Porgs. Dear God, porgs.
If you’re like me, you went into Target or Toys R’ Us or some other store on Force Friday, at midnight or during human hours, to go shopping for the new The Last Jedi toys and merchandise. It’s Star Wars, and we’d all like our early look at December’s upcoming eighth part of the saga, and maybe buy some Stormtrooper figures, right? And then you found the porgs.
Porgs are, apparently, a cross between a Furby and a penguin, and represent some kind of small, adorable animal that lives on Atch-To with geriatric Luke Skywalker. The interactive toy makes happy little noises and flaps its wings, looking as though it wants to cuddle its way into your heart and wallet. Buy me, it seems to say. I’ll be lonely here and you can take me home and love me forever. I mean, look at this thing.
(Credit: Youtube user DX Fire)
Isn’t that thing just adorable? Don’t you just want to sell all your action figures, your car, and your children, and just surround your home with those saccharine little creatures so they can purr you to sleep with their little noises? Who knew that if an Ewok f***ed an owl, it could produce something so magical? Why, we can all lull ourselves to sleep with the upcoming Chewie and the Porgs, an upcoming children’s book guaranteed to outsell every Timothy Zahn book ever, even if the book does sound like its own porn–PORN, NOT PORG–parody.
Folks, this is overt marketing.
Granted, Star Wars has always been toy marketing, as are most films. Characters get costume changes and vehicles all for the sake of creating merchandise which can be marketed to kids. If you’ve seen Spaceballs, you know that merchandising is where “the real money from the movie is made.” And it’s true–George Lucas very luckily benefitted from this when he kept the contractual rights to Star Wars merchandise in 1977 because FOX thought the movie would bomb.
For some reason, major movie studios are only just beginning to realize that “cute” sells gangbusters. The original saga never really pulled off “cute.” Ewoks were fuzzy, but they were also cannibals played by little people in costumes and never really sank in with the kids in 1983 or beyond. With the prequels, Jar Jar certainly represented an effort to market “silly” to the kids, but turn-of-the-century children just didn’t desire an alien clown with Three Stooges antics. These were both marketing efforts, but not ones that clicked the way the studio wanted.
Now, BB-8 hit on something. I mean, friggin’ look at him.
R2-D2 was already cute, but BB-8 is cute. BB-8 takes everything that people like and reduces them to a soft, adorable, infant-like parody. Fans went for BB-8 in a way that they never seemed to with Artoo.
Notice that this is a thing lately, where more and more movies and toy lines are picking up on something Japan discovered awhile ago: super-deformity and chibi sells. Exaggerate what’s cute in a character and minimize what isn’t. Hello Kitty is an excellent illustration of this: she’s a very minimalist representation of a cat-girl hybrid, and is an astonishingly good marketing tool. So stuff like Funko Pop! toys, Dorbz, Lego Brickheadz, and other super-cute versions of characters have become very, very prevalent in culture lately. I mean, look at what happens when you reduce BB-8 to a Funko Pop! figure.
I mean, that’s downright edible.
Movies are figuring this out, and we’re seeing an increased prevalence of the easily-marketable “adorable” character. Olaf didn’t quite get there in Frozen, but we got that useless rooster in Moana. We got the Niffler in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 gave us Baby Groot. We got four movies full of Minions in the Despicable Me franchise. In many cases, these characters add nothing to the substance of the story–we really didn’t need a fourth Despicable Me film with its disjointed plot–but the marketing people knew it would work.
A friend of mine theorizes that this kind of character is very intelligent marketing that’s catering to human reproductive instincts. In other words: chibis resemble babies. They have large heads and eyes, small noses, ears, and limbs, and tend to be clumsy, silly, and adorable. She suggests this is biological programming, designed to make primitive humans care for and love babies rather than leave them in the woods when they’re sick of screams and poop. Marketing is just playing off that, tapping into the biological clock part of our brains and making us beg for this adorable little piece of love made out of plastic. This explains why Darth Vader is a monster, but a Funko Pop! Darth Vader is the cutest thing ever.
So now we’re getting the porgs, and hey, maybe they’ll prove crucial to the plot. Maybe they’re the plot device that brings Han back from the dead, teaches Rey the Force, reunites Leia with her emo son, and destroys the First Order. But I’d bet money they’re inserted into the story purely as a marketing tool, as something to make kids squeal with delight and demand that their parents get them one for Christmas. We’re suckers for cute things, and Lucasfilm/Disney very carefully designed a Star Wars creature which would play off those emotions and convince us to fork over our money. They know this. Pablo Hidalgo himself said: “porgs are cute. You fall into those deep, soulful eyes. I think a lot of people are going to want a porg as a pet.”
This is manufactured marketing, folks. We’re the mark in a sales game, and Lucas/Disney knows we and our children are going to fall for it. But there’s still time before The Last Jedi comes out. This Christmas, do yourselves a favor.
Say no to porgs.