On Thursday, I drove to Frankfurt to attend a midnight opening of a store selling the new Star Wars toys. I did so mainly to interview the chief LEGO designer, but getting to experience Force Friday in such a cool location with a bunch of cosplaying fans was indeed a nice treat. I am not into collecting Star Wars figures anymore but I do get the occasional product every now and then. Star Wars has been a huge part of my life and influenced me greatly along my career as well. I can’t help but get overtly excited about the new movies.
Yet, I also think that Force Friday was a travesty of embarassing proportions. The livestream turned out to be a total cringefest, many stores completely fucked up their order apparently, and you just can’t help but feel kind of bad that you’re part of this corporate, arbitrary frenzy for highly privileged people.
I’m a fan, but I’m also very self-aware.
On Friday, Devin Faraci of Birth.Movies.Death. posted an article titled “I Need More STAR WARS, Less Force Friday” that I read immediately. Not just because I was so immersed in the whole #ForceFriday thing at that point but also because I’m an avid follower of Devin himself. I follow him on Twitter and greatly enjoy his tweets. I’ve been a fan of his new podcast, The Canon, from the beginning, and I honestly admire how he pumps out these personal thinkpieces that offer great insight into film and pop culture on a daily basis. In this piece, he rightfully points out the soullessness of the event and is disappointed about how the attention doesn’t seem to be on the story but rather on the toys.
Here’s an excerpt, please read the full story on Birth.Movies.Death.
And then I see Force Friday. I see an 18 hour series of live unboxing videos of Star Wars toys and junk. I see people standing in line for hours and hours to be the first in the door to buy Star Wars toys and junk that are surely not in any way, shape or form limited. I see an orgy of merchandising and marketing.
I don’t see the story.
Like I said, it’s been a long journey for me to return to the excitement of Star Wars, and this week, with is focus on crass commercialism, has really tested that excitement. Obviously merch has always been a part of the Star Wars experience – it’s possible that George Lucas’ greatest masterstroke on Star Wars was retaining the toy rights – but the glut of Product on Force Friday feels more like the callous corporate glurges that surrounded the prequels than the (in retrospect) charming scattershot release of original trilogy trash. I see people lining up to get into a Toys ‘R Us and I feel like the whole thing has gone wrong – this isn’t what it’s supposed to be about, grown men spending hundreds of dollars on ephemeral crap.
I do share Devin’s impression regarding the whole event character of Force Friday, but somehow his condescending attitude toward toys rubbed me the wrong way. In a moment of rash haste, I retweeted him because I thought the article was still very well-written and worth being read since it offered a perspective on this whole ordeal.
Devin is known for being very outspoken and can be conceived as controversial but he also has a sense of humor which is why I was surprised to see this morning that he had blocked me. I understand him, I really do. I don’t want to imagine what it must be like to come under attack from moronic gamer-gaters and to read that bullshit on a daily basis. Still, he’s also often sarcastic, snarky and can be quite vicious and nasty himself so I didn’t figure that this would bug him. I honestly didn’t even think he’d read it. I’m sad that it apparently annoyed him quite a bit.
I’m a little hurt that I was blocked (I am, as he puts it, collateral damage), but also regretful of the unintended stress I put on Devin. Therefore, I’m going to do what I should’ve done in the first place and offer a proper, written-out response to his article.
Let’s get the most obvious thing out of the way: Yes, Force Friday was a soulless, corporate event devoid of character, fun, and, as Devin put it, story. However, I didn’t really expect there to be a story. I think you can be perfectly aware of the negative aspects of the event and still get a toy. Or the day after tomorrow. Or not at all. I don’t care. I don’t think it really matters all that much when it comes to the story.
I don’t share his presumption, so I can’t come to his conclusion regarding toys. Of course, Force Friday itself wasn’t about the story of the underdogs taking on the evil Empire but I think you can’t lump these things together anyway. It’s not either toys or the story, it’s story through toys. Not necessarily, but it’s possible.
