Q&A: Retro Willow Selection and Star Wars Pricing (But Different Pricing)

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, November 27, 2022

1. Let's talk Willow! With the new Disney+ series coming later this month, we are finally getting new toys for the original 1988 movie. Two waves of Super7 ReAction have come out and thankfully have been available on the Disney app. At $19.99 they're a lot, but the line will probably be short (thankfully they had a 25% off sale recently). My question is, this seems to be the first time a Lucasfilm property was available as a Super7 ReAction line instead of Hasbro Retro; any idea on why this is? Do find the quality different enough to warrant the price difference?

I have an annoying non-answer for you - it's complicated and I had eight paragraphs that I don't think you want to read.

I would not be shocked if Hasbro were offered and passed on the Willow license. Presumably the reason Super7 did Willow instead of Hasbro is because Willow is Willow. Hasbro makes popular toy lines in big runs that sell all over the world, while Super7 makes specialized things that aren't quite an art piece, and aren't quite a toy, but are clearly aiming at an older fan that's a smaller audience. Smaller toy companies are also probably a lot more willing to work on a Willow because you can get your foot in the door with Lucasfilm, which could pay other dividends later. I'm sure someone would make Tucker: A Man and His Dream or Radioland Murders figures for the exact same reason. If it means you can make Star Wars super robots or Indiana Jones Keshi some day, it is a good business move to partner up and get the relationship started.

When it comes to collector action figures, prices are sometimes less of a "quality" issue than a "quantity" issue. Hasbro's making a ton of stuff to sell to kids and fans and collectors ages 4 and up globally. Super7 doesn't sell as much stuff nearly as many places, and their stuff is age graded 14 and up. In short, Hasbro's mandate to sell to kids and collectors helps keep prices down because bigger runs can keep prices down. It's unlikely Super7 could keep their niche (but nifty) lines going while charging Hasbro prices due to a smaller potential customer base.

Hasbro has three "retro" lines running. G.I. Joe (about $20) and Star Wars ($10-$14) are largely building on remaking the originals (with some new Star Wars mixed in.) Marvel ($10-$12) are all-new, but multiple figures share the same body parts to keep costs down - but in exchange, you get wonderfully gorgeous packaging art. If I had more space, I would probably have the entire Marvel line, carded, and on display - but I don't, so I open them all. Indiana Jones is coming next year at a somewhat unpleasant $15, but so far it's only Indiana Jones - no other characters have been shown and the carded figure makes no mention of there being an assortment. Comparing it to Super7's offerings, it's still cheaper and it even has an action mechanism. And if it wound up only one figure, I doubt anyone will blink at paying $15. It's Indy. Trust him.

Super7's prices have steadily gone up, but edition sizes are lower than Hasbro's and you get industry-leading package art with nearly every figure (not Willow), painted accessories, and a lot of fully-painted figures. (I prefer faces and hands to be molded-in-color, personally.) You get more gear, painted gear, more deco, and an incredibly diverse line-up of licenses. There's a ton of work going in this line that's easy to overlook because most licenses don't even hit a dozen figures. But you do get the Beasties, and Ol' Dirty Bastard, and Vincent Price. Hasbro isn't going to do that, and Super7 doesn't get the level of distribution and sales that a Hasbro gets. In short, selling Willow for $10 from the outset would be a surefire financial disaster.

Given this is probably the only Willow toy line you're going to see for a while unless there's a contractually-obligated D+ wave coming in 1-2 years, it's not "is it worth it?" so much as "do you want it?" And my answer is "no" because I am not in love with the film. They could be $10 and I wouldn't be first in line to collect them, and the packaging isn't as exciting as what they did for Universal Monsters or The Great Garloo. If I saw them on clearance, I'd pick them up just because I love a nice retro figure.

...but then again, Super7's Troy McClure offerings include two figures in every box for the same price as a single Willow ReAction Figure, so what do I know about anything?



