Disney Doesn’t Get Star Wars

Disney doesn't get Star Wars

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a massive hit.

Everyone knows it. Everyone loves it. In the months leading up to the film I saw products bearing the unmistakable “Star Wars” brand ranging from shaving products and mascara to laptops.

It’s just a tiny bit out of control

Having said that, Rey, hero(ine?) of the film isn’t getting a ton of love in the toy market. The internet experienced a brief (but typical) spasm of outrage the other day upon finding Finn and Kylo Ren featured in Star Wars monopoly over Rey.

It’s beginning to look a lot like…

Disney Doesn’t Get Star Wars — as much as we’d like to think they do.

Star Wars

Before I get any further, I understand the argument that the toy companies paying licensing fees have creative discretion over what they sell.


The Mouse rules with an iron fist If you’re using any character or property they own, you are fully beholden to them. So, having said that, why didn’t Disney insist on Rey being featured in Monopoly (among other toys she’s been left out of)? To answer that question, you have to go back to the mid-late oughts.

*Whistles Doctor Who theme*

Ok, are you here?

Disney has a “boy problem”

They’re having great success with Princess branding (even rolling in Pocahontas and Mulan, why not?) and expanding Tinkerbell into a whole line of fairy products.

But they’re not quite sure what to do with boys.

Pirates of the Carribean is tapering off, and even then it was a PG-13 product, too “mature” for their younger male audiences. Films like John Carter, Lone Ranger, and Tron Legacy were surely in the pipeline, but would ultimately prove disappointing at the box office.

We forget, for all of Disney’s successes how many failures it often takes to get one to stick.

Enter Marvel

The powerhouse combination of Robert Downey Jr channeling himself, Jon Favreau’s eye for style and action, and Kevin Feige’s production created a powerhouse hit out of a 3rd rate superhero.

(Side note –The Kid from Christmas Story exec produced Iron Man? What??)

Iron Man hadn’t been A list in a long time and only until a few years before the film’s release the Avengers had been comprised by a string of characters so low down the totem that even die-hard Marvel fans struggled to identify them?

Jack of Cards?


Who are these scrubs?


In the success of the RDJ vehicle, Disney saw an opportunity to fix their “boy problem.”

Within 2 years Disney had acquired then “Marvel Comics” (now Marvel Entertainment) for $4 Billion dollars, a tidy sum for a company that had filed Chapter 11 less than a decade before. Now, mind you, Disney has no interest in Marvel comics. In terms of profitability, the comic book market is very small with a weak margin. They wanted the intellectual property.

Disney was buying Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and a plethora of lesser characters that they could develop. Three years later Disney saw another opportunity in Star Wars, purchasing it for another 4 Billion in 2012.

These two moves are shrewd in the sense that Disney recognized their own inability to penetrate the male market and, rather than continue to fling money at creating from scratch they chose to purchase properties that were already tested.

Star Wars is iconic, a permanent fixture in the pop-zeitgeist

Marvel, though their prime characters not as iconic as DC’s Superman or Batman, was fertile ground for development and expansion having already proved to be highly profitable at the box office.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens arrives as Marvel’s “Marvel Studios” films enter their third phase.

While Captain America, Thor, and Black Widow are now household names the salaries of those actors has been expanding, as have the budgets (both production and promotion) for each subsequent film.

So as Marvel looks at losing their first generation of stars, they’re actively working on promoting from within, stepping up lesser characters like War Machine and Winter Soldier to replace Iron Man and Captain America respectively.

Additionally, though plot-wise the films continue to build towards an “event”, they increasingly encounter the same issues as comic books themselves.

Characters have 11-12 films of history behind them, plots become convoluted, and scenes exist in movies only to promote the next film.

MORE FROM ZACH: Dealing With Loss In Front Of Family

It’s time for some fresh product.

As anyone could have told you, The Force Awakens making 1 Billion dollars was a foregone conclusion. With the opening weekend selling out weeks in advance, the film’s financial success was undeniable. And when audiences actually got to finally see it, they weren’t disappointed. Pulling in a 97% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes aggregated Tomato Meter, Star Wars was not only successful.

It was great.

Ok, so back to the original question:

Why is Rey, the hero and emotional focal point, the reason the Force Awakens not featured as much as her male counterparts in toys? Because, in terms of Disney strategy and structure, Marvel and Star Wars are “boys” products and Princesses, Fairies, and live-action remakes are “girls” products.

Disney, who ultimately the buck stops with, doesn’t get that Star Wars is a universal product, beloved by men and women of all ages. Rey is not only the greatest heroine in the Star Wars franchise (on film at least) but she’s easily a top 5 favorite Star Wars character for me. She’s positive, smart, creative, resilient, a good friend.

She’s the hero my daughter deserves.

Let’s hope Disney figures that out.

Zach Bowders is a father of 2, husband of 1, marketing analyst for a children’s healthcare nonprofit, and blogger. He lives in Memphis, TN. Read more at talkdaddytome.com.

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