With the arrival of a first holiday edition of Black Series troopers, is this experiment from Hasbro and Lucasfilm the first of many to come?
With Star Wars: A New Hope’s unprecedented success upon release in 1977 and plans for two more films, the suits at 20th Century Fox took George Lucas’s idea of a Wookie movie for television and turned it into The Star Wars Holiday Special. It was an attempt to merge Star Wars with the holiday season by creating a Star Wars holiday, Life Day. What happened after that air date of November 17, 1978, and the reception that followed has made the Holiday special infamous and a cautionary tale of where Studio executives had gotten too greedy and made an unintentional branded parody. Star Wars would not have another holiday special for more than 40 years as we look to the more appropriate Lego Star Wars Holiday Special set to hit Disney+ in a few weeks, which will be an intentional parody of the Star Wars Universe.
However, the Holiday Special in 1978 would not be the last time that studios tried to balance taste with making more money.
In 1987, Disneyland made its first partnership deal with a then non-Disney licensed IP Star Wars, and brought Star Tours to Tomorrowland. The ride was set after The Battle of Endor, where a Star Tours transport finds itself in the middle of a Death Star run. The ride has been so popular it has been implemented in every park except Disney Hong Kong and Disneyland Shanghai
Disney reached a little further and started Star Wars Weekends in 1997 as a festival celebrating the franchise with various activities. One activity, The Jedi Training Academy, that specifically targeted children started in 2007 and was also a popular engagement event that lasted until 2015.
Then they reached too far when, in 2013 Disney Parks introduced Snig and Oopla’s Hyperspace Hoopla, a dance-off live show where Star Wars characters competed with each other in dance competitions. Characters that would never have interacted with each other in the films were dancing to Top 40 hits, completely merging Star Wars with the real world in the most ridiculous way.
That era of character portrayal at the Disney Parks closed when the Disney Star Wars film canon began in 2015 with The Force Awakens and Disney announced at D23 new Star Wars experiences coming to the parks including a Force Awakens retool of Star Tours, encounters with character Chewbacca and Darth Vader, and a reimagining of Jedi Training Experience called Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple. Coupled with the construction of Galaxy’s Edge, there was no need for Star Wars Weekends as Disney was able to create everyday experiences in the park now having full license and could enforce character integrity.
Character integrity is a set of guidelines for the Disney Parks that cast members must uphold. The person you see in the park is not playing a Stormtrooper, they ARE a Stormtrooper. If you see Rey, that’s Rey. And there is only one of her at a time because she IS Rey. It is why you can’t walk into the park decked in full cosplay of your favorite Disney character because you damage the integrity of the real Disney character in the Park.
This guideline was murkier when it came to merchandise and Marketing within the Disney Theme Parks. During Star Wars Weekends, there were figures of Mickey as Luke Skywalker, Minnie as Princess Leia, and Donald Duck as Han Solo being sold at Disney shops. Today, there are items like the Halloween droid line sold at Tatooine Traders in Hollywood Studios or the Galactic Outpost at Disney Springs. This quirky but non-canon merch can coexist because the very concept of droids is that they can be built and customized, therefore, it is perfectly reasonable to buy an orange, white and yellow droid name R4-B0018 that happens to look like candy corn. But this was still contained within the park. The droid factory Holiday-themed lines have proven to be quite popular and often show up on secondary market sites like eBay, given that these are usually park-exclusives.
Now we have 2020 and The Black Series Holiday Edition Troopers. Rumored to becoming almost a month before they were officially announced at the virtual Hasbro PulseCon, these put various beloved troopers in holiday colors resembling the ugliest of ugly sweaters. It also paired them with sequel trilogy droids or creatures like Porgs, D-O, and Babu Frik who were also recolored to fit the holiday vibe. The Black Series Design and Marketing team seemed to have fun presenting these figures and laughing at them and the Lucasfilm Senior Product Development Manager, Chris Dern, admitted that they had to be convinced to get these figures into production. One wonders if Dern was thinking they had gone too far.
There are many ways to look at this product reveal and launch from Hasbro and Lucasfilm. From a consumer standpoint, this is a cash grab, reusing old trooper molds like Snowtroopers, Range Troopers, and Sith Troopers to sell more toys for the holidays by appealing to Black Series completionists, collectors who like oddities, and casual fans who might be willing to pay more money for Star Wars holiday decorations (since we will all be stuck at home this year anyway). From a business standpoint, this is a big shift for Disney/Lucasfilm, allowing Hasbro to experiment with Star Wars characters this way. This is not just merchandise only available at the Parks surrounded by festive decorations. These Black Series figures are retail exclusives across all the major retailers: Amazon, Target, Walmart, Best Buy, and GameStop.
And here’s the thing: the response has not been overwhelmingly negative. There are mixed reactions among collectors to be sure but there are a lot of collectors who have pre-order and picked these up in-store. No numbers are available yet on sales (though the Target Exclusive Santa Range Trooper sold out on pre-order and seems to be the most popular hitting stores). And time will tell if people regret these purchases but, if sales are solid on these Holiday Edition figures, that opens the door for more Black Series Holiday variants. While buying merchandise in a store or online is not the same as interacting with a character in the Disney Parks, it is jarring to see a version of a Star Wars character that has never and will never exist onscreen. Money talks and Hasbro and Lucasfilm are listening.