They arrived before midnight like loyal members of Darth Vader’s army. Star Wars fans of all ages — from serious collectors to lifelong followers of the sci-fi series — wanted first crack at the newest wave of toys and memorabilia tied to the new Star Wars movie that comes out on December 18.
Dubbed by Disney as “Force Friday”, Walmart, Target, Toys "R" Us and Disney stores around the country opened their doors at midnight and allowed fans to buy the latest in merchandise from ‘Star Wars Episode VII, The Force Awakens’. In South Florida, all Toys "R" Us stores followed suit, only 3 Target stores and several Walmart stores did the same. Disney stores opened as early as 6 a.m.
While the number of Jedis out on a school night in Miami didn’t compare, say, to the frenzy at the Disney store in New York’s Time Square, there were hundreds who stood in line or, in the case of a 24-hour Walmart in Doral (8651 NW 13th Terrace), waited around the Star Wars display before the shrink wrap was removed.
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Mario Martinez was one of those patiently waiting, checking out all the merchandise and figuring out which figures he was going to buy. He had his eyes set on getting at least one of every 6-inch figure available.
“I have spent so much money on all my Star Wars merchandise,” Martinez said. “I am a big fan of the movies and all my kids love the toys and the series.”
Martinez boasts one of the largest Star Wars collections in South Florida, having been featured in several publications. So he is always on the lookout for the latest toys - and nearly scored some of Force Friday’s exclusive’s earlier in the week when he came across some boxes at Walmart that contained the new merchandise.
“I had a bunch of items in my cart, and when I went to check out, they wouldn’t let me buy them,” he said with a grin.
Madeline Muñoz-Bustamante was also scoping the shrink-wrapped display at Walmart, targeting the popular Captain Phasma and Kylo Wren figurines. She had gone to the Walmart on Coral Way and was told they were not participating, so she quickly drove to Doral. She planned to showcase the figurines in her new video blog on YouTube — ‘Toys and Coffee’ — where she and friend Wajima Alvarado unbox toys they purchase and discuss them over a cup of coffee.
Over at the Toys "R" Us at 8789 S.W. 117th Avenue, Kendall resident Robert Gomez found a spot at the end of the line of about 100 Star Wars fans and sighed in relief that he made it out to the promotion. "I have an eight year-old daughter who loves Star Wars. We were eating dinner tonight and she says 'I can't wait till tomorrow night!' Then my wife looks it up online and she finds out it’s tonight."
His plan is to find figurines and action figures.
"I look at all the toys I had when I was a kid on ebay and they're worth so much now!"
Rick Nassar showed his love for the Empire by rolling up his sleeve and showing off a tattoo of Imperial fighters. His allegiance is still with the Dark Side going into Episode VII
"I just want some stormtroopers! Long live the empire!"
But the 26 year-old superfan is not rushing to scour the web for plot spoilers for the upcoming film "I want to know about the movie. But then I think, I just want to sit down in the theater and just see where they will go with it."
We caught up with him inside the store as he perused the items to see if he was shopping strategically. "As far as value, I don't know. I am just buying what I like. But I think this Black Series Kylo Ren is pretty great."
Like Nassar, Jusue Sandoval was interested in the Black Series figures at the Doral Walmart, and it turns out he is just as dedicated to the Empire. Sandoval is part of the 501st Legion Everglades Squad, a group of 50-plus dedicated Star Wars fans who build their own stormtrooper costume and then attend public functions or visit children’s hospitals in full gear.
“I started about 2 years ago when I went to an event and saw them,” he said. “ So I had to build my own suit and join up.”
Getting into the spirit of Star Wars, but not quite with the same detail as Sandoval, were the employees of the Doral Walmart, who dressed up as Princess Leia, Darth Vader and a Stormtrooper and served cake to fans who came by shopping.
At the Toys "R" Us, the first group of fans showed up at 8:40 p.m. with Sergio Sotolongo, 19, acting as the unofficial No. 1 position. All agreed that Black Series figures, particularly Kylo Ren, the new villain in the upcoming movie, would be the hottest score. A discussion ensues about Kylo Ren's broadsword design lightsaber and the pros and cons of reverting to such medieval weaponry style in a sci fi. Nerdiness is reaching maximum potential.
The youngest attendee was JC Proano, a four year-old whose mother Karla said he recently descended into Star Wars mania.
"They go through phases, but this has been the longest one. It's shoes, underwear, backpacks, he has a Star Force uniform that he wears all the time. The Lego Star Wars, Clone Wars, all of it."
JC, sporting a storm trooper backpack and a Darth Vader tee interrupts,"I want the Blade Builder! You can make your own lightsaber!"
Luckily JC is home schooled, so he can sleep in.
In Miami, Disney stores at Sunset Place and Bayside open at 6 a.m. Friday and the Aventura Mall store opens at 8 a.m. Target, Walmart and Toys "R" Us will continue to have the new Star Wars merchandise available throughout the weekend.