps) when they use their names, logos, images or anything else that may be copywritten or trademarked without permission – as they should and have the right to do. I would hate for you to market and design a camp that you find out later you can’t even offer. Update: Since writing this I have spoken with many camp directors who run Disney theme weeks at their camps. Not one has ever had a problem. In my opinion, Disney is not worried about a camp running a program based on one of their properties. They are after the companies that are using their logos, images, music and stories for pure profit (apparel, entertainment, etc.).

The More You Know…

THE GOOD

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  • The Toolkit was FREE! Lucasfilm did not charge a licensing fee of any kind to offer a Star Wars camp (as long as you only use the approved activities).
  • It was full of some neat Star Wars activities that could be run almost anywhere.
  • Despite not returning my last few emails, Amy, the camp liaison at Lucasfilm Ltd., was awesome! She was so nice and helpful. Her hands were tied when it came to tweaking the program or giving camps permission beyond what the lawyers would allow, but she was great and willing help however she could.
  • Jeff, the executive director of YMCA Camp Kern, was also awesome! He had been even more helpful.

Update: Amy Miller is no longer the Public Relations Coordinator since Disney purchased the rights. Jeff has left Camp Kern to Executive Direct another Y camp.

THE BAD

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  • You had to be a non-profit camp to use the Star Wars toolkit. For-profit camps were not allowed to run a Star Wars camp of any kind.
  • You had to get all marketing materials approved by Lucasfilm Ltd.
  • You could not use any Star Wars images for your marketing or for the camp that were not included in the toolkit.
  • You could not create your own activities that are Star Wars related. For example, you could not have foam lightsaber battles (at least you couldn’t call them lightsabers). This was to avoid liability issues. I imagine Lucasfilm Ltd. gets sued all the time for ridiculous reasons. They have to protect themselves legally anyway they can.

Update: These were all conditions of the toolkits. I, and many other camp professionals, have run Star Wars camps with my own programming without getting any notifications from Disney to stop. They have bigger fish to fry. That’s not to say they are not within their rights to send a cease and desist letter.

THE UGLY

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  • The downloading of the Star Wars Camp Toolkit took forever, and it crashed the browser (Firefox) twice before downloading the whole thing – and that was for the low-res version.
  • My regular readers know that I love camp programming. Those that participate in the email round tables know the caliber of great ideas we get from camp pros from all over. I offered to submit additional activities to be included in an expanded version of the Toolkit or for a 2nd Toolkit. They had no interest in hearing our ideas, no interest in improving their toolkit. What a missed opportunity, in my humble opinion.
  • The Toolkit was only for the 2013 camp season. That made it very difficult for camps to plan a Star Wars theme for 2014 summer season. Update: They never came out with a 2014 version.

The Bottom Line

StarWarsCamp_LowRes_4-23-13.pdfThis was a great resource for camps. While I don’t think the Star Wars Camp Toolkit offered enough activities for a specialty Star Wars Camp, it did offer enough for a Star Wars Day at camp. As someone who spent a lot of time trying to get permissions from corporations and film studios to run certain camps I know how difficult it can be and how heartbreaking it is to get a “No”. Lucasfilm had made available an instant “Yes” and had told us what was okay to do and what wasn’t. That alone saved a lot of headache and time for camps wanting to do a Star Wars theme day.

Overall, while I would have liked to see more activities and leeway as to what camps could do with a Star Wars theme, I was thankful for what Jeff and LucasFilm had put together for summer camps (excluding for-profit camps…sorry about that).

Tip: If you decide to run your own Star Wars (or any Disney property) camp with your own activities, be sure you never use any images from the movies, books, etc. in your marketing materials. That’s the kind of thing that gets the attention of the big corporation’s lawyers. Also, I would suggest you not name it “Star Wars Camp” but something like A Galaxy Far Away Camp, The Camp Force Awakens, Sabers and Wookies, or something else that says what your camp is all about but doesn’t use the main title of the franchise.

In case you were wondering, the toolkit is no longer available.

Update 1/9/17: I have written my own ebook on how to run a Star Wars camp. I compiled my favorite information from online resources that I have used, tips and tricks from other camp directors who run Star Wars themed camps, and the Jedi Training Camp program I designed. Star Wars Theme Book 

4 Comments

  • Thanks for posting this. We were also really excited about getting ideas for a Star Wars theme camp and were planning on hosting it next year. We set the topics for each camp week in the Fall for the next Summer-so this did come out too late for us.

    We are already discussing hosting a summer reading adventures themed camp featuring Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, 39 Clues and the Ivy & Bean series. Did you have to go through a similar process obtaining permission to run themed camps based from books?

    • Hi Heather,
      Here’s the thing about getting permission to run a camp based on a book or movie, if you’re small enough nobody (movie studios and publishers) will bother you. When you start marketing your camps heavily and kids around the country want to come to your camp then you need to really consider getting permission. It would be horrible to get a cease and desist letter a week or two prior to the start of camp. Having said that, you ARE supposed to get permission for any of the camps you mentioned if you are charging a fee.

      You need to contact Warner Bros for permission on running a Harry Potter camp. Not easy. They seem to keep changing who you’re supposed to ask. As for Percy Jackson, the rights are confusing. It’s not clear who can give permission to run a camp, the publisher or the movie studio. Since it’s in that hazy area I was told that we could run it under the fair use act but could not use movie images.

      If the camp is based on a book that does not have an accompanying movie then you would contact the publisher or the author’s agent. This is much easier to do. Unfortunatley, it’s the books that have been made into movies that the kids are really interested in attending. This year we are running 4 separate book-themed camps. One is based on the Hunger Games. The author’s “people” would not give me permission so I had to be careful on how I designed the camp. I am not using any images, logos, characters or anything else that is trademarked or copywritten. What I am using would all fall under the Fair Use Act. In the fall I will write a post on exactly what I did and the activities I planned that, I feel, allows me not to have to get permission.

      I designed and ran a 39 Clues birthday party last year and it turned out really well. Since there is n registration fee and it’s just a party no permission was needed. We considered doing a camp based on that series but decided against it this year. Next year we want to grow these camps into 8 weeks, a differnt camp/book series each week. It really all depends on the success of this summer. Good luck with your planning and let me know if you have any questions.

  • Their toolkit is gone from the star wars site do any of you guys have last years? As I would love to run a star wars theme. Thanks in advance. Wayne

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