No matter how the retail landscape changes, some traditions endure – and on Friday, October 4, Forbidden Planet Megastore London was the first place in the UK that LEGO Star Wars collectors could pick up new The Rise of Skywalker sets
Thursday, October 3 is the day before Triple Force Friday, named as such by Lucasfilm and Disney due to products launching from three upcoming projects – Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Star Wars: The Mandalorian and Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order – being released on the same date. When midnight strikes, Forbidden Planet Megastore London will open so that the most dedicated, product hungry fans can buy the new items – including new LEGO Star Wars sets – as soon as is permitted.
It is 9.30pm and Richard Nash has been waiting for 30 minutes. It may sound early, but as anyone who has been to a LEGO Store midnight opening can attest, it is tough to know how popular these events will be. One night’s first in line can be 30th in line on another occasion. “I am mainly here for the Black Series,” Richard says, referring to the line of Hasbro 6″ action figures – the iconic 4″ action figure range has competition from its own manufacturer in 2019, never mind competition from the LEGO Group.
By 11.20pm the rain is pouring on a chilly British evening and around a dozen fans are queueing up. During the prequel era, near enough every Toys R Us in the country would open for a Midnight Madness event. For The Force Awakens in 2015, there were a variety of options – in London alone, Toys R Us, the Disney Store and this very Forbidden Planet provided midnight openings. Since then, outside of LEGO sets, Star Wars merchandise has not fared well, with low price action figures and high end electronic droids alike reaching the clearance aisles. Given the challenging retail landscape and ease of buying online, the small queue could lead to the conclusion that these events are holdovers from a different era.
Inside the store, preparations are coming together – the stock is out, costumed characters have arrived from organisations such as the UK Garrison, the Rebel Legion and the Mandalorian Mercs and a LEGO R2-D2 statue is on display. Staff members are carefully setting up a LEGO BB-8 make and take build, sorting the pieces in order to make it a nice, smooth experience.
When the clock turns past midnight, the door opens and the guests are let in, greeted by Ahsoka Tano, Rebel Pilots, a Tusken Raider, a Mandalorian and Rey. Some head straight for the Hasbro 4″ action figures, others start inspecting LEGO boxes and some start piling up Funko Pop! bobbleheads. The 12 or so collectors who had been queuing has become around 60 in the last 40 minutes, demonstrating that for some people, the occasion of a midnight opening beats shopping online or waiting until the following morning.
Emily Charlotte is 10 years old and her favourite character is Rey. “She is a really good character, I have met the person who plays Rey and I have her autograph on the toy,” she says. “That was at the last Force Friday at the Disney Store, I also met the guy who made BB-8 and I saw the guy who plays Finn.”
The young enthusiast’s excitement is infectious, as she proudly holds her new Rey and Zorri Bliss action figures. What are Emily’s hopes for The Rise of Skywalker? “In the trailer it looks like Rey turns to the dark side – I hope that she doesn’t turn to the dark side.”
As the evening goes on, shoppers have picked up what they want and are spending time trading stories or comparing notes. Pretty much everyone finds themselves at the LEGO make and take table to build a little BB-8 model that they will take away, while D-0 demonstrations take place around their feet.
Richard has grabbed some Funko Pop! boxes, picking out The Mandalorian as his favourite from the selection he has picked up. He has not managed to get any of the Black Series action figures he was seeking though – as has happened every year since 2015, there have been distribution problems with Hasbro products. This time around, many large retailers have not received their stock from the manufacturer on time. “I was going to buy some of them online anyway, but I was hoping to get a few now,” Richard says, with the shrug of a veteran Star Wars fan who has been here before.
As everyone queued up, they received a wrist band. Now, Jon Harrison, Forbidden Planet Internet & Marketing Manager, is drawing out raffle tickets and giving out prizes – LEGO sets, t-shirts and other goodies. “We are about entertainment. It is making it not just going shopping, it is making it an experience too,” he enthuses, clearly pleased about the reaction from fans to the evening.
Joe Button has just paid up. He was not originally planning to come along at midnight. “My friend mentioned it to me. I had no intention to come tonight, I was going to come tomorrow morning, but I thought sure, why not?” He has picked up 75254 AT-ST Raider along with some The Mandalorian Funko Pop! boxes. “I knew I was going to get The Mandalorian stuff straight away. After that trailer, it is the thing I am looking forward to the most.”
With it getting closer to 1.00am, guests are making their way through the checkouts with their all-new Star Wars items, picking up free posters on the way out. While much may have changed over the past few years, there are still some collectors who want to own the new merchandise first and celebrate with other enthusiasts in person rather than ordering online. “Buying product in store… you can’t beat that excitement,” says Richard. Fortunately for him and everyone else here, Forbidden Planet has stepped into a vacated space to make sure it is still an option.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker will be released on December 19.