Q&A: Holiday Edition with Vehicles and 1980s-Style Rantings and More Fun

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, July 3, 2011

Happy July 4th, everybody! This week we look at if we should blame Marvel and the Transformers for a lack of Star Wars. I wish I could say yes. Is there a correct color for the carbonite block? Let's discuss! And do you have a problem that new vehicles are tweaked versions of old vehicles? Pull up a chair, and read on!

1. Is there a chance that the new Transformers movie has anything to do with the lack of new star wars stuff on the shelves? I thought there was a point where Hasbro bought back all the over flow or peg warmers just sitting around. Do they still do that and if not, why? We need a super sale or something. I also wanted to know if there are street dates on items that Hasbro just does not tell us about?

I wish I could say "sure." It seems that Hasbro is deliberately restricting quantities on some items, as I've noticed some things seem to be selling out a whole lot faster than usual online with little to no retail presence-- so either Hasbro is sitting on supply, or just reduced the quantities to ensure it wouldn't sit around in the wake of its big summer movie pushes. The seeming lack of new Star Wars goes back a little more than the new year, the problem seemingly started after wave 2 of Vintage hit in late summer/early fall 2010. I'm sure Captain America's not helping but it's hard to say for sure.

Hasbro does need to purge the line right about now, thanks mostly to the unsold TVC Wave 1 figures still hanging in a lot of American stores these days. They won't do it, but well, it wouldn't hurt. There is another "reset date" around August, but that will not affect the bulk of the action figure assortments-- only new assortment SKUs, like the Battle Packs (now in 3-packs) and the small vehicle-with-figure sets (now in smaller boxes).

Oh, and this is fun-- several Thor SKUs and Green Lantern SKUs at Target are already discontinued and marked for clearance. As of last week. Just call me an armchair quarterback but I don't get why Hasbro decided to make unique SKUs for its Marvel Movieverse line--- just treat it like Star Wars. Waves 1-2 of the assortment are Thor, waves 3-4 have a Thor repack or two, a reissued Iron Man, and then Captain America stuff, and you just keep mixing it up as the line goes forward. There's a lot of wasted space-- and product development-- splitting it up like that, although I guess it does give Hasbro more real estate on the boy's toy aisles. Star Wars still has more, but the problem is a consistent lack of stuff to buy. I'd like to buy some new Star Wars toys and I can't find anything new to get. Well, that's a half-truth. I got the RC Fighter Tank in the mail this weekend and it's great.


2. What is the actual (Han in) carbonite colour? We may have seen some different colour representations of Han Solo in Carbonite. My question; what is the actual colour of the carbonite block? I have the SSC Han Solo in Carbonite environment but I'm starting to wonder whether the colour should be really dark grey. In the movies, the colours were not very clear. Some scenes show dark grey but some show silverish. I also think because they were most of the time shot in the dark environments thus the lighting effects affect the actual colour of it. In ROTJ, when Han was released from the carbonite block, it shows silverish colour but I'm not sure whether it's the lighting from the top that cause it. I've seen the actual LucasFilm life size prop and it's actually silverish. So .. what say you ?

Despite being one of the most-seen films in pop culture, it seems fans see different things than Lucasfilm does when it comes to color. Han's jacket being the prime example, it seems you can't get people to agree on what the right color for something really is. I've seen multiple prop replica enthusiasts insist it's a gunmetal grey color, but I honestly don't know if the prop used in Return of the Jedi was the same as the one in The Empire Strikes Back. Generally, multiple props are created for a movie and, like toys, the paint can change from batch to batch.

When it comes to collectibles (and toys) manufacturers frequently decorate a toy to look like how it was lit, so sometimes you'll get a brown or a black Carbonite (vintage Kenner and LEGO respectively). Sometimes you'll get Obi-Wan Kenobi with lava flame reflections on him. Sometimes you'll get an early version of Snake Eyes with a shadow painted over his eyes to obfuscate his appearance. Most official Lucasfilm stuff seems to show a silvery prop, and you never know what the final Sideshow piece will look like. As many can attest, the pre-order photography doesn't always match the decoration of the finished product, and even if it does, sometimes Lucasfilm will change their mind over the "correct" color of these things from year to year. R2-X2, anybody?


3. What would be considered the five rarest figures from the Kenner/Hasbro "modern" line (1995-present)? Not necessarily the most valuable or most popular, but the figures that likely saw the smallest production runs?

The rarest figure which I recall Hasbro issuing a production number for was the 2002 Toy Fair Exclusive Silver Darth Vader. This was the one where the lightsaber actually poked out of the bubble, a terrible design and a fragile piece that exists probably just to make you mad. (Although I should note, I'm having difficulty finding another reference to this edition size, 5,000 pieces is just the number in my head from the time period-- does anyone remember seeing this in print somewhere?)

Other than that, most other figures actually got decent runs-- hard-to-find figures like Darth Revan and Darth Malak were packed just about as heavily as other figures in those waves. The only possible exception that comes to mind is the 2011 Wedge Antilles, which appears in Wave 3 Revision 11 while all the other Wave 3 figures appeared in 10 other mixes, and then some as future waves were concerned. There could be dozens if not hundreds of times as many of the other Wave 3 guys over Wedge. But right now, we don't know what kind of distribution Wedge is going to get, so it might ultimately not matter how rare it's perceived to be today if Hasbro cranks out enough of them, but it's looking like there will always be fewer Wedges than the other members of that wave.

It's possible Ephant Mon is in a similar situation due to the number of cases he was in, but without a big spreadsheet of 2002 case assortments I can't be sure. I'm really not sure what basic figure production numbers were, because Hasbro won't tell anybody anymore-- the last time I got any intel on how many of a figure got made was the late 1990s. The rumor was that Power of the Force guys in 1995 usually enjoyed runs north of 80,000 pieces but nobody will say as much on the record. Considering how many of each figure actually gets opened, it's pretty unlikely any figure's production run size will ultimately matter as much as the demand for the character (and its subsequent figures) can change a lot.


4. So Iwas disappointed that the upcoming Y-wing and B-wing are the same old same old. I'll pick up the Y-wing because it is for sure different with the upgrades. But this also makes me think bigger better versions are way down the road. The Clone Wars Y-wing was beautiful so it will have to do for now. Do you think Hasbro decides on vehicle upgrades due to the condition of the original molds as the first reason to consider an upgrade? I mean if it's still in good shape a little retooling is not much of an investment and they can continue to crank out more over time. also reading through comments from the Hasbro Q&A around the net, it seems like maybe a Rebel Transport or Blockade Runner and Sandcrawler may be on tap over the next few years. With the Attack Shuttle hitting this fall I think they have decided to combine the playset and vehicle format together to satisfy the kids and the collectors. Essentially they are giant Micro Machine playsets. Your feelings on combining the two? Personally I like my vehicles to be just that. A vehicle. But I get where Hasbro is coming from and makes sense. I can envision some bad ideas like a reimagined Imperial Troop Transport that converts into a Death Star Playset. Or Maybe they combine the carry case idea and we get Wicket's head that turns into an Ewok Village. Or a big Sith Infiltrator that turns into a Sith temple. Is this the future I see?


I think you may be delusional regarding a giant Sandcrawler toy, but the idea of making a battle station out of a vehicle is very much happening with this year's Republic Attack Shuttle. The added play features are there because the ship needs to do something, the AT-AT and Millennium Falcon designs had play spaces built right in to the concept, but the Shuttle? Well, Hasbro seems to be taking a risk here-- it's a minor vehicle and I think the only main character that got into a memorable conflict on one was Jar Jar Binks.

I can't say I'm at all disappointed by the B-Wing and Y-Wing retreads because this is what Hasbro does-- they have a working mold, they're going to keep using it until it wears out three times over. G.I. Joe is still getting reused vehicles from 1982, and when it comes to exclusives the development budget on vehicles isn't the same as for a big, wide release of something. That and vehicle releases are infrequent enough where after 4-5 years, a whole new group of kids is getting their very first shot at some of these vehicles, and with the smaller runs granted to most exclusive products it's not like Hasbro has to do something for collectors, but it seems they're putting in fun details anyway. Oh, and they're also probably counting on our buying these just because of the fancy retro packaging.

After the 2010 release of the Cloud Car, I'd say any item Hasbro once said was off-limits is entirely possible. But I wouldn't put an all-new Sandcrawler on the likely list. I guess it's possible if they found a way to do it as some IKEA-esque flatpack on the cheap, but just use common sense here-- the $60 2004 Sandcrawler was not a huge hit. Why would a $90 or a $150 one fare better in this economy? And does anyone really want a Rebel Transport who isn't a collector who has some sort of personal connection to the 1980s release?

While I'd love to see a Blockade Runner-- it's the first Star Wars vehicle in the movies, and lots of neat stuff happens on it-- Hasbro has skipped many chances to make one, even when it appeared in a new move a few years ago. If we do ever see one, more fold-out bunkers and the like would be nice, but I think you can mark my words now and expect that you will never, ever see an Ewok Village playset out of Hasbro or an Expanded Universe playset of any kind unless somehow playsets become the new hot thing for the toy industry. This is a dead segment, and the Republic Attack Shuttle really isn't so much a playset as it is squeezing more play value out of an existing vehicle design. I mean, c'mon, an Ewok Village? How many Ewoks have we had since 2010, 2?

...and don't get me started on carry cases. Those are done. It took years to get Hasbro back on board with vehicles, remember only 5 ships launched with Attack of the Clones for the better part of a year, our last Hasbro figure carry case was in 1999, and we've only had a grand total of about 5 playsets since 1999. 4 of those were movie launch tie-ins, 1 was developed for retail and pulled back as an exclusive due to declining retailer interest in playsets. Unless Habsro gets some massive surge in new blood or management, it's going to be a) roleplay, b) action figures, c) Transformers, and d) vehicles from here on out with rotating guest-star segments as Hasbro sees fit. Playsets, carry cases, and accessory packs are relics of the 1980s and until the action figure becomes so heavily kid-driven that the youngsters demand them, I wouldn't expect to see much of any of those any time soon.

This may be, in part, due to how the action figure as a thing has morphed. Some interviews with toy companies of the 1970s and 1980s talk about action figures like they're the accessory-- something you buy to go with your MOBATs and your Millennium Falcon toys-- except kids started buying/collecting them and the figure became the desired object more than the bigger toy. (The best examples of "figures as accessories" came in the back half of the 1980s with Dino-Riders, Starcom, M.A.S.K., and others-- the vehicle was the toy, the figure was there to put someone in the seat.) This toy development mentality has been largely absent from boy's toys since the 1990s, when figures were generally the driving force of a line and any playsets or vehicles were more or less a nice bonus. Today's toy market relies on characters to a great extent, we're even seeing LEGO introduce names for its brick figure line. Optimus Prime holds a place in our culture similar to Batman now, and 20 years ago he was basically just a popular truck robot toy. Snake Eyes is a famous part of G.I. Joe, and in 1982 he was the cheap unpainted black plastic figure thrown in the line to make it bigger while keeping costs down. I'm not happy about it, but the 1980s have been over in the toy aisle since the 1990s, I'd really love to see more large toys on the shelves along with cheaper, simpler action figures. (For other brands... like Captain America or Green Lantern. Not Star Wars. Star Wars is basically fine as articulation goes, unless they want to round down Clone Wars to a 5-joint figure for $5 that can sit easily, in which case sign me up.)


