I’ll share a traditional links post over the weekend, but I wanted to devote some focused words on one link in particular.
Most of you have probably heard about the Star Wars toy controversy: that Rey is almost entirely absent from the new toys released with The Force Awakens. This article lays out much of the story.
Some of the sources are anonymous, and thus I recognize that we may not have the whole picture.
But, still, W.T.F.?
How do you do this?
I’ve got some thoughts related to the gender aspect of the decision to leave Rey out, but there’s one big factor that overrides pretty much everything: REY IS THE FUCKING STAR OF THE MOVIE!!! Is there any precedent for releasing a huge line of toys around a movie or TV show and basically ignoring the star of the show? Based on that alone, this was an asinine decision. What the hell were those people thinking?
If you want to push Kylo Ren, that’s fine. But in no way can you argue he is the apex character of the new film, so he should not be the focus of the toy campaign. The Star Wars saga is a story of the Jedis, thus Rey is clearly a notch above Kylo Ren in the new character hierarchy.
Now let’s discuss the girl angle.
One justification for this decision is the claim that girls don’t really buy toys that are related to movies and TV shows. As a parent of three girls, I know that’s bullshit. We had at least 800 variations of Dora in our basement at some point. We have Frozen toys, My Little Pony stuff out the ass, and on and on. Maybe, traditionally, girls don’t buy as many movie tie-in toys as boys, but they do buy them. And, as Frozen clearly showed, if you make a movie that connects with girls, they’ll buy the hell out of those toys.
Here’s another important point my friend John N. shared: girls today are a lot different than girls were when all the execs making these decisions grew up. His 10-year-old daughter thought Rey was cool, but she was not as floored by her as we were. Why? Because she’s grown up reading stories with strong female characters her entire life. Rey was only revolutionary to us children of the 70s and 80s, when the female lead was almost always cast based on her beauty alone.
How does that translate to toys? Girls of today are comfortable with – hell expect – strong, independent female characters. They are likely more attracted to Star Wars because Rey fits what they’ve grown up with. Thus, they may be more likely to want Star Wars toys of their own, where 30 years ago girls of our generation were less enthusiastic about them.
That change in gender roles goes both ways. I would imagine most boys are going to ask for Finn, Poe, or Kylo Ren toys first. But I bet a lot of them will want Rey action figures to go with them. Rey is a badass. Boys these days, who think it’s cool to wear long, pink basketball socks, will be drawn more to that badassness than worry about Rey being a girl.
OK, so now that all that’s laid out, let’s assume for a second I am profoundly wrong. Maybe girls really have no interest in buying Star Wars toys, boys won’t want Rey action figures, and any efforts to include her as a key part of the campaign would have been a mistake. The aisle in Target I walked through the other day devoted to Star Wars toys that was completely picked over would look exactly the same, except for dozens of ignored Rey toys hanging on their lonely hooks. There’s another very important angle the toy execs were forgetting: this is Star Wars. There are two generations of adult fans with disposable income who will snatch up just about anything that has the franchise’s logo stamped on it.
There is a guy in S’s office. Married, in his 40s. Last fall he drove two hours to Cincinnati to go to a Toys ‘R Us that had a stock of some rare Star Wars toys that weren’t available in Indianapolis. Trust me, if the kids ignored all the Rey action figures and game sets and shirts and “biographies,” there are tens of thousands of adults who would happily buy them up.
This whole thing makes me sad. Not as a pro-feminist liberal, but rather just as a modern dude who has daughters. This decision was based on narrow, old-time, deeply flawed thinking. When we think like this, it sells our daughters short. When our girls walk through the aisles of toy stores and only see Finn, Poe, Kylo Ren, Han Solo, and Luke toys, it sends them a message that Rey is less vital than the cast of men around her. Which tells our girls that they, too, are less valuable than the boys they grow up with.
- Horse. Ass. Ha ha! Also, I think the MLP toys came before the shows. But to my girls, they saw the shows first and then wanted the toys. ↩
- Remember the big disaster when, because Brave wasn’t as successful as hoped, Disney didn’t license enough Frozen toys? And for six months it was nearly impossible to find them anywhere as they struggled to catch up with demand? ↩
- I knew plenty of girls who played with Star Wars toys in the late 1970s. ↩