It happened with Gamora. It happened with Black Widow. It even happened with with Princess Leia. Over and over again, toy manufacturers have left out key players from blockbuster franchises. Those character all have one thing in a common: a uterus.
The latest casualty was Rey from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” From Monopoly to action figure box sets, fans were hard pressed to find the ACTUAL PROTAGONIST of the film. There was a Black Series action figure, a tiny action figure…and that”s it. Better than some merchandising campaigns, but a paltry offering for the face of a new generation of Star Wars. Yet Kylo Ren was everywhere, his mug plastered on everything from blankets to stuffed animals to, well, mugs.
How did this happen? According to an industry insider, it was by design. No one expected Rey to be the breakout star of “The Force Awakens.”
Speaking on the condition on anonymity to Sweatpants and Coffee – lest a Disney hit squad be called in – a whistleblower pulled back the curtain to reveal just how archaic some of the thinking is. In January of last year, toy and other merchandise vendors met with Lucasfilm to begin the process of creating product ideas. After all, you have to give enough leeway to actual create the merchandise en masse. Things started out promising, but quickly spiraled into outdated habits.
The insider, who was at those meetings, described how initial versions of many of the products presented to Lucasfilm featured Rey prominently. At first, discussions were positive, but as the meetings wore on, one or more individuals raised concerns about the presence of female characters in the Star Wars products. Eventually, the product vendors were specifically directed to exclude the Rey character from all Star Wars-related merchandise, said the insider. “We know what sells,” the industry insider was told. “No boy wants to be given a product with a female character on it.”
Attitudes like this explain why you see “Avengers” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” merchandise missing Black Widow and Gamora from group shots. Executives are convinced boys won”t buy something with girl cooties on it. It”s also how you get a toy featuring everyone but Black Widow riding Black Widow”s motorcycle.
So if Disney and Lucasfilm didn”t expect Rey to be the star of the merchandise show, who DID they bet on? Kylo Ren. Sweatpants and Coffee caught up with Heroic Girls founder John Marcotte, who knows people on the inside. He concurred that Lucasfilm was caught flatfooted:
“I”ve spoken with Disney people, and they were completely blindsided by the reaction to the new Star Wars characters […]They put a huge investment into marketing and merchandizing the Kylo Ren character. They presumed he would be the big breakout role from the film. They were completely surprised when it was Rey everyone identified with and wanted to see more of. Now they”re stuck with vast amounts of Kylo Ren product that is not moving, and a tidal wave of complaints about a lack of Rey items.”
I have to ask, did anyone in the merchandising division see a script before making decisions? There”s no way they could”ve seen a finished version of the film, but someone had to know the core concepts of the characters. At what point is a entitled, whiny, parent-killer considered the smart bet as the “break out role” for kids to attach to? What kind of focus groups were they holding???
There is ray of light at the end of the tunnel though (zing!). Vendors have scrambled to fill the Rey void and have rallied quickly. From LEGO to action figures to shirts and sweaters, the second wave of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” swag has Rey front and center. Right where she should be.
Hopefully this is the last time we have to have this conversation, HOLLYWOOD.