When Target revealed its exclusive six-character pack of figures from the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens, fans eager to throw their money at the franchise were dismayed to see that Rey, one of the film's central female protagonists, was not included in the set. Veteran Chewbacca made it into the set, as did an unnamed Stormtrooper and TIE fighter pilot. The woman that's been in virtually every ad for the film, though? Not so much.
Outcry over Rey's absence quickly coalesced into the #WheresRey hashtag that drew attention to other (clothing) manufacturers who were seemingly comfortable with overlooking female Star Wars fans. After weeks of internet backlash, some of the parties best suited to tell us where Rey is have finally spoken up and their answers are…interesting.
In an interview with Bloomberg, Toys “R” US spokeswoman Jessica Offerjost explained that their stores did, in fact, carry Rey and other female Star Wars characters. Their scarcity, Offerjost said, was due to their wild popularity. Taken at face value, that's a great sign, but it also deserves some questioning.
Specifically, why is it that big box retailers like Toys “R” US, Target, and Walmart all seem woefully unprepared to bring Rey to the fans? Paul Southern, the head of Disney's Star Wars licensing arm, told Bloomberg that neither Disney nor its licensing partners foresaw how popular Rey would be.
“We’re working really hard to get into a healthy stock position,” Southern said. “All of a sudden a very broad group of consumers began to buy product a lot quicker than we expected.”
From a business perspective, Southern's explanation sort of makes sense. Manufacturers hedge their bets against the possibility of female characters not selling as well in a franchise that's been dominated by male characters for the better part of the past 40 years.
That being said, Rey isn't just a new addition to the franchise, she's one of The Force Awakens's lead characters. More than that, though, Rey, and other new characters like Finn and and Captain Phasma, were meant to represent a new Star Wars canon that includes more minorities and women alike.
You can't hope to change the look and feel of a franchise that's primarily catered to white men for the bulk of its existence by simply hoping that people will like your new characters. You've got to push for the new characters, both because you believe in their importance and because it's the right thing to do.
Fusion is partly owned by ABC, a member of the Disney family.