-Guest Post by Toytooine
Hey! Are the collective ‘you’ ready for Force Friday? Yeah, Force Friday, that thing most people have only just been informed about! You aren’t? Well, below this is a series of words to get you totally pumped for the thing.
Now, you may have seen a live stream recently (that I think was an ad for Maleficent 2? I’m not sure) or a vague press release from a few months back but long story short; in a few days there will be a big ol’ Star Wars event called Triple Force Friday. And by a few days, I specifically mean October 4th at midnight. Which is really October 4th-ish, but they open the door at midnight:01, so you gotta get there on October 3rd. You know the deal. You know how time works. This all is really a shame because the Star Wars ‘Midnight Madness’ has been a long standing tradition in the fandom so it’s a little deflating that here it comes again for likely the last time and there is little hype for it.
So what is Force Friday? In short, it’s the official release date for a large bulk of merchandise and promotional material leading into whatever the latest major Star Wars release is. And they’ve been doing it for two decades now. With an exactly appropriate amount of ado, let’s talk about the history, legacy, and current status of this lesser known Star Wars tradition. Framed, of course, from my perspective. Because I’m selfish.
Or, skip to where it says ‘Rise of Skywalker’ or something like that to find out what it means for you this week!
The Phantom Menace
Let’s all go back in time now – Weeeeee!!! – see, that’s the sound of going back in time right there. May 3rd, 1999 was the first midnight release of Star Wars products. Back then, there was no Force Friday event because, well, it wasn’t Friday. Put yourself back in the 90’s mindset. Star Wars had been done and over with for many years at this point, until rumblings began in the early to mid 90’s. We started getting some new toys and work was beginning on the Special Editions.
Everyone’s love of Rontos and Greedo shooting first aside, this all meant that after a long dormancy, people were again talking about the biggest blockbuster movies of all time. This hype led to parents introducing a new generation of children to an exciting property that still held up and created more fans than ever. This boiled over to a fever pitch with the impending release of a brand new Star Wars movie, Episode 1, and everyone wanted on board.
Apparently, retailers came up with a promotion to release all of the promotional material for this movie at one time and all the stores, led by Toys R Us, would open for a special event at midnight. I say apparently because I was but a wee youngling at the time and thus could not attend an event for children’s toys since they held it at the very child accessible time of past midnight on a Monday before school. I recall being vaguely aware of a release date for the toys and knowing it was a thing, but did not attend any such event.
Like sensible people we went the next day and a few days after pretty much picking up anything we wanted. There was plenty to go around and the only aspect that stood out was a lack of Darth Maul. I didn’t know at the time, but obviously the collectors had gotten all the Mauls at that midnight release. It wasn’t a big deal, because even he could be found easily in later shipments. But, Maul for sure was the big seller at that ‘Midnight Madness.’
The biggest dud, as we can pretty much all guess, was Jar Jar. After the movie came out, this character got a lot of hate, but it seemed even before that realization, people knew intrinsically something was very wrong. The design was just never all that appealing, but he was intended to appeal to kids, be funny, and had a wild alien design. Who doesn’t love wacky aliens? As all retailers soon found out – most people! All sorts of Jar Jar memorabilia rotted on store shelves for the rest of the year, from candy dispensers, to gyrating alarm clocks, to novelty prosthetic tongues. Besides, we all know Lucas should have pushed his far superior comedy release, Pit Droids! Remember Pit Droids? Whatever happened to those guys? I guess everyone just hit the nose.
I remember this was the first time I openly began to gravitate towards obscure and weird characters, for some reason deciding Ric Olie was my favorite star dude. Yeah, I remember picking up him and Gasgano at my local shop, Fun Stuff Toys (it was really called that), and thinking these guys are gonna just be the best!
However, it goes to point out that the marketing push for Episode 1 had a lot of diversity of products. We had KFC chicken bucket toppers, Taco Bell kids meal trinkets, books, video games, dress-up dolls, role play items, a soundtrack CD which spoiled the end of the movie, and even a GIGANTIC Naboo Royal Cruiser.
Also Pogs, I got a bunch of Pogs.
And all of this was capstoned by huge immersive displays! Toy R Us locations had huge displays decorating the front of the stores, and Giant standees and R2 unit soda dispensers can be found around comic con time in San Diego to this day!
If you want a good sense of this event, read this much better article! Writing is hard!
Attack of the Clones
Hey, total bummer dudes, I had no idea about this one. I remember a trickle of toys and products coming out around the release of Stars Wars: The Clone Attack, but it seemed random and haphazard. One day, my local Target would have a wave of 14 inch dolls and the next day they would have a set of background Jedi from the last ten minutes of the movie. I had no idea there was any sort of event or release date – that’s my bad, guys. It was April 23, 2002 for those of you keeping track (you weren’t).
It seemed as though the marketplace learned from the glut of Phantom Menace and, instead of a giant dump of merch, they gave us a slow intravenous drip of weird products. And some of them were weird, like Disco dancin’ electric Jar Jar weird…
My favorite item is the one I am least able to describe in words, like some kind of Lovecraftian horror. Various Lays potato chip products would include a free puzzle piece. This was a plastic square that could connect with other plastic squares like a puzzle. And each of them had an image of a character sculpted in, and it was sculpted in such a way that if you held it up to the light, it would look like a monochromatic photograph. I did it! I described this bizarre thing!
As with the first Midnight Madness, it seems the villain, Count Dooku, was the big seller and crazy hard to find, so I’m sure a lot of parents were super frustrated in getting stuff for their kids that year. But unlike Phantom Menace I don’t recall there being any major duds or failures in the merchandising. I think this came from the film itself being designed as a toyline first, and a narrative second. Everything in that movie was a Jedi, or a clone or some sort of battler. Even Padme’s never ending closet of outfits seemed primed to sell various dolls (which, ironically they didn’t really make too many of).
But then the sands of time kept marching on… the coarse, rough, irritating sands…
Revenge of the Sith
At the time, Revenge of the Sith was set to be the very last Star Wars movie ever, and potentially the last Star Wars media in the chronology. Oops – but back then we didn’t know any better. As such, the retailers were REALLY prepared for this one. Demand was high. I mean, not as high as Phantom Menace, but for stuff to sell, this might be Star Wars at its peak.
Gone were the senators, lobbyists, and Jars Jar, and in their place were tons of lightsaber-wielding Jedi, assault cannon-wielding clones, and uhhhh whatever it is Wookies wield. Life Day candles? Upon release, there were so many ‘toyetic’ designs that could be slapped on lunchboxes, toothpaste, and various other things. In retrospect, it was a bit messed up to have all these children’s toys from the movie with the MOST genocide and child murder. As a side note, when are we going to get the Hot Toys’ “Mastuh Skywalkuh” kid???
Unlike the first two Midnight Madness events this one was really well advertised and organized. Mainstream stores like Target even sent out ads in the snail mail. And that’s reserved for only important things like Caldor coupons!
Thus on April 2nd, 2005, Toys R Us once again opened its doors to a late night release of Star Wars junk. I remember this vividly. Growing up in the quiet suburbs and not really going to conventions or events at this time, it was super awkward, like do I just go to the front door and wait like a goon? How early do I show up? Will there be anything to buy? So I went about an hour and a half early – and NO ONE was there. Or rather, everyone was there, but just waiting in their cars in the parking lot. Once one person got out to make the line in front of the Toys R Us door, the floodgates opened and everyone got out to form a line hugging up against the side of the strip mall, spending an eternity of minutes looking through the window cling ads to see if we could spot what goodies lay inside.
This was more organized than I’d expect of a toy store. At midnight promptly, they let people in about 15 at a time. Inside, its was a roped off single file line, going through only the main entrance display of the store. You were not allowed to just browse the store. The ropes looped you throught the enormous Revenge of the Sith display and you picked up your haul bit by bit as you went through the line. And what bits they had! Action figures in every scale of dozens of characters! Vehicles! Weird Attacktix game pieces – well mybe those are best left forgotten. LEGO! By which I mean the plural version of LEGO and not the singular LEGO! And my favorite – the wooping lizard guy Obi-Wan rides for a minute! RIP wooping lizard…
If you are a child of the 90’s, you likely remember those contests on TV where a kid had like 10 minutes to run through a toy store and grab anything they wanted and you were always like, “why didn’t they just knock everything into the cart???” This was the closest thing to that experience I could imagine. Except I had to pay for it all. At the end of the picking line, you ended up at a register and were swiftly booted out the door, glowing with the massive TRU bag of your Sithly bounty.
