Female Star Wars character walking

As of this writing, Star Wars: The Force Awakens has beaten out both 1997's Titanic and 2009's Avatar to become the all-time highest-grossing film in America. It has been a massive success, both commercially and critically, thrilling old fans and creating new ones.
   It's also been accompanied by a pervasive campaign of marketing tie-ins—with everything from toys to toasters—the likes of which we haven't seen since, well, the last resurrection of the Star Wars series with The Phantom Menace. And all you have to do is look around your nearest Kroger to see a glaring problem with much of it.
   In the world of all-ages action movie marketing, no one knows what to do with Rey.
   The fact that the hero of The Force Awakens is a young woman, a girl, seems to have caught a lot of people off-guard. Action figures of her are almost impossible to find, and only one—a Disney Store exclusive—comes with a lightsaber. The Twitter hashtag #wheresrey is full of pictures of action figure sets and board games that leave her out, often accompanied by disappointed little girls. It's like a flashback to last summer's Avengers: Age of Ultron tie-ins that left out Black Widow (also a Disney production with Hasbro toys), but worse for just how central Rey is to the story.
   One could forgive the designers of tie-in packaging for chips and mac-and-cheese for sticking with iconic old characters like C-3PO and Chewbacca or visually distinctive new ones like Kylo Ren and Captain Phasma (the latter of whom is a woman beneath the shiny metal Stormtrooper armor, though that detail is easy to miss) over a white girl with brown hair wearing nothing but shades of beige. It's why Darth Vader's helmet features on more things than young Mark Hamill's face. But for girls and women it's exciting to see themselves as the Chosen Hero for a change, and it's crushing to then see that character almost erased from the regular trappings of fandom.
   Throughout its production, The Force Awakens was notorious for the secrecy surrounding details of the characters and plot. It's possible that Disney just didn't give Hasbro enough details to know how important Rey was to the movie. Some fans involved in the toy industry have argued as much. But that would only illustrate how hard it was to assume that Rey would be more than some supporting background character, perhaps a romantic interest. How could they have ever guessed The Girl might be important?
   The core of the blame lies at the feet of the toy marketers who, especially over the last twenty or so years, have aggressively enforced the gender binary in the name of maximizing profits from their “target demographic”. Boys and girls have been divided into Superheroes and Princesses and pitted against each other in the name of capitalist greed. The days of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers or Robotech dolls for girls are long gone. While it frustrates progressive parents, marketers have found that they can sell more of something by framing it as including one group and excluding another, and they've chosen gender as the battlefield. I wrote before on the effect this kind of marketing has had on action cartoons, and while it's great that this didn't stop J.J. Abrams from putting a young woman in the pilot's seat of the Millennium Falcon, it's a shame for girls and boys both who want their own little Rey to imagine desert adventures with at home.
   For now, let's hope Hasbro and the other merch peddlers have learned their lesson and have more Rey toys in the pipeline. They've got at least two more movies to get it right.