Q&A: Black Series, Micro Series, Saga Legends, Astromech Droids, and Much More!

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, March 3, 2013

It's Monday, so let's keep Q&A going! Let's talk about Micro Figures and that trend, as well as the new Large 6-Inch Black Series, which will no doubt be a regular topic between now and the time it becomes unprofitable. (And if 7-inch Unleashed is any indication, for years beyond.) Who wants Wild Saga Legends Speculation? I DO! Oh, and we can talk about Droid Factory at Disney too, as I may be the only one who basically hates how that whole thing works out. Read on!


1. I've been trying to decide if I'm going to buy into this new 6 inch black line. To convert me, I'm thinking that it's going to have to hit on all cylinders, one of which is screen accuracy. Seems like the sandtrooper would be a prime example to gauge that. I think I remember you complaining in the past about how Hasbro typically misses the different nuances between stormtroopers and sandtroopers. So, in your opinion, just how accurate do you think this new sandtrooper is judging by the pictures.

I saw it in person, and I thought that the Sandtrooper was actually pretty good. To put things in perspective, it's pretty amazing to see a new Stormtrooper/Sandtrooper sculpt, as the last significantly changed figure was the Dewback Sandtrooper in 2009, and I may be wrong here but I'm pretty sure the last 100% new figure, before that one, was the 2005 Evolutions Sandtrooper. Relative to their other lines, Hasbro has really been coasting with Star Wars so seeing the Black Series Sandtrooper up-close made me think it's probably going to be pretty good. The most interesting detail from where I sit is the "diamond" on the left knee, which none of the 3 3/4-inch figures have had... ever. I had very little time to examine the helmet, but that sort of thing is another can of worms - now we're being told the lenses are supposed to be green, but in everyone's mind's eye it's black or dark grey. What's "accurate," what I see or what you tell me it is?

The other lens issue - and the expert costumers can probably correct me if I'm wrong - is that some of the Sandtroopers had "flat" lenses, while many Stormtroopers hand rounded, convex ones. Even though I have an extreme close-up shot of the helmet, I'm not entirely sure what I'm looking at (I only "saw" the figure through the lens of my camera as I was rushed.) So it's pretty good, I would argue good enough to be interesting but I don't expect 100% accuracy out of Hasbro. That's not their business model, they do "good enough" and usually it is indeed good enough. Perfection is pretty much impossible, even at $300 or whatever obscene price point 1:6 scale figures have now. Hasbro rarely releases a perfect product out the gate, often because said product was developed before the movie was done, and other times... well, I have no idea. Obviously Lucasfilm's licensing division isn't as anal as we are.

From what I can see, it's about as accurate as I would make it... except I'm not so sure about the helmet. I also expect Hasbro developed this figure with reuse in mind, meaning the very same body (except maybe with a new knee) could be rereleased as a plain white Stormtrooper, or modified as Luke or Han in Stormtrooper outfits. If you look at Marvel Legends and Transformers, you can see Hasbro typically designs collector product with reuse in mind, meaning the same body, with an alternate head and some paint, will be a new figure two waves later. From the prototype - and this is not final product - it looks like the worst we're probably going to get is about 80%, 85%.


2. I was wondering if Kenner had any other figures planned in the late 80's that did not get produced due to the decrease in demand. Would these figures be good sellers with lower articulation, packaged exactly like vintage for a lower price?

Kenner had a number of concepts planned for mid to late 1980s Star Wars action figures, many of which were from the cartoons and completely original post-Return of the Jedi storylines developed by Kenner. So you'd see a new "General" Han Solo, a sort of a "Jedi Master" Luke Skywalker, and others who would supposedly fight warlords from what they perceived the Clone Wars to be, and a fresh-out-of-exile Grand Moff Tarkin. Gargan (to 1983 fans, Yarna to newbies) was actually sculpted, alongside Vlix, cartoon Chief Chirpa, and quite a few others... and probably more we never heard about just yet.

