If there’s one thing Star Wars is known for (other than the movies of course), it’s their robust line of toys and action figures. Back in the late seventies and early eighties, it was the line of toys that really helped to spread the good word of Star Wars (and deepen creator George Lucas’ pockets). Since then, the toy industry has enjoyed a great deal of profit when it comes to licensing figures based on movies, but it doesn’t come without controversy. When Star Wars: The Force Awakens launched their line of toys, there was one figure who was mostly absent and this caused a real stir. Now, thanks to people like Star Wars actress Daisy Ridley (Scrawl, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Only Yesterday), the action figure industry has changed forever.
When The Force Awakens line of toys was first announced, there was a significant lack of representation: Rey, played by Ridley… who was also the main character from the film! How could they leave out such an important character? Rey was featured in so few toy lines that her absence even sparked a trending hashtag on Twitter, #WheresRey. This was primarily focused on a Target box-set that included six figures from the film, all of whom were male. Ok, so they included some of the big guns from the film, but for some reason, instead of putting in Rey, they went with a Stormtrooper and a Tie Fighter pilot:
— Michael Johnson (@TallGlassOfMike) February 23, 2017
In their defense… and this was actually their defense at the time, the toy companies pointed to stats and figures that indicated boys purchase/play with the majority of action figures like the ones released for Star Wars, but boys don’t play with female toys. Sure, they aren’t going to go out and get the latest Barbie… well, maybe some do, but when it comes to most young men who play with these things, they want the Princess Lea to go with their Luke Skywalker. Leaving out Rey was a big issue and fans made a stink out of it. She was finally got more attention in the proceeding wave of figures and boy, did she sell like gangbusters.
In a recent interview with CNBC, Jim Silver, CEO of online toy review site TTMO spoke about the recent phenomenon of female action figures and the industry as it related to The Force Awakens:
“[Disney] took a risk and they made a female the hero of ‘Force Awakens.’ She sold better than just about anyone, except for Kylo Ren, but the villain always sells better. There’s more (female action figures) in the last 18 months than there have been in the last 20 years.”
Over the years, it is true that male characters have sold better, but that has a lot to do with toy companies refusal to manufacture comparable female characters. There has been an upsurge in recent years of female-driven films that has helped to fix this problem. Properties like The Hunger Games, Divergent, and Supergirl have helped to bring about female action figures into a market where, let’s face it, not only boys are buying them, but so are grown men who are collectors. Samantha Lomow, Senior VP of marketing at Hasbro recently spoke about the issue:
“Consumer and retailer research shows more and more children – and their parents – are interested in the “Star Wars” and Marvel franchises as well as the female characters represented within entertainment. In 2015, for the first time, the National Retail Federation reported that Star Wars was on the top 10 toy lists for both boys and girls. Fans and families are at the center of this conversation, for example, voting for strong female characters in both the ‘Transformers’ and Marvel franchises to become future figures.”
There doesn’t seem to be any stopping the current trend of female-driven films or their action figure counterparts so the change in our culture has definitely been a positive one. It’s not just a positive for social justice and equal representation of women in film and toys, it has also been a huge boost in profits. Hasbro’s toy sales for 2015 came close to $500 million, much of it thanks to sales of Rey.