If you're catching an Uber in New York City today, don't be alarmed if your driver is driving a stormtrooper.
As part of the "Star Wars" #ForceFriday, a worldwide reveal of the first-ever "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" merchandise, Mattel has launched a team of eight cars inspired by their First Order Stormtrooper Hot wheels toy to give people free rides in Manhattan via the Uber app.
The toy company was kind enough to give us one of their cars for a few hours this morning, so naturally we jumped at the chance to join the Dark Side. Sorry, Obi-Wan.
So where do you go when you've got a stormtrooper car at your disposal? To the Disney Store and Toys 'R' Us in Times Square to see what kind of #ForceFriday stuff they've got on the shelves, of course. Let's keep this "Star Wars" high going!
You'd think that most of the diehard nerds would be tired out after yesterday's unboxing video streams and midnight events (a PR representative from Toys 'R' Us said they had at least 500 people lined up to get in). But there were plenty of customers this morning who had a lot to say about their love of the series.
"I have a three-year-old at home and now, after growing up with these films with my father, I'm going to be able to take him to see his first 'Star Wars,'" one shopper named Alan told me at the Disney Store. He was buying a Rey figure for the both of them to share -- he loves her potential to be a strong female role model, and his son is currently obsessed with her droid companion, BB-8. "He knows the characters' names; he's excited about it. I'm much less vested in whether the movie is good or bad -- like the prequels were terrible. I'm just excited about sharing the experience together."
Not everyone was there to buy, of course -- some were there just to gawk. "I was excited when I saw the prequel characters and the trailers come out, and then a little disappointed in some of it," Chris, a lifelong fan of the franchise, said to me while eyeing one of the impressive Sphero BB-8 toys. "So I'm holding back."
BB-8 was definitely the favorite of almost every fan I talked to, and looms large over the rest of the toys in the Disney store ("He's just so cute!" another shopper, Kristen, told me). But I was also pleasantly surprised to find both Rey and Captain Phasma merch featured fairly prominently amongst the "Force Awakens" offerings in both stores, almost equally as much as their male counterparts Finn and Kylo Ren. "Star Wars" has a reputation of being a bit of a boy's club, especially when it comes to toy marketing, and the apparent effort to be more gender-inclusive -- and racially inclusive, in Finn's case -- is encouraging.
Interestingly there were were not as many toys of the third member of the trio, Poe Dameron, and practically no new "The Force Awakens" toys of the original trio -- Luke, Leia and Han. Those are probably on the way closer to the film's actual release in December.
But there were plenty of lightsabers, stormtroopers of all sizes, wearable helmets and costumes, action figures, board games, and spaceships to suit most nerds' purposes. And for fans who remember the previous two eras of "Star Wars," the Toys R' Us even has displays set up all over the store of vintage Luke Skywalker figures to make you feel extra-super old.
But today's big merchandise reveal isn't just about appealing to the older generation, of course. Lots of kids were captivated by the displays at Toys 'R' Us; one nine-year girl I talked to, Amelia, had even decked herself out in a "Star Wars" themed dress from Her Universe for just the occasion. Her dad, who brought her to the store that morning, introduced her to the original trilogy so he'd have someone to share his fandom with (Mom's not a fan, evidently). And it definitely worked out for the both of them. When I asked the two of them who her favorite character was, she looked vaguely overwhelmed and replied, "I have a few," before immediately rattling off names.
It's easy to be skeptical of such a big marketing campaign like #ForceFriday, which is promoting a movie that hasn't even been released yet -- how can we know whether we're truly going to love these characters when we actually see them in action, and why are we already so willing to devote our time and our income on them? Especially considering the track record "Star Wars" has for promising us excitement and then delivering us... well, Jar Jar Binks.
But I remember growing up during the late '90s "Star Wars" prequel hype and being completely entranced by the "Phantom Menace" toys long before I actually saw the movie itself. The fact that I later found Padmé Amidala, the fourteen-year-old space queen with a penchant for sneaking around in disguise, to be a pretty boring character when I grew up didn't retroactively change the fact that I spent hours mixing and matching the outfits on my doll. She was able to capture my imagination anyway.
So even though we have no idea whether or not BB-8 will actually turn out to be the adorable, cheerful little robot that we think he is, his ability to excite and inspire us is still worth celebrating. Beneath all the merchandise, that's what #ForceFriday should be about -- and hopefully that's how we'll remember it, stormtrooper cars and all.