WARNING: This post contains SPOILERS for Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The character of Rey (Daisy Ridley) is one of the most important in Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens. By all accounts, she's the film's primary protagonist, being positioned as the new hope for the Light Side of the Force amidst a galactic war. And while Rey was featured heavily in marketing materials such as trailers, posters, and TV spots, she was noticeably absent from the tie-in merchandise that was released in the months prior to the film. This led to consumers launching the social media hashtag #WheresRey to illustrate how difficult it was to find the new fan-favorite.
Things reached a tipping point recently when Rey's absence from the latest edition of Star Wars Monopoly went viral, which even caused Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams to get on the phone and make a couple of calls (and apparently getting results). During the controversy, Hasbro promised that more Rey merchandise was on its way, and now the heroine is taking center stage in the second wave of Star Wars 7 toys.
EW released a photo gallery of the latest Force Awakens products being made available, and fans of the Jakku scavenger will be pleased to see that Rey is well represented in the new toy line. Not only are there a few new action figures of the character, a number of the toy weapons (such as a blaster and a blue-bladed lightsaber) are specifically identified as belonging to Rey. Seeing the items now four weeks after the film's release, it's a little clearer why Hasbro was holding back. Many of the new products are from key moments in the film that Lucasfilm purposely did not want to spoil (such as Rey fighting with Luke Skywalker's old lightsaber). Now that the film has been out for a while, there's more leeway regarding what can come out.
Paul Southern, head of Lucasfilm licensing, explained to EW that there was so much frustration surrounding the lack of Rey merchandise because the toys were selling out before stores could restock the shelves. That's certainly understandable, as Rey has quickly become one of the most popular characters in the whole franchise. At the same time, Hasbro made several curious decisions during the first product launch. For instance, a Target exclusive collection pack of action figures excluded Rey (having two faceless First Order soldiers instead), even though Ridley is one of the leads in the new movie. As Abrams joked, Rey is "somewhat important to the story," and she should have been more prominent in the early merchandise
In this new era of Star Wars on film, Lucasfilm is making great strides to promote diversity in blockbuster films, ranging from casting decisions to possibly filmmakers. Rey (along with John Boyega's Finn) marked the start of that movement, which is why it is so important for Rey to be featured heavily in the lucrative Star Wars merchandise. In addition to pleasing the existing fans, the studio is attempting to expand the brand's already widespread appeal. Seeing Rey not only on the big screen, but also in stores, sends a great message to moviegoers regarding this initiative, opening the galaxy far, far away to a new generation and demographics.
Hopefully, Hasbro and other Star Wars licensing partners have learned from the #WheresRey situation, and when the time comes to start producing Episode VIII merchandise, the character is highlighted right off the bat. Even if Lucasfilm is keen on only promoting aspects from the first act early on (which was the case with Force Awakens), there will surely be plenty of opportunities to include Rey in various products and make sure she's represented on the shelves. After all, the sequel trilogy is her story.
Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens is now in theaters, followed by Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on December 16th, 2016, Star Wars: Episode VIII on May 26th, 2017, and the Han SoloStar Wars Anthology film on May 25th, 2018. Star Wars: Episode IX is expected to reach theaters in 2019, followed by the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.