Star Wars Toy Aisles: An old Fan checks out the New Toysby Todd King, contributing writer
[Author's note: This article was written before the release of The Last Jedi, so this article contains no spoilers nor details of the movie itself.]
For the third year running, Disney is releasing a new Star Wars movie at Christmas time. Because of this strategy, many kids have come to associate this festive time with Rey, Luke, Finn, Chewie, and their adventures in the Star Wars movies. For me, Star Wars was already very much associated with this time of year because I would hope for and sometimes get Star Wars toys at Christmas—and having a December birthday emphasizes it a bit more.
With the final countdown towards the release of The Last Jedi, I decided to check out the new toys like I used to do it as a kid—by walking down the aisles of the toy department.
Back in the day there were, of course, sales papers and Sears catalogs where a kid could peruse the latest toys. Like many kids then, my friends and I would wield an ink pen and circle the items we wanted, dog-ear the pages with said items, and use them to build our wish lists. We could then easily show our parents what these toys were, what they were called, and what they looked like. I know others that would tear out the catalog pages and put them in conspicuous spots like on the refridgerator door or on our parents' pillows. We would often be obvious with these homemade advertisements but sometimes we'd be a bit more sneaky, like the Ralphie in A Christmas Story.
At other times, however, we might get to the shops in person—and there, in those magical rows and tall stacks of toys, we could touch the packages that held our precious wishes, enabling us to show the tangible object to a grown-up and say, "This is what I want!"
Walking down those aisles were special times as a child, and in the days and weeks before Christmas, they were times of great anticipation—so great that we would try to negotiate (or perhaps beg) for a gift before Christmas (as in now), and we'd usually be met with that facial expression from the parent; that expression saying, "You better not pout."
Still, strolling through by the shelves gave us a sense of discovery. You would sometimes never know what you'd find. Thinking back to those times truly gives me a sense of nostalgia, and so I recently decided to go through the aisles again, by myself, and take a few moments to see what I could discover.
This is not a wish list nor is it a buying guide. Rather, it's the kid in me wanting to get his window-shopping fix for toys. Here is what I found:
Ahh, nothing like seeing a classic display of action figures... and Hot Wheels cars. And Nerf guns? OK, so it's not like I haven't been to the toy aisles in forever, no, I browse through them with my own kids but I don't always get to stop and just take it all in. So, I know there are more than just action figures and playsets. I've seen the cars and stuff before but as I consider it more, the cars are a little strange to the grown-up me (more on the cars in a bit). But regardless, seeing a spread of action figures sends me right back to old store shelves where I'd thumb through the stock to see what's hiding back there. Sifting through these carded figures became an art. You'd really become familiar with the package designs so you could spot a new figure or the one figure you were looking for.
I'm happy to see that there is no shortage of Rey's presence this time around; looks like we won't need the #wheresRey hashtag. Daisy Ridley's character abounds in the displays and is very much the centerpiece of merchandising presentation. While we've seen her in action, there are still many unanswered questions about her character and her powers. We watching her closely especially now that she's met the last Jedi himself, Luke Skywalker. She has her lightsaber and she has her staff as well. Will she ditch the staff? Luke still brandished his blaster in Empire Strikes Back so that seems to be a pattern of those who aren't fully trained yet to not give up their trusty non-Jedi weapons.
Right out of the box you get a ready-made story with Rey ready to duel with a Praetorian Guard, probably just like in the movie... dang it! This is probably a slight spoiler indicating that she does indeed square off against one of these royal-guard-wannabees. That's OK; it should be an interesting scene (should it happen). The design of the Guard is especially awesome to me because one of my favorite designs in the vintage line was the Emperor's Royal Guard. The Praetorian Guard seems to pay homage to the old guard design so, they got me with this one. I wonder, however, how do they see thorugh the helmet?
