Q&A: Old Plastic and Star Wars Size Matters

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, June 4, 2023

1. What happens to Star Wars figures, vehicles, play sets, and role play items that just never get purchased? Surely, all that plastic is used for something instead of just being thrown away?
-- Derek

It depends. Generally speaking the stuff gets sold (or donated) to somebody eventually - you can't just melt down the plastic and reuse it to manufacture another high-quality toy. There is something I've heard referred to as "regrind," as in the plastic is ground down and sometimes can be reused for other purposes - supposedly some of the black blasters on some figures around 2007-2010 may have used this process. But it's not necessarily Star Wars or even recycled toy plastic - it's just recycled plastic. Generally speaking a company does not want to get to the point where the product is ground down or incinerated, but it does happen since you can't just repurpose the completed toy as raw materials. Plastic recycling isn't really what some people make it out to be.

If there is unused plastic - say, you've got plans to do Darth Vader and you buy plastic and dye and paint and cloth and cardboard and you decides to not run it - I am still not quite sure what happens to the unused materials. I assume they're used for another figure or product but conversations I've had with non-Hasbro companies make it sound like it can be difficult to work with the factory to do something else with it. You get the plastic, you get the dye, and hopefully you can still use it.

As you've seen in the news, sometimes perfectly good stuff is destined for a landfill or other forms of destruction. I don't believe I've ever heard of this happening with Hasbro Star Wars, but it's possible. There could have been surplus Episode I product and I don't remember there being a heck of a lot of closeouts for it, so unless it was dumped overseas or just sent to the furnaces I couldn't tell you what happened there. The funny thing - and by funny, I mean sad - is that some of this stuff still has customers eager to pay full price for it, but for whatever reason it needed to be disposed of in a hurry. The reasons are many.

What usually happens is Hasbro finds a home for it, often at a lower price. But it's not just Hasbro - sometimes Target, Walmart, Amazon, or somewhere else entirely have too much inventory, or returns, or scratch-and-dent goods that have to go somewhere. I've seen a lot of stuff wind up in thrift or bin stores lately. Typically these stores go through some sort of closeout brokers and dump stuff at any of many closeout chains - Ross, TJ Maxx, Marshalls, the now-closing Tuesday Morning, Pic N Save, MacFrugals, and so on. I haven't seen a whole heck of a lot of closeouts at Big Lots as of late. Kay-Bee did big business in closeouts to the point of that's where their real money was made. The "overpriced" $6.99 action figures in 1995 were just at the then-suggested retail price - Target and Toys R Us were toy discounters, so after rent and everything Kay-Bee wasn't exactly making a fortune. I believe the wholesale price of a figure back then was either $3.75 or $4.25, I can't remember which. Point is, those 3 for $10 bins of closeouts you saw in the stores were generally bought for pennies on the dollar - or literal pennies - because the warehouses holding them wanted the space and nobody would buy the product at full price. Kay-Bee would get them supremely cheap, sell them for a reduced price, but still make really good money on those closeouts. (Those were usually the prices with the pre-drawn red line through them, or in the bins.)

Some products get donated to charity - in the US or overseas - or other destinations. Once the cardboard and plastic are given form, they are either going to a consumer eventually or they are likely to be destroyed.



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2. it seems like Hasbro has been putting more into the vintage collection. Are VC sales doing better than they were? I know you have indicated that Black Series sells considerably more. Is that still the case? Or has inflation slowed things down regardless of scale?

If you were the bean counter at Hasbro, you'd want to do 6-inch, because they cost more, the audience for the biggest characters are bigger, and it's probably sexier overall. 3 3/4-inch fans are loyal and buy a ton, but there aren't as many of them. So you'll probably sell more of the AAA characters in 6-inch and rake in more overall dollars, but you'll probably sell a lot more B-C-D characters as 3 3/4-inch with a smaller group of people with bigger collections and a higher attach rate. Your mileage may vary, but there's more of a reason to build out scenes and stuff with smaller and more obscure figures.

People always love The Vintage Collection, but you can see a big difference when it's something new and exciting. From what I see, a new popular character (like Mando) will probably always do bigger numbers in The Black Series because people there don't have a deep bench of a collection as much - they just want the recognizable guys, and there are a lot of people who will buy a few figures. On the other hand, The Vintage Collection fans want new stuff a lot and they show up for it when something new arrives. They're a little less excited by remakes, but if the previous release is worth a bundle, they'll show up when they missed out.