Now, there’s no time to sleep because while Toys R Us was winding down, All the other stores were closed at night. Slackers. So, in a mere few hours, collectors needed to head to line up at their local Target. I say Target because they had the big sought after exclusive for the Episode 3 release. I mean, I’m not sure how sought-after it was, but I thought it was cool. They were offering a ‘Lava Reflection’ Darth Vader toy to the first 20 or so people who showed up. This was pretty much a Darth Vader action figure painted in psychedelic colors to make it look like there’s lava around him, like reds, oranges, and greens for whatever reason. Anyway, at the time I thought it was cool.
The limited nature meant you needed to get to Target early. Now my saint of a mother was up early and came with me to this second early morning event, and we were just in luck, there was only one family in front of us in line. So we were standing there behind two dads and a small child for a good hour and a little line had built behind us. About 5 minutes before opening, and employee came out to tell us the details. Each customer could only get one, each customer got a ticket. Each customer would have to take that ticket to Customer Services. OK.
When they went to give out the tickets, they passed over the boy in front of us, to which the accompanying dad said, “hey, he’s a collector too.” I guess because he was a kid, he didn’t count as a customer. I mean, he was clearly a child who wanted a toy for children. Sometimes this hobby can get out of hand. Since my mother was there we just bought him one, since she (who didn’t want one) counted as a ‘real customer.’ There you go. There’s your dash of Star Wars wholesomeness for the day.
The Clone Wars
Remember when Revenge of the Sith was the last Star War? Yeah of course you don’t, future-dweller. But I do think a lot of us recall The Clone Wars release. No, not the animated series. No, not the cult classic Genndy Tartakovsky short series. Yes, that The Clone Wars. The first three episodes of the series that were slapped together into one movie and plopped into theaters.
This Midnight Madness event was held on July 26th, 2008 and honestly felt like it was held out of tradition. A movie – any movie – was hitting theaters, so may as well do another midnight opening event. In that sense, it really felt like there was less diversity in products. During the prequel era, most every item that could be sold, was sold. This release was pretty much all about toys. And boy, wee there a lot of toys.
The major shift was the move from toys that looked like real people, to ones that needed to match the cartoon. This caused a lot of division in the collecting community, but for those apprehensive folk, they also released plenty of toys of the traditional 6 movies as well. For the first and only time, it really felt like a whole saga affair. It also felt a little disjointed for that reason. You had a lot of toys for children from the new media, but also things like Jabba’s, ummm, curvy six-breasted dancer on the pegs for the older school collectors. I didn’t care because I bought them all.
Again, the main source of midnight goodies was Toys R Us. The only other retailer supporting the midnight rush was the Walmart locations that were open 24/7 anyway. Come to think of it, I’m not sure how that worked. Like did they just have stuff roped off with people hovering around it until midnight? Oh well, for most collectors, Toys R Us is where it was at – ol’ reliable. This time around there were displays, but not nearly as colorful and grandiose. And it was not as well organized. The doors just opened and you had free reign of the store for an hour or so.
Now I do recall some cool promotional items. Specifically the NYC Times Square giant Toys R Us had some amazing life size statues of the main animated cast that I think there was some sweepstakes to get. Not that anyone could really have the space for those. On a less expensive note, there was an adorable item in the form of a backpack containing a plush Rotta the Hutt. Now that I made you remember Pit Droids, hey, remember Rotta the Hutt??? I’m still kicking myself for not getting that for my sweet Ahsoka cosplay!
Again, while most products on sale were figures and toys, it seems Hasbro upped their exclusive game. They had clone toys and repaints for all! so unlike the past events, you needed to hit up a lot of stores that day if you wanted them all. Heck, I had to drive all over Long Island that day to get the massive and impressive AT-TE tank vehicle. I guess it was a popular item, and stores may have only gotten one or two due to the size.
It was another crazy event. But SURELY it was the end. SURELY, this would be the last Star Wars movie, for real…
The Force Awakens
After that was announced to be fake news, it had been a long gap between major merchandise pushes. A few people remembered those midnight events from an undisclosed number of years ago and people wondered if it would happen again for these new movies. Not much was known officially about product releases since a lot of the new Force Awakes stuff was kept under wraps by the parent company. Most everything was under strict release date embargoes.
