Hordes of rabid fans descended upon stores across the globe at the stroke of midnight to snag lightsabers, action figures, LEGOs, and other hot, hot Star Wars merch during Disney’s cunningly crafted new consumer holiday, #ForceFriday, leaving ransacked shelves in their wake at the world’s biggest retailers.
But forget everyone’s new favorite pet droid BB-8, the fly-your-own Millennium Falcon drone, and spoiler-talking toys for characters that audiences won’t even meet for another three months, when Star Wars: The Force Awakens actually hits theaters.
The most hard-to-find piece of #ForceFriday booty is an item forged by mysterious forces in a factory far, far away that quietly popped up and quickly disappeared during Friday’s mad spending rush.
That’s when eagle-eyed shoppers might have spotted Kylo Ren—the helmeted, crossguard lightsaber-wielding new villain played by Adam Driver in The Force Awakens—being sold as lady storm trooper Captain Phasma after an apparent packaging error placed the new Star Wars villain in the wrong box that got shipped out for the massive retail push.
#ForceFriday Jedi Annette DiGiovanni found the merchandising oddity Friday morning in Glendale, California, after waiting in line for doors to her local Disney Store to open at 6 a.m.
“Cool! Captain Phasma cosplaying as Kylo Ren! #Oops #YouHadOneJob #ForceFriday,” she posted to Instagram, offering one possible explanation for the mix-up.
The 7½-inch die-cast figure retails for $24.95 and is part of Disney Store’s exclusive Elite Series line of highly detailed, posable action figures. A manager at the Glendale Disney Store confirmed that someone up the chain had been aware of the flub and had issued a directive to keep the errant Kylo Rens off shelves on Friday.
“They should not have been put out,” the manager told The Daily Beast, surprised to hear that the item made it all the way into shoppers’ hands. “They gave us very clear communication… they didn’t give us any specifics. They just said to make sure they don’t go out onstage.”
“To be honest, they were very secretive about everything with Star Wars,” she sighed, in the midst of a long #ForceFriday. Reps for Lucasfilm and Disney did not respond to requests for comment on Friday. Disney Store staffers reached by The Daily Beast could not say how many locations were affected by the box-swap, or how many units made it home with shoppers from the Glendale location before the “cosplaying” Kylo Rens were taken off the floor. Anyone who did happen to buy a Kylo Ren in a Captain Phasma box, they said, could bring it back to any Disney Store location to swap it for the correct version.
Misprinted, misshapen, and mis-packaged memorabilia occupy a niche spot in the world of collectibles, particularly in the long history of the Star Wars franchise. And while packaging errors are known to occur “more often than people think,” according to Toy & Comic Heaven’s James Gallo, it’s the production errors and discontinued design variants that yield more highly prized value to collectors.
There’s the infamously naughty 1977 Topps C-3PO #207 trading card, in which the Force appears to be very strong in C-3PO’s chrome junk, an aberration that Topps quickly corrected in subsequent printings. A bizarre yellow-hued discoloration on Kenner’s 1997-era Luke vs. Wampa set made the “incontinent” Hoth beast a curious find for Star Wars collectors. “Yak Face” (never distributed in the U.S.), “Vinyl Cape Jawa (later reconfigured with a cloth cape), “Rocket Firing Boba Fett” (cancelled on the eve of production for fear of a choking hazard) and versions of Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, and Obi-Wan Kenobi bearing telescoping lightsaber accessories have reportedly sold to hardcore collectors over the years for thousands of dollars.
The famously erroneous Blue Snaggletooth figure, briefly issued in 1978, was borne out of a misunderstanding when toy manufacturer Kenner put a tall, blue-suited body on the Cantina denizen because they didn’t have full specs on the character’s design. In the movie, the character looked nothing like the action figure. Instant collectibility!
“If it was from the ’70s or ’80s, [a packaging error] could go for a premium,” says Shaun Neimast of Dallas Vintage Toys, “but a very small percentage collect errors or mistakes now.”
Occasionally when very minor packaging mistakes arrive, he says, it’s not a huge deal. "It happens sometimes. When we get them in we don’t usually charge too much over. A lot of collectors would say it’s more of a headache because they would rather have the correct version."
Older factory errors tend to carry more value because collecting was a smaller game in decades past. Back then, owners of misfit merch were more likely to violate the “NIB” (new in box)/“NRFB” (never removed from box) rule and open packaging, thus depreciating the value many times over. Some have even been known to—gasp!—throw away imperfect action figures. Mass manufacturing and Internet-era collecting culture habits have changed the toy prospecting game considerably, Neimast says. “No one was really collecting action figures from the ’70s and ’80s. Now everybody buys them but never opens them and they hope they go up in value.”
Hype surrounding certain characters added to the post-#ForceFriday madness. In spite of the fact that Star Wars fans know very little about the characters of the upcoming Star Wars films, baddies Kylo Ren and Captain Phasma have already emerged as fan favorites. Disney uses that to its advantage when shipping product orders to retailers, who have to order items by the case, thereby picking up various supporting characters in order to also be able to carry the top sellers.
“Kylo Ren is the one everybody wants,” says Joshua Cherry of Brian’s Toys, which specializes in Star Wars memorabilia. “But you have to buy the whole case. Is it worth buying 100 more cases to get 200 more Kylo Rens?”
Smaller retailers like Brian’s Toys don’t benefit as much as the big chains from major merchandising pushes like #ForceFriday. But they’re keenly watching the first rush of reselling to prepare for what Cherry anticipates will be a huge Christmas for moving all things Star Wars. Proper, non error-packaged versions of the sold-out Kylo Ren elite series figurine are already selling online for between $50 to $150, as much as six times the list price.
But collectors and resellers won’t know which #ForceFriday toys are the truly rare items until the immediate resale frenzy dies down and retailers see which less-popular figures are circulating in smaller numbers, Cherry says. “One example of this is a figure that came out eight or nine years ago as part of the 30th anniversary figures—Darth Revan. They never reissued him, and didn’t come out with any new versions,” he said. “We’ve sold them for $120… and when it came out it was a $10 figure.”
So if uberpopular bad boy Kylo Ren is the new Darth Vader—as in, prepare to see Kylo Ren costumes everywhere at Halloween, on shelves, on T-shirts and beyond, unless The Force Awakens somehow reveals him to be the new Jar Jar and all of humanity turns on him—which character’s action figure will become the hottest new collectible of the Star Wars universe?
“Kylo Ren’s first wave, every major retailer will sell out and they’ll go on eBay for 50, 100 bucks—but after a few months people will get their reorders in, and they’ll come back down to standard pricing,” Cherry predicted. “In two to three years when everything’s done being produced and the dust settles, everyone will see they have three Kylo Rens…but they’ll never able to find that one guy.”
Cherry mulled over the lineup of newly released Star Wars merch, and picked his horse—a modestly badass desert warrior-looking type with yellow eyes and a scarf-like wrap obscuring his face who comes with a bladed staff in his Hasbro form.
“Constable Zuvio—he’s a cool-looking figure and it’s doubtful that they’ll make another one of them,” Cherry declared. “They’re going to make a million variations of Kylo Ren and he’ll come out again and again. If [Zuvio]’s only a minor character but has a cool look to him, he’s a figure people will want. But they probably won’t make him again.”
StarWars.com describes the mysterious Force Awakens character thusly: “A vigilant law officer on a mostly lawless world, the tough and humorless Constable Zuvio keeps order in a frontier trading post.” We won’t know exactly how the alien lawman ties into the Star Wars universe until December, but he’s already going for upwards of $50 on eBay.