The countdown to Force Friday is officially in high gear. The floodgates to Star Wars: The Force Awakens toys and collectibles will be shattered later at 12:01am at stores all across the world. Who better to provide us a preview and analysis of this highly anticipated super event than Steve Sansweet, President and CEO of Rancho Obi-Wan and Lucasfilm’s Fan Relations Advisor.
I had the pleasure to meet up with Steve at the Toys R Us flagship store in Times Square to talk up a variety of Star Wars related topics while he took me on a tour of the awesome vintage toys on display from his extensive collection at Rancho Obi-Wan in Petaluma, California.
In addition to geeking out about what we love about Star Wars, he offered insight on what we can expect from the toy tie-in’s from the latest highly anticipated chapter, his personal favorite items we can look forward to, his thoughts on The Force Awakens production team, and of course all things going on today for the fans while he’s in New York City as the countdown to midnight approaches.
From what has seen and been revealed, it looks like JJ Abrams and his team have nailed a lot of things important to fans, even down to the kind of Star Wars-centric character names. It’s easy to imagine seeing Kylo Ren, Poe Dameron and Captain Phasma written on the action figure boxes in that classic packaging.
STEVE SANSWEET: I think JJ Abrams really gets it. Kathleen Kennedy gets it. I think they’ve gone out of their way, they’re filming in 35mm. That’s no knock against George, it just saying ‘We want to get back to more of the feel of the Original Trilogy.’ Lawrence Kasdan writing again. We’re gonna get that humor as well as the action. More practical sets. It’s sometimes easier for an actor to act on a practical set than it is against total green or blue screen. But I think they get and it will be reflected in the toys we see. Certainly the toys from Hasbro and Lego. The Disney Stores will have a bunch of stuff. I’m excited because Toys R Us will have some exclusives from Think Way and some of those electronic toys that are gonna be really special. A lot of stores have specials here and there. That’s gonna be fun chasing a lot of that stuff.
What was your reaction to seeing iconic characters like Han Solo, Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker 30 years later as new action figures?
STEVE SANSWEET: That is supremely cool. I want my Luke with a beard action figure and match it up with some of the early ones.
The shroud of secrecy has been very successful so far. Will the Force Friday reveals offer spoilers of any kind that some fans have perhaps tried to avoid?
STEVE SANSWEET: There are product lines that are going to be released later. We’ll see a lot of the surprises, but still won’t know the story. I worked at Lucasfilm during the making of the prequels so I had to know everything that was going on. I wanna go in as spoiler free as possible and be just as blown away as I was by Star Wars, and I think that’s gonna happen.
Even though he’s a villain, a character like Kylo Ren seems to be an sure fire hit when it comes to tie-in opportunities. Is there anything or any character based item you’re looking forward to seeing out there?
STEVE SANSWEET: What really excites me is BB-8 and the technology. I was very curious when I saw the first teaser trailer and they showed BB-8 and I thought ‘Well wait a second, they’re pushing the whole thing about real. Why are the they showing a CG droid?’ And then it rolls out on the stage at Celebration. I just went ‘Oh my goodness, that’s amazing.’ So they’re actually gonna be producing various sizes and various types of BB-8. That’s what I’m looking forward to. I’m excited by that character. R2 is gonna be there but this seems to take technology to a new level and it’s fun and its cute but it’s gonna have a role and a personality and I’m looking forward to seeing what that is.
STEVE SANSWEET: There is a toy coming from Uncle Milton, Spin Master, which is the legendary Yoda. It has all sorts of sensors on it. You can do a Force push by holding up your hand, it says 200 words, it tells stories, it answers questions. I was very impressed with that. There’s a lot of stuff coming out with technology and a lot of stuff in the lower price range. It’s really wide spread from under $10 to the $200 collectibles from Gentle Giant or Sideshow. There will be some amazing sculpts and judging by what we’ve seen so far from the little bits of the movie, I think the action and adventure are going to be very apparent in the toys and the designs of the toys too.
Once Force Friday hits, and unlike any other time in Star Wars history, there will be no substantial down time in between Star Wars films with one installment set to hit theaters each year for the next several years. Fans have always had years in between films to recharge the batteries so to speak. What are your thoughts on Star Wars always having a front and center presence so many platforms?
STEVE SANSWEET: It’s gonna be a lot different. The ten years between Episode III and Episode VII: The Force Awakens, we still saw a lot of Star Wars product out there. Now we’re gonna see a lot of new Star Wars product and I think they wanna keep a lot of the classic stuff alive too. Everybody loves Darth Vader still. It’s gonna be really interesting to me to see how they balance that , how they balance a new movie like Rogue One with the continuation of the Saga movies. The companies have a challenge on their hands. You can’t over load the market. It’s gonna be fascinating to see how they do it.
The marketing and licensing cover so many demographics. The Classic Saga has a set of loyal older fans. Rebels skews younger. Rogue One will have a darker tone, I can’t see too many plush toys tie-ins with that chapter. Can the market suffer overload?
STEVE SANSWEET: I think they’re very aware of that, and that’s one of the reasons we see staggered releases. Force Friday is the first release. There will be another release right before the movie comes out, and another major release in January. So I think they understand how not to overload the market.
What can we expect today as the countdown to Force Friday is now in full swing?
STEVE SANSWEET: Toys R Us really started midnight madness. I was there for the first one back in 1999. I’ve been there for every one since then. It’s great to be at their flagship store here to take part in the biggest midnight madness event of all, now dubbed Force Friday. Worldwide the unboxing events are taking place as we speak. It’s really is a worldwide event. Force Friday may become a Star Wars collector’s holiday like May the Fourth is a Star Wars fan holiday. Who knows? But I think there will be. I think they may have given that consideration. But if not we’ve just told them it’s something we can expect to do.
Will what we see on Force Friday be directed to a specific collector’s demographic or will this be a wide release of products from all across the board?
STEVE SANSWEET: This is the release of the toys. Toys R Us has a bunch of exclusive for now. Then the general Hasbro line and the Lego as well. They will have a very good selection of it all. As we get close to the holiday, December 18th that will be a holiday, then we’ll have some more product out there and we’ll have some more out in January (and continuing).
What events are you excited to be personally involved with today?
STEVE SANSWEET: I’m excited because I’m doing a meet and greet here at Toys R Us, the flagship store in midtown Manhattan, Times Square. From 2-4 pm they’re selling copies of the action figure book. But even if you have it or you don’t, just come by and say ‘hello,’ and I’ll sign anything. Then we’re doing a panel with Star Wars artist Jeff Carlisle. We’re doing a Q&A before a black curtain is pulled. The first 100 people will go to that and be the first to be let into the Star Wars shop at midnight. I can’t wait to see that, to see the excitement.
There is much more to come from my chat with Steve, including his insights to the amazing vintage toys from his collection currently on display in the Toys R Us flagship store.