The Rey/Praetorian Guard can be seen above among other Star Wars merch you're likely to find. There's an obvious mix of items catering to kids who will actually play with the toys (the white-carded action figures in the middle), to the collectors who seek more finely detailed sculped figures (the more expensive Black Series figures on the left), to the kids who want to act like their Jedi heroes (the top-right lightsaber toys including Kylo Ren, Rey, and even prequel Obi-Wan), and to budget-minded consumers who just need a lightsaber (the less-expensive ones on the bottom-right). Nicely done but a bit of a nightmare for the "gotta get 'em all" collector—such a task used to be surmountable but now it's like trying to collect all the words in the dictionary.
Above is another package where Rey is portrayed against an enemy, this time facing Kylo Ren who, when juxtaposed this way in the box art, is definitely placed as her arch enemy. Like the action figure two-pack with the Praetorian Guard, this toy set ensures you have a ready-to-go scene of action when it is opened. It's another example of the "good vs. evil" pack-ins to be sure you pick a side. Whatever side you choose, you must contend with the other side. In any case, the Bladebuilders is a cool idea that lets you personalize your lightsaber. Every Jedi (and Sith) designed their own hilt and in Star Wars fiction has been made a part of completing the training as a Jedi.
Lightsabers are part and parcel with any Star Wars merchandise but those aren't the only role-playing weapons. In the past, for example, we had Han Solo's blaster, Stormtrooper's blaster, lots of blasters. Rey's staff continues to be sold as an accessory but this time it is part of the Forces of Destiny line that ties in with the new Disney short cartoon series. In the episodes with Rey, the time is during The Force Awakens as she and BB-8 have some adventures in the desert when she wielded her trusty staff. I swear I think a part of this staff looks just like a piece from Darth Maul's lightsaber hilt.
Speaking of Forces of Destiny, the line also offers this more unique lightsaber with a purple blade. This one, it seems, is not tied to any particular character. It is just labeled as a "Jedi Power Lightsaber." As a Star Wars geek, I find this interesting because the only known Jedi in canon to possess a purple lightsaber was Mace Windu, and in many stories outside the movies the purple blade represented power. It was Windu's journeys that took him to the edge of the dark side to understand Sith power, enabling him to return with this wisdom to the Jedi. A nice addition to the Destiny line as a distinctive blade.
In a separate aisle with Disney princess dolls and Descendents 2 dolls I found the Forces of Destiny figures. This aisle was a couple rows down from the majority of Star Wars products above. These were in the obvious girls' section—just a skip away from Barbies and baby dolls. First of all, I have daughters and I know girls will often gravitate to these kinds of products, but these gender divisions of toys seem needless these days.
Girls and boys will want all kinds of Star Wars stuff from figures, to accessories, to cars—so why not just organize toys by kind and not by gender? This is a whole 'nother discussion, but regardless, it is good that they're targeting girls because everyone should be welcome into Star Wars. Anyway, these figures have a lot of good detail and are more set out to resemble their cartoon likeness than their live-action look. They're more posable than the smaller action figures, have real fabric for their clothes, and come with a great sidekick. Unfortunately I think their heads are slightly too large in proportion to their bodies, much like Snow White in the picture. What I find curious is the lack of villains in the Destiny line. Our heroines aren't just standing around in those cartoons, you know—they're fighting and strategizing. Give these action figures/dolls some antagonists, yes?
Speaking of cars ... no, not Cars, Star Wars has ... cars. This stuff I don't quite get. However, I do like the ships in the Hot Wheels "Starships" line. These remind me of the vintage die-cast metal toys from back in the day. But still, why the cars?
The cars don't really make sense to me. These are just cars with the color schemes of some characters? These aren't supposed to be their cars. I mean, they don't really have cars like this in Star Wars. It just seems such a departure from canon. But as a kid, I liked cars, I loved Star Wars, and somebody who may be from my generation put them together. I guess that's cool for kids. There was a funny joke from an old Saturday Night Live sketch that had famous actors auditioning for Star Wars characters. One audition was Burt Reynolds trying out for Darth Vader, and Reynolds stood there chewing his gum and saying, "So, what kind of car does this guy drive?" As if that's motiviation for the character. It was hilarious. But now, well, there's a Darth Vader car.
