Force Friday is like Star Wars Christmas, which means for the littlest fans, bedtimes go out the window. Sure, adults always tend to line up for big events, especially when toys are involved, but during my journey around San Diego last night, I spoke with plenty of parents who were happy to have their children along.
Last year’s Force Friday at the Toys"R"Us in the Morena neighborhood drew 80-100 people by 10 p.m., and as the crowd continued to grow by midnight they were let in in waves to control the crowd. This year it was a more humble crowd of 30-40. One was Michael Dopp, 25, who is also used to staying up late. Because of the hours he works, Dopp doesn’t normally get to see his 3-year-old daughter when she is awake. When they are together they like to play with combat-worthy sabers, so on Thursday night he was hoping to score a Premium Rey Lightsaber.
"I'm gone a lot, I don't see her a ton because of my security job, so I want to get her a cool prop." When I asked Dopp if he watches Star Wars Rebels with his daughter when he is home, he said, "Yes, but she is of the Dark Side, so she watches Rebels, but she doesn't like the Rebels themselves."
As more customers arrived, they didn't form a line; instead they shook hands with each other and high-fived each other. Droid Builders came by with remote life-size R2-D2 and R5-D4 droids to race down the parking lot. Others hugged each other. Many of these customers already knew each other.
Dopp was just one of the many members of the local San Diego Star Wars Society social group that's been around since 2001. Another member is Carlos Munoz, 47, who says coming down to the store for new releases is now a tradition for the group.
Munoz is a former Marine and an avid action figure collector whose collection includes the 1978 original Kenner Toys Cantina Adventure Cardboard Playset, which came with four figures, including the Blue Snaggletooth figure. It's actually the second one he owned, because he did what most kids did: played with their toys. But 20 years later, when Munoz was fresh out of college, he wandered into a comic shop and saw another Cantina Adventure Playset for sale (with no box), but the playset was in very good condition. Buying it brought back all of the memories of him and his brother playing Star Wars in their 1982 Cutlass Supreme.
"That's actually the last place I saw the original Snaggletooth I had," Munoz recalled. "So somewhere out there is an old Cutlass Supreme in a junkyard with a blue Snaggletooth that fell in between the bucket seats."
One of Munoz's partners in crime at these release parties is 44-year-old William Pitts, who brought his entire family down from the suburb of Poway, including his wife and Ewok enthusiast Renee (45) and three of his four daughters: Kyla (16), Triniti (10), and the big Chewbacca fan in the family, Sienna (9). The two youngest children are still not in school, and Kyla was going to be allowed to start school late if she needed to, because Force Friday for the Pitts is a family event.
I was close enough to drive out to one of our local malls that had a Disney Store, a Lego Store, and an Apple Store. But even though they're participating in Force Friday, none of them had a midnight event. That didn't stop folks from trying to get the toys right away. I ran into Josh Lomibao, 36, another chef hovering around to see if he could score one of the Disney Elite figures. He's a collector who tries not to make too many connections between plot points from the merchandise. "I just get figures and worry about the movie later," Lomibao said. "I try to shy away from the trailers as best I can, so I just get what looks cool."
"I'm mainly here (at the mall) for the exclusive Lego Scarif Stormtrooper mini-figure and to score another Disney Elite figure. The detail in the General Grievous one is awesome, and displays real well." Lomibao was dejected when I told him that the Disney store wouldn't open until 8 a.m.
When I relayed what the scene was at other stores, he contemplated where he would go next. Me? I had enough time to drive back to where I started to get my free T-shirt and, yes, a Chewbacca Funko Pop holding a Porg. I would eventually bump into Lomibao, who had his arms full of swag. His Force Friday was just starting, and he was not going home empty-handed.
Then I ran into Kevin Winston from Los Angeles, who had just driven down from Anaheim with his nephew after a day at Disneyland. Winston was eager to talk about how he had taken the weekend off to visit family and come back to the store where he had spent the last Force Friday. He brought his own custom Ultra Saber and was having the Toys R Us employees take pictures of him with The Last Jedi displays. He was geeked about his free swag.
Winston's nephew, on the other hand, looked like he wanted no part of Force Friday. It was his birthday, and after the excitement of Disneyland and what was surely a sleepy car ride home, Force Friday was standing in the way of his bed. Visibly exhausted and nearly asleep, the last thing he wanted was to answer my questions, so his uncle kept him going a little longer by asking him if he wanted to see the LEGOs, and off they went. Hopefully the little guy got to take something home too.
On the other hand, my colleague Alyse Wax ran into a mother and daughter who were at an LA Force Friday. Here's what she told me:
Melissa, 40, was there with her daughter Kaylee, 6. Kaylee was dressed as Rey, and her mom brought her because she didn't have school tomorrow and thought it would be a fun chance for her to do something with "big kids." She started watching the movies with her daddy and has seen all the movies except the prequels (that's good parenting). Rey is her favorite character. Mom isn't into Star Wars; she was just there for her daughter.
"It's a release (from the daily grind)," Pitts said, surveying the crowd. "This is my extended family. I tried going to past Force Fridays bouncing from store to store by myself, but I was bored. This year it was better." All three of his daughters and wife wore huge smiles, had incredible energy for that time of night, and spirits were high. You could get a sense of community in this midnight release, joy and anticipation of what was behind the doors, but mostly a sense of belonging and fun. As the store employees began to organize a proper line, I let the Pitts family take their place and William told me, "I could walk out of here with nothing and still call it a fun night."