'Star Wars' Force Friday: A Multi-Store, Midnight Toy Raid (and a Simon Kinberg Cameo)

Star Wars Force Awakens 4 H 2014
<p>Star Wars Force Awakens 4 H 2014</p>   |   Lucasfilm/Screenshot
THR's Heat Vision writer braves crowds, overzealous fans and overworked store managers over the course of a long night at Toys R Us locations. "Only 'Star Wars' could make me do that," one customer admits.

Hundreds of fans stormed the aisles of Toys R Us stores in Glendale and Burbank late on Thursday night in what proved to be a micro-snapshot of the early hours of the Star Wars phenomenon known as "Force Friday."

Most came away happy, some grumbled and some got to meet a few stars (this is Los Angeles, after all) on the day that Disney, in collaboration with retailers and licensees, unveiled in one fell swoop hundreds of consumer products tied to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It was an unprecedented sales event, unparalleled in scale, and signaled just how important the movie, which opens Dec. 18, is to the studio.

Nuh Omar and Christian Villareal, both 27, were the first duo inside the Toys R Us in Glendale. The two friends had stood in line since 12:30 that afternoon; they had set limits of $200 and $250, respectively, on how much they were going to spend, and both were clearly stoked.

“You could order things online, but you would miss out on this, this amazing experience,” said Omar, pointing to the over 200 people in a line that stretched down the storefront and around the back. “Star Wars is such a phenomenon that you connect with anyone in line.”

Minutes before the doors opened — at precisely 12:01 a.m. — the store's manager, Travis Morris, laid down the rules: Only groups of five to 10 people would be let in at one time, there were six registers open and a limit of three of each item could be purchased. “We’re not going to let anyone clear out the shelves,” he said.

The line, which included, at points, three sleeping babies in strollers, two dogs, a guy changing a diaper, many kids under 10 — and even a small number of females — listened as they took selfies and videos.

And then … it was time.

Hasbro’s Black Series line of action figures, the highly detailed 6-inchers that are popular with collectors, were the first to sell out. Morris, the manager, had to deliver the bad news to the crowd outside. It was a little like watching Rebel Alliance troops being told that Alderaan had been blown up.

One man inside took the news especially hard: “This is a slap in the face for those of us who waited. A slap in the face!” he yelled to anyone who would listen. Not many did.

Some tried to bribe their way past the lines. One man pulled up to a side door in a Porsche and approached an assistant manager. “I’ll pay to get in,” he pleaded. He was turned away.

Not too far away, in a part of the L.A. galaxy known as Burbank, a similar scene was unfolding, this one more chaotic. Hasbro’s Black Series, gone. Spinmaster’s Legendary Yoda, 16 inches tall and able to speak 115 phrases ($179.99), also gone. Hooks once stocked with items, bare.

When a stock boy came out with a cart of boxes, he was followed around the store by more than a dozen eager buyers hoping he’d have the droids and other action figures they were looking for. “There is a fine line between creating demand and then under-stocking the product,” grumbled one frustrated fan.

Among those shopping in the Burbank store was Simon Kinberg, the prolific writer-producer working on a Star Wars stand-alone movie as well as Disney XD’s Star Wars Rebels television series. Also in the Burbank store: Sam Witwer, the star of Syfy’s Being Human who has voiced Star Wars characters in several animated series; Kyle Newman, the director of the Star Wars-themed comedy Fanboys; and Adrian Askarieh, producer of Hitman: Agent 47

“I’m stoked to be here for the experience,” Kinberg said, later checking out with bags full of Lego sets.

Witwer, meanwhile, was recognized and posed for photos with fans.

Other customers were philosophical about the event. “To think that at 43, I’m at a Toy R Us at one o’clock in the morning,” said customer F.J. DeSanto. “Only Star Wars could make me do that.”