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2. I know you get stuff like this alot I imagine, but I noticed new listings for a Retro figure moved the price from $11 to $15 and Vintage non exclusives moving from $14 to $18. I know inflation is a thing, but didn't the Retro figures just from from being close to under $10 to $11.99? I can't justify buying into it unless it clearances out. I'm a younger/newer collector so I didn't really start diving into the hobby until 2015, but back then until 2018, the basic line had figures with yes, limited articulation, but a good likeness to the character and a great sculpt. Now, it's 2022, and we're paying nearly double the cost of a figure for the same or less amount of articulation, that intentionally looks nothing like the actor. I know the Retro figures have a niche and they are fun- I just don't understand how they could have the same price tag as a Vintage Collection figure from just a few weeks ago. Any thoughts on these price hikes? I miss the basic line right now. Mission Fleet is a nice substitute, but to get a "value" line like the 6 inch one for Five Below but with 3.75 would be great.

...I swear I don't program these questions to be similar on purpose.

If you're a collector on a budget, I would recommend looking at the 1990s. While some are goofy, Kenner's The Power of the Force run from 1995-1999 is packed with really good stuff. You can get entire collections for close to retail price (or pennies on the dollar) in some markets, and it's the only modern-era EV-9D9 money can buy. Here is an eBay link to some "lots" of figures. As of right now I can see things like 22 figures for $45 plus shipping. I can assure you, these are pretty enjoyable figures for the price. Consider what your money can buy you that already exists, rather than what Hasbro and Lucasfilm and Disney want to sell you. No matter what, you won't be completely satisfied - but you can put together an amazing collection of toys on a budget. You just might want to get more modern versions of some of the humans... but I still say Kenner's 1990s offerings offer considerable charm at rock-bottom prices.

OK let's address the current line.

Full disclosure: I haven't seen Hasbro's (or anybody's) production expenses in the last few years. But I do know there are some costs that are the same for both products. Freight, packaging, paint, and in many cases accessories cost the same on a "Retro" Kenner figure as a "Vintage" Modern Hasbro figure. Heck, with the sticker it's likely Retro packaging costs a few pennies more. Freight, packaging, and paint aren't free, and comparing figures, there's a little more plastic in most "Vintage" over "Retro" thanks to slightly more gear and joints. And sometimes cloth capes and vests and the like.

More parts usually means more tooling, especially when multiple colors of plastic come in, and there's more labor there. Having said that, Transformers fans for years have speculated if parts in a tool can be "gated" so you can have one steel mold with 3 or 4 colors of plastic on it. BanDai has done this for model kits, so it's possible Hasbro does for figures - but I haven't seen tooling for a figure in quite some time, so I don't know. This means it's technically possible that tooling could be in a similar ballpark for both formats, but I wouldn't bank on that.

Labor is probably a wash, but there are more pieces on a "Vintage" figure than a "Kenner" figure. Retro Reva has two halves of a body glued together over her head, arms, and legs - so not counting accessories, about 7 parts. Meanwhile, "Vintage" Reva has more parts than that in each limb - and someone has to put all those together, and she has more paint masks (and a printed face) too. I can only assume there are robots involved or they have to pay humans to assemble it all.

What's the justification for the higher retro figure price? You'll pay it, and there are some costs to Hasbro probably aren't that far apart. I haven't seen a $15 retro Star Wars figure yet. Basic non-exclusive figures are usually $10-$12, and the exclusive ones have been as low as $10.99 (and has high as $14.99) for Prototype X-Wing Luke. (I assume this was an error plus an overcorrection exclusive tax.) They've also been as high as $27.99 for Amazon's Bounty Hunter two-packs, which is about $13.99 each, which is in line with the seemingly global mark-up Hasbro is charging for exclusives these days.

As to a potential 3 3/4-inch Value line, I want one too - Hasbro's 2012-2015 Saga Legends/Mission Series lines gave us pretty much that for $6 for a single/$10 for a 2-pack. They were unappreciated by adults at the time, many of which probably aged out anyway and don't tend to have an appreciation for "this is neat and cheap."

Hasbro can make a $2-$4 5-jointed figure without accessories. I can name at least six that are almost more Kennery than Hasbro's intentional Kenner figures - but no gear, little packaging, and even less paint. I'm sure a $5 figure with a cape or a shield would be doable, but that is not Hasbro's target financial reward. I'd love to see different characters in different styles, because it just makes sense to do "cheap" Stormtroopers as well as "deluxe" ones for kids, fans, collectors, and army-builders. If you want 100 Stormtroopers, not all need rocker ankles. R2-D2 can be done well with three joints. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't really impressed by Hasbro's Obi-Wan Kenobi Darth Vader in The Vintage Collection this year.

