Q&A: Hunting, Bugging Employees, and More Star Wars 3 3/4-Inch Angst

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, April 3, 2016

1. I did like Episode a lot, but I'm keeping my collecting to only original trilogy 3 3/4 SA figures. Which means Disney/Hasbro has put an end to my collecting. Other than the rumored “Ewok Banquet” wave, I know of no original trilogy figures on the horizon. And that wave looks to be almost all existing figures bound to plastic tree branches. With new films coming out every year are we ever going to see more NEW 3 3/4 , SA original trilogy figures?

I used this last week too. "Don't get your hopes up, cheese!" In 2015 we got very few newly new new original trilogy figures of any strain.

I'd love the line to be consistent. Now, if that's 5-joints or 14-joints, I'm not particular - mostly because I hate the idea that Hasbro is making multiple brand-new sculpts and tools for what amounts to the same figure twice over. But right now, Hasbro has moved its Death Star lasers away from the original trilogy almost completely. If there are original trilogy figures coming in the main line, well, none of us know because the main line is being kept pretty quiet. We saw some new Rebels at Toy Fair but not a lot else.

Few action figure lines survive unchanged forever. Star Wars is a fine example - the first figures were 5-jointed chunks of plastic in 1978, and that's how they remained until the line died. We got 6 joints in 1995 up until late 1998, at which point each figure started to vary wildly - some had swivel biceps and wrists, while some just kept the whole 6 joint thing alive. Articulation would be added and removed over the next several years before fans started to decide around late 2004 that anything less than super articulation was garbage despite existing in premium (read: twice as expensive) figures and a single Clone Trooper from 2003. Like any feature on toys, articulation comes and goes - Hasbro did a pretty solid job keeping figures super-articulated for collectors (along with premium pricing) in The Vintage Collection in its many inceptions, but outside of that it's been a lot less consistent. Even The Black Series dropped ankles more than a couple of times, and relied heavily on existing molds with few (very few) original trilogy characters.

We've been down this road before, but any genuinely new characters from the first six movies have been far and few between since around the time The Vintage Collection launched - we got a few, but it's mostly new outfits and new versions of things we have. I can count the number of new Cantina aliens since Vintage relaunched on one hand. As has been mentioned here before, one of the dangers of properties not being dead is that you support its new aspects. Let's look at Star Trek - when The Next Generation came around, Galoob did a brief line focusing mostly on the new show with statues from The Final Frontier movie. When Playmates took over around 1992, we got about 2 years in before they started doing original series stuff - and the emphasis would change depending on the new show, or movie, or the occasional nostalgia wave.

I am unfamiliar with this Ewok Banquet set of which you speak, so let me just hope it's a rumor instead of a reissue of things we have with new accessories to make us mad.

Any one of us can make a list of a hundred things we want Hasbro to do as a 3 3/4-inch scale figure - but we've also passed 2,000 figures, and the amount of those things that are really, genuinely, or even vaguely important is ever smaller all the time. As a group, we rarely can agree on anything anymore. At this point I'd say the fandom is barking up the wrong tree with these generalized requests of Hasbro - "we want more super-articulated figures!" is wasting your time. Specify who you want, make a big stink over it, and don't let up until the figure you want is made (but please, do keep in mind that things like labor and materials and the economic climate in China and Hasbro's mood will probably dictate features.) Hasbro seems to feel like they've done a good job on the original trilogy. The reason for this is that they have. Really, other than finishing the "original 92" (plus or minus a few) I've heard few fans agree on who is worth doing for the first three films. Heck, my White Whale is and probably always will be Vlix. I'm semi-afraid that once I have him, I'll just go into retirement as all of my worlds have been conquered and I'd have nothing left to pine for. I've got a short list of things I'd love to see, but to be honest pretty much everything I want would be droids, Cantina, Jabba's Palace, or Unmade 92 dudes. I have no doubt there's more blood to squeeze from this stone - especially remakes - but I doubt we're going to see much until the new movies end, or unless they appear in a new movie.