The cars don't end there. There are also monster-type trucks. I'm not sure why but there they are. Good to see Rey's truck mixing it up in the dirt but still, why? What kind of stories does a kid create while playing with these?
Let me sound like an old man for a minute: "Back in my day we had to build our own Star Wars vehicles out of LEGOs without instructions!" Now let me say what I really think: "Holy gosh Star Wars LEGOs are so awesome!" I mean, just look at them. The best part of these is that not only do you get a great Star Wars vechicle/playset, you get to build it! Building it lets you in on the design process, in a way, to discover how these things are made. And then you can play with them! LEGOs are about the perfect toy and they're for any age (whatever the box may say), any gender, anybody. I hope kids will still take these apart and make their own creations. Am I just reiterating the message of The Lego Movie? Anyway, there's also a little Sandspeeder tucked away there so it's good to see Lego, along with Disney, updating vintage sets and putting them alongside the new stuff on these shelves. OK, maybe I am making a wish list here.
Like I said above, LEGO keeps updating older sets, like the lightsaber duel from Episode I and even introducting new sets like this Rathtar scene from Episode VII. I'm glad this scene is included because it was a favorite of mine; just seeing Han Solo "talk his way out" of trouble still makes me grin. The duel on Naboo between Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon, and Darth Maul is certainly one of the most memorable from all the prequels, so it's pretty cool to see it represented here.
There were Erector sets and robotic kits round when I was a kid, and these days there are more than ever. Better still is that these kits are so much more accessible—meaning that the learning curve is less steep and more welcoming to the younglings. Add to the fact that you can build and/or interact with droids from Star Wars is about all the incentive I'd need. Then there's a Spider-Man bot, too. Ahh Disney... starting to own everything—even toy aisles. Marvel vs. Star Wars in some multiverse out there, anyone?
But will they clean my room? Seriously though, there are already may hobbyists who build life-size droids, and now, here's the gateway to that endeavor. You cannot start engineering skills too early for kids, or for adults. Acting on this nostalgia is not only about getting that stuff we never got before, but learning things we wish we'd learned at an earlier age. We wanted to build our own robots and now, it's easier to get started with things like these.
These coffee mugs were being sold next to the toy aisles. The age of first-time coffee drinkers is getting smaller. Well, these could be for hot chocolate, too, or for warm blue milk. Whatever. These kinds of things were around when I was a kid but they were only slighly more useful than a bottle of Star Wars bubble bath.
I'm not a coffee guy so correct me if I'm wrong, but these look like terrible designs for mugs. They look hard to stir inside of and to sip. And I just don't want to drink out of some of these characters' heads and be reminded even slightly of that unspeakable Holiday Special. If you've seen it, you know what I'm talking about with head drinks, if you don't know what I'm talking about, consider yourself fortunate.
Overall, I found the toy selection to be fantastic. There is something for every age and budget. There also seems to not only be plenty of representation of Rey, but also an equal amount of light side and dark side items. For every villain, there's at least one or more heroes. The technology is vastly improved for things like the robot kits. The design of lightsaber toys more resembles the movies than ever—and just the fact that there are lots of lightsabers to choose from is great (there was only two or three in the vintage line and they didn't quite look movie-accurate).
The sculps of the action figures do look improved and are more detailed—luckily they still keep a relatively simple design, meant for play. The LEGO sets are great ,but I do wonder if the licensed properties have all but usurped the more non-specific, more universal playsets of traditional LEGOs (that's my old man speaking again). The market for girls is vastly improved—girls were always fans of Star Wars and my friends had the same toys as me back in the day, but now there is a greater selection.
In other words, it's all good and still brings me back to those days when I was hunting in those toy aisles for the new figures and ships. I couldn't wait to bring those characters and those stories home. For anyone at any age picking up these toys now I say, create. Create your own stories and build your own playsets. May the Force be with your Christmas.