At some point we'll probably see Hasbro take another crack at 3 3/4-inch kid toys in a more meaningful way again, because 3 3/4-inch vehicles are $25-$50 toys you can probably sell kids. You can't sell a lot of fans a $100 6-inch scale vehicle, and you can generally forget about $200 vehicles. A robust impulse-level price point Star Wars figure could probably do wonders to sell more X-Wings or TIE Fighters or whatever new thing Disney will come up with down the road, and may even encourage fans to collect. Kids tend to drop off when figure prices go up (even Hasbro cited this with The Phantom Menace in 1999 and G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra in 2009 finances citing the lines as turning off customers due to price.) But the regimes change, different managers can view the exact same data in different ways, and the best thing for a healthy Star Wars figure and vehicle line would probably be to collapse "collector," "fan," and "kid" to a one-size fits all approach. And before you complain, the 2006-2010 lines did a pretty remarkable job giving us things like a bunch of super-articulated figures alongside two-packs, big accessories, and weird bonuses like build-a-droid parts or coins. It can be done, but I don't envy the current product team trying to balance making old fans happy (and now "old fans" may include grown-up prequel kids) alongside trying to be a good partner to Disney and covering the new Disney+ shows. If you only get 40-50 3 3/4-inch figures per year and Hasbro continues to keep rerunning old tooling in the mix, I assume fans will be both unsatisfied and increasingly likely to throw up their hands and investigate other pursuits. Remember when we would complain about getting only one wave per year per movie 15 years ago? Wouldn't you be delighted if we got a whole 5-7 new dudes from a single film in a year now?





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And that's a wrap on Andor season one! Willow kicks off this week. While I do think Andor was a bit bloated up top - mostly in the sense that our main character seems to be repeatedly on board for rebellion, and then not, and then yes, "starting... now" - which I assume is due to it being a TV show and needing to maximize sets and the generous number of performers. There's a three-episode space prison arc that will knock your socks off. I don't see Andor (the man) as having some great epiphany - he seemed consistent, mostly - but hey, it' a story and you'll take what you will. And it's worth a watch as the currently longest live-action Star Wars season.

We also got three almost-full seasons of live-action Star Wars this year with The Book of Boba Fett (no known season 2 unless Skeleton Crew or some other project is a Blue Harvest), Obi-Wan Kenobi (wherein the budget probably all went to swordfights and Ewan MacGregor's quote), and Andor (where the audio mixing could use a flatter way to get on-progream.) We may not see another movie for years, and given the radical swings in tone and theme I may be fine with that. I miss the assurances a rock-solid release date can bring - it was nice when toys existed for a new thing - but Andor demonstrates one of the things that's great about television. You can do a new story every week (or 2-3 weeks), so if you're not feeling what's on you can get something new later.

For Q1 2023, we are currently expecting The Mandalorian season 3 and The Bad Batch season 2. Young Jedi Adventures season 1 is also coming in spring 2023 and I would not get your hopes up too high about that one because you're not a Disney Junior target demo. You got an "adult" Star Wars, so now here's the preschool one. Historically, reframing a franchise brand for pre-K audiences doesn't always mean it'll stick around forever and may be in need of a break. But they're trying so many new things with Star Wars I can't imagine that will happen - even without a movie, we've got something like six (or more) seasons of new Star Wars episodes in 2023. And I have no idea if the current strategy is a success or not - it's keeping people subscribed to Disney+, but I don't know if we've gotten too many more big cultural moments on the small stream screens.

As of now, as far as I know, there are no plans for a new movie in 2023 or 2024. Anything can change, but odds are you wouldn't get Star Wars for Holiday 2024 (as Avatar 3 is scheduled) and summer 2024 seems tough unless they start filming and toy production pretty quickly. There are multiple theatrical movies that are (or more likely were) in development at Lucasfilm and I would almost be tempted to bet actual money you won't see more than one of them made this decade, or ever. Any movie that gets announced and takes more than three years to start shooting seems like a bad bet.

But we've still got Willow this week. The rumored "Operation Paperