According to an industry insider, the dearth of Rey merchandise for The Force Awakens was no accident — it was an intentional decision.
The inside source shared their story with Michael Boehm at Sweatpants and Coffee, speaking on the condition of anonymity. The portrait painted of Lucasfilm’s decision-making process is disheartening to say the least, and runs distinctly counter to the narrative that Rey toys were postponed to preserve the secrecy of The Force Awakens.
The source alleges that, during toy pitches held last January for executives, “initial versions of many of the products presented to Lucasfilm featured Rey prominently.” But under the direction of the executives, Rey’s presence was deliberately minimized in the planned merchandise.
“One or more individuals raised concerns about the presence of female characters in the Star Wars products,” Boehm reports. “Eventually, the product vendors were specifically directed to exclude the Rey character from all Star Wars-related merchandise.”
Allegedly, the industry insider was told, “No boy wants to be given a product with a female character on it.”
While the word of an anonymous source might be easy to dismiss, the allegations certainly seem to dovetail with what consumers have experienced in stores — and not just for Rey. The mysterious absence of female characters in merchandise and toys is now almost a free-standing trope. Guardians of the Galaxy‘s Gamora, Star Wars Rebels‘ Hera, and The Avengers‘ Black Widow are among the high-profile victims, inexplicably forgotten in everything from play sets to tee-shirts.
“Diminishing of girl characters is common in the industry,” the anonymous source relates. “Power Rangers asked us to do it. Paw Patrol, too.” Allegedly, this philosophy has developed into a solid mandate in the toy industry to “maintain the sharp boy/girl product division” and “marginalize girl characters in items not specifically marketed as girl-oriented.”
But the extreme cultural impact of Star Wars, coupled with Rey’s inarguable prominence in The Force Awakens, has thrust the question of “Where’s Rey?” (and its corresponding hashtag) into the spotlight. Most notably, Hasbro was recently compelled to reassure fans that the movie’s main character would be included in an upcoming Monopoly set.
Corroborating the Lucasfilm insider’s assertions is John Marcotte, founder of the non-profit Heroic Girls.
“I’ve spoken with Disney people, and they were completely blindsided by the reaction to the new Star Wars characters,” he tells Boehm. “They put a huge investment into marketing and merchandizing the Kylo Ren character. They presumed he would be the big breakout role from the film. They were completely surprised when it was Rey everyone identified with and wanted to see more of.”
“Now they’re stuck with vast amounts of Kylo Ren product that is not moving, and a tidal wave of complaints about a lack of Rey items.”
It even seems possible that Lucasfilm’s underestimation of Rey’s popularity extended into their plans for Episode VIII. According to several sources, the recently-announced delay on the film is partly do to script revisions — which will bring the characters of Rey, Finn, and Poe into greater prominence than initially planned.
It’s not unusual for companies to misjudge the popularity of their properties; anyone buying toys in 1997 will remember a Phantom Menace market flooded with Darth Maul and Jar Jar merchandise. But properties focused on, or even including girls, seems disproportionately afflicted. It’s hard to believe now, but even Disney’s blockbuster princess hit Frozen was unprepared, forcing parents to take desperate measures to satisfy children who wanted to bring Anna, Elsa, and Olaf into their lives.
For far too long, fans searching for merchandise of their favorite female characters have been told that the onus is on their wallets. “Buy the toys that are out there,” the message has echoed, even as fans scour the unyielding shelves for a green-skinned assassin, a black-clad Avenger — and now a fearless young woman who hums with the power of the Force.
It is time to reverse the conversation. Toy and merchandise companies must stop taking a character’s gender into consideration when including them in products. Put Gamora with the rest of the Guardians. Leave Black Widow on her motorcycle. And when Star Wars: Episode VIII finally arrives, don’t make us ask “Where’s Rey?”
We should find her in the center of the action. On toy pegs, on tee-shirts, on bed sheets, and pencil-cases. Rey should be everywhere.
Right where she belongs.