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Can 'The Force Awakens' jolt Verizon's Droid smartphone franchise?

The carrier's flagship brand will tie into the latest Star Wars film as it hopes to broaden the appeal of its exclusive smartphones.

Verizon said its Droid smartphones would tie into the new Star Wars film.

Lucasfilm/Walt Disney

How do you get consumers interested in your aging smartphone franchise?

Tying it to the biggest movie of the year (of the decade?) might be a good start.

Verizon on Tuesday unveiled the latest additions to its Droid family of smartphones, the Droid Turbo 2 and the Droid Maxx 2, both from Motorola. The carrier will tap a licensing deal it has with Lucasfilm regarding the "Droid" name to take part in the marketing for the upcoming "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" film, said David Small, executive vice president of Verizon's wireless operations.

"You'll see a tie-in later this year," Small said in an interview.

Though Verizon has had the right to use "Droid" in its products since the original Droid phone in 2009, it's never had a chance to benefit from the release of a Star Wars movie. The last Star Wars film, "Revenge of the Sith," debuted in 2005.

The marketing push could draw more consumer eyeballs to Verizon's Droid brand, which has faded over the years as consumers have turned to major smartphone players such as Apple and Samsung. Droid has primarily appealed to young men with its bass-thumping, testosterone-fueled commercials. But the new phones could appeal to consumers more broadly with a shatterproof display that can withstand the occasional moment of clumsiness.

"The shatterproof screen addresses a real consumer pain point," said Avi Greengart, who covers consumer electronics for Current Analysis.

A spokesman for Lucasfilm was not immediately available for comment.

Does this suggest a comeback for the 6-year-old Droid brand? Consumers probably aren't going to drop their Galaxy S phones or iPhones and snap up a Droid Turbo 2. But Small believes there's a base of loyal customers who will keep coming back.

Verizon hopes to hit a broader audience with the Droid Turbo 2.

Sarah Tew/CBS Interactive

"Droid isn't what it used to be, but there's still strong relevance," Small said. "It's remarkable how it's sustained itself over time."

The Droid brand is a long way from its heyday back in 2009, when Verizon was desperate to find a device that could beat back AT&T's exclusive iPhone. Verizon, partnering with Google and Motorola, reportedly backed the original Droid with a $100 million marketing campaign.

The Verizon commercials were so ubiquitous that the Droid name was synonymous with the then-fledgling Android software. If you wanted to buy an Android-powered smartphone, you were likely to ask for a Droid, regardless of the actual device or the carrier that sold it. Its popularity was a significant factor in bringing Android into the mainstream.

But the Droid franchise lost steam after Verizon got hold of the iPhone. Then Samsung opted to take its Galaxy S franchise across every carrier, a move emulated by HTC, LG and even Motorola. The idea of an exclusive carrier smartphone has largely become passé.

"Times have changed with both iPhone and Android just about everywhere and on each carrier," said Ramon Llamas, an analyst at IDC.

What's also changed are Verizon and Motorola's ambitions for the Droid franchise. Both companies are hoping the shatterproof screen and access to MotoMaker, Motorola's tool for customizing the look and feel of its smartphones, will get new consumers to look at the Droid Turbo 2.

The franchise has been successful enough that it continues to make sense for Motorola, company President Rick Osterloh said in an interview. "It's something we intend to keep doing," he said.

Neither Verizon nor Motorola would say how many Droid smartphones have been sold, but Small said it was "a significant chunk" of total phone sales.

And while Star Wars plays into the sci-fi heavy themes of its past, it's the films' broad appeal that could help bring new attention to Droid. Verizon is readying its own television campaign, and Small teased a "fair amount of exposure" for the new Droid phones.

Given the rabid interest for all things Star Wars, a connection couldn't hurt.

"If you can turn my Droid into a lightsaber," said IDC's Llamas, "then you have my interest."