Kylo Ren famously said, “Let the past die, kill it if you must.” The primary reason to learn from the past rather than let it die, is so that you don’t repeat the same mistakes over and over again, while thinking that you’re doing something that’s brand-spankin’ new.
There’s an interesting documentary series on Netflix entitled The Toys That Made Us, and in particular, there’s an episode devoted to He-Man and The Masters of the Universe toy line which was produced from the mid to late 1980s. Here’s a trailer for the series:
Okay. But why not focus on the Star Wars episode rather than the He-Man episode? Well, there’s an interesting lesson to be learned from the He-Man toyline that can be applied to the Star Wars toyline today.
In the episode, Mark Ellis, former VP of Boy’s Toys at Mattel, described how marketing research showed that young boys enjoyed playing with the He-Man action figures because when they did, they felt like they were in charge. This was a way to escape from their mothers and teachers who were telling them what to do all the time. One can imagine then, how a young boy might react to General Holdo scolding the primary male lead for 2.5 hours every time he tries to do something bold or heroic. But I digress.
Mark Ellis also tells us that about a year after He-Man was introduced to stores in 1982, the boy’s toys of the Mattel company started outselling the girl’s toys, including their coveted Barbie line. He goes on to explain how this caused all the girls in the girl’s toys department to go “berzerk.” He also went on to say that he thought that they were determined to never let that happen again.
Paul Cleveland, former Senior VP of Worldwide Marketing at Mattel, reasoned that girls were buying He-Man action figures, so why not take advantage of that target audience. Jill Barad, former CEO at Mattel echoed that sentiment stating that 20% of the Masters of the Universe audience were female. So ignoring the fact that the Masters of the Universe already had female action figures and characters that were appealing to that 20% such as Teela, Evil-Lyn, the Sorceress, the Girl’s Toys department began brainstorming as to how they could tap that 20% female market.
Janice Varney-Hamlin, former Director of Worldwide Marketing for Fashion Dolls at Mattel, said that Barbie doesn’t do action and adventure well. So they came up with the idea to invent a girl’s product line that could ride on the coattails of the Masters of the Universe toyline. Jill Barad asked if He-Man can do all of those things, why can’t He-Man have a sister? And so, She-Ra was born.
In the mid to late 1980s, the Masters of the Universe toyline went from selling $38.2 Million in 1982, to $400 Million in 1986. But a year later in 1987, the toyline collapsed to only $7 Million. What happened?
Well, as Janice Varney-Hamlin describes it, Dave Capper, former Director of Marketing for Boy’s Toys at Mattel, told her his theory. She said he theorized that She-Ra emasculated the He-Man line so that boys didn’t want it anymore. This seems to be an overly dramatic simplification of what Dave may have actually said. Because when the program returned to his response, rather than spouting some pet theory, he explained that he actually had feedback through marketing research that said when little 8-year-old boys were playing with He-Man figures for 2 to 3 years, but then saw that their sister also “had the power” now, that suddenly, He-Man just didn’t feel that cool to them anymore. Janic Varney-Hamlin, of course, thinks that this was just ridiculous, apparently feeling that 8-year-old boys should think just like middle-aged women. But what does this have to do with Star Wars?
Fast forward to the year 2018.
It’s been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Well, when you let the past die, and can’t learn from the mistakes of the past, that’s what you’re doomed to do.
Enter Kathleen Kennedy:
This is a bold new gender-neutral age, you see. Boys and girls are crossing over. This time, the right people are making it all work! Except that they aren’t.
As I wrote previously, there is more than just the box office that indicates that Star Wars is a dying if not a dead brand. We can also look to the waning merchandise sales.
In December of 2017, Hollywood Reporter was reporting that Star Wars toy shipments for The Last Jedi were down sharply from The Force Awakens. Others were asking why Star Wars toys weren’t selling this year? Why merchandise sales dropped by a whopping 47%? They were asking why were Star Wars toys being bested by Nerf and Pokeman?
The Wall Street Journal reports that:
“Despite being one of last year’s most successful movies, ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ has fallen short of Wall Street’s expectations due to a faster than expected falloff at the box office, declining toy sales and a poor showing in China.”
“Star Wars toy sales during the 2017 Holidays were the lowest since Disney relaunched the brand in 2015, according to NPD Group.”
World Class Bullshitters has a pretty good break down of the Wall Street Journal article:
So what’s going on here?
Well, there’s plenty of blame being thrown around. Some are blaming “Movie Tie-In Fatigue.” Some say that kids just aren’t going to the movies. Some say there are too many entertainment options and that franchises which once held a prominent place are now lost in the noise. Some blame overall declining toy sales. Some blame a lack of characters in new costume or a lack of new characters and spaceships in general. Some blame adult collectors who buy early but not sustainably. Some blame the bankruptcy of Toys R Us. Some blame competitors like Spiderman and Transformers. Some blame a new paradigm. Some say retailers are pausing to gain a sense of what the steady state of the Star Wars product is. Some blame old merchandise from previous films still sitting on shelves not generating excitement in the new merchandise. Some blame slightly down or flat revenues across all of Disney’s consumer products divisions. Some blame darker heroes, over pricing, poor quality, and spoiler sensitivity. And new excuses will no doubt continue to be authored.
But what no one is saying or even daring to suggest, is that perhaps feminist Bolshevik marketing doesn’t work. That like the 8-year-old boys who became disinterested in He-Man and the Masters of the Universe when their sisters also had “The Power” back in the late 1980s, perhaps today’s 8-year-old boys are becoming disinterested in Star Wars when they see that their sister also has “The Force.” Like He-Man, maybe Star Wars just isn’t as “cool” to 8-year-old boys anymore, now that their sisters are into it.
“Tracey Gordon, a full-time mom from Glendale, California, shopping at the store, said her three boys, ages 2 to 7, aren’t “Star Wars” fans even though she wore a Princess Leia costume on Halloween for years when she was younger.”
But apologists will never learn from the past, nor accept any of this. Instead, they’ll just let the past die, and then keep trying to do the same things over and over again. For folks who often profess their belief in evolution, they sure do like to like to fight the natural order of things.