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April 26, 2018

Popular Culture || The Star Wars Toys Controversy

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Watching YouTube for me leads to a recommendeds list filled with Star Wars videos. Lately there's been a trend of slating Star Wars toys, because they are not selling, because the sequel trilogy is terrible, and the toys are, too. I did some reading and discovered that, though these reasons may be a contributing factor, they aren’t entirely the reason: it all boils down to business.

Note: This post was originally posted on my Tumblr, which is unashamedly FILLED with Star Wars stuff (Reylo in particular).

If YouTubers are to be believed, it’s because of:

1. Poor quality of toys. Many of the movie tie-ins have basically been called pieces of drutash castings.
2. Lack of innovation. The Force Link brand, for example, contains tech that isn’t a new concept, and also does not perform well in practice.
3. The poor storytelling and character development in ‘The Force Awakens’ and ‘The Last Jedi’, even in ‘Rogue One’. Arguments include that Rey has no depth, for example, and that Disney is depending on her role as a ‘strong female character’ to inspire loyalty, or that Rose Tico is a whiner and no one would look up to her, (Many times they criticise the latter’s supposed lack of sexual attractiveness. Because, you know, that’s important in a toy.)
4. No one can invest in these characters because they don’t capture children’s and fan’s imaginations, nor are they compelling.
5. The movies are just so bad no one wants the toys.
6. The push for diversity and representation has hurt the franchise, because, you know, the original trilogy was super diverse.

Some of these reasons are the same for why fans (supposedly) dislike the new films: the push for representation and diversity, the introduction of social justice issues, poor storytelling and character development…

There are also many who say the films have ‘bastardised’ favourite legacy characters.

Now I’m not saying that some of these concerns aren’t valid for a lot of fans out there. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I just wanted to find out if these could be considered the 'business’ reasons for the supposed decline in Star Wars toy sales. It turns out there are a lot of environmental factors at play.

According to a Forbes report at the end of 2017, Star Wars toys were the top-selling brand in 2015 and 2016. It seems 2017 is where a snag came along. The article suggests that Toys'R'Us filing for bankruptcy could hold some blame. ‘Rogue One’ could also be to blame: it was a darker film, possibly not endorsed by a lot of parents as it resulted in the death of all the main characters, which may have made the toys less appealing to children (who wants to play with a dead hero, right?). This also meant that a lot of these toys were still hanging around, translating to poor retail orders by buyers who may not be Star Wars fans or aware of the different films at all. The toys were also not amazing, as there were some material issues making the figures’ faces less realistic. An AT-ACT Walker was released but was too pricey, meaning it’s likely Hasbro decided not to make any similar toys. Also, ‘The Force Awakens’, released in 2015, was the first Star Wars film in a decade, resulting in a lot of excitement and a lot of purchases, a purchase rate that certainly could not be maintained.

It adds that the character design for ‘The Last Jedi’ vs ‘The Force Awakens’ sees the core group of characters wearing basically the same outfits, so there's not really any impetus to purchase a toy from the new film that looks the same as the one from the last film. The new ships and vehicles are also arguably too big to sell as figure toys (think of the Dreadnought and the Finaliser).

Another interesting problem is the spoiler issue. Disney is simply afraid of our spoiler-culture (I mean, we seriously can’t even wait for the next season of ‘Game of Thrones’ without someone leaking the script), which means toy designers have very little to work with ahead of a film’s release if the toy's design may reveal a potential plot point. Basically, it resulted in Finn being marketed as the lead for ‘The Force Awakens’, and no toys of Snoke or Luke Skywalker were available before the plot was common knowledge.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reported that movie-tie-in toys were suffering across the board. Consumers are possibly just tired of all the memorabilia that can be had. Called it movie-tie-in-fatigue. Think of all the massive franchises currently in the mix: The Avengers, Justice League, at least two major Disney animations a year… and the list goes on. After all, we can’t all afford to purchase every single item from all our favourite fandoms. Bloomberg even says a problem may be that children are tuning in to YouTube, Netflix, and even social media for their entertaining fixes instead of actually playing with figures. Even movie attendance has dropped.

I would personally just like to add though: the toys are for children, first of all, so they aren’t going to match impossible collectors’ standards; the toys may be cheap to make them more accessible - not every child gets a lovely allowance, and if they do, they’re likely spending most of it on data; and, some people will never be happy.

The. End.

{Lead image credit: Facebook/StarWarsMovies}

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