The chastened toymaker Hasbro has just discovered what it took Kylo Ren three lessons to learn: You don't mess with "the girl."
In what is a rather staggering miscalculation given the usual deft precision of Star Wars merchandise rollouts, Hasbro unveiled its new Star Wars-themed Monopoly board game in September ... and decided not to include, oh, the central new hero in the franchise going forward.
Facing criticism that climbed once the seventh Star Wars feature film opened last month, Hasbro offered a quasi-rationale for the oversight: Including the Force Awakens scavenger-heroine Rey (as portrayed by Daisy Ridley) in the game, the toymaker said, risked spoiling a key plotline, according to Entertainment Weekly.
That, of course, is merely an excuse that holds less water than Rey's Jakku canteen. Monopoly cards needn't be the equivalent of reveal-riddled fanfic, and any would-be spoiler could readily have been written around.
Then there's the baffling fact that this makes little business sense: When one of the world's biggest franchises tactically positions a new character as its front-and-center new face - as well as a welcome alternative from Disney-owned Star Wars to so many Disney princesses - why leave her on the sidelines? (Especially as Star Wars merchandise stands to make at least $3 billion in sales around the new film, according to some reports.)
Exacerbating matters is the fact that Rey was so underrepresented on so many Star Wars products this past shopping season - in marked contrast to the omnipresent Kylo Ren - that this continued the longstanding pattern of almost all-male representation on Star Wars toys and tie-ins.
The utter illogic of the decision is: You don't woo millions of new Star Wars viewers especially with a new hope of a strong and central female heroine - one who symbolically keeps shaking off Finn's would-be helping hand during chase scenes - and then have that character go AWOL on your games and, like Captain Phasma as well, be significantly undermarketed on your masses of plastic tie-ins. Who's at the console controls over there - Kylo Ren?
The underwhelming female representation rings as so tone-deaf, it practically puts the "bro" in Hasbro.
Beyond that, there are two takeaways here, though, that encourage.
First, Hasbro listened to the fan backlash - which on social media has included #WheresRey and #WhereIsRey hashtag campaigns - and announced Tuesday that it will produce an updated version of the Monopoly game that will include Rey. ("We love the passion fans have for Rey," Hasbro said in a statement to EW.)
Even more encouraging is the degree to which this is the latest signifier of broader geek-culture change.
In terms of pop culture, after all, 1977 - the year of the first Star Wars release - is a geek-galaxy far, far away. Exactly 40 years after George Lucas first sneak-peeked Star Wars footage at San Diego Comic-Con, in fact, this year's CCI event is guaranteed to have nearly a 50/50 headcount in terms of gender balance.
As futurist and author Rob Salkowitz told me last year, according to his data and survey analysis - released last summer by the online ticketing platform Eventbrite - we have reached geek parity. A 50/50 balance.
(By comparison, the split in nerd-culture fandom tilted 54/46 male in 2014, said Salkowitz, in noting that last year - based on 2,100 respondents in 48 states - was the first-ever year of almost 50/50 parity.)
In other words: The boys'-club geek stereotype has officially been declared dead as the fiscal reality awakens.
Long live the next hero from Jakku.
- Washington Post