Thursday, February 23, 2006

Midnight Madness: A Fond Look Back

God I love the nerds! Here's an excerpt of a MUCH longer article on the Star Wars "Midnight Madness" celebration that took place at Toys R Us in NYC last May. I had two midnight madness experiences (i.e., AOTC and ROTS), however I'm sure Dedham and North Attleboro, MA didn't match the excitement of the NYC event. Summerisle went along for the ROTS one - I think just to make fun of me.

"Only minutes were left before the doors would fly open. Brian interviewed the guy who'd been waiting the longest -- seven hours on line, all to guarantee that he could go to sleep that night next to a Clone Trooper figure. Not very many waited out this long, but it wasn't uncommon to find people who'd been standing there for three or four hours. You know what happens when you wait for something that long? You get paranoid. You begin to think that everyone is trying to "cut" you. You demand security protection. You generally become a nuisance. The guy above seemed pretty cool about everything, though he definitely didn't seem like the type of person who'd wait outside all day for Star Wars toys. Put it this way: He took out his keys, and I didn't notice any Yoda ornaments attached to the ring. Not a single Yoda keychain.

The setup inside was just awesome. They'd devoted a special section of the store to Sith-related merchandise, topping it off with all kinds of giant promo signs, wild decorations and at least one Darth Vader mask big enough to kill a man if it fell from its hanger string. They had everything. Action figures! Dolls! Guns! Trivial Pursuit games! Puzzles! Books! T-shirts! Darth Taters! Just as I began to grow misty at the Imperial March theme playing over the speakers, the countdown to midnight began.

It was 11:59:50. It was 11:59:53. Seven seconds later, everything went boom.

Midnight Madness!!!
My God. Holy shit. Nothing could've prepared any of us for what went down at midnight. You know those classic montages from virtually any Christmas movie -- the ones where a well-known holiday song scores scenes of various items flying off retail store shelves? This was exactly like that. People were not looking at what they were filling their bags with -- they were just filling them. They had a seven foot wall of 12" dolls that had been completely emptied by 12:02. If Gorilla Monsoon was a ghost in Toys 'R' Us that night, the walls would've been shouting "Pandemonium!"

Usually, toy collectors are a slow-picking bunch. We'll go to the store and easily spend close to an hour deciding what to blow our cash on, even if we really know what we're getting five minutes in. There wasn't time for that tonight. There were...too many of them. If you saw an item, turned away and turned back was gone. No room for purchasing doubts, and certainly no room to stop and chat. It was complete and utter madness. A pack of starving wolves on an antelope. Fortunately, there weren't many actual children there -- this was more for us geeky adults. I just can't imagine many three-footers surviving the twist-and-shout collective glacier push of a thousand Star Wars maniacs thrusting their bodies and souls into the heart of Toys 'R' Us. This probably explains why Warwick Davis canceled his scheduled appearance as special event host.

Eventually, even the hired costumed characters dropped everything to buy lots and lots of burnt-face Anakin Skywalker toys. Now that was seriously fun. Look, I'm not trying to overplay the significance of buying Star Wars toys, because I was born to usher in a higher understanding of social grace. Still, it's pretty fucking awesome to buy Stormtrooper figures next to real Stormtroopers.

Besides, the stuff on sale was really good. I'd managed to keep myself from falling back into the Star Wars trap in recent years, but the combined might of how cool the toys were and how special the night felt made me drop everything to buy about 200 dollars worth of stuff I won't give a shit about in a month's time. I couldn't begin to guess how much this one Toys 'R' Us store made in a night, but if you're counting all of the TRUs across the country who participated in Midnight Madness, I'm pretty sure the company can afford to buy all of your wives and mothers. Geoffrey's gonna be shitting caviar all week.

I can't tell you how proud I am to have seen what's above in person. How many will get to?

Even the guys dressed as Vader ultimately caved info their toy-wanting hearts, and that was an especially strange sight. The guys inside the costumes never switch off the "ober" voice boxes while in public, so you'd have Vader standing there flipping through piles of action figures trying to find himself, making the same "ober" Vader noise throughout the entire process. I guess it serves some purpose, since I didn't notice anyone stepping in front of Vader to grab something before he could -- and that happened to pretty much everyone else, including Boba.

