Tuesday June 13, 4:48 pm Eastern Time

Interactive Yoda Gives Young Jedis a Chance to Shine

By Jan Paschal

NEW YORK , June 13 (Reuters) - Interactive Yoda sure knows how to make an entrance. Just as summer vacation starts for school-age children across the nation -- and during the final countdown to Father's Day -- the tiny ``Star Wars'' movie character swoops into New York for his debut on Wednesday at the flagship FAO Schwarz toy store. Yoda, who comes with a lightsaber to help train young Jedi knights, will be in toy stores nationwide within a few weeks.

``A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defence, never for attack.''

The digitized voice belongs to Frank Oz, the actor who created the voice of Yoda in filmmaker George Lucas' first ``Star Wars'' movie in 1977 and brought Yoda's words to life in the 1999 sequel, ``Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace,'' one of the 20 top-grossing movies in history.

The voice is coming from Interactive Yoda, an 8-inch toy whose eyes, ears and mouth move when he speaks.

The Force, it seems, is likely to be quite strong at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 58th Street in New York on Wednesday morning, when Interactive Yoda meets the press in the Tiger Turf shop at FAO Schwarz. Suggested retail price is $39.99 for Interactive Yoda and the 12-inch lightsaber.

Anyone who decides to turn Interactive Yoda on his head may hear: ``Happy I am. See you I can. Upside down are you.''

It's not exactly what you expect from Yoda. And that is exactly the point, said Jeff Jones, vice president of marketing for Tiger Electronics Ltd., a subsidiary of Hasbro Inc. (NYSE:HAS - news), the second-largest U.S. toy maker.

``Yoda's personality is obviously very involved and complex,'' said Jones, who describes himself as ``a major geek'' who waited in line at age 15 to see the first ``Star Wars'' movie.

Jones, now 37, found his dream and his job becoming one after persuading his bosses at Tiger and then at Hasbro, after it bought Tiger, to develop the Interactive Yoda toy. All of a sudden he had a reason to go to meetings at Skywalker Ranch, the hangout of his idol, George Lucas, and the creative types at Lucasfilm, Ltd.

``One of the things when we were writing,'' Jones said, referring to the work on the toy's character and script, with the help of Oz, the actor, and others, ``was that the Lucas people insisted that the humour come out.''

So, yes, Interactive Yoda ``can be a little bit obnoxious, silly and funny. He's not just a strait-laced Jedi Master.''

Interactive Yoda is recommended for ages 9 and up, and probably will appeal mostly to boys ``because it's a power and conflict toy,'' said Christopher Byrne,a toy industry consultant in New York and a columnist known as The Toy Guy.

But adults, including collectors, and some girls will want Yoda, too. Ten collectible Interactive Yodas, autographed by Oz, are being auctioned for charity on Yahoo! (NasdaqNM:YHOO - news). For bidding details, see: http://www.yahoo.com.

``It's a lot of toy for the money,'' Byrne said. ``It's very cool. It keeps the child at the centre of the play pattern. The child is the one who is learning to be a Jedi Master.''

The toy, previewed for retail store buyers at Toy Fair 1999 in New York, took almost a year to design because ``the project turned out to be more complicated than originally thought,'' said Tiger Electronics' Jones, the father of Furby, the interactive talking doll who became the toast of the 1998 Christmas season.

``In order for Yoda to know which way the child has moved the lightsaber, we virtually had to invent light sensors for the laser. We had to invent technology for the animation of his face. He's aware of light and he does have IR (infrared) sensors that allow him to communicate with other Yodas.''

Hasbro's Advanced Product Engineering Group in Rhode Island should take a bow, Jones said.

A Young Jedi Speaks

Matthew Picinich, age 10, of Bloomfield, N.J., fell in love with ``Star Wars'' lore and characters when he was just a tyke.

At home, he agreed to give Interactive Yoda a test run.

First, Matt tried the ``Yoda Says'' game. It took about five tries before the four-step start-up kicked in. Then Yoda repeated a pattern, which Matthew had to follow by pressing Yoda's hands and sensor in a certain order.

``This game is good, fun,'' Matt said. ``I had to listen hard, though, for the pattern.''

He pointed out that the instruction book's print is too small, too hard to read. (To that criticism, Tiger's Jones said the instructions now are posted on the Web site -- http://www.tigertoys.com -- and should be easy to read there.)

Next, Matt tried the ``Ask Yoda'' game. The start-up was too involved, he said. In this game, you ask Yoda questions, and he answers.

HINT: Ask a lot of questions that can be anwered ``yes'' or ``no'' and phrase most of them so you get a ``no answer. Yoda answered ''no" to almost all of Matt's questions.

``I would not play this game much,'' Matt said.

The best part, in Matt's view, is the lightsaber drill, which involves learning 21 basic moves.

    BEWARE: The lightsaber drill is not easily mastered.

    "A Jedi must have the deepest commitment," Interactive Yoda


    May the Force be with you.

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Article is quoted from Yahoo news and is not edited in any way.
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