LOS ANGELES • Disney on Thursday unveiled a series of animated shorts and related merchandise billed as "celebrating the inspiring stories of iconic heroes from across the Star Wars universe".
Make that heroines.
The initiative - seen as a new salvo in the toy-aisle gender-equality wars - will focus entirely on female characters, including Princess Leia; Rey, the central character in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015); Jyn Erso, the rebel in Rogue One (2016); and Sabine Wren and Ahsoka Tano from the Disney XD animated series Star Wars Rebels.
Star Wars Forces Of Destiny, as the project is called, will involve online animated shorts and a two-part Disney Channel special, along with related merchandise - toys, books, apparel and bedding.
The toy line will include what Disney called adventure figures, described as "a fusion between traditional dolls and action figures".
A Disney spokesman positioned the effort, which will begin this summer, as a natural expansion of the company's Star Wars empire, especially when Rey-related products have been big sellers.
But the initiative also comes after Disney found itself caught in multiple social-media storms involving movie-themed merchandise and the topic of gender equality.
Fans noticed in 2015, for instance, that Black Widow, one of the few female characters in Avengers: Age Of Ultron (2015), was relatively absent from toy stores, especially compared with her male counterparts.
Even the Hulk complained. (Or at least Mark Ruffalo, who plays him in Disney's Avengers series, did.) The outcry soon became a news story.
"The absence sends a troubling message," a Guardian columnist wrote.
"Female superheroes are less worthy than their peers."
Disney and its licensees have faced similar dust-ups over merchandise tied to female characters in Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014) and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Disney, of course, offers an enormous amount of princess- related merchandise. But some consumers believe that those characters promote gender stereotypes.
The new Rey, Leia and Jyn Erso products arrive amid a boom in merchandise featuring empowered female characters.
Warner Bros, for instance, recently announced a huge array of items tied to its June release of Wonder Woman.