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Friday, January 05 2018 10:33

New Year, New Toys - The Leaks for "Solo: A Star Wars Story" Have Begun [The Embargo Problem]

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I've generally stayed away from posting "leaks" of any kind here on The Rock Father™ Magazine, but as we approach the release of what will be the fourth Star Wars film of the new era, it's time to say something about how the merchandising is being handled for my favorite franchise. Starting with the 2015 release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, new Star Wars merchandise has been unleashed during a promotional blitz that's been a street-dated affair. Force Friday was followed by Rogue Friday for the 2016 release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which was followed by Force Friday II ahead of 2017's Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Now, we're staring down the May 2018 release of Solo: A Star Wars Story, and all signs are pointing toward a spring launch event for the tie-in gear. Now comes the first problem with this strategy...

Han Solo and Greedo

Poor Greedo. He had some great toy news to share, but Han couldn't let him tell Jabba.

Much like the product itself carries a street date, information is held back under "embargo," with a date set by Disney/Lucasfilm. The idea is that everyone gets to share the news at the same time, and usually this allows for a few pre-launch exclusive reveals that are saved for some of the bigger publications like EW, USA Today and Yahoo! - all of which are in the Star Wars fold.  In theory, it (mostly) levels the playing field for coverage, but enforcing these things is tricky - especially when consumers (the general public) get involved, and when people are asked to honor an embargo that they in many cases either weren't aware of, or didn't agree to in the first place. In the pre-internet era, this wasn't a huge deal - but we shouldn't have to point out that the whole leak/embargo issue online has been happening since the 90s. It's no longer a new thing and it shouldn't be treated as such.

Years ago, it was usually someone jumping the gun (either accidentally or intentionally - both of which still happen) that led to early information getting out there, but with the toy industry, there's product in the pipeline months in advance, which makes it much easier for things to get out there, and when the information appears on public-facing sites, it's really hard to tell people that they're wrong for sharing it - especially consumers. Trying to snuff out the fires of leaks gets even more dangerous when the actual product gets into the hands of the public prior to street date.

Over the past few years, including during the pre-Force Friday II ramp-up for Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I've heard reports that members of the general public have purchased product early at retail, only to share a photo on social media and find their pictures removed on copyright grounds. That's not right to go after consumers for sharing a product that they've purchased... and it may not even be legal. My stance is that if information is on a public retail website or similar, it should be fair game to share and discuss... and if a consumer makes a purchase at retail, it is without question fair game to share and discuss. 

Out in the wild, I see product on shelves early all the time. I've seen Star Wars product for the last three movies on shelves at major retailers including Walmart, Target, Meijer and Toys "R" Us weeks ahead of street date. Likewise I've seen street-dated items like Spin Master's Hatchimals on shelves well in advance of release day. The product ships in cases that are clearly marked "DO NOT SELL BEFORE...," yet they still wind up on shelves. My opinion again, the on-the-ground staff at your local retailer 100% does not care about street date. At a lot of these places, the workers are underpaid and under other stresses such as demands to get everything onto the salesfloor, etc. Indeed, some of these same retailers have register locks in place to restrict sales before a certain date, but again, who does that hurt? The consumer. If it's on the sales floor, they should be allowed to buy it - period, without question.

This cycle just keeps happening over and over again, and now we're in an accelerated release pattern where the next Star Wars movie is coming into theaters just six months after the last one. There's product to be moved, and the supply chain itself is a whole separate issue of late, with too many licensees making to much stuff (quite frankly, a lot of unnecessary junk) that's not moving, clogging shelves and holding back product that consumers do want - and this is not exclusive to the Star Wars license, it's a lot of things. If you want the public to be excited about a product, you have to show it to them. You can't just drop the curtain on Wednesday, and say "here, buy all this stuff on Friday!"

So now the leaks for Solo: A Star Wars Story have begun. If you're hungry for a look at things, the toys are getting out there. I won't be sharing them here until it's all "official," and that's solely out of respect for my friends and colleagues at Disney Consumer Products and Lucasfilm, along with all of the third party PR firms and licensees that they work with. Someone is calling the shots on these plans, and it's not the nice folks that end up tasked with serving takedown notices. I assume they'll be quite busy as we head toward Toy Fair in NYC next month.

What is curious is that the bulk of the leaks to hit are once again coming from LEGO, and if you follow the toy front, you've likely noticed that the first leaks are always LEGO. Even with images marked as "confidential," they still get out there, and with Star Wars it's an undeniable pattern. What I do expect to see in the very near future is an official packaging reveal via StarWars.com, much like they did for The Last Jedi  last year. That news came seven months ahead of the product release, but right now we're just five months out from Solo

Kind of ironic that we're talking about leaked information about a film based on a noted smuggler and thief, right?

Han Solo

Look for official toy news very soon.

James Zahn

James Zahn is not a journalist, nor a blogger, though he may be credited as such by others, or even accept the title... depending on the circumstance.  Instead, he considers himself largely to be an "entertainment and lifestyle writer," bringing 25+ years of experience in the entertainment and publishing industries into the family realm as THE ROCK FATHER™.

As a media personality, commentator, adventurer and raconteur, James now finds himself raising a pair young girls - The Rock Daughters™ - along with his wife from their Illinois home.

He is a member of The Toy Insider Parent Advisory Board, has contributed to The Toy Book and regularly serves as a Brand Ambassador and spokesperson for several Globally-recognized pop culture and lifestyle brands in addition to consulting for a number of toy manufacturers. 

Creatively, James has directed/edited music videos, lyric videos, and album trailers for bands such as FEAR FACTORY, has appeared as an actor in feature films and commercials, written comic books, and performed in bands. He currently serves as an artist manager and video director for PRODUCT OF HATE, whose debut album was released by Napalm Records in 2016, distributed by ADA/Warner Music in the U.S. with Universal Music handling global.

James and/or his work have been featured in/on CNN, FOX Business, NBC, ABC, WGN, G4, The Chicago Tribune, BusinessWire, Babble, Fangoria, Starlog and more. He's appeared as a music expert on CNN's AC360 alongside Anderson Cooper, and has been interviewed by Larry King. In the past he served as a writer for the Netflix Stream Team,  Fandango Family and PBS KIDS, penned articles for Sprout and PopSugar, and was a contributor to Chicago Parent.

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