One of the toughest tricks in the world of entertainment– especially when it comes to internet-leaning geek properties– is keeping things under wraps. JJ Abrams, Disney and Lucasfilm have done an impressive job with their controlled stream of teases and basic information surrounding Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which at this point is going to be the most talked-about movie from now until December.
Hasbro and other Star Wars toymakers have been part of this secrecy, announcing back in May that September 4th would be dubbed “Force Friday,” the official release date of The Force Awakens toy line. One of my fondest memories as a toy collector was lining up in front of Toys R Us at midnight when the Phantom Menace toys were released, going through racks and racks of figures to find young Obi Wan, Qui Gon, and the elusive Darth Maul… and discovering new characters who I hadn’t heard of, whose role in the upcoming movie intrigued me. We all know how that turned out– Ric Olie? What a badass.
So I’m definitely down for another midnight release party. What’s been different this time around is how little information has been made public about what will be included in this toy line. That’s where things get tricky. On the one hand, I respect the rationale, which seems to skew closer than ever to that “find something at the store we didn’t even know existed” sentiment that charms many a collector, and runs in line with the withholding nature of the film production itself.
But keeping the details of the toy line a secret is problematic when it comes down to brass tax. Not even Disney has the power to control ALL retail partners and vendors, and some Wal-Marts have broken the September 4th street date and sold the toys early. And so, now– three weeks ahead of Force Friday– eBay, social media and toy sites comfortable with running unofficial proprietary product images have all revealed many of The Force Awakens figures and vehicles, the new Black Series, and a bunch of Lego sets. The secret’s out at this point, and rather than a controlled stream of high resolution product images, what we’re seeing are the toy world equivalent of spy photos. Some of the pics are blurry, some are off center, making proportions look weird… some are great pics, sure, but the fact of that matter is our introduction to this toy line is now out of the hands of the toymakers. If I were Hasbro, I wouldn’t be very comfortable with that.
If Hasbro and Lucasfilm are smart about this, the leaked photos will force their hand and they will reveal the complete toy line, with professional photos and an official press release. It’s the same logic that lead to the immediate release of Warner Bros’ Suicide Squad trailer from Comic-Con. The footage leaked online, via a shitty iPhone from the middle of the auditorium– not the best framework with which to offer people a first look at your product– so they put their best foot forward as soon as they could. Hasbro should do the same thing.
Here’s the other thing to consider– when it comes to the movie, ticket prices to The Force Awakens are not really variable. We know what to budget to buy our tickets. The toy line is something entirely different– at this point, we don’t really know how many toys will be released on Force Friday, nor the retail price of any of them. Considering most of us planning to line up at midnight in front of Toys R Us or the Disney Store next month are– ironically, I guess– adults, we all have expenses and budgets to maintain. Knowing even a ballpark of how much cash we should have stockpiled for Force Friday would be a huge boon to planning our budgets. As it stands, I’m guessing going all-in on Hasbro’s collection will cost somewhere between $200 and $500, but that’s a pretty impractical spread to consider.
The secrecy game has been fun, but now that secret’s out, in a way that Hasbro can’t effectively manage. And we’re all getting ready for Force Friday, having very little idea of what magnitude of products to expect. I’ll admit, there’s something exciting about that in a night before Christmas kind of way. But while I’ll happily admit I will never grow up one hundred percent, the realist in me says I’ve still got rent and a car payment and student loans to deal with. It would make me feel better to know what Hasbro was releasing, so I could make sure to add that to my expenses for the month, too, instead of a nebulous amount of money for an unknown line of toys.
If Hasbro wanted to compromise, it would have been really simple to keep that sense of mystery, while also giving us a look at the line, so we can prepare financially. Do what Kenner did for the Return of the Jedi line, and present the complete lineup of figures in the line, with the ones you want to keep under wraps blacked out. This would have been a great nod to the vintage toy line– playing into the nostalgic charm that makes seeing Han and Chewie back aboard the Millenium Falcon so strong– while giving us a better understanding of the product range as a whole.
Like I said, I tend to think Hasbro will reveal their line over the next week, mostly for the sake of damage control, as more and more stores seem to be breaking street date and shelving the collection for sale. It just seems like they could have handled the mystery of the toy line in a more efficient and fun way than they did. Hopefully, they’ll learn from this and try something different when it’s time for the debut of Episode VIII. Though maybe not? I mean, I know nothing about The Force Awakens toy line (aside from the leaks released this week), and yet I’m still getting ready to line up at Toys R Us in three weeks, to buy an unknown amount of undisclosed products, for a movie I haven’t even seen yet. So Hasbro obviously still wins… I just hope next time, that victory feels a little more skillfully earned.