Eventually we got a formal confirmation with the “Force Friday” moniker. The date was set for September 4th, 2015. Once again, Toys R Us would lead the charge, opening at midnight with some small giveaways. Other stores including Targets would participate as well. Frustratingly, very few product was officially revealed before the event. Of course, most collectors knew what was coming via leaked information from toy sellers and solicitors, but if you were a casual fan, and only just heard of this promotional event, you were going in totally blind, unaware of what you were in line to buy.
Living on a whole other coast at that time, I internally debated staying up late for this one. The internet had become far more ubiquitous for collecting at that point, meaning you really didn’t have to participate in such a hassle. At the last moment, last moment meaning MANY hours before, I decided to line up at the Burbank Toys R Us, knowing the LA area already had fierce competition for collectors. When I got there about 2 ½ hours early, the line was already around the corner of the building.
This was definitely the biggest production I had been a part of. The 501st was there in their TK best and even noted fan Seth Green was at the front of the line – apparently he’s also very patient. Many people in line and just passing by were filming and taking pictures for social media. It was a known event. No one really knew what they were in for when those automatic glass doors would finally open.
At some point the 501st members started going around the line handing out free donuts – let’s just say a “mysterious benefactor” in line went and ordered a ton of Krispie Kreme for the event. Spoiler – the donut was the best thing to be had that night.
I was in line with the guys from local toy store, 3D Retro, and everyone was talking about what they were most hoping to find in the store. To which I joked I wanted a Jar Jar, because they should always be selling a Jar Jar at any given time.
When the doors finally opened, there was not quite as much organization as there was during the prequel era. They let people in 10 at a time in order to give out an exclusive LEGO brick, but other than that the store was wide open with a mad dash to the Star Wars aisle which wasn’t even at the front of the store. Upon entering, the problem became quite evident. Each store only got one shipment, meaning there seemed to only be one of each thing for anyone to buy. I guess they figured only Seth Green wanted to show up to this event? Suffice it to say there was nearly nothing to be bought. Now this was the first midnight madness post-Funko, so for those fans, there appeared to be much better stock and distribution for those items.
HOWEVER – it did turn out there was a Jar Jar to be bought afterall! So with smug satisfaction I picked up the Jar Jar Hero Mashers and called it a night.
Force Friday for Star War: Rouge One: A Star War was September 30, 2016. That is the extent of what I know about this event. This is what Google tells me, but I can neither confirm nor deny that this happened. In addition, I genuinely don’t know anyone who participated in this one.
Regardless, products came out. In fact the main reason people remember what a Jyn Erso is, is because you can still find overstock from this launch at your local Burlington Coat Factory. This probably is not helped by the fact that major characters like Cassian Andor look like they got their exciting costumes from said Burlington Coat Factory.
I managed to buy the entire toy line for this, the next day after release in the afternoon at the very Toys R Us that one year prior was sold out of everything but my beloved Jar Jar. It goes without saying that either the excitement was no longer there, people were more cautious about a spinoff movie, or fans were burned from not being able to find anything at the previous year’s event.
The selection of products was mostly the same as Force Awakens, but with Rogue One characters on it. In retrospect, the merchandise was really hurt by the notorious reshoots on the film. There was a giant, expensive AT-ACT that seemed to feature more heavily in the trailer than in the actual film, not one but TWO toys of Moroff, a character that looks cool but only really exists in behind the scenes footage and about one shot in film, yet there were no spiffy blue X-Wings which would have just been free printed money.
All in all, this was pretty unremarkable. No tentacle monster with Bodhi Rook plush? Zero Stars.
The Last Jedi
For The Latest Jedi, I was aware when Force Friday came around again on September 1, 2017. I did, this time think long and hard about hitting up Toys R Us yet again, remembering the good ol’ days. However, I then remembered the bad ol’ days. After the easy-to-findedness of Rogue One, and the lack of product for Force Awakens, I decided to not stay up late and sit this one out. Oh, don’t worry, I still went out and got stuff that day, but I didn’t go to any sort of Midnight release/I was at Downtown Disney and the Disney droids were the best items out.
