By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated April 24, 2002 03:55 PM

The movie may not open until May 16, but Tuesday saw the arrival of the next best thing: the tie-in merchandise for “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones.” Fans, in New York at least, where the Times Square branch of Toys ”R” Us has seen lines outside its doors since the weekend, have been chomping at the bit in anticipation. This is in spite of the fact that the toys and games associated with the last “Star Wars” installment, 1999’s “Phantom Menace,” languished on store shelves, notes the Associated Press. Regarding the 2002 merchandise, “We’ve scaled it back a lot,” Lucasfilm licensing executive Howard Roffman told the news service. “We’re going to stick to the basics — toys, video games . . . the things our fans prefer, rather than some of the fringe items.” Lucasfilm Ltd. dramatically reduced the number of products for this movie by about half of what they were for the last one, and it has cut licensees from about 85 to less than 50, reports the AP. As a result, says the news service, there will be no likenesses of Queen Amidala on cans of Pepsi this time, and you can forget your Anakin Skywalker inflatable chair. “Last time, they just shipped too much,” Dave Gerardi, senior editor of the toy trade magazine Playthings, told the AP. “After a few months, retailers had to put a deep discount on them and still couldn’t move them.” Most embarrassing: Items featuring the much-maligned Jar Jar Binks, which never seemed to leave stores, despite huge price cuts. Best of the new lot appears to be a $100, 18-inch R2-D2 droid that responds to voice command. “You can even say, ‘Hey, Artoo, it’s Darth Vader,’ and he’ll get real scared, his electric eye will glow red, and he’ll back up and squeal,” Hasbro marketing executive Martin Pidel told the AP.