The BB-8 App-Enabled Droid by Sphero. (Courtesy of Sphero)
The BB-8 App-Enabled Droid by Sphero. (Courtesy of Sphero)

Move over, R2-D2 and C-3PO.

When “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” hits theaters in December, it will feature the debut of a new droid, BB-8, whose spherical body makes him look a bit like a high-tech snowman.  And based on early sales and online buzz around the many Star Wars toys that hit shelves last week as part of the “Force Friday” launch event, it appears that BB-8 might be a breakout merchandising star.

In particular, the toy made by Sphero called the BB-8 App-Enabled Droid was an early hit with customers.  The robot, which costs $149.99, can zip around your house based on voice commands or directions you give it via smartphone or tablet app.  You can also set it to “patrol” mode, which means BB-8 can autonomously cruise its surroundings.  To give the robot a sense of personality, Sphero has equipped BB-8 to move its head and let out audible chirps to show when it is angry or curious.  Here’s a video that might give you a better idea of how it works:

Sphero chief executive Paul Berberian said that they thought they had enough BB-8 Droids in stores on Friday to last well over a month, but shoppers blew through the inventory in a flash at outlets such as Apple, Amazon, Best Buy and Barnes & Noble.

“Every store, pretty much without question, by the end of the weekend was out of stock — and they went out of stock within minutes” of opening their doors., Berberian said. “We’ve had a couple of retailers say it was the best product launch in their history.”

Berberian said Sphero is now scrambling to ramp up production to meet demand for the holiday season.

Reviewers who got an early peek at Sphero’s BB-8 Droid seemed smitten by its blend of functionality and cuteness.

“As a new tier of Star Wars merchandising, the droid stands out as a desirable and capable,” wrote Ross Miller of The Verge.

Engadget named it “the ‘Star Wars’ toy everyone will want,” and Wired called the Sphero BB-8 Droid “the Tickle Me Elmo moment for ‘The Force Awakens'” and said, of the latest Star Wars gear, it was “the only truly cutting-edge item on the shelves.”

While Sphero’s robot seemed to get the most attention, there are some indications that retailers will score with other merchandise featuring BB-8.  Check out, for example, this Google Trends data showing search interest in some key Star Wars characters.  As you can see, interest in BB-8 trounced Han Solo, Princess Leia, Han Solo and R2-D2 as Force Friday arrived, and even surpassed search interest in any of those characters around the release of the last Star Wars movie in 2005.


Screen grab of Google Trends chart.

It should be noted, however, that the chart looks a bit different when you add the wildly popular Darth Vader to the mix. But still, search interest in BB-8 appeared to be similar to interest in Darth Vader and BB-8 around the time of Force Friday:


A screen grab of Google Trends data.

Also, while stores such as Wal-Mart and Target are not carrying the Sphero BB-8 Droid, both retailers are displaying the character prominently on their Web pages for all things Stars Wars.

Marjorie Carvalho, a host of the Star Wars Action News podcast, regularly interacts with fans who have been trawling the Internet for months for clues about the toys and the movie. Her early read?  That BB-8 was going to become a fast favorite.

“I think he’s going to be a big star,” she said last week before “Force Friday,” predicting that any toy featuring his likeness would be a big seller. 

So, if you are hoping to get BB-8 under the Christmas tree for the Star Wars nerd in your life, consider this your warning that you should act early.