Like many fans, I flocked to my local movie theatre this week to catch Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I was enthusiastic to see the film prior to its release, and was delighted to find my appetite for a fantastic chapter in this space opera saga satiated by the end credits. Having bought most of the Star Wars: The Force Awakens (we’ll call it TFA, for short) action figures prior to opening day, I was curious to contrast how these characters were represented in plastic versus their celluloid selves.
Though the findings I’ll present concern mainly TFA action figures and not the film, I should warn that mild plot spoilers will pop up in the post ahead.
There’s no question Rey is the star of this film. In addition to being the character that changes the most from the first scene to the last, she’s at the center of much of the film’s marketing, including the iconic movie poster. Her action figure was somewhat hard to find in the New York City area, as the film’s release date got closer; however, in the early weeks of the action figures coming out, I noticed a sturdy number of Rey toys being sold at my local Disney Store (where they were in Die Cast metal!), Walgreens, and a nearby mom-and-pop toy store called simply “Toys & Variety.”
I never found an overwhelming amount at area Toys R Us and Target stores, certainly nowhere near a number that would suggest that this character is the new Star Wars lead. This begged the question: were Rey figures produced in fewer quantities, or were they simply more popular purchases, leaving a reduced number on store pegs?
The idea that female characters’ action figures are produced in smaller batches is nothing new. Black Widow. Scarlet Witch. Gamora and the practically non-existent Nebula figures from Guardians of the Galaxy. If history repeats itself, Rey was likely produced in smaller numbers, too.
But beyond this inference, there is physical evidence of Rey’s marginalization on the shelves of toy stores. If you buy the Millennium Falcon starship playset (which retails at a baffling $149.99), it will come with Finn, Chewbacca, and BB-8 action figures. Absent will be the character who fixed up the old “bucket of bolts,” used it to save the day, cared for the included-in-the-set BB-8, and, in many scenes, flew the damn ship.
To riff on a fairly popular History Channel meme: I’m not saying the reason for Rey’s omission from the Millennium Falcon playset is because she’s a woman, but it’s because she’s a woman.
Then there’s the Target exclusive TFA 6-pack of 12-inch figures from the movie. In that set, you get Finn, Poe Dameron, Chewie, Kylo Ren, a Stormtrooper, and…wait for it…an anonymous TIE Fighter Pilot! This 6-pack sits in Target’s TFA endcap display (those special displays of toys that are usually at the ends of aisles) which features a poster of TFA featuring the one character the exclusive toy set denies: Rey.
Toy manufacturers might argue that this isn’t an oversight at all. It’s just easier to make a generic “male” mold than it is to create a “female” mold for just one toy. But this rationalization has to stop.
If action figures are going to claim to represent a source text, and use that text to boost their own sales, then they’ve got to be able to handle the presence of important female characters.
None of this is to downplay the significance of having many plastic representations of an African-American character (Finn), nor is it to forget the editions of Rey that currently exist. It is to point out that the current waves of TFA toys do not do justice to the source text’s female lead, and this is sadly reminiscent of so many previous action figure lines.
Of course, there is nothing I can say that hasn’t already been said on Twitter. The hashtag “#wheresrey” has taken off, as consumers across the nation have noticed the same omissions I did. Some responses have offered, ahem, a new hope: parents using the hashtag to note that their children will want all of TFA’s main characters, no matter their gender, for instance. Sideshow Collectibles has even used #wheresrey to indicate that they have plenty of Rey toys in stock.
If toy consumers and sellers alike can address Disney/Hasbro’s error with this much outrage, maybe we can, culturally, take steps toward positive gender representation in toys. It’s our only hope.