Chances are, if you’re a Star Wars fan, then you’re also a Star Wars collector. The first film, released in 1977, was a box office behemoth, but the studio was caught off-guard. That Christmas, toy companies literally sold empty boxes with a vouchers that could be sent away for the actual toys (these empty boxes, perhaps unsurprisingly, have become premiere collectors items). Since then, every new collectible released—every coffee cup, action figure, or squishy plush—has carried a certain level of unbridled enthusiasm. And it’s easy to see why: Star Wars is a movie franchise that people love so much they want to take a little piece of it home, or wear it around their neck, or place it on their bookshelf. That way, the adventure never ends.
So when you take the already sky-high levels of excitement usually associated with Star Wars merchandise, and you mix it with brand-new, never-before-seen characters, droids, and vehicles from an upcoming Star Wars film, the enthusiasm is going to be blinding. This is especially true when the toy release has been trending on Twitter (#ForceFriday) and accompanied by an 18-hour global unboxing presentation that had just ended, mere hours before.
Such was the case last night, when the Disney Store in San Francisco, one of only three Disney Stores in the entire country to do this, opened their doors at midnight and allowed people to come in and devour all of the never-before-seen Star Wars product, in the ultimate Force Friday event. Star Wars: The Force Awakens was ready for its grand unveiling.
See how the Disney Store in San Francisco prepared for Force Friday.
We arrived at the Disney Store around six p.m., when it was beginning to close down so it could be fully transformed into an intergalactic hub. Even then, more than six hours before the store would reopen for Star Wars mania, there were people waiting outside. The family at the head of the line had been there since 2:45 p.m. If patience is a virtue, then these folks were saintly.
A little after six the store went down for its transformation. The front doors and window, massive slabs of glass, were covered with brown paper. This product was still top secret, and they wanted it to stay that way. Slowly, merchandise that had previously existed in the main rotunda was removed to make way for everything pertaining to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Meanwhile, downstairs, a small army of Disney Store employees was opening giant cardboard boxes, unsure of what was even inside. (It cannot be stressed how secretive these toys were.) They would remove an item, look it over, gain a quick understanding of what it was and where it was meant to be placed, and then shuttle these items upstairs, where other activities were taking place (mannequins were being redressed and giant posters, featuring these new characters, were hoisted and leaned against the walls). The magic of the Disney Store is maintained because of tirelessly hardworking people like those who manned the San Francisco Disney Store last night. They make it look effortless because that’s just how good they are.
And while there were a number of truly amazing toys that night (and we’ll be getting into that in the days and weeks ahead), there was one that stood above all others as the must-get item: the app-controlled BB-8. BB-8 is the new droid in the movie (dubbed the “soccer ball droid” by some due to his spherical shape and geometric markings), and is as cute and full of personality as R2-D2. The BB-8 toy, designed by a company called Sphero (known for its spherical robots), has a number of nifty abilities (like “patrolling” around the room independently) and looks and feels like a real robot. This was the one toy that everybody wanted. And throughout the night Adam Wilson, one of the co-founders of Sphero, would stop by and say hi to the fans, giving an impromptu demonstration for a local news crew or just chatting with those who were waiting. He seemed genuinely awestruck by the reception to his little robot and more than happy to engage with people. If there’s already a breakout star of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it’s clearly the adorable droid.
As the night rolled along, the same cast members who had been so amazing getting the product up from the basement to the store floor were now entertaining the guests in line. (The line by this point had stretched beyond the sidewalk and switched back around the block.) These cast members were holding impromptu trivia contests and handing out tickets for guests who wanted to purchase the app-controlled BB-8 (two per customer). Meanwhile inside, the rotunda was being filled with new characters: Captain Phasma, her chrome armor exemplified by children’s Halloween costumes, action figures, and an incredible helmet that changes your voice; evil villain Kylo Ren, whose likeliness was molded into a huge, talking toy, several pieces of clothing (including a children’s sweatshirt that we were hoping came in an XXXL size) and another cool voice-changing mask/helmet; and, of course, BB-8, who didn’t just come in app-controlled robot form, but was also a miniature figure, die cast model and huggable plush. These characters, especially when placed next to Star Wars legacy toys, felt like familiar faces. They are clearly inhabitants of the same galaxy (far, far away).
Finally, as the night crept towards midnight, there was an eerie sense of calm inside the store. Since the brown paper over the windows kept the fans from seeing inside, it also kept the cast members from peering out, so it was hard to get a sense of just how pumped the people standing on the sidewalk were getting. (As it turns out, very, very pumped.) The store looked beautiful: everything was in its right place and laid out perfectly, and when they brought in that family (the ones who had been waiting since 2:45 in the afternoon) to officially open the store, it bordered on the transcendent. The young girl in the family stepped up to the giant fairy tale lock and instead of the usual key ceremony that opens the Disney Store, the cast members announced that she would have to use The Force to open the store. So the young girl put out her hand and the lock magically fell away. Force Friday was officially underway. But instead of a mad stampede, the crowd was sedate and respectful. A few moments passed where everyone, who was so desperate to get inside, just looked around the room, at the hard work that all of the cast members had put in, and the room was filled with a hushed sort of awe. They drank it in, appreciating the moment. Because there aren’t many like this, when fans can come together, expressing their appreciation for something they love. The vibes were cosmically good.