Last week marked the second celebration of Force Friday, the first Friday of September preceding the holiday release of a brand-new Star Wars film. It's a day where Star Wars fans everywhere are overwhelmed with a bevy of new action figures and toy blasters to Funko Pop! vinyl figures, LEGO sets and t-shirts to hunt for.
If you've been keeping up with the marketing and advertising for the event, however, you'll notice that something quite different is happening. This time, Daisy Ridley's character Rey, the franchise's foremost female character, is positioned front and center, like a beacon. On Force Friday II ads, banners and promos, Rey was prominently featured, flanked by fellow principal characters Poe Dameron, Finn, Kylo Ren and others. On September 1, numerous new Rey figures were released, highlighting her new costume, her unmistakable hairstyle and, last but certainly not least, her lightsaber.
This release is almost a statement, a declaration that Rey, the Jedi, is coming to take the world by storm. This focus on the heroic and inspiring female hero puts the character at the heart of Star War: The Last Jedi, and it marks a noticeable shift in the massive franchise's usual marketing.
Two years ago, the first Force Friday arrived, dutifully hyping up the release of director J.J. Abrams' The Force Awakens. Overall, the marketing focused on elements Star Wars fans everywhere were familiar with -- Chewbacca, Han Solo, C-3PO and the Millennium Falcon were the most prominent figures of the toy-tastic event -- while throwing in some of the new, with intriguing looks at more importantly the new adorable droid BB-8 and the mysterious dark lord Kylo Ren. The masked figure of Kylo, the orange-and-white ball of a robot and the return of the classic characters were all that the fans needed to be sold on this movie. But while Rey was one of the main characters of The Force Awakens -- maybe even the most important of all -- she was largely omitted when it came to the marketing. Whether this was done purposefully for story reasons, in order to keep the character a secret, or it was done because of a lack of faith in a female character's capacity to lead a Star Wars film, fans will never know for sure.
What is certain, however, is that Disney and Lucasfilm aren't shy of positioning Rey as the main draw for the new installment in the multi-billion dollar sci-fi franchise. The teaser trailer for The Last Jedi took the first step, showing us that the movie's story would greatly focus on her training under the tutelage of Luke Skywalker. Force Friday II cemented the idea that, as the first female Jedi to grace the screen, Rey is a character who represents a lot for women and young girls everywhere, an audience who never felt fully represented in a male-dominated galaxy far, far away.
To see how much the character is an inspiring and motivating figure for women everywhere, look no further than Target's “Bring Your Rey Game” ad, the store's very own take on how to market the Force Friday II event.
It's no secret that there was a strong demand for more Rey-themed merchandise when The Force Awakens arrived. The infamous Monopoly set that was missing a Rey figurine was a story that gained a lot of traction at the time. Now, Rey is at the front of The Last Jedi's marketing blitz, marking a massive shift in how Lucasfilm sells its franchise. Even the release of last year's Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, a movie that had the female rebel Jyn Erso as its main protagonist, saw marketing that mainly focused on Darth Vader, the Death Star and the Stormtroopers. The movie's main character, Jyn, didn't get much in the way of marketing spotlight, though she did have more of a presence then Rey did for The Force Awakens. Now, Lucasfilm and Disney have established Rey as the main character of the new trilogy going forward, a perfect reflection of the current times.