“I want a Baby Yoda toy so badly that I’d consider selling a kidney,” jokes Star Wars fan and Instagram influencer Jessica Allsop, 26.
Ms Allsopp, from Rubery, West Midlands, fell in love with the character of “the Child” – affectionately known as “Baby Yoda” on social media – in the Disney+ TV show The Mandalorian as soon as she watched the first episode.
She then scoured the internet looking for merchandise from the Star Wars spin-off series, and says she is willing to pay up to £200 for an accurate replica of the Child.
She’s not alone. Since The Mandalorian was released on 12 November in the US on Disney’s new streaming service, the character has gone viral, and not just in America – the only place you can officially watch the show for now – but all over the world.
It has generated thousands of memes as fans discuss how cute the Child is and speculate about what will happen next in the series.
Yet, to the surprise of many, Disney has been slow to offer merchandise relating to the Mandalorian, waiting until this week – a month after the show’s launch – to unveil its range of vinyl and plush Child toys.
Even worse, the figures will not be available until next May or June, failing to meet the frenzy of demand over the crucial Christmas shopping period.
That’s not stopped people pre-ordering the toys in droves. UK film and entertainment merchandiser Zavvi, which began selling the figures on Wednesday, says the Child is already one of its fastest-selling products with “hundreds” being snapped up in the first hour.
According to Richard Gottlieb, head of toy industry consultancy Global Toy Experts, Disney’s decision to keep the Child a secret will have a big impact on the toy industry.
“It’s a shame. On the consumer product side, it’s an enormous amount of lost revenue for Disney, the licensees and the retailers, and a lot of lost excitement,” he says.
Typically it takes about nine months for a toy inspired by a film or TV show to be realised, from the inception of the idea until it hits the shelves. And it can take up to 15 months if the toy is being prepared for a Christmas release.
- Disney+ streaming service UK launch date confirmed
- Baby Yoda Gifs reinstated after Star Wars takedown confusion
In order to bring out a new toy product, licensing agreements need to be agreed, designs need to be approved and engineers need to create injection moulds for making the toys out of plastic at the factories in China. The product then needs to be manufactured and delivered from China to retailers around the world.
So there is no way that Disney suddenly woke up to the hype surrounding the Child in November, says Mr Gottlieb. Plans for the toy have been underway since 2018 at least, he says.
John Baulch, publisher of trade magazine Toy World, agrees, saying that delaying the launch was intentional on Disney’s part.
“Disney would have known that they had a breakout hit with the Child,” he says. “But the Mandalorian’s director, Jon Favreau, was quite insistent that he wanted the content of the series to lead, rather than the merchandise. In this instance the director won the argument.”
Alexander Westwood, 19, a TV and film actor from Birmingham, thinks Disney may also have been trying to avoid toys becoming “spoilers” for the series.
In the UK, people will not be be able to enjoy The Mandalorian officially until the Disney+ streaming service launches in late March 2020. And while some will find workarounds, many others will just have to wait, leaving them at risk of stumbling across plot and character details.
“I kind of completely understand Disney’s decision not to market Baby Yoda as a toy until after Disney+ has become available in more countries,” Mr Westwood tells the BBC.
“A lot of toy companies nowadays like Lego’s Marvel range spoil potential scenes and possibilities, so to me it makes sense.”
Mr Gottlieb agrees, saying that Disney’s decision means Star Wars fans will get a genuine surprise for once, in an age where leaked product photos often spoil shows months before they come out.
“It’s amazing that in this day and age that they were able to keep this a secret,” he says. “Their intent was not only to incite excitement in the Mandalorian, but really in the whole Disney+ launch, and it did create a conversation.”
He says this situation shows that different industries are no longer in their own silos. Toys, entertainment, intellectual property and video streaming all have the power to affect each other, and that is likely to have a big impact on the toy industry in the future.
“Was it a good decision or a bad one on Disney’s part? We’ll have to wait until June 2020 to see, but it’s a disappointment that there’s going to be a lot of money left on the table.”