If you're asking what I think you're asking - "Will Hasbro make a 1980s-style primitive-sculpted line of unproduced Vintage 1980s figures?" - the answer from Hasbro has been consistently no ever since the 1995 "Classic 4-Pack" and on the whole they were true to their word, with only the mail-in Rocket-Firing Boba Fett being made in this style a couple of years back. It's plain to me that this is a concept they've been discussing here and there, like the 6-inch Black Series line, although the 6-inch line seems more like a "we have to try this now or never to get new fans and bring back old ones" while 1980s-style figures, by their very nature, will appeal to an even narrower audience.

Due to something I've recently heard referred to as "slicensing," that is the narrow distribution if nearly identical licenses for very similar products, it's not unthinkable that Disney could grant a company a "retro" figure license down the road, much like how Gentle Giant got upsized Kenner figures. I've asked Gentle Giant about 3 3/4-inch Kenner-style figures, and was told that this was not in their license right now as Hasbro has that scale locked up tightly. That kind of product isn't right for a large company like Hasbro, although I really do think they should consider subleasing the license to a smaller company (Super 7? Bif Bang Pow!? Diamond?) to do just that... they won't, but it'd be nice.



3. As I remember it, last year (maybe at SDCC), there were statements that the Disney Build-a-Droid program had been so successful that it would likely reappear in 2013. The fact that Disney now owns Star Wars seems not to diminish the possibility. I suppose if there were rumors floating around about new Build-a-Droids for 2013, we would have heard it by now. Have you heard any? If we haven't heard by now, does that mean it likely won't happen this spring? (I seem to remember that the advertisements for last years Disney Build-a-Droids were out by this time of year.) If it's not too late, do you think they will put the 4 cancelled Build-a-droids in the mix, including the protocol droids?

I know that releasing 25 droids exclusively through a theme park is an inconvenient and (very) expensive method for collectors, but truth be told it was far and away the best product of 2012—not just one premiere of R6, R8 and R9, but three of each and 16 additional droids to boot! It's hard to believe that they didn't find another more available outlet for some version of R6, R8 and R9 (hard to believe unless of course you consider the generally poor distribution of many Star Wars Action figure products in 2012 in which case it seems par for the course).

While I know many of you disagree with me here (and are wrong) I think it's terrible to release low-run "destination" figures, like Toy Fair exclusives for press only or theme park exclusives that basically require you to ask to speak to a manager just to get some left legs because all the bins had were right legs. It's maddening, particularly since even on eBay these things cost a small fortune much of the time. Had they just released a bucket of Droid parts, Mr. Potato Head-style, I'd agree with you that it's a good product. As it is, I saw kids putting together mismatched robots because they couldn't find matching parts (or in the case of the little ones, they just didn't care.) I always vote for "if you can't make sure fans can get it, don't release it until you can." 2012 was a rotten year for fans to actually pay for things they want to buy.

Last year at Celebration VI, the Disney panel mentioned the line was successful and likely would roll out to Disneyland, and would also probably have more parts. (A few unreleased parts were shown in early publicity photos.)

According to Disney's own press materials, R6, R8, and R9 were developed as theme park exclusives. Of course they could have gone elsewhere, but Disney got them as exclusives, so they didn't. It's my sincere hope that someone at Disney or Hasbro or wherever said "hey, we made 25 different domes and no park guest will ever collect them all. Maybe a few collectors, but not our key market. Why make any new ones? We can squeeze a few years out of these with no changes as it is."

Correct me if I'm wrong but I'm pretty sure I heard Hasbro say they were going to put the cancelled 2013 Droid Factory build-a-droids in a TBD retailer exclusive, but I was not at the panel at Toy Fair to confirm this due to snow. It seems unlikely (and a generally bad idea) to introduce non-astromech parts into the Droid Factory as it was, as the disorganized bins made it difficult to put together an Astromech. Mixing in other droid body types would just be an unpleasant experience for all parties involved, I hope that if those robots do make it to Star Tours it will be as part of a boxed set so any goober can just go in there and buy it, rather than wait in a line one or two (or six) times in a futile attempt to give Disney their money in exchange for goods or services... after a $100 cover charge just to get in to the store as it is.

