Where's Rey? Star Wars Backlash Continues as Stores Vow to Restock
She just might be the only hope for peace in the Galaxy, but she's already MIA from most toy shelves.
When "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" opened last month, fans were delighted to discover Rey, a scrappy and mysterious female protagonist with warrior skills and Force-wielding power. Such fervor quickly turned sour when the character was excluded from a multi-character figurine pack at Target and, more recently, a game of Monopoly from Hasbro. A search for Rey on Toys 'R' Us' site turns up just eight product results; Kylo Ren, the movie's male villain, generates 31. Some consumers have taken to buying up the few Rey-related products on eBay, where 3.75-inch figures are selling for upwards of $25.
A #WheresRey Twitter hashtag has spawned hundreds of angry tweets criticizing the decision by some brands to omit Rey from merchandise.
"It's not just that little girls need to see that girls can be heroes, it's also that little boys need that message, too," tweeted Derek Bruff on Tuesday. He noted in an earlier message that his daughter's favorite Star Wars character is Rey.
"The Star Wars: Monopoly game was released in September, months before the movie's release, and Rey was not included to avoid revealing a key plot line," said a spokeswoman for Pawtucket, R.I.-based Hasbro. She also announced that the toy maker will make a "running change" to include Rey in the Monopoly game available later this year.
"We know fans may be disappointed that Rey is not included in this Target-exclusive six-pack, and we have shared this feedback with our merchandising team and vendor partners," said a Target spokeswoman.
Of course, this isn't the first time Disney has been caught flat-footed with demand for strong female characters. After the company released "Frozen" three years ago, the toys flew off shelves and shoppers had to wait for restocking. Similarly, retailers have had to keep up with stronger-than-anticipated demand for Doc McStuffins, a Disney series about a little girl who moonlights as a toy doctor.
But Chris Byrne, a toy industry consultant and content director for TTPM (Toys, Tots, Pets & More), said merchandise planning for the toy industry is more of an art than a science. He noted that because of the secrecy around the Star Wars film, manufacturers didn't hold preliminary screenings or test audience response to get a handle on what merchandise would be popular.
"It's more a question of variables than any kind of dissing of a female character," he said. "The frustration of trying to get it is only temporary -- it'll be back in stock soon enough and there's no need to wring your garments or knash your teeth to get your Rey figurine." He expects Rey's popularity to continue as items come on the market and are restocked -- Star Wars' fervor is not going away, especially in advance of a DVD release this spring.
In the meantime, the gender lines between toys marketed to boys and toys marketed to girls will be increasingly blurred, Mr. Byrne predicted. He noted that the phenomenon dates back to Nickelodeon's '90s-era "Rugrats" animated series, when boys responded favorably to a bullying older sister character who was expected to resonate with girls. Recent franchises like Hunger Games have also contributed to the phenomenon.
"Girl characters are valid to today's boys -- they don't see the separation," said Mr. Byrne.
Retailers hope to be ready for demand from both boys and girls in the months ahead. Toys 'R' Us just launched a new assortment of Episode VII items from Lego on Jan. 1 that includes Rey and the female Captain Phasma. Other best-sellers include Rey and Phasma dress-up sets. Hasbro plans to release 6-inch and 12-inch Rey action figures this month, while Target is also ramping up its related merchandise.
"In most stores, product featuring Rey is selling as quickly as we can get it on to shelves," said a Target spokesman.