Black Friday was last week. As the not-so-unofficial-anymore start to the Christmas shopping season in the United States, the day is typically marked by incredible sales by large retailers, immense media coverage of such non-events as the daily opening of a store that has been around for years, and, if the media coverage that has made it up to Canada is to be believed, huge line-ups of fans outside their favorite stores that easily put every prequel line up I participated in to shame. In the colder regions, shopping fans pitched tents at their place in line hoping to catch a few hours of sleep on the curb. The tents were furnished with top-of-the-line inflatable sleeping pads and sleeping bags. The shoppers were clad in high-end warm wear better suited to a hike in the backcountry than an evening in the city. Eagerly, entire families tried to catch a few hours of sleep in front of the store, as regular security patrols ensured that the line stayed orderly. If the reports are to be believed, some families even ate their Thanksgiving dinner in the line. As midnight approached, a cheer rose from the crowd, the orderly line having vanished at the first sight of a store employee with keys. The tents were hastily stowed in the cars, gift cards and wish lists emblazoned with the store logo were clutched eagerly and the paramedics the store had called in to treat any shoppers trampled by the rush into the store began setting up their equipment in the corner the store had given them to use as a triage zone. Say what you will about Star Wars fans, but at least movie theatres don't need to call in paramedics when they open their doors to us.
Some of the items purchased on Friday will no doubt be items given as gifts during Christmas, Chanukah or any of the other numerous celebrations that take place at this time of year. Others will fall into the "little gifts to me" category. The shoppers will not only buy gifts for family and friends, but for co-workers, service providers, people with whom they have a business relationship, even their pets. Many will be purchased on credit, and the real value of those gifts will be assessed in January when the credit card bills come due. Today, on so-called Cyber Monday, most of those deals are now available on the store's website. The profit margin on website sales is higher, since the store doesn't have to part with the amount of the sale that goes towards keeping a brick-and-mortar store in operation. I suppose I could have camped out in front of my computer in anticipation, but I much prefer sleeping on my bed in the next room. Paying the duties necessary to import the items from the American stores would eat up my savings anyway.
Since my column wouldn't exist without the hard work of Lucasfilm and the licensees, I did a little bit of shopping of my own and picked out some gifts for the gift exchange at the annual Licensee Festive Season party, to which all licensees are invited and most bloggers and columnists inevitably get dragged (You have to pay for your own drinks, and the selection is terrible).
Del Rey was a bit of a tough call. What do you get for a licensee that may not be around this time next year? It's kind of an awkward situation really. Everyone else is sitting around, talking about their big new projects. Del Rey is uncomfortably mute, but when pressed, offers a mumbled comment about a mass market reprint of a hardcover that came out a few months ago, or yet another revision to one of the Essential Guides. I thought of getting them a skid of dictionaries and style guides to distribute to their staff, since they obviously need them, but it felt kind of rude and inappropriate. Their license requires them to release a certain number of books each year. If the staffing levels in their office are not adequate to the task then they either have to hire more staff or else slow down production of the books, neither of which may be something they have any control over. The quality of the books suffer instead as they rush books through production without proper copy or continuity editing. In the end I got them a stable of talented cover artists eager to produce illustrated or painted covers for them at a reasonable price so that they can give the Photoshop work a bit of a rest (Dark Horse gave them to me for a pretty good deal, provided that I didn't tell Del Rey where I got them from). It's the kind of gift they could use even if they do lose the Star Wars license. I also gave them a shiny, new "Infinities" stamp, since they apparently lost their old one and have been retconning stories in all the strangest places ever since. I was going to give them a copy of Writing One-shots and Trilogies for Fun and Profit this year, but I think I might save that for next year once we know how much longer they'll be sticking around.
The creative minds behind the two new Star Wars television series were also a tough call. I don't know them at all because they're just getting started, but someone invited them to the party, so I couldn't just show up without a gift for them. I heard that Del Rey and Hasbro got together and provided them with a gift card for the liquor store to dull the pain after the fans start tearing into them, so that was out. Dark Horse brought for them an attractive gift bag full of tie-in story ideas. In the end, I settled on a new contract for the WGA that will end their strike and, hopefully, keep both sides happy for many years. I think they will really need that. And it goes perfectly with the pre-strike settlement of the SAG and Director's Guild of America that Hasbro got them. I assure you we did not plan that!
Hasbro spent most of the party hovering around the bar. They're usually loud and boisterous, but somehow they seemed a bit subdued this year. We don't know if it had something to do with the fact that they had no movies or TV shows to propel the sales of their toys, or if it was because they relaunched the RPG a few months ago and no one (including yours truly) noticed, except for the people compiling an errata list of record size. But they did brighten considerably when they opened my gift, a complete set of images of every single character in the Expanded Universe, with discrete markings next to the few for which toys had already been made. Apparently they'd been looking around for fresh ideas for how to build their brand, and a whole galaxy of new characters was just the ticket. Sell kids toys they can use their imagination with to form their own Star Wars adventures, how novel!
Titan felt a bit out of place at the big 'ol North American party since they didn't really know anyone and had never paid much attention to their work, except for Lucasfilm, of course. Also somewhat new to me, I brought them the same gifts I've given to other publishers of the Insider in the past: A concise history of the Expanded Universe, a primer for timely magazine circulation in Canada and about a dozen article pitches. They accepted it with a shallow smile and promised to use it right away when they got back to the office, but we both knew it was probably going right into the filing cabinet of junk they were going to hand off to the next Insider publisher. They spent most of the party following Lucasfilm around, and pining after the Hyperspace people. They never did quite get over it when Hyperspace and the Insider split up awhile back.
It took me awhile to figure out what to get for Dark Horse this year; they very much seem like the licensee who has it all at the moment. Four successful comic book series, a highly-anticipated project of collections and reprints. Message boards that are actually readable. They're very desperately trying to go their own way, deliberately telling stories not well connected to what the other licensees are working on so that they can focus on telling good stories instead of nitpicking continuity. Finally, I settled on some mainstream media coverage for Vector that would focus on the story arc itself - instead of the fact that it was a superhero-style crossover event - and a production chain that keeps on schedule.
LucasArts and all the companies that help them make the Star Wars video games were probably the easiest on my list. In their gift bag was another one of those big, shiny "Infinities" stamps and the reassurance that if they use it, most gamers won't care. Books or comics can be interpreted differently by each reader, but the text remains unchanged. A game however, changes with each play. Not a solid basis for continuity. I also gave them a comprehensive guide to all the non-Jedi or Sith things in the galaxy. Surely somewhere in there they can find exciting ideas for games. They also received a voucher good for an intensive study of their market. After all, not all would-be Star Wars gamers are adolescent boys or thirsty for violence. Some of us would appreciate a broader variety of games.
And that leaves the host of the party, Lucasfilm itself. It's their party, and we're all grateful to them for throwing it. To us fans they had already given the greatest gift they could find: Star Wars stories of every shape and size, in every medium, that excite the imagination. We also received the promise of many more such stories to come. I chipped in with the bloggers, fansite operators and other writers that were there and we all got Lucasfilm an all expenses-paid vacation for a few weeks. The strain of managing such a big galaxy is clearly getting to them, and we thought it might be good for them to slow down a bit. We'd all prefer them to focus on working with their licensees to put out the best stories they can, instead of rushing just anything to market to ensure that when the stores get raided on Black Friday, the frantic shoppers will have something with the Star Wars logo on it to fight over.