(No, I don't like Disney Droid Factory.)


4. My question is in regards to the new Saga Legends line. At first I was totally against this limited articulation line. Seeing the Iron Man 3 & Ultimate Spider-Man offerings I was worried that Hasbro was taking a huge step backward. But then I looked at my Bespin Battle Pack & Duel on Naboo Battle Pack, and noticed how good the sculpts were regardless of the 5 points of articulation, now I’m actually excited for this line! Plus the $5 price point is going to help the wallet out.

My question is, how deep is Hasbro going to go with this line? Are we going to see characters in different outfits? i.e. Luke, from Farm Boy to Jedi. Are we also going to get Clone Wars Versions of characters such as Ahsoka Tano or Anakin in his Clone Wars Armor? Is it just going to be movie or are they willing to venture into Expanded Universe with these?

I know these questions may be premature, being that these haven’t reached retail yet, but have you heard anything or what does your intuition tell you about this line?

Short answer: core characters, fan favorites, and things you probably already have.

History indicates that this kind of assortment is meant to be a mass-appeal thing, and we're seeing (mostly) similar gestures in Marvel. For Iron Man and Spider-Man, all we're seeing are the title characters, both of which are being represented by 2-3-year-old molds. For The Wolverine, on the other hand, we're seeing completely new sculpts with 2 versions of Wolvie, plus a couple of new baddies. With Star Wars we're getting mostly all-new sculpts, but it's of core, key characters. Hasbro's slide rule is so packed with variables that if you're looking for a yardstick by which to measure them, it's just not possible. They'll do what they want, we've seen Saga Legends go from a catch-all "Greatest Hits" line for kids and collectors in 2007-2008 to a kid-driven main character line (with a few collector-friendly releases) in 2008-2009 to... whatever the heck 2010 was. I think it was just as a way to put the screws to collectors when they realized Vintage figures had fewer accessories, less packaging, and cost more... but still had awesome bonus weapons packs with Saga Legends and lots of great articulation in the reruns.

If the gambit works (and I hope it does, and kills 3 3/4-inch Black Series off completely) we could see literally anything and everything in this style. If Hasbro decides that, for some misguided reason, it needs to keep 2, 3, or even 4 concurrent 3 3/4-inch lines afloat we're going to see continued confusion and failure across their brands. I would expect that Hasbro is hoping that Black Series (6-inch) does well and continues on, as it allows for higher price points which is something that everybody loves when they work. I would expect Hasbro wants the cheap 3 3/4-inch (Saga Legends) to work, because simpler figures means a greater ROI as they can crank these guys out for years if it works. I think they picked out some characters who have had far too many toys since 2005, in many cases, so I don't know that it will succeed... but if it does? It should get pretty cool.

The 2014 game plan is unknown right now to me, so all I can do is make wild stabs in the dark about what might happen. One likely scenario is that Star Wars: Detours (the new animated humor program) takes off, and since it's basically pre-Star Wars (1977) Hasbro might want to tie the line in to that with Leias and Greedo and some of the other characters from the program.

It's my hope that the line does well enough where they can try new things in this format when it makes sense. Whatever the core heroes and villains are for the Star Wars: 1313 video game might be good in this format. Popular characters like Ahsoka, the conspicuously-absent General Grievous, and Asajj Ventress might not be terrible choices, depending on what Hasbro's recent sales data has said about those (mostly) animated characters. But I just want to speculate wildly, so here's...