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2. I was recently at my local Walmart and I tend to make my rounds to them, Target and TRU a few times a week on the way home from work. I was getting frustrated with my trips here because for the past four or five weeks they had the same four 6" Black Series figures hanging off the shelves, #01 Finn. I know this figure has become a staple peg warmer at most locations, but this time I decided to find an employee and ask why they hadn't restocked at all. They scanned the figure and when they got their results they seemed confused, and I guess they should have been because according to their inventory they should have had twenty figures hanging off the pegs. So the associate and I found the department manager and she concurred. They made the warehouse run and found that somehow they lost four hundred dollars' worth of Star Wars figures. She thanked me for bringing it to her attention and said they have a new stock order on order and it should arrive in a couple of weeks. I continued my rounds and the figures did show up at Walmart and under two weeks. I managed to score Finn in his Stormtrooper outfit and a flame trooper, but that was it as it was the only Finn but there were lots of flame troopers and TIE fighter pilots and yes more #01 Finns. But all in all a lesson learned, you have to ask.

My Target run was becoming increasingly frustrating as well. For the past two months if not longer {and I'm pretty sure its pushing three months now} this store has had nothing but one Finn figure and nine constable Zuvio figures from the 6" series hanging from the pegs. They recently added {and by recent I mean about three weeks ago} five of the two pack of Poe and the riot control Stormtrooper, all five are still there. While rummaging online at different sites to see what these stores might offer online that they don't in their brick and mortar facilities I stumbled across in Target's toy section that "my store" {based on the closest to my zip code} had Han from TFA and Captain Phasma at the store but not available on line. I tried calling first to make sure they actually had them, but after waiting for fifteen minutes for someone to answer in that department I gave up and stopped by on my way home instead. I was actually pretty excited and was hoping no one else saw the same thing I did online so that it wouldn't be gone when I got there. When I got down to the toy department what did my wondering eyes see? Nine Zuvio figures, one Finn figure and the five two packs.

Frustrated I tried the Walmart solution that I stated above by tracking down a store manager and asking why. I told her that these things have been sitting here for months not moving, and the fact that Zuvio didn't even make it into the movie his figure probably never would. She said that all of the Black Series 6" figures have the same the same DPCI number regardless of the character in the packaging and that to them and other laymen employees it didn't mean anything. I asked her why they weren't put on clearance and she said they don't work that way they have to wait for word from corperate. I told her about the website find and she looked up the DPCI and she said it's possible there are more figures scattered throughout the warehouse but she couldn't ask anyone to go look for them.

So I remain flabbergasted that they don't want my money by putting new merchandise out and sitting on old merchandise that isn't moving, at all. That it's all corporate's decision based on sales numbers and just the human eye test factor doesn't matter. Is this part of why Hasbro has been having trouble filling people's expectations of what they want to see in the stores because lazy store managers don't bother doing anything about their inventory issues, even when it's brought to their attention? Have you ever come across this where they essentially don't want to help you or take your money? Walmart had no trouble looking into it at all and perhaps the Target manager was having a bad day or just thought that this middle aged dork looking for toys was pathetic and wasn't worth her time. I don't know. I've been on all the other collectors websites and I see the uploaded pictures of full shelves and hard to get figures like Jango and Han at stores everywhere but here and it frustrates me, because I don't want to have to pay double for a figure online that I really should be able to find in the store. I understand the nature of the beast that wild hunting for toys is a dying habit and you to have triple your effort and twice as many stores just to find that one figure, but it shouldn't be that way, businesses should want my money, they should want me to come into their stores and spend it stupidly on toys, but it doesn't feel that way. So I'm sorry it took so long to get to the actual question but I thought the story would help with your answer, other than "why doesn't my store carry stuff?".

This was a very long question and I couldn't easily hack it down, so let me sum up - what you're seeing at Target stores has been par for the course for over a decade. This is why pegwarmers are so toxic and deadly to toy lines. In 2010, G.I. Joe got this really cool relaunch dubbed "Pursuit of Cobra" by fans giving new "classic" characters figures with updated costumes and even some new faces. Arctic Destro was not popular, and he came 2 per case - and when Target has over a case's worth of unsold figures, they don't reorder more, just like they wouldn't order more toilet paper if they had sufficient supplies of it for a long time. (Theft is another issue entirely.)

