I came, I saw, but did I conquer Force Friday?
If you’ve been listening to Brews and Blasters recently, you know how excited Chris and I were about Force Friday, the worldwide Star Wars merchandising event that, in no uncertain terms, truly kicks of the Sequel Era of the franchise. For the first time in a decade, we got a brand new glimpse into the galaxy far, far away, and were able to take home a piece of the saga just as fans have done for decades. Collecting aside, this is the biggest Star Wars event in years, and only ramps up the hype machine for the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. All eyes are now on Lucasfilm, now under the parentage of Disney, as well as their licensees–most notably Hasbro.
So how did it go?
Right after recording a new podcast, Chris and I (along with Chris’ fiancé Alexa) headed over to Toys R’ Us in Peabody, Massachusetts for their midnight madness event. We were unsure what we would find. Would there be two people or two hundred in line? At 10:30 pm, we found about 20. So, we got in line. I streamed A New Hope on my Nexus 6 phone (hey, it has a 6 inch screen and stereo speakers), for the immediate crowd to watch. We talked, joked around, and time went by relatively quickly.
At 11:00 pm, the parking lot shut off all the lights, and we were in darkness for an hour. By this time, the crowd had surged to about 200 people. All in all, it was relatively quiet, though. There were friends and families with excited boys and girls looking forward to new figures inside.
At 12:01, the doors opened, and we were in. New posters, a LEGO piece of some sort, and many grown men running top speed to the other side of the store is what I saw. I grabbed a cart because I wanted to fill it, but what I found when I arrived at the Star Wars section was my worst nightmare for a midnight madness event.
The Star Wars section of Toys R’ Us had not been expanded at all, and the dozen or so pegs relegated for action figures were swarmed with men who were grabbing, pushing, and depleting all inventory before anyone else could get in. We saw on man bear hug all of the six-inch black series and take them to the counter. There was apparently a three-item limit on duplicates, but I didn’t see it enforced. Quantity was exceptionally low, with only a few figures available, and there was no attempt to even clear out the old stock that has literally been collecting dust for up to two years now. 200 people swarmed an area of just a few feet, and found nothing.
Kids cried, curses were thrown. Employees were nowhere to be found. Word got out that there was no restocking happening. I didn’t see one satisfied person in that store. The most congenial service I received was the question about some store credit card, but I was only half-listening: Midnight Madness at Toys R’ Us was THE most disappointing Star Wars event I have ever been to.
Chris and a few others in line made plans to head to the Disney Store at 6:00 am on Friday, but I was disheartened and needed sleep. I went on the hunt around 8:30 am, and it was obvious that Force Friday was in full effect everywhere else but TRU. My list of stores that I hit went as follows:
- Target (Salem, MA)
- Bed Bath Beyond (Danvers, MA)
- Kohl’s (Danvers, MA)
- Target (Danvers, MA)
- Wal-Mart (Danvers, MA)
- Kohl’s (Saugus, MA)
- K-Mart (Saugus, MA)
- Target (Saugus, MA)
- Disney Store (Saugus, MA)
- Newbury Comics (Saugus, MA)
- Toy R’ Us Express (Saugus, MA)
- Wal-Mart (Saugus, MA)
As I’m writing it, I can’t believe I hit a dozen stores. The sad part? Out of the twelve, only four had inventory. Well, let me rephrase: there were plenty of peg warmers–notably, Luke, Vader, and Zuvio–but it was hard to find Phasmas or Reys or Damerons anywhere. I managed to scoop ’em up, but it took a while. Unbelievably, I think I managed to find some wave two figures also–an absolute rarity in the States!
Force Friday–the actual Friday event in stores, not the midnight madness–was an absolute blast. I love to hunt for figures in anticipation of a new movie, but I also expect there to be ample inventory. It is disappointing to see that, after all these years, Habro is still chronically dysfunctional in their production of figures. After 10:00 am Friday, I found no more figures. There was no restock at all. Maddeningly, it seems like Hasbro doesn’t even want to sell figures anymore, as they are constantly pushing other merchandise on the shelves but leaving the figure pegs bare. However, if it isn’t LEGO, and it isn’t lightsabers, people want 3.75″ figures. That’s it. No one was going for anything but the figures at every store I visited. I don’t care about factory issues, and I don’t care about what it takes. Make it happen and stock amply, and Hasbro will have more business than they ever dreamed.
Because that’s part of Star Wars–figures are part of the experience of a new movie. It’s in the fabric of my earliest memories, as well as my most recent ones. “Jedi guys,” as I used to call them. If there were no figures on the pegs when I was a kid, I may not have been the Star Wars fan I am today. Now, when I see the incompetence and lack of care paid to the multiple generations of fans who just want to take home a part of this franchise, I worry. I saw more young people’s eyes light up to see new Star Wars on display on Force Friday than I have in years. They deserve to have their figures. We all do. Star Wars figure merchandising needs a renaissance int he worst way, and if Hasbro isn’t going to make it happen, I suggest they get out of the way.
After all, the best figures I saw on Force Friday were the die-cast Elite Series–made by Disney.
Joseph Tavano is the owner and editor in chief of RetroZap. Born just months before Luke found out who his father was, he has been fortunate to have had Star Wars in his life as long as he can remember. Growing up just outside of Boston, Massachusetts, he can remember substituting sticks for lightsabers and BMX bikes for speeders. He loves comics, retro games, vintage sci-fi paperbacks, and maps. Though an accomplished drummer, he doesn’t crave adventure (as much) any more, and prefers his old haunts in Salem, Massachusetts, where he resides with his family. Buy him a glass of whiskey and he’ll return it in kind.