Adam's Pawlus Saga Legends Pick-O-Matic (2014 Edition)
Battle Droid: Reissue of 2013 Mini Dropship red droid figure.
Boba Fett: Reissue of 2012's Bespin Battle Pack figure.
C-3PO: New mold. Carded version is ROTS all-gold.
Chewbacca: New mold.
Darth Maul: Reissue of 2012 Naboo Battle Pack figure.
Darth Vader: Reissue of 2013 2-pack Star Destroyer Mission Series figure.
Greedo: New mold. Why the Hell not?
Han Solo: New mold. Vest.
Luke Skyalker: New mold. Farm edition.
Luke Skyalker: New mold. Rebel pilot. (Bonus: leave off Lightsaber Hilt on belt, reuse for more pilots later.)
Obi-Wan Kenobi: New mold. Attack of the Clones-specific to fit existing 2013 Jedi Starfighter.
Obi-Wan Kenobi: New mold. Star Wars-specific to fit Landspeeder. (Bonus: clear redeco later for Jedi Spirits.)
R2-D2: Reuse 2013's R4-P17 mold.
Stormtrooper: New mold.

Adam's Pawlus Saga Legends Mission Packs Pick-O-Matic (2014 Edition)
Asajj Ventress & Anakin Skywalker : Season 5 Bounty Hunter Asajj Ventress. Anakin is the 2013 Saga Legends version with new head, new arms to mimic TV show.
Ahsoka Tano & Plo Koon: New Ahsoka, season 3-5. Simple movie-style Plo Koon.
C-3PO & Jawa: Recycle above C-3PO mold. New Jawa mold.
Clone Pilot & Yellow Clone Trooper: Recycle AOTC Clone body mold from 2013.
Darth Vader & Death Squad Trooper/Star Destroyer Commander: New mold with a telescoping lightsaber in the hand. Warning/guarantee: I will run up to the stage at whatever event this is announced at and hug Derryl DePriest. Even if it wasn't his idea. Trooper would be grey for this release, like classic Kenner, and black in the future somewhere, somehow.
Luke Skywalker (Stormtrooper) & Princess Leia (white dress): Recycle Stormtrooper mold, add Luke head. Leia is a new sculpt. Leave helmet on for "Capture Leia" play pattern, take helmet off for "Rescue Leia" play pattern.
R2-Q5 & Blackhole Stormtrooper: Redeco R4-P17 2013 mold for R2-Q5. Re-re-recycle Stormtrooper mold, make the helmet lenses silver this time dammit.
Rebel Trooper & Stormtrooper: New mold, may share some parts with Han Solo. Stormtrooper is just a Stormtrooper.

Bonus: New Class II Vehicle Pics
Darth Vader's TIE Fighter: New mold. Small. Firing rocket.
Landspeeder: New mold. Small. Rolling wheels, no spring floating. BONUS: Open hood to store weapons.
Republic Gunship: New mold. Scaled way the heck down.
TIE Fighter: New mold. Smaller. Wings pop off.
X-Wing Fighter: New mold. Mini. BONUS: Bring back classic s-foils button as build-a-droid Astromech dome.
TBD: New mold. Tell Mark Boudreaux to make something completely original that could hold 3-4 Stormtroopers and maybe Darth Vader too, $20ish price point.

This isn't what I think would make the most people happy - this is what I think should be done to make people buy things with few gambles.


5. I found a neat read the other day on the unproduced "Worlds" from the Kenner Star Wars Micro Collection, due to their line being cancelled after only one year. This wouldn't be the last time micro battles were introduced in a toy brand and quickly faded, with the Star Wars "Unleashed" and the underrated "Armies of Middle Earth" from Lord of the Rings being of most recent memory. Sure, there are table top games now that are very expensive and geared to a different audience, and there are plenty of Squinkies, Pods, etc. out there, but I feel those are more games and not the "army men" type of play. Why do you suppose concepts like these don't make it? It seems to have the best parts of what would attract kids: multiple characters, multiple versions of popular characters, big battle scenes, playsets/vehicles, and reasonably priced for parents.

Kenner's MicroCollection was one of my favorite toys as a kid - I had all the Hoth sets growing up, and tracking down Bespin and the Death Star are what got me into going to garage sales and collectible toy shows in the mid to late 1980s. They're really awesome.

