Last Friday was Force Friday II, the big product launch for all of the cool stuff coming out to tie-in with this December’s The Last Jedi. There were a number of midnight openings for various retail stores, with Toys R Us really leading the charge. This is my third attendance of such an event, and each time I’ve had a rather different experience. If I had written this right at midnight on Thursday, it would have been a rather angry, distraught, and disappointed screed about everything wrong with fandom. There’s still a piece of that in this writing, but it’s really just an involved set-up for the much better part of the story. Let me ‘splain.
I arrived at my local Toys R Us at about 9:15, with both Tim and Super Awesome Girlfriend in tow. There were five people lined up outside the store. The first four looked to be long-term Star Wars fans; the sort of people you’d expect to see at an event like this. The fifth was an older woman with bleach-blonde, dressed in a pink t-shirt, spandex pants, and adidas flip-flops; she seemed out of place. She informed us that her purse next to her was saving a spot for her daughter; perhaps the daughter was the Star Wars fan and this woman was just being a supportive parent? Her first utterance of what would go on to be about a hundred 40 Year Old Virgin jokes aimed at the fans in attendance served as an indicator that the “supportive parent” guess was incorrect.
By 10:00, another five people had joined this woman in front of us in line. They all wore the same basic attire, with the same hair, and, apparently, none of them were this woman’s daughter, who she was still saving a spot for. They were all happy to take a spot ahead of us in line, and more than happy to join in on the first woman’s bashing of everyone attending. The phrase “wouldn’t usually be caught dead at something like this” came up many times. Eventually, the daughter arrived, another entry in the bleach-blonde brigade. She too joined in on the mocking of the fans. Oh joy.
With their whole cult in place, they began quizzing everyone what would be the hot items this year. It’s a pretty standard tactic for speculators who are looking for a quick buck; something most of the fans in attendance had dealt with before. We mostly responded with something along the lines of “well, I have a list.” When they received no satisfactory answer from direct questioning, they instead took to listening in on everyone’s conversations. Tim and I actually had quite a bit of fun with this, and began having a fake conversation about how important it was that we get a number of items that any fan would know are complete shelf-warmers. Despite this brief respite of fun, but 11:30, after two hours of listening to them insult my fellow fans and just be generally ugly people, I was about ready to call it quits and just head home. Fortunately, Tim and Jess were able to talk me down a bit, and we ended staying through.
By the time the doors opened a little after midnight, each of the seven people in this group had grabbed their own shopping cart, and despite the very polite TRU employee’s instructions to enter single file, not shove, and not run, they proceeded to barrel through the doors in rows of two, using the carts to push others out of the way, while making a mad dash for the main aisle. When I got back to the aisle, the group had gone straight to work scooping the entire contents of shelves right into their carts. I almost gave up again, but then I took a closer look at exactly what was being scooped into their carts: Funko Pops.* They hadn’t found their way to the actual figures at all.
I made my way through the chaos of the aisle, and managed to piece together a more or less complete set of the small-scale figures, along with the one vehicle I really wanted. No sign of any new Black Series figures, but I was content with what I had, so I made my way to the front of the store, on the way passing the cult of bleach-blonde speculators, who now had three shopping carts absolutely overflowing with merchandise. And then I started laughing to myself. The content sort of laugh that comes from seeing someone so ugly, so repulsive, and so reprehensible come face to face with karmic justice. You see, in addition to the cart overflowing with an entire rack of Pops, there were also two full carts of Black Series figures. Not the new, desirable ones; oh no. Two full carts of the Jyns and Cassians and Poes and Finns and Zuvios that have been rotting on the pegs for almost a year. The ones that Target was just clearing out for $3 a piece a week ago. And they paid full price for every single one. Best of luck unloading those, ladies.
Now, if at this moment, you’re thinking this karmic justice is the “better part” of my story, let me stop you there. My joy doesn’t come from someone else’s misfortune, as just and satisfying as it may be. My joy comes from about 20 minutes later, after a good portion of the crowd from the TRU made their way over to the Target across the street.
When I got there, the store was mostly cleared out, but there were still a few items to chose from. Shortly after I got there, a family with a young son, no older than 4, who had been near the end of the TRU line, came into the main aisle. An older fan held the replica Poe Dameron helmet. The father of the boy quickly dashed over and asked where this man found the helmet and were there anymore. The fan pointed them in the direction and said there was one left last he checked. Of course, by the time the family got to the spot, everything was gone. The father came back to the helmet-wielding fan and began asking what other stores might be open and might still have this item in stock, explaining that this was the one item that his son had really been looking forward to getting. The older fan paused for a moment, before outstretching his arms: “You can have mine.”
This guy got it. He understood the importance of this moment. He understood that this was more than a business; that sometimes, the most satisfying thing is just being nice to someone else. Before departing, the boy’s father stopped, turned to the fan and said: “Sir, I need you to understand the importance of this moment. What you just did? Giving this up to my son? Across the street someone else did the opposite. My son and I will remember this. Thank you, sir.”
I don’t have anyway of getting a message to this person, but if I did I like to tell him this: sir, I don’t know your name, or anything about you beyond the one hobby we share in common, but last Friday, you were my hero. You salvaged my night from being utterly miserable, and you reminded me that there are still good people out there. Thank you for that.
*No offense to anyone who collects Pops. I have been known to enjoy them myself, but in a week’s time, the Last Jedi Pops will be available from practically every retail store in the country. They may be popular, but they’re unlikely to be scarce anytime soon.