This is a big week for Star Wars fans, as the toys, models and figures that tie in to Episode VII: The Force Awakens arrive in shops around the world – but sadly not yet in the UAE. We investigate why ‘Force Friday’ is such a big deal.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away — well, in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1976 — a relatively small toy company took a gamble on securing a license to produce tie-in toys for an upcoming film that was by no means a guaranteed smash hit.
Twelve months later, Kenner Toys was having to tell devastated children that they wouldn’t be getting their Luke Skywalker action figures for Christmas because it could not meet the phenomenal demand for all things Star Wars-related.
But you could have, ahem, a special certificate that guaranteed Kenner would send you a 10cm-high plastic R2-D2 or Chewbacca when it had made enough.
Nearly 40 years and hundreds of millions of Star Wars-branded action figures and toys later, it’s safe to say that Hasbro — which bought Kenner in 1991 — are not likely to underestimate the overwhelming clamour for tie-in toys and figurines for the long-awaited sequel, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, which was partly filmed in Abu Dhabi last year.
This is not least because even in 2013, without the benefit of the hype surrounding the release of a new film, Star Wars products generated a staggering US$2.2bn (Dh8bn) in retail sales — and it is estimated that more than half of the buyers were adults. Toys are big business and anything but child’s play.
In fact, the unveiling of the countless varieties of customisable lightsabers, Nerf guns, action figures, space vehicles and, yes, Chewbacca Furbies that tie in with the new film is arguably almost as much of an event as the premiere of the movie itself in December.
They even get their own special release day on Friday, with some stores opening at midnight — complete with the now-obligatory hashtag: #forcefriday.
And, just in case we have somehow missed the news, we are also invited to “join the epic global event” that is the Star Wars “live unboxing” the day before.
So what can we expect from the new ranges of The Force Awakens toys? Some American websites have published pages from the Hasbro catalogue and they contain plenty of new characters we’ve seen in the trailers, lovingly recreated in 10cm, plastic form, including John Boyega’s rogue Stormtrooper Finn and Gwendoline Christie’s villainous Captain Phasma. Old favourites are in there, too, including golden droid C-3PO, who now has a red arm.
Elsewhere, the X-Wing fighter craft from the original movies — which fortysomethings who still have the originals they were given as children are now delighted to find sell for big money on eBay (although who, honestly, still has the box it came in, which is what you need to get the really big bucks?) – have been redesigned, as have the TIE fighters piloted by those who followed the path to the Dark Side with Darth Vader.
Back in the day, lightsabers were the must-have toy for anyone with designs on being a Jedi — or Sith lord — when they grew up and now there is a whole range of customisable glowing swords, while the new Stormtrooper masks look incredibly cool.
Then there’s the Lego Star Wars range. The Danish plastic building-brick company undoubtedly gave Star Wars a new lease of life when it began producing its own unique take on the franchise in 1999 — and what is interesting is that its new packs reveal two new characters that have not yet been announced anywhere else.
And that’s another important aspect to Force Friday — while it will excite collectors and fans, it also offers new clues and subtle hints about the direction of the film. Not plot spoilers, perhaps, but the black X-Wing in the catalogue, for example, is seen against the backdrop of a hitherto undiscussed ice planet. The football-like BB-8 droid, meanwhile, comes packaged with odd aliens of mysterious provenance.
It’s all very exciting. You might have to use The Force to get to the front of the queue at the shop before everyone else, however, or if you are in the UAE, order online.
Unboxing is an epic global event
Force Friday might be the subject of the hashtag, but it is the previous day that is likely to grab all the headlines.
Tomorrow, Star Wars fans around the world will get their first proper look at Episode VII: The Force Awakens toys and merchandise, as they are taken out of their boxes, examined and talked about online by a range of experts, fans and guests.
For 18 hours, each of the 15 cities around the world that Disney and Hasbro have chosen to livestream unboxing events from will reveal a new product line.
The excitement starts with Sydney in Australia at 7.45am (1.45am UAE time), before moving through Japan, Korea and China and landing in London at a much more palatable 2.30pm UAE time (11.30am GMT). The stream finishes with a suitably Star Wars-esque fanfare at 8am in San Francisco (7pm UAE time), by which point Star Wars fans will be as excited as an Ewok after the Battle of Endor.
Hosted by the Star Wars YouTube channel, the concept of toy “unboxing” – in which fans film themselves opening up prized new possessions for the first time and share their initial impressions – might seem odd, to the uninitiated.
But consider this: 18 of the top 100 YouTube channels are dedicated to unboxing, accounting for a staggering 8.1 billion views in the first three months of this year alone.
No wonder tomorrow’s Star Wars Unboxing is being called an epic global event.