As Star Wars fans and collectors we've been conditioned over the years to go out and support our favorite franchise on day one. When StarWars.com announced on April 9, 2018 that Solo: A Star Wars Story products would hit stores beginning on April 13, 2018, that meant one thing: time to go on a toy run and hunt for Star Wars figures and memorabilia of the up-coming movie!
Dating back to 1999, Star Wars toy launches have always been special. Toys'R'Us celebrated the arrival of Star Wars toys with midnight events for The Phantom Menace, Attack Of The Clones and Revenge Of The Sith. Big stores such as Walmart even had tents set up for Star Wars toys in their parking lots in 2005 with exclusive Revenge Of The Sith toys, and Target stores opened early the day after to hand out tickets for exclusive Lava Darth Vader figures. Even the Clone Wars movie in 2008 saw wide support in brick and mortar stores with yet again midnight events and fans dressing up and standing in line to get their hands on brand new Star Wars toys first.
In 2015 when The Force Awakens toys came out, Target and TRU stores opened their doors at midnight again, with many Walmart stores playing along as well. Disney made this event even bigger than during prequel times by making Force Friday a global event, this included a 24 hour live toy unboxing on YouTube! To give you an idea just how big the toy launch was for The Force Awakens have a look at our coverage, we did a podcast about it, had readers send in pictures, we had a correspondent in Japan covering Force Friday, we even received a picture of Oscar Isaac's uncle standing in line for Star Wars toys).
This was repeated with Force Friday II in 2017 for the launch of The Last Jedi toys. This included a virtual reality game where fans who went out hunting for toys during the Force Friday II weekend could scan life-size cardboard cut-outs of new Star Wars characters, the more you scanned the more rewards you'd get in the app. This again was a global event which was announced in February 2017, more than half a year in advance. Lucasfilm/Disney even included an augmented reality aspect of the game which included iconic landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Have a look at the comment section where readers posted their pics of the event. Rogue One in 2016 had a soft product launch, but TRU still opened their doors at midnight and Target stores ran promotions where they'd give you $10 off for $50 spent on Star Wars toys, or $25 off for $100 spent on Star Wars toys. Star Wars toys were advertised, retail let fans know that they supported the brand and fans lovingly titled that product launch Rogue Friday.
Fast forward seven months from Force Friday II on September 1, 2017 to April 13, 2018, and we are looking at yet again another Star Wars toy launch. This time however, for the Solo: A Star Wars Story merchandise launch, things were quite different. For Force Friday events we had received official announcements months in advance, for Force Friday II even more than half a year in advance, but for SOLO: A Star Wars Story the announcement was made on April 9th, four days before the release.
Retailers in the United States were not ready and store shelves were mostly empty. Have a look at the pictures below. Walmart employees told fans that the offical product launch was on 4/15, Target employees told fans the product launch was on 4/16, which contradicted the official announcement on StarWars.com which stated 4/13. Walmart stores hadn't even adjusted their pricing for Black Series 6" figures and when people were able to convince employees to put product on shelves, in many cases figures rang up at a clearance price of $5 each.
The only retailer which saw an opportunity to cater to Star Wars fans was ThinkGeek, they even opened their doors one hour early and released a video a few days prior where they announced that they would be ready for the SOLO toy launch. Well, they were kind of ready, but not really. ThinkGeek stores didn't have any 3.75" Force Link 2.0 figures in-stock, no 3.75" creature packs, no 3.75" vehicles, no Force Link 2.0 Starter Sets or Force Link 2.0 2-packs at opening. However, they had Black Series 6" figures of Han Solo, the Range Trooper, Grand Moff Tarkin, the Dewback, Kylo Ren Centerpiece figures and all five The Vintage Collection figures. Unfortunately they had no Black Series 6" Landos, Qi-Ra or 4-LOM figures. Despite absolutely no product from Hasbro's 3.75" Force Link assortment, ThinkGeek did the best job out of all the retail stores trying to make the SOLO: A Star Wars Story toy launch special and their employees were outstandingly nice and helpful.
To sum it up, the Solo: A Star Wars Story toy launch was a mess at brick and mortar stores. It was quite the departure from previous Star Wars events and hopefully Disney/Lucasfilm will get this fixed for Episode 9.
Below: old product at Walmart on SOLO: A Star Wars Story product launch day, April 13, 2018
Below: No SOLO toys at Target stores on April 13, 2018, SOLO: A Star Wars Story Toy Launch
Below: ThinkGeek stores were prepared the best out of all the brick and mortar retail stores, April 13, 2018