Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Yes, We Found Rey... But She's Not Where She Should Be

The controversy rages on, with said rage fueled by both camps. Half the planet questions the lack of Rey (arguably the main character of Star Wars: The Force Awakens) representation on shelves in toy stores, on T shirts and anywhere else you might see a geeky Star Wars thing. The other half questions this notion, having done a bit of googling and finding, at the very least, an impressive horde of Rey items rivaling any female hero that has come before her. While both sides are right in their own perspective, this story is more about where Rey is turning up, or rather, where she is not.

1. #WheresRey?

Anyone walking the isles of Toys R Us today might be asking this question. Rey is absent from the piles of Black Series 6 inch figures, the 3.75 inch waves, the odd, large headed plush toys and the larger talking figures, but it's not for lack of production. This lack of instantly attainable product hasn't pumped up the secondary market prices for Rey...which implies she's out there...if you hunt...often. It's hard to point a finger here, as we've been told on more than one occasion by Star Wars toy experts that the character is in more than a couple of waves in both scales, and given equal distribution in those cases. Here's a quick visual rundown of all the Rey merchandise we've come across...

Of course, you have to FIND these items to buy them... or even find a store online that stocks the bulk of them, unless you are cool paying a bit more on Ebay. (T shirts and plush, of course, being easier to obtain than the figures everyone wants...so don't go there.) Go to Walmart.com and type in Star Wars Rey. Let me know how many toy options you find in stock. Did you find their exclusive figure multi pack (made by Hasbro)?

To the casual shopper, it WOULD seem there is no Rey to be found if you can't walk into a store and find any option to feed your Reymania. This speaks to the immense popularity of the character if nearly every store you visit is sold out, or perhaps distribution of Rey isn't as even as we've been told? Traditionally, you'd be hard pressed to talk a toy company into throwing female characters into a "boy's" line, evenly packed or otherwise. The Ben 10 toys spring to mind instantly. While Ben was the star of this show as the young boy morphed into alien after alien, providing endless options for plastic play, his sister Gwen who was in nearly every episode didn't get her own figure for a good long while, and it was longer still before she got one where you could actually see her face. If your argument is the fallback (little boys don't want toys of girls) then I have to question if you've been around a little boy recently, or ever. Little boys are taught they shouldn't play with these items because they "are for girls", plain and simple. If I have a solid memory of being in a Toys R Us while a saddened mom asked me where she could get a Hawkgirl figure for her son (who was in the cart looking seriously bummed), it's not because my timing was perfect.

So let's just say the toy companies and merchandise slingers are not at fault and it's the stores who need to stock more Rey and less freakin Constable Zuvio who I haven't been able to point out in two screenings of The Force Awakens. #WheresZuvio? The solution is to be very vocal that there needs to be more Rey available at retail to meet demand. Stores want your money. Tell them what you want to buy.

2. Rey's Importance

Put aside the social impact of a massively grossing feature film starring a black man and a woman. The simple and inescapable fact is that these two characters are the stars of the film. When you walk into Target and you see this...

...your immediate thought may not be #WheresRey...unless you've seen the movie. Let's count the opportunities in this set where Rey, the star of the film, could have been worked in. You've got the lovable Chewie who gives the set flashback appeal. Finn and the evil Kylo Ren, two of the films most important characters. Yes, fine, the First Order Trooper is instantly recognized so we love that as well, but at what point is an X-Wing Pilot (Yes, we know it's Poe, but out of the box which tells you it's Poe, would you know it's him?) and a Tie Fighter Pilot (mind you, two toys in a format too big to put in any vehicle they are suited up to fly!!!) more important than Rey? If you chose the lineup in order of the film's most important characters (by point of fact), wouldn't it be Rey, Finn, Kylo, Poe, Han Solo, Chewbacca? Try to blame Target for this oversight, but the fact of the matter is, large toy companies pitch exclusives fully formed to retailers. If the retailer says yes, they get that box with those figures in it. When a massively advertised Star Wars movie is released and much fanfare is made about the launch of the toys before the film, and we walk into Target to get these toys for ourselves (or our children..or ourselves), the message is clear. Whom ever chose this lineup thinks Rey is less important than a Tie Fighter Pilot. Worse, a child seeing this set may learn this and accept it.

Want to talk further negative impact? Find the largest figures in the Star Wars toy isle. Find Rey. The argument can be made that they produced Captain Phasma, who is a woman under the bucket, but there isn't anything identifying her as female...and let's face it... If a First Order Trooper design is cool, then the same design in chrome with a cape is 10000 times cooler. They didn't make Phasma to represent a strong female role model. They are selling toys. Still, Phasma was in the film for MAYBE 3 minutes total. #WheresRey? Can you blame people for being upset when a Star Wars Monopoly game is released in time for the new movie and it establishes Finn as the absolute hero, compared to Luke Skywalker (who is also in the set)? Finn isn't Luke. Finn is Han Solo...the man with a troubled past seeking to redeem himself. Rey is Luke...the unquestionable hero who does the right thing even when it means pain and hardship follow.

How do we fix this? Well...something like #WheresRey is a big step in the right direction. The only time we seem to see a change in the archaic ways of business is when consumers are LOUD and somewhat angry. That's why all this talk is extremely important and should not stop, and if you are sick of it, you should probably ask yourself what about it is making you uncomfortable. It's absolutely a conversation worth having, isn't it? It's obvious someone at Disney Licensing told companies how important Rey was before the movie was released, otherwise half those companies probably wouldn't have made the scrappy young woman wrapped up like a fashionable Tusken Raider at all. Those that created product did so because they were told she is important to the film...and those that chose where to put her..or not put her..despite her importance, did so for a reason. Let's continue to ask why.

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