Up above, Vader's looking at an "Anakin Vs. Dooku" two-pack, which brings up an interesting point. Many of the toys actually spoil parts of the movie. Not just the big stuff that everyone knows about, but lots of little things. Some fans were actually complaining about it. Those are the fans most likely to get punched by non-fans. It's still a bit odd, though -- of the three "new" movies, Revenge of the Sith has had the most leaked out about it. Either George's people let their guards down, or an exponentially larger group of people grew interested in spoiling bits of upcoming movies between 2002 and now.

Brian interviewed this guy, who almost literally bought three of every Sith-related toy in stock. He had like eighty people with him to help carry the stuff out. During the interview, the kid ran off his reasons for wanting each figure, citing how it was the first C-3P0 figure to be chrome-painted since 1995, amongst other weird trivia bits that made me want to shake him and say "I was you and you were me." Not that I've changed much...I just have more violent debts now.

But three of everything? Two is almost justifiable -- plays into the big "one to open and one to keep" theory. Three is overkill! From now on, it's only acceptable to buy two of every Star Wars item a store carries. Only two. Two is perfectly everyday and not in any way fanatical. Leave that for the crazy and ostracized three'ers.

The Darth Tater Files:
I love Darth Tater. I've loved him for months. The press coverage for the first Star Wars-themed "Mr. Potato Head" toy was incredible -- everyone heard about it, even if they didn't give a shit about toys and/or Star Wars. What really sealed the deal was the name itself: "Darth Tater." Lucasfilm had to have extreme faith in the product to let 'em get all cutesy with the name. This wasn't going to be just another Star Wars toy...this was gonna be one of the toys that bridged the gap. The one that turned people from casual to insane. The one that got everyone talking.

Only recently did a costumed character representing the toy hit the scene, and that was the moment that everyone went from just knowing about Darth Tater to tossing aside all of life's many responsibilities until they had one. When I caught Darth Tater strolling around outside, I think I felt something move. Couldn't get close enough for anything but an obscured photo, because everyone out there was just as much in love with him. We flocked like gulls. We asked Darth Tater to heal our sick. We offered everything, and I do mean just that.

Only after the crowd was sucked into all of their toy-buying craziness after midnight was I able to get a decent picture of the beast. The surrounding staff assured the guy inside that he would only have to do this for just a little while longer, either meaning he was really hot and sweaty inside or that he just outright hated us all. How effective was this character appearance? I don't think anyone left Toys 'R' Us without a "Darth Tater." Even the people who already had him, even the people who were only there to provide armed protection in case any villainous foreigners tried anything stupid. Once you saw the giant, living Darth Tater, you were one of his.

Midnight Madness was a blast. In some ways, it's even better than waiting around on the night of the movie debut with the craziest of fans, because when the night is over, we still had more to look forward to -- you know, like the movie debut. This was just the juiced up preamble for all of the insanity yet to come. We may be obsessive, but even we know that Star Wars ain't cool anymore. Hasn't been for a looong time. It's nice to have a night where that really doesn't matter. It's nice to have a night starring giant M&M's and even bigger potatoes. In short, an awesome experience. I didn't go home empty handed, of course, so check out the next and last page for a quick look at some of the goods I blew Paw's medicine money on.


Octopunk said...

"If Gorilla Monsoon was a ghost in Toys 'R' Us that night, the walls would've been shouting "Pandemonium!""

What does that mean? Why do I feel like I should remember who Gorilla Monsoon is? Is Popeye related somehow?

Fun article. I like the wrap-up at the end about how much fun the event is. It caught the spirit.

Summerisle said...

Gorilla Monsoon is an old wrestler who later became a wrestling commentator and later than that became dead. He always shouted "pandemonium running wild here tonight" and also had such memorable quotes as "and Beefcake is literally a house of fire in the ring!"

I have some video footage of the Midnight Madness we went to. It's pretty funny from what I remember.

JPX said...

That's the great thing about the collective nerdiness of this Blog - if you don't have the answer to something, one of the others will!

JPX said...

I love that first picture of the guy who was first in line - pure nerd joy!