Why didn't they work? In Steve Sansweet's From Concept to Screen to Collectible book, he cited parents not wanting to buy kids a competing scale of toy. I believe there was also a quote that modern kids weren't interested in playing with pre-posed army men, either.

I'm curious about this, because if true it means Hasbro never learned from Kenner's perceived mistakes as (across multiple brands) they keep trying new sizes, different scales, and unusual price points in an attempt to squeeze every dollar they can out of a license. In some lines it's smart - there aren't many characters in Iron Man, so making an Iron Man for every possible customer is a reasonable thing to do. In G.I. Joe or Star Wars I think you just risk alienating your customers, as any line where you might have a customer "buy deep" into the brand is a line where you may not wish the customer to get too distracted.

The only collector line Hasbro runs which has consistently performed well at two scales is Marvel, with Marvel Legends and Marvel Universe both doing reasonably well at two different sizes. Hasbro recently added micro figures and 12-inch figures to G.I. Joe, both of which I figure will be dead inside the year.

Hasbro did manage to squeeze in vehicles and playsets into its Star Wars Unleashed mini-figure line with a small Snowspeeder and a couple of snow bases, but like most things they killed it pretty quickly and if there were plans to do more, I don't know what they were. So why do Squinkies (and so far, Fighter Pods) work? I'm guessing because it's cheap, aimed squarely at kids, and it doesn't look like there's a lot to get. Kids will see pegs filled with figure packets and be able to spot new ones, but parents probably won't notice the variety - so they can't be scared off by $30 micro-scale playsets. It's also worth noting that LEGO has basically captured the whole mini figure with playset or vehicle market pretty nicely these days.



I was looking at some high-end collectibles on eBay last week and noticed the going rate was significantly less than issue price. A $400 space gun was already down to about $150-$200. Now I know this isn't always the case with high-end collectibles, but it is pretty telling that this kind of a market is clearly overfed. Sideshow's runs went from thousands to, in some cases, hundreds. Gentle Giant's runs are a lot smaller too. I see the entire space of licensed fanboy products as being a little ridiculous, as no one fan can reasonably be expected to absorb a year's output of one brand, let alone all of them.

It's bizarre to think that in 2013, with no new movie, possibly very little in the way of TV shows, and in a year that we say the line is being cut back severely, it's still almost too much to track down and buy (particularly with Europe/Canada in the equation). It's very likely that Hasbro's Star Wars line will be bigger in 2013 than it was in 2003... even in 2002. As it stands we're looking at around 9 non-exclusive vehicles, at least 24 3 3/4-inch non-exclusive single figures, a dozen (or more) from 2-packs and unannounced exclusive sets, at least eight 6-inch figures, and who the heck knows what else. It's still going to be a very expensive year, and yet absolutely nobody is particularly thrilled by the character selection. I work with a fan who loves the idea of the new Saga Legends line, but won't sign on until we get original trilogy figures.

Seeing that the 2013 line-up is populated by the specter of a marketing plan that just plain didn't happen, an already questionable offering based on the remaining Prequels had its wings clipped before it even came out. Those Yoda-packaged figures are unlikely to see US store shelves, and everything else was basically riding on a September push for 3D movies in theaters which also isn't going to happen. What's more, The Clone Wars will go off the air next week, but for how long nobody knows. At least three episodes are known to have been produced (or close to finished) and remain unaired from another arc, so it's possible those will air on the Disney Channel, or in syndication, or maybe even appear as season 5 Blu-Ray exclusives.

The other big question marks are Star Wars 1313 and Star Wars Detours, neither of which will probably make a difference as far as toys go. While 2013 is unquestionably a transitional year for the line, I can't help but feel that it seems like a farewell year too - international "last wave" exclusives are generally the mark of things coming to an end, so... we'll see, I guess.

--Adam Pawlus

Got questions? Email me with Q&A in the subject line now! I'll answer your questions as soon as time (or facts) permit.