When I was 7 and Jurassic Park arrived at our theaters here in Germany, my dad didn’t take me to see the film despite me being a huge dinosaur kid. Rightfully so, since I was clearly way too young to see it at that point. Even years later I was peeking through my hands during rewatches on VHS when Nedry gets eaten alive in the jeep. But that came long after I had “played” Jurassic Park myself with the toys I’d bought with my pocket money. I also had this sticker album that offered a rough summary of the film’s story and, thus, Jurassic Park came alive in my room and our garden way.
Now, this is a totally different experience than watching a movie of course, and you don’t need that experience, but I do believe that toys can be tools for young and future filmmakers. Spielberg himself used toy trucks for his little 8mm films he shot during his teenage years.
Sure, you don’t need toys to relive the story. You can just watch the movie. Especially if you’re a grown man. However, it is nice owning even a little piece from a movie. (I think Devin can get behind that thought.) You can place it in your home and have it remind you of that thing you really like and the story that means so much to you. It reminds of the impact it had on you and how it made you feel.
Now, not everyone has got the money or knows the right people to get a screen-used prop, but I don’t think it’s that much different from having a Mondo print on your wall. Or a Hot Toys figure on your book shelf. It’s really just a matter of taste and personal preference. In the end, it doesn’t matter which item you’ll end up having (if any) since it’s there to remind you of the story that you connected to so much. You can decide yourself what you prefer.
Devin is right, though, to point out that this can and obviously has lead to obsessive ownership among nerd culture.
I could go on a whole sociohistoric rant about why it’s like this, about the way nerd culture developed in an environment that didn’t offer us much in the way of merch and we’ve kind of overcompensated for it, or about the way nerd culture is on some level about obsessive ownership and collecting, but that’s not the point of this essay.
Still, Force Friday was not just about toys. Even if you disklike manchildren standing hours in line to get their precious little toys, you can’t ignore the range of merchandise involving comics, novels and novellas.
Now, the Expanded Universe is notorious for its ludicrous self-bastardization, but there were quite a few well-written stories within the almost 40-year-time-span, and it helped keeping the franchise alive among hardcore fans. Star Wars did not need those books, I agree, but they certainly helped. And with the creation of the new Lucasfilm Story Group, one might have hoped that the stories would get better and be more cohesive and that they would, ultimately, serve to support a larger story on-screen.
The famous SF author Chuck Wendig, for example, wrote Aftermath, the key piece of “The Journey to The Force Awakens.” Do you need to read those stories in order to enjoy the upcoming movies? Of course not. Is this whole industry cash-grabbing every last cent from a willing mass, hungry for even the slightest bit of new information? Yeah. But does it hurt anyone? I honestly don’t think so.
Come December, Devin, me, and every other Star Wars fan will get to enjoy the hopefully amazing revitalization of the biggest franchise of them all on the big screen. And I will gladly stand in line next to someone wearing a Star Wars costume or a fan clutching to his little toy. Because in that line, it is all about the story. If the toys help you relive the story, that doesn’t hurt anybody.
Although, in the end, it shouldn’t be just about the toys, of course.
I guess I’m trying to talk to people who feel like I do, who spent this whole week saying to themselves, “Wait, was I wrong to be excited about Star Wars again?” People who felt deflated as the joy at the build up to the new story faded away in the face of a feeding frenzy of licensed goods. People who maybe felt like they had been gotten, that they had been roped in by a big corporation who only gives a shit about selling us stuff, not about telling great stories.
Devin is right and on a certain level, I completely agree with his viewpoint. And yet I can’t help but feel like that you can still make the conscious distinction to ignore or criticize Force Friday, buy toys and still be more excited about the movies than anything else.
Ultimately, I don’t want to come across as though I think Devin is “wrong” for feeling the way he does. Just sharing my two cents.
I’d like to think that Devin can see how I wasn’t trying to be evil nor proud.