The build up to a major movie is a balance of desires. On the one hand, you can't wait to find out what happens in the next installment of a popular franchise, and yet, at the same time, you want to sit down in the theater having as little an idea what is going to happen as possible, so that the experience of watching the movie can be something special. For a movie like Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, that feeling is just that much stronger.
A franchise that began more than 40 years ago is coming to an end. It's a major event, especially for those of us who have grown up with the franchise for our entire lives. We're dying to know what happens, but don't you dare tell us. As somebody who writes about movies for a living, it's difficult to do my job without at least the possibility of coming in contact with spoilers. However, for those people responsible for making Star Wars merchandise, it's that much more difficult.
However, that doesn't mean they're not trying. Last week, at the Triple Force Friday reveal event, I spoke with Paul Southern, Lucasfilm's Senior VP for Licensing, and I asked him how he and his team balance their own love for the movies with the need to do their jobs. He told me that some people that are working on merchandise are going to some pretty serious lengths to actively avoid as much of their own jobs as they can, so that they can avoid having the movie spoiled for them. According to Southern...
You need to have a basic understanding of the architecture but there are elements that are ‘ no I don’t really want to know about that.’ There are actually people who are working on the film products that want to know nothing and they actually will not go to meetings. We have some briefings, we get some information that allows us to make the right decisions and also allows us to see the role of the character that we can reflect that in the toys and the rest of the merchandise. But there are people on my team that are ‘I don’t want to be there. I’ll work on it, and I’ll develop it but I just don’t want to know the context because I don’t want it to be spoiled when I go and see the film.' It’s a fine balance.
Imagine being one of the people tasked with developing information on some potential new Star Wars toy, but not wanting to know anything about how the character the toy is based on fits into the movie. That context is potentially vital to the character, and therefore the toy, but nobody involved wants to know.
To a large extent spoilers are simply impossible when your job is to design merchandise that's designed to be sold along side a new film. The lead times required mean that characters have to be revealed to the designers before the general public. We met the droid D-O during Star Wars Celebration this past summer, but for the remote controlled toy version to be ready to ship by this Friday, Hasbro had to know about the character long before that.
Last week's Triple Force Friday preview event introduced a couple of brand new characters from Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. A LEGO minifig for a character named Boolio and a tiny droid builder character named Babu Frik. I tried to get details about how these characters fit into the movie and not only would nobody tell me, which wasn't shocking, but most of the people I spoke to appeared to literally have no idea.
Even Paul Southern himself, who can't avoid being in those meetings, does what he can to avoid spoilers for himself. He limits his knowledge to only what he absolutely needs to know in order to the job.
There are elements that I don’t want to know about, because ultimately I want to have a great experience when I go to the cinema. But I know enough about the architecture of the film, so that we know what to be focusing on.
Of course, Lucasfilm doesn't want Rise of Skywalker spoilers leaking out any more than the people working on the merchandise want them. It's clear from speaking to the people on the various merchandising teams that Lucasfilm tries to limit the amount of information that's given out. However, that can have its own problems.
In speaking with Hasbro's Senior Director of Global Marketing, Mike Ballog, he told me that often a piece of merchandise, like the previously mentioned remote-controlled D-O, will get designed in the way that that Hasbro thinks makes the most sense, based on what they are told, only for Lucasfilm to send them in a new direction after seeing what was being done.
Sometimes, we'll go down the direction that we think is going to be the best expression, and then we'll put a model in front of the guys and we'll have a conversation, they'll be like 'well, now he's going to do this.' We're like 'oh' and we'll go back and fix it. It's an iterative process.
While the toy makers of the world may not know everything about what happens in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, they certainly know more than the rest of us. There's a lot more merchandise on the way that we haven't even seen because it reveals more about the movie than Lucasfilm wants us to know, but it's all still being designed by people who at least know something more than the rest of us do.
Hopefully, all these hard working people will make it through this process learning as little about The Rise of Skywalker as possible, and they can sit down in the theaters in a couple of months and enjoy the movie with the rest of us.
The first batch of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker merchandise hits stores on this Friday, October 4, as part of Triple Force Friday, which will also drop the first merch for The Mandalorian Disney+ series and the new Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order video game. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker hits theaters December 20.