5. Why do they show figures at Toy Fair and Comic Con with accessories that they never come with? It is an awful tease when they do this... more resent examples are, the very elaborate cloth cloak for Vintage Barriss Offee and the honor guard staff with the Rebel fleet trooper, but my all time favorite was the McQuarrie Vader with the upper cloth over his chest plate.(See your Toy Fair photos from that year for what I mean)

Because those are prototypes, and for whatever reason (cost, Lucasfilm approvals, aesthetics, factory flubs) things change. While at Toy Fair Hasbro said that the Barriss Offee cloth cloak looked substandard and the picture they're showing was of an early product which they have already changed. And you know what? Sometimes they're right. I've got a lot of Jedi with cloth cloaks, and I'm very rarely happy with how the cloak hood sits on top of the head. It almost always looks terrible, and I'm actually elated they gave Barriss Offee a plastic one because it looks better. The Rebel Fleet Trooper's staff came out because, I believe I heard, of cost reasons. And the McQuarrie Vader? Well, I don't think I heard this one addressed as of yet, but based on the photos I think they made the right idea. Balancing what looks best versus what plays best is tough stuff, and it seems with Vintage Hasbro errs on the side of "looks best." (I think that's a reasonable direction for a $9 collector line.)

Hasbro often says they don't want early unfinished toy pictures getting out to fans because of exactly this kind of reaction-- which I can't say I totally agree with, I want to see whatever conceptual designs I can, but let's face it: stuff changes. There was no variant torso on 2007 Bespin Torture Han Solo. We never saw that variant head Utai come out. It doesn't mean we'll never see them, but sometimes (and I know this is going to sound like a load of crap) the piece count drives up the price and something's gotta go. The Rebel Fleet Trooper (2011 edition) has a hat, a helmet, a removable ammo strap for his leg, a blaster, and some communicator thing. It's already clocking in like double the normal accessory count, so I'm not surprised something had to go. Hopefully Hasbro will consider reissuing the figure with the staff in the future, or better yet, just keep shipping it out in decent numbers so we can build armies larger than 1 or have at least a pair of figures so we can display him with each of his hats.

The needs of manufacturing-- particularly overseas-- means sometimes early photos get out (or are required to be shown) and sometimes the product just plain didn't turn out like they wanted. With literally thousands of products every year, it's difficult for any large company to get everything right, which you may notice if you see how poorly some Transformers toys are mistransformed in official product photography. Mistakes happen, changes happen, and all I can say is that I'm glad I got a glimpse into the development process. I'd rather see it than never know it was a possibility.



Oh baby. Did you see the new Y-Wing Scout Bomber?!? I'm so excited. I'm a huge fan of 1980s-style toys-- especially the weird stuff Kenner concocted in the 1980s and 1990s-- so this sort of thing is right up my alley. It's a Mini-Rig Y-Wing! Hot damn! This is the best thing I've seen in this segment of the line. I hope Hasbro does lots more vehicles just like it.

So yeah, got that new Remote Control Fighter Tank in the mail. I have to say it seems to hit a lot of good notes. The packaging is much more compact and efficient, a small window box crams everything in a diorama display which shows off the vehicles, projectiles, driver, and remote control quite nicely. It's very no-frills but anything bigger would mean Hasbro is paying to ship you air from China. The toy is pretty great, lots of fun. If you push the center button on the remote, which is shaped like a gun, the rockets will fire one-by-one. With each fire, the tank recoils a bit, popping back just barely to give the illusion of a powerful blast. I approve of this. Other than that, the toy goes forward or backward (while turning a bit) like a lot of other RC toys. It should start showing up at retail soon-- I got mine from my work-- and I'm just kinda giddy about a mobile rocket-firing toy.

It is slightly smaller than the non-electronic release, but it has more weapons and seats 2 (not 3) figures inside-- the hatch on the RC version is merely decorative, as the electronics are inside there. It also lights up-- some red and blue lights on the tank let you know it's switched on and ready to move. It's a wonderful toy-- and that's what I like about it. It's a toy. It's not a collectible, it's not a nice-looking thing you can put on your shelf and ignore, this is clearly meant to be played with and performs a fun function. Kudos Hasbro, you made me re-buy a toy I've already got twice over at a premium and love it. I also expect to be bored with it inside the week but it is a nice piece.

--Adam Pawlus

Got questions? I bet you do. Email me with Q&A in the subject line.