It sounds like this: cha-ching cha-ching.
Now, I get it. Since 1977 Star Wars has been as much about the merchandise and the toys as it has the actual movies. George Lucas knew exactly what he was doing when he negotiated the right to retain the merchandising and licensing rights to the series. Many filmgoers, myself included, have a hard time looking at the Ewoks and thinking that they weren’t designed to be cute and cuddly specifically for toys further down the line.
This past Friday however, Star Wars felt like it hit a new low, one that makes me long for the days when Jar-Jar Binks was the worst thing in the series. I’m referring to Force Friday.
Star Wars inspires one of the largest and most passionate fanbases in the galaxy and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand why. It is one of the ultimate good vs. evil stories set against a fantastical and colorful backdrop that inspires as much imagination as to what happens inside the events of the movies as well as outside of them. May 4th has colloquially become known as Star Wars Day (a riff on MAY the FORCE be with you) and now the toy companies have decided they need a day as well.
September 4th was announced last spring as a day when the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens merchandise would, in essence, go public. Like a great company who was announcing it’s shares were available, many toy and merchandise retail stores would release a new treasure trove of everything Force Awakens so that fans could stock up.
All of this rubs me the wrong way.
First, let’s remember an obvious fact. The Force Awakens won’t open in theaters for another four months. It will undoubtedly be a mega-hit. At the time of writing this, there have been exactly two teaser trailers for the film, one of which was only released to satiate the fans’ rabid desire for any details on the film. But don’t worry, the movie will have practical effects. They’ve released more than enough promos regarding that singular aspect of the film.
On the flip side, Force Day was announced months ago and there was a live-streaming event showing off the toys you could buy. At this point, BB-8 has more officially released videos detailing his inner majesty than the film itself does.
Fans are eating all of this up. It is as if every single one of them forgets that exactly 16 years ago we were at the same level of hype train and fever pitch that left us so profoundly disappointed it took us years to realize how screwed over the franchise had been. There is a great moment in the movie Fanboys, where Seth Rogen’s character has already gotten a Jar-Jar Binks tattoo declaring “That guy’s gonna be the shit.” When BB-8 starts detailing all the times he and Bill Cosby hung out, we might be re-thinking how much we pre-invested into our toys. Now, that is a bad example, but what about new series favorite Kylo Ren, who will be played by Adam Driver? What if he is as whiny a villain as prequel-Anakin? What if the new movie isn’t bad but just boring? Not that this would negatively impact it all, Star Wars fans are forgiving and dedicated despite the fact that only two of the movies are actually any good.
It is sort of confusing and distressing from both ends. On one hand, the toy companies had officially made Star Wars a toy franchise. There has officially been more of a big deal made over Force Friday than there has The Force Awakens. On the other hand, I find myself equally dumbfounded by the legions of fans who flocked to Target and Toys R’ Us last week and dropped hundreds of dollars each to get toys and action figures. Make no mistake, I’m very certain the majority of people who have been pilfering Target’s toy section are adults as I’m sure children are too busy playing with their own toys. If they are, many toy companies have been reporting falling sales steadily for years now due to an increased dedication to video and mobile games. When you think about the digital landscape kids are growing up in these days, you wonder if adults really are the target audience, especially since many of them undoubtedly grew up with their own beloved Star Wars toys.
At this point I should absolutely clarify, there is nothing wrong with people buying all this Star Wars merchandise. It hurts no one, it is no character flaw and is fine. I’m a firm practitioner of doing what makes you happy. As a kid, I had a toy X-Wing, a Millenium Falcon, a lightsaber, activity books – I couldn’t get enough. I still like Star Wars, but I feel its chokehold on the cultural zeitgeist is exhausting. Star Wars parodies used to feel novel, now they feel cliched.
Personally I feel like we’re in the middle of a weird time in franchise history when the movies aren’t the focus anymore. Unlike Michael Bay’s Transformers series, which went to the silver screen from toy shelves, Star Wars appears to be heading in the opposite direction with no signs of slowing down.