This hobby, on the whole, is a "shut up and take my money" thing. If Hasbro (or anybody) makes the right thing, people will show up in droves for it. The secret is guessing the edition size. If Hasbro churned out items in too-low quantities, they could probably get more for it for at least a while, but the market would need to be severely underserved to keep that going (and eventually price fatigue would set in.) But look at it this way - you probably wouldn't pay $17 for a new Reva, or $10 for one, or maybe even $5 for one. But a 3 3/4-inch scale Fifth Brother, you might actually want in The Vintage Collection. Figuring out the edition size is always the real trick, and one Hasbro has struggled with in the last couple of years. Look at Amazon pricing on The Black Series since 2020 - most of it is real cheap and widely available online. On the other hand, lower-run The Vintage Collection tends to get pretty pricey, probably thanks in part to that audience being a little older, having a little more money, and frankly, being a little more ravenous. (If I miss a 6-inch figure, especially now? I'll live. If I miss a new 3 3/4-inch figure? That's a problem. Lookin' at you, R2-RNBW.)

Some items sold surprisingly well - the N-1 Fighter The Vintage Collection ship was an instant hit, and shows the figure-and-vehicle-and-playset market still exists if you make something really cool. (I would argue most of the recent playsets were not very cool, certainly not fun and rarely worth the asking price.) Hopefully we'll see them try out more stuff outside "figure" because, really, that's why the older fans are usually still here. Figures are a big part of it, but the other stuff is why you wanted the figures in the first place. I assume the Boba's Palace playsets will result in a run on Jabba-related figures soon, while the 6-inch line really doesn't have anything like that. It's not like they'll have an AT-AT that will cause a run on Snowtroopers.





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It would not be an exaggeration to say Lucasfilm and Hasbro didn't really pounce on some opportunities to sell us some stuff this year, and the pegs are kind of empty. Now that May has come and gone, we didn't get anything super special for the fourth, or for The Mandalorian, The Bad Batch, or any gee-wiz bigness for Return of the Jedi turning 40. A few pre-orders, with some up in the air, and when you go to the stores it doesn't really seem particularly like anything big happens anymore. I'd love to see some sort of big brand statement again. Transformers: Rise of the Beasts has some stuff out, and this week's Spider-Man: Across the Spdier-Verse toys seem to be doing amazing business. (If you don't see them, that's how amazing they're doing.) Reviews seem good, and given that this seems to combine deep cut weirdness, newness, and stuff for kids, it should probably be a template from which other franchises should borrow/steal.

So what for the olds? Super7 finally released pictures of the Devo Whip It Mark Mothersbaugh 3 3/4-Inch ReAction Figure, which we posted at work. I think he turned out pretty well from the pictures, and I wonder if those arms are going to be the basis of any new Dagobah Luke customs. (Probably not at $20, but hey it's a start.) I like seeing the licensing going back to combining old licenses with old formats, but there's probably a limit to how much you can do with these before it gets to a smaller audience. Early MTV seems like a winner, and while I'm dying for figures of The Aquabats or They Might Be Giants, I am unsure who to force into a meeting to make those things happen. But at least we're getting the Electric Mayhem, even if Zoot doesn't include no other pants.

I realize this does sound complainy, but we've got it pretty good. The fact that there's still a market to cater to kids of the 1970s and 1990s, which now includes Marvel reprinting Rom and Micronauts comics, we're pretty lucky. I don't think the kids of the 1940s were getting a lot of retro stuff in the 1980s, although the kids of the 1950s and 1960s have had a lock on rock and roll forever. I can't imagine it can last forever, but conversely there's still a pretty big market for super hero stuff and they've had 85 pretty good years. Granted, they're not priced for mass audiences anymore, but so little is.

So what's coming up this summer for those braving the crowds?

Comic-Con International 2023 in San Diego this July should be a pretty big deal. I have absolutely no idea what's going on with exclusives as Hasbro really dialed it back last year and despite being under two months away, I haven't seen a lot of exclusive chatter for our space. Given how hesitant anyone is to make a splash with Star Wars lately, I wouldn't expect too much other than a few new figures and a lot of time devoted to whatever the new HasLab is. (I'm still betting it's the Ghost.)

Power-Con 2023 in August has quite a roster of manufacturers. None of them are Star Wars but with NECA, Mego, Super7, the Glyos crews, Zica, Valaverse, and Zolo World, plus tons more, there's a lot of old-style stuff to be seen. On the indie side of things, many of these companies are also going to Legions Con in November if you're in New Jersey.

D23 is in Florida this September and I assume it's more about the Mouse than the Force, as I've never been. It's also already sold out, so it's not like you can go if you want.

--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.



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