With all of the intense, passionate hype surrounding "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," it feels like there's never been a better time to be a "Star Wars" fan -- especially if you're a fan who enjoys collecting, or playing with toys.
After the first wave of new "Force Awakens" products hit toy stores all over the country on Force Friday, character like BB-8 and Kylo Ren became household names -- and we haven't even met either of them yet. These days you literally can't turn your head in a big name store without spying a cool t-shirt with the Millennium Falcon on it, or an awesome new figure of the First Order Stormtroopers. But for many parents and collectors, the influx of "Force Awakens" toys brings with it a very familiar concern: that because "Star Wars" has traditionally been marketed as a franchise for young boys, it will end up inadvertently excluding girls.
Fortunately, as MTV News discovered after talking to multiple toy company reps, as well as reaching out to the stores themselves, that doesn't look like it'll be the case with the "Force Awakens" line... But that still doesn't mean it'll be easy to stroll into your local Target and pick up a Rey figure without some serious planning.
Female representation in toys isn't an issue that's exclusive to "Star Wars," of course; it's been irking critics of gender-based marketing for decades, especially when it comes to merchandise of superhero and action-adventure franchises. Not only are these genres overwhelmingly marketed towards boys, but they also rarely feature the few female characters that appear in these franchises, under the misapprehension that even boys aren't interested in female toys (a mindset that, according to anonymous sources at BirthMoviesDeath and The Mary Sue, has certainly plagued Marvel's consumer products line in the past.)
But customers have started to fight back against this in recent years, most commonly via social media. In the past two years, popular Twitter hashtag campaigns like #WheresGamora and #WheresNatasha have highlighted the rarity of female characters in Marvel toy lines for "Guardians Of The Galaxy" and "Avengers: Age Of Ultron." There's already a similar #WheresRey campaign in place for "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," which began when a writer for Legion of Leia found that out that an exclusive line of large "Star Wars" figures at Target (which recently phased out its "boys" and "girls" toy sections) didn't include Rey or Captain Phasma, two of the franchise's new female characters.
It's understandable that parents and collectors are feeling frustrated. It is pretty difficult to find toys of Captain Phasma and Rey right now, but there's a pretty surprising reason behind that. So to try to get a feel for just how tough it might be, we called up 14 toy stores in New Jersey and New York that are conceivably within driving distance of the MTV News office -- 5 Targets, 3 K-marts, 2 Disney Stores, 3 Toys "R" Us and one Walmart.
Of the seven stores whose toy departments we were actually able to get a hold of, four of them had at least one type of Rey figure and one type of Captain Phasma figure currently on their shelves, but had very few of them left and were unable to hold them for customers calling ahead. Three stores were sold out of all their female characters but expected more in later shipments, although they couldn't identify when that would be -- usually the workers at each individual location of a major chain location don't know what to expect until they open the shipments.
Seeking out toys of female characters online rather than going out of your way to brick and mortar stores might be a solution for some, but don't expect it to be any easier as far as availability goes. Many figures of Rey and Captain Phasma are already sold out or unavailable on the K-mart, Toys "R" Us, and Disney Store websites. And on Amazon, the standard 3.75 inch Rey figure costs twice its regular retail price via third party sellers -- meaning it's also been selling out at the retail level.
However, this scarcity doesn't explicitly mean that there are fewer female action figures in production than male ones, as many customers might fear from checking out their local stores. Several sources we spoke to noted that "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" figures were produced in relatively equal amounts to one another, because licensors weren't sure which of the new characters would sell the best -- and are planning to adjust after the movie is released, accordingly.
Retailers also can't select individual figures to sell more than others in a particular figure line. Right now, they all come bundled together, meaning that stores get as many Finn figures as they get Rey figures in any one shipment. So if you're seeing a row of 6" Hasbro Black Series figures with no Rey in sight, it's more likely that there were just as many Rey toys at one point, and they all got bought out -- versus were never there in the first place.
Talking to Jim Silver, the CEO and editor-in-chief of TTPM -- a well respected aggregator and creator of expert toy and collectible reviews -- simply told MTV News, "It's supply and demand. You go back to the old characters, the one thing you knew was that by far Darth Vader was the most popular character, and outsold the other characters in multiples."
For the new movie, that slot is taken by new villain Kylo Ren. Actor Adam Driver's villainous character already dominates the toy aisle far more than any of the film's heroes -- in no small part because he already resembles the highest selling "Star wars" character of all time, Darth Vader.
"The expectation was that Kylo Ren would be the most popular villain character, based on experience," Silver continued, adding, "But the others [Finn, Poe Dameron and Rey] shipped equally."
So if you're having a hard time finding Rey and Phasma toys right now, that might actually be a good thing -- if they're selling out more quickly than other characters in the line before the movie's even come out, and if there's an equal if not higher demand for them after this weekend, then there's a high possibility that toy companies will take notice and produce even more.
As it stands, there are already plans for more female figures once "The Force Awakens" hits theaters, not just of Rey and Phasma but of other characters from the film as well.
“Leading into 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens,' we have created a product line with an unprecedented number of Star Wars products for women and girls," Paul Southern, Lucasfilm's senior vice president of licensing told us over the phone. "Rey and Phasma feature prominently across hundreds of products in the 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens' line, and fans will be seeing a lot more of them with a new wave of product coming after the movie opens."
Hasbro representative Kristina Timmins agreed, telling us that, "We know that 'Star Wars' is a property that is universally loved and that is why we always have and will continue to offer characters that appeal to fans of every age and gender."
Hasbro is aware of just how well the female characters are selling, Timmins noted -- and it would honestly be hard not to be aware, considering that for the first time ever, the National Retail Foundation listed "Star Wars" in the top ten bestselling toy franchises for girls as well as boys this holiday season. Although it admittedly ranks much lower on the girls list compared to the boys list, at #10 compared to #2, the NRF press release attributes this particularly to, "strong female characters like Rey and Phasma."
And sales volume aside, there's hope beyond the holiday season that things are starting to shift in the toy aisle. While the demand for female characters and girl-centered "Star Wars" toys is still much higher than the current supply, it's not for lack of trying this time around -- across the board, Disney, Lucasfilm and its toy licensers claim that they are making an active, concentrated effort to include girls in their consumer base. Even Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy has spoken out about the need for more female representation, and if she has her way we'll also be seeing more and more inclusion in the "Star Wars" line as the franchise continues into the future.
"I think Hasbro, who's making toys for a while, they were perhaps a little reluctant to move too quickly with something that's been such a successful boys line," Kennedy told The LA Times recently. "I think they're recognizing that selling to girls is just as effective as selling to boys. More and more the lines are being blurred as to deciding ahead of time that some things are for boys and some things are for girls... It's going to be real change. And not just perceived change."
Let's hope that she's right and we're having a very different conversation this time next Christmas -- specifically, one about how Rey has totally, completely taken over the toy aisle.
"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" hits theaters December 18.