Much like Rouge One, there was plenty to be found the morning after in a monochrome sea of white boxes with a little hint of red on them. As years go by, Star Wars packaging seems to become more and more minimalist like their printers are running our of colors or something. We’ll find out if all the next round of packaging is hot pink and cyan.
They had the usual stock of action figures, vehicles, playsets, plushes, apparel, and Pops. The best item I got was a Last Jedi hat, which kept my head from getting sunburn, yo! That should tell you how memorable some of the designs were. A lot of BB-9E things could be bought… anyone want spare BB-9E’s? Before the film came out, people left the goofy looking Praetorian Guard on the shelves, only to snatch them up after they turned out to not be too bad in motion in context.
In a strange move, Hasbro decided to make all the toys interactive. And by interactive, I mean you could buy a weird baby-sized Power Glove called a Force Link. If you picked up a toy with this glove on, it would make sounds or say lines from the movie. Its kind of interesting, but it almost never worked well, causing a poor child to be flapping their hand wildly in the air trying to get Luke to say something generic about the force. It goes without mention that these pricy glove packs wound up collecting dust in the last days of Toys R Us.
Hey, hey Toys R Us? How you doing there, buddy? You OK? You don’t look like you’re doing so well…
You may recall Han Solo: A Solo Story as that movie that, statistically you probably didn’t pay to see in theaters, however: you totally showed up for the product launch, of course. Yes, they did indeed try to have a midnight launch of Solo merchandise, which was problematic for a number of reasons.
For one, our boy, Hans, is a lame-o and can’t use the force. You can’t exactly have a ‘Force Friday’ with no force. So this event was thus dubbed ‘Wookiee Weekend’ and launched on April 20th, 2018. Another hindrance was that Solo was not really expected to be that big as a simple spinoff movie, so companies really couldn’t be expected to make that much merch for it. The Force Friday was really feeling like a traditional obligation. Companies HAD to do something because they’ve been doing it heretofore. Additionally, this movie was coming right off the heels of the Last Jedi media push, so there wasn’t much time to clear out TLJ stuff and then produce and shift gears to make Solo stuff.
Oh, and Toys R Us had gone out of business. You may remember that place as the store that’s been mentioned a billion times in this article. This was a huge deal not only because losing the only toy-specific retailer would force major changes on the industry, but they were the only major place consistently opening up on midnights for these things.
If you wanted to participate in Wookiee Weekend you wouldn’t have to stay up late, but you would need to wake up early and hit the stores when they opened Friday morning. This was sadly fine because there really was not much to be had. You could buy classic characters like Maz Kanata, K-2SO, and Jedi Master Luke Skywalker. Not Han Solo, of course, don’t be silly. One could only get him by getting a big expensive vehicle or an upgraded Force Link Glove. Yes, they did that again. It had app functionality so it didn’t even work out of the box this time around. Most stores didn’t even participate, just putting out product at random throughout the month after the street date, even at that, many locations just got a few shipments and were done. It was really sad.
I spent that day buying most everything on Amazon and getting some novelty cups with my Han Solo lunch at Denny’s. Cute, but maybe not the most efficient design. Eh, I’m sure she’s got it where it counts.
The Rise of Skywalker, or something like that
Hi! Welcome back to the article from our intro paragraphs! So we have Triple Force Friday coming up and let’s clear up something. Unlike what Warwick was saying, it isn’t triple because it’s three times as big. It’s not. As the fools who read the middle paragraphs probably realize there has been, in fact, less and less product at the stores for each release. It’s looking like this will certainly have more toys than Solo, but Hugh Jackman’s Van Helsing had more toys than Solo. No, its triple because this will be the product launch for 3 things, The Rise of Skywalker, The Mandalorian, and Jedi: Fallen Order.
Let’s look at what we are left with. The video announcement seemed to show a random assortment of stuff. It looked like John Boyega got a cartoon guy, Kelly Marie-Tran got a pop-up book, and Daisy Ridley got a Black Series figure. It creates a lot of confusion. Would it be too hard to just have a checklist?
Checklist here! – Thanks Yakface!
