Behind the staggering box office numbers of The Force Awakens exists the only franchise more lucrative than the Star Wars movies: Star Wars toys. Dating all the way back to the original trilogy, merchandise has been as integral to the world’s favorite fandom as the movies themselves. The release of A New Hope back in 1977 saw toys fly off the shelves so quickly that stores unexpectedly found themselves unable to fill the massive demand with supply. Fast forward to today and we see a similar trend developing, although this time it’s surrounded by far more dubious circumstances.
The latest demand for toys comes in the form of one of the new heroes of The Force Awakens, Rey, played by Daisy Ridley. Things came to a head when an 8-year-old sent a handwritten letter to Hasbro, asking the toy company why Rey is notably absent from the latest version of Star Wars Monopoly. It wasn’t long before Hasbro responded with a well-timed excuse about Rey’s presence in the game prior to the release spoiling The Force Awakens, noting how the intention was always to include her eventually.
All told, Hasbro’s excuse seems more than a little convenient. Yes, Disney and Lucasfilm led an almost unprecedented campaign of secrecy concerning the story leading into the release. But we also knew what Rey would look like months before the new Monopoly game ever came out. Her presence in the game dressed in the attire we see in the trailers wouldn’t have spoiled a single plot point, making her omission seem less like a well-planned strategy to guard the story and more like a massive misstep on the part of Hasbro.
— Carrie Goldman (@CarrieMGoldman) January 4, 2016
If this all feels familiar, well, it’s because it is. The release of Avengers: Age of Ultron saw Black Widow similarly absent from merchandise, coming to a head with her omission from toy sets depicting scenes her character was prominently involved in. While the action and adventure genre in film has gotten more progressive with every film, the marketing and merchandise has remained light years behind. “They’re just toys, what’s the problem?” some might ask. Swooping in to answer that question is Time:
Little girls need to see themselves as heroes. Little girls need to see that they can grow up to be powerful and good. Little girls deserve a chance to imagine strength and perseverance in their own gender. They deserve someone to look up to.
Toys play a large part in a child’s development, how they view their heroes, and as a result, what their expectations are for their own gender’s place in the world. If Rey isn’t available under the Christmas tree, children everywhere are given a message that women are less important when it comes to hero narratives. More specifically, storytelling is what shapes a young child’s mind, and toys are the means by which kids tell their own stories. If empowered women like Rey aren’t available to be included in those stories, that sort of stuff sticks with them throughout their formative years.
Maybe Hasbro really was trying to avoid spoilers when they didn’t include Rey, and this was all just an honest misunderstanding. But given the track record of toy companies over recent years, you can’t blame people for calling foul. Incidentally, Amazon’s own toy section is loaded with Rey-centric merchandise, so at the very least, we’re seeing a marked improvement this time around. But when kids start being to see the problem better than most adults, perhaps it’s time to make sure we’re nothing less than perfect.
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