Star Wars fans help inspire toy makers to focus on female characters

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If there's one thing you can say about the current Star Wars universe it's this: the future is most definitely female. Ever since Lucasfilm kicked off its brand new series of films, starting with 2015's The Force Awakens, the studio has made an effort to put women front and center. Characters like Rey and Jyn Erso have been given starring roles, fighting, leading, and driving the story forward in ways that would make Leia Organa proud. Meanwhile, characters like Ahsoka, Sabine, and Hera have been blazing and blasting their way through the animated universe on shows like Star Wars Rebels, and The Clone Wars. But even as the franchise began to turn its attention toward its female characters and fans, the merchandising - something which has been a core component of the Star Wars universe since the 1970s - was slow to follow.

Luckily, that's all changing.

Back in 2015, with The Force Awakens on the horizon and renewed interest in the series at the highest it had been in a decade, fans were disappointed to discover that, on Force Friday, when the brand new merchandise was made available to consumers at stores like Target, the film's main character was nearly impossible to find. Rey was all over the trailers and it had been made clear that she would play a major role in the movie (though the nature of that role was, as yet, unclear), yet she was left out of some of the biggest merchandising pushes for companies like Hasbro, who left the character out of the original The Force Awakens Monopoly game. At Target, Rey was absent from figure sets that included the film's other major players, the retailer instead choosing to add generic First Order Soldiers to the mix rather than the main character of the movie.

The obvious lack of merchandise for a major female character sparked a social media firestorm as #WheresRey quickly trended on Twitter and fans voiced their outrage that a character as important as Rey, one of the few women to have a speaking role in the Star Wars universe, let alone headline one of the films, was being left out of the all important merchandise. It seemed like toy makers were ignoring an entire group of potential consumers: girls.

The following year, however, as Rogue One prepared to hit theaters, once again sporting a female main character, fans looking to stock up on Jyn Erso merchandise didn't have the same problems. The character was everywhere, and anyone who wanted to add the reluctant rebel to their collection could and did.

Now, as the Star Wars universe continues to expand, and as the series celebrates its 40th anniversary throughout 2017, a brand new line of toys has hit the shelves. Earlier this year, Hasbro unveiled their Forces of Destiny line of dolls, featuring several of the biggest female characters across the franchise. Figures included Princess Leia, Jyn Erso, Sabine, and yes, even Rey. The line was even launched alongside an ongoing series of web videos in which these characters were given the opportunity to go on brand new adventures in a galaxy far far away, expanding the role of women in Star Wars by leaps and bounds.

That new line of toys is just part of a massive push from companies like Hasbro to appeal to female fans, and according to a spokesperson from the company, it's all about giving fans what they want.

"We spoke to kids about their favorite Star Wars heroes and the story lines most important to them," said the representative. "The insights we gathered from these conversations directly impacted Hasbro’s expansion of Star Wars product offerings which includes many of the female heroines from the universe and led to new expressions of these beloved characters."

Hasbro also took into account social media conversations and even fan letters when making decisions about the future of their merchandising decisions, and according to the company, it is paying off. The reaction to these toys, even in just the short time they've been on the shelves, has been immensely positive. So much so that the company is planning on adding to the collection of "Adventure Figures" in the future, with the first of these new additions to be unveiled at HASCON this weekend.

The shift towards female characters, and towards correcting past mistakes, was made even more apparent this past weekend when Target launched an ad campaign for the annual Force Friday event targeted specifically at female fans. The ad, which featured young girls and Rey cosplayers, focused specifically on young girls inspired by these new, female-focused stories and the brand new role models they brought along with them.

"Hasbro is proud to be a key part of the Star Wars legacy for over 40 years," says the company, "and we’re committed to bringing great products to market that are inspired by the incredible heroes and heroines of the Star Wars universe and in serving the global, multi-generational Star Wars fan base."