So, it looks like the main collector focus will be the wave of Black Series figures. If you buy them online, you’ll get the standard black box. If you buy them at retail, you’ll get the same figures in a white box. Then, there is a ‘Carbonized’ collection, which are a few of the same figures painted metallic with a metallic box, each one exclusive to a different retailer. All of these look about as good as you would expect, but it feels a lot like padding. Previous films had Black series displays and playsets. This is really just the same set of figures in three different boxes, almost as if they want it to seem like there is more product to be had. And, if the same thing is released in three different boxes, they may actually sell through as some collectors will need each variation, rather than one figure.
The Vintage Collection of 3 3/4″ traditional scale figures will also be there, despite not being in the video. For Rise of Skywalker fans, this is currently the best way to get a Zorii Bliss or a Knight of Ren and the only way to get Poe’s BB-8 cosplay X-Wing. Also Best Buy looks to have an amazing Mandalorian AT-ST, so I guess I’m going to Best Buy? I haven’t said that in years. I can’t wait for the Radio Shack exclusive.
The Galaxy of Adventure figures have a lot of misinformation around them. Multiple times, the video states these are based on the cartoon. This does not appear to be true. This is the main line of toys for Rise of Skywalker. And the only way to get a Finn. This is targeted as an impulse buy for kids, so expect them to probably hit clearance in the future as indicated by Daisy’s disappointment in her large-eared caricature. Odd that when the cartoon come out, we get realistic toys; but when the new movie is out, we get cartoon figures…
Funko…did a good job guys. This is currently the only way to get full casts of characters from each media push. I think this shows with the cast members being visibly happiest bobbling their little heads around. Also, Pops are plentiful so you should be able to actually buy them on day one and not just show up to a sold out store, as has been the case since Force Awakens. Plus, after 3 movies, we’re getting something Connix related, which is a pretty decent-sized hole in a ST collection. In fact, they are doing such a good job, Hasbro seems to be following their plan: lots of different store exclusives, package variations, mystery boxes. Keep on doing your thing Funko.
LEGO is also keeping on pace. Without seeing the new media, its hard to tell which scenes or vehicles will resonate. But LEGO always does an amazing job and makes fun builds. Kylo Ren’s ship looks pretty great and is a pretty underrated ship getting some love. Minifigs from these sets also seem to get you the biggest cast from the media, so take that for what you will.
Beyond that, I’m most looking forward to the Micro Force holiday Advent calendar. Porgs are always welcome.
IF you want anything – and who wouldn’t? – here’s what you’ll have to do. There’s no real midnight opening unless you live next to Disney Springs, so no need to rush out or line up. Instead, stay in your PJ’s and check some etailers. Sure, if you order toys, you will have to wait a few days but unless you wanna get the clicks with your early unboxings, that should be fine. If you want any exclusives, check your store openings and show up a bit before. You will likely miss out since the one collector in your town will wipe out that store in one go – sorry ’bout that. Even then, I would not expect to have any trouble. Even though much will sell out, history tells us that much like Turboman in Jingle All the Way, you’ll be able to get a doll…EVENTUALLY.
Seriously, products from launch day are never hard to find in the long run – just look up Phantom Menace toys on Ebay.
So, if you might not find anything, can easily wait and get it later, and much of it might not even be the BEST product (sorry bags of lettuce with Rey’s face on them) the question remains why should YOU participate in Triple Force Friday?
I’ll be honest, it all goes back to my rambles above. See, I love when everything you set up pays off at the end. A tradition only matters in regard to how it impacts you. Star Wars has been around for a very long time now and everyone has their own traditions. For some, it is seeing each movie in theaters with their family. For others, it is sending out ‘May the Fourth’ messages on social media. And for some, that is standing outside a retail store at an odd hour of night, waiting to see what new things will be, in turn, waiting for you.
So, while it has dwindled as years go by, it will be bittersweet to see it go. With the end of the Skywalker Saga and a general change in the toy industry away from traditional toys overall, this will be the last chance to see it for yourselves. I know for me, I’ll always remember my line buddies from some of those nights, the hunt of getting that one thing that was always sold out, or the victory in actually finding said sold out thing. Most of all, the biggest acquisition from these events are always the stories.
So, on October 4th, I know I’ll be there yet again getting some cups and pancakes from Denny’s. Denny’s doesn’t have souvenirs this time, I just feel like having pancakes.