There are lots - LOTS - of scenarios where you can point to a manufacture being uninterested in taking your money, and in many circumstances it's due to something like the above. Back in 1998, Kenner shipped its very first Expanded Universe figures and we as fans were told that they weren't going to do more because they didn't sell. Now, any fan worth his salt knew that those toys were impossible to find as most stores never got any. So what happened? The Expanded Universe figures - the first-ever Thrawn and Mara Jade and Dark Empire Luke and Darktrooper - shipped in the same 5-digit case as Collection 2 stinkers like Malaikili, 8D8, and the Ugnaughts. If a store was sitting on a lot of those, they had no reason to order more collection 2. And not only did those figures remain unsold, but so did Nien Nunb, EV-9D9, Admiral Ackbar, and many others. Even Gamorrean Guards! Even Yak Face! So what Hasbro said was true - and what fans said was true, too.

The problem here is that all parties do not speak the same language, and when they do they aren't always communicating well. What Hasbro said was (technically) true - they were unable to sell collection 2 cases. The problem is that the Expanded Universe waves were not the problem, at all, all of those figures were commanding premium prices on the secondary market for several years while the unsold dregs remain worthless to this very day.

As to your specific situation with trying to find figures, that's more or less normal - stores order by "Black Series" or "Jungle/Space", and generally track by that larger grouping - not by character, not by wave. Kmart's system is notorious for being poor and having promised specific characters on their web site, only to substitute virtually anything similar in size and price as they saw fit.

It's hard to account for stolen product, but it happens and it's difficult to know when it does. Back in the 1990s - and rarely since - Hasbro would sometimes allow stores to send back unsold merchandise for credit. I've very, very rarely seen evidence of it happening but at one point I did see with my own eyes empty Hasbro cartons specifically made to ship back unsold Beast Wars Transmetals Scavenger figures - the ant one - since it was such a nightmare on the shelves. I've heard stories of Hasbro reps removing older figures from stores as well, but have never witnessed it myself.

I would say it's short-sighted to say "they don't want my money!" That's not true, everybody wants your money. Heck, I want your money. Send me some. The problem is that you're seeing a disconnect between inventory automation - which works marvelously for non-assorted products like nuts and gum and bananas - is being applied to products which come in assortments, which don't always work out. It works pretty well for Hot Wheels, but less so for action figures, and much less so for anything that's relying heavily on collector support and/or things kids have turned their noses up at. (See: many The Force Awakens 3 3/4-inch figures that aren't main characters or from the actual movie.)

From my last couple of decades as a toy fan doing the hunting thing, I've been given no short amount of grief - sometimes insultingly so - by employees asking if they can help me. Most stores don't know how - and don't care - to deal with this. It's not a perfect system.

You've done a great job describing the collector conundrum of the modern toy era. Asking for assistance doesn't always help. Inventory systems prevent new stock from shipping if there's old stock. Sometimes assortments carry forward old figures that are already toxic on the pegs - sadly none of this is new. It's the same problem we had 20 years ago. Toys do not make a significant chunk of store sales - really, that's not where the money is. The margins on toys are usually pretty lousy. Managers probably won't focus on toys unless they themselves are interested, or have a fair amount of time to look into it, and even then most of your problems are created on a corporate level by buyers for whom the system works fine. (Collectors are not always the key focus - especially now that there are multiple generations of fans and collectors.)




3. When Hasbro introduced their six inch line back in the fall of 2013, I thought it would be another alternative item to collect just like the 12 inch figures that were introduced in the late 1990's. I did not realize that when Hasbro introduced the Force Awakens line, that the six inch line was the replacement for the 3.75 inch super articulated figure line. I know that Hasbro gave us 5 figures, and there might be a few more later during 2016, but it is not the same. When I see the 6 inch figures for the Resistance Trooper, Guavian, Tie Fighter Pilot, and new figures like Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker in the New Hope version, it makes me wonder why they could not make them in the 3.75 line. Does Hasbro feel that collectors prefer the 6 inch line over the 3.75 line? Do they also feel that it is more cost effective to produce this line?

I would like to know why there are so many inconsistencies in the quality towards the 5 point figures? Hasbro does an outstanding job with figures like Admiral Ackbar, Nien Nunb, Quiggold and Captain Ithano. On the other hand Hasbro releases figures like Ello Asty, Goss Toowers, Resistance Trooper, and Snap Wexley that have no removable helmets. If they are looking to cut costs, why not eliminate the pack in accessories.

With few exceptions, the answer to most questions like yours are either "time" or "money." In this case, you've got more than one question, so we can use both.

Depending on who you ask and when, the needs of the toy company change. For the longest time, a lot of lines were dictated by price point - you want $5 impulse items. You want $15-$20 items for birthday party presents - this is actually a thought people have when developing toys, quite often you start with the box and price point and then work to fill it. You want $30-$50 items for Christmas.

Action figures got out of hand. Really, they did - we saw Marvel Legends go from $10 to $20 thanks to things like inflation (time AND money), and 3 3/4-inch action figures got more expensive too. More paint applications - things like whites of eyes, painted lightsaber hilts, paint on the paint of lightsaber hilts, separately tooled vests to be used as jackets, removable helmets, these things don't come free. Neither do more pieces for more points of articulation - the reality of manufacturing in China is that you have an economy with an increasing minimum wage and a population with appetites that are growing. Cars. Nicer electronics. Smart phones. This was a population that was being largely underpaid, and now they want money for the jobs they do. Also, plastic costs more. And so does oil. And so does transportation. It got to the point where you could see a $15 Marvel Legends 6-inch figure from Hasbro - with a build-a-figure piece - next to a $10-$12 3 3/4-inch super articulated action figure from Star Wars. That ain't right - so Hasbro developed a better $20 Star Wars product. (We also saw Saga Legends - $6 - and Mission Series - $10 or $11 - to bring back those much-needed lower price points. Remember, Hasbro's a toy company. They're not Gentle Giant or NECA.)

We've seen the pendulum swing in both directions as Hasbro experiments with new kinds of product - I would say the biggest flub is the Armor Up series of figures, where a figure that's worth (let's be generous) $7-$8 is given an accessory that, at best, is a $1 or $2 bonus and then it's $12-$15. Now given the argument floating around is "rising costs," well, I don't think people are as picky with pricing as some have speculated if (and only if) the characters are really popular. Rey in any form can probably sell right now, at nearly any price. But Finn? Well, people are racist.

The early The Force Awakens figures... there are stories which are still waiting to be told. I've heard tales of a highly compressed development schedule - so Hasbro had less time and less reference to make these figures. Given filming started around May 2014 and the industry standard for a sketch-to-shelf toy launch is 18 months, I have little doubt that they were working from whatever scrap Disney gave them. "Here's a design for Zuvio, make one. Sure he's in the movie." Hasbro isn't given the full look at what's in the movie, nor the time they needed to make everything perfect, so you get what you get. If Hasbro got a little bit of a lead, and had to have everything in a store in August 2015, maybe they had 15-16 months, give or take, plus a veil of secrecy. So what do you get? You get non-movie stuff. You get repacks. You get Hero Mashers with no Rey, Finn, or Kylo Ren. Or Phasma, or Stormtroopers. Really take a look back and you'll notice a lot of what's not there, or that some figures like Hux are in - shall we say - interesting outfit choices given what we mostly saw on-screen. I'd bet money that this is due to Hasbro being at the mercy of Disney's assets department, which, again, is how the business happens some time.

So some figures are great, others, well, not. Could also be budgets - helmets don't come free. Deco doesn't come free. And at this point I feel like I'm wasting my breath beating up on the also not-free "combine" weapons which serve no real function than driving the prices up a little more out of the impulse mom/dad/child range. It may not ultimately matter - the line was a success, after all - so all we really have to do is sit on our hands until the movie era ends. You may say that's ridiculous, but look at the toy line. "Super articulated" was never the default setting for 3 3/4-inch Star Wars. You could count the number of them on one hand as of 2003, and then we got a premium line (where we were charged a considerable mark-up) in 2004, and super-articulated figures in the standard assortments didn't become a regular thing until 2007 in the post-movie, "what do we do next?" era. Right now, Hasbro has kids and the armies of nouveau fans to buy all sorts of things. The collectors who were children of the original trilogy are running out of room and patience, and have pretty full collector rooms. Hasbro is targeting the widest possible audiences, still working on coming up with items for every possible age and price point, and has decided that 6-inch figures are probably the best value proposition for the adult collector. I can't speak to the Hasbro sales figures, but based on what I may or may not be seeing in terms of sales figures it seems pretty accurate that 6-inch is as if not more popular than 3 3/4-inch in recent years as collectors go.

It stinks to get old. It can be hard to grapple with popular culture moving along without you - pop music stopped being for you a long time ago, big blockbuster movies have been targeting teens and 20somethings for a very long time and we're not all in that range any more. Action figure collecting as a phenomenon still exists but it's not the 1990s - and in the 1990s, Kenner was selling to kids and those who were nostalgic for the 1970s and 1980s. Given the new movies, it is not in their best interests to aim a the slice of the market - who itself was only a slice of the market - who is nostalgic for the late 2000s. Interest gradually waned as Hasbro targeted collectors - big stores weren't ordering as much. While Hasbro will always continue to say things like "we're all big fans here," we as collectors have to remember that people working on these brands aren't always old-school fans who were there from day one. Some are - and bless their hearts - but they can't service every master. Believe it or not, there are people who don't know KOTOR, they don't know about the TV shows - any of them, and they may not even be remotely familiar with the fact that there was a line in the 1980s. Or 1990s. Or what was going on in 2007. This is not a knock at anybody, but sometimes a job is a job - they're here to support the big new billion dollar movie with toys as best they can, to do what should make their customers (Target, Toys R Us, Walmart) happiest, and also delight the end user as best they can.

When Disney rests the movies for a while, maybe we'll see more articulation. When someone builds factory-cities in a lower-income economy, maybe we can expect to see prices go down again. Right now, the "collector" figure is 6-inches - and doing just fine - while Hasbro mostly just doesn't want to do 3 3/4-inch super-articulated figures. Their ennui can be seen in 2013, and I'm still annoyed how people are seeing The Black Series post-Vintage as good. They're leftovers. They're repacks. They're mostly new figures based on figures you already own, in some cases several times over, and in some cases superior formats. It's not that I don't share some concerns on articulation (a pox on those who sell children figures who can't rotate their hips enough to finish in ships!) but this is one of those topics that's just completely and utterly draining. Hasbro did super-articulated Luke from The Original Trilogy Collection in 2004. (A Leia was, at worst, pretty close.) 6-inch sells very well. The value is good. The price point makes stores happy. Perhaps if the twilight of the collector-focused figure lines did better - and there are reasons those final waves were shared or online exclusives which I hope someone will discuss with an official comment some day - and Hasbro like money. We wouldn't be where we are now if super-articulated 3 3/4-inch figures were as popular as some collectors seem to believe in their heart of hearts.

(Having said that, I would love to see a manufacturing Manhattan Project to get 3 3/4-inch in their current state down to $5-$6. Drop the bonus guns. Downsize the packaging. T-crotches for everybody and no more skirts. We can do this, I believe in you.)




Target's The Force Awakens BB-8 / C-3PO / R0-4L0 set is great. $30 gets you one of the best C-3POs I've ever bought, and I'm very fond of C-3PO. The gold finish is shiny but not vac-metal. The hips rotate but don't bend forward - its one big shortcoming - but each shoulder can rotate and bend in and out, plus there's a ball-jointed neck. It's really tops, and is easily my favorite new C-3PO toy in several years. BB-8 is very small, cute, and a great BB-8 if you need one. R0-4L0 has 3 joints and is considerably larger than the Action Collection astromechs from the late 1990s - of which, I now realize, I never got R2-A6. There are no wheels or retractable legs, but it's big and looks cool - I would go as far as to say the set is a bargain at $30 and you'd be a fool to miss it on the inevitable trip to the sale rack. Humans in this format aren't bad, but droids are really great.

I had more here on the above topics but I was sick of reading it, so surely you would be as well. This is Blu-Ray week (after last week was "let's see if we can get impatient people and minimalists to pay for a non-product download first" week) and so far, we've seen only one home video exclusive pop up. Which, in case you were wondering, Hasbro never bothered to announce via Toy Fair, its press team, or Hasbro Pulse. This could mean more toys are on the way that we don't know about - communication is beyond poor so we in the Star Wars community (and it looks like the same is happening in Marvel) don't know necessarily what we should be going to look for - meaning we're going to miss stuff, meaning everybody is missing out on free marketing. Well, at least you know this is a good week to pay attention to such things. I finally saw a Kmart Kylo Ren in the wild, but I'm guessing I may never actually see the Rey thanks to Kmart closures and the hype train. Remember last Fall when we all thought the companion figure at Kmart was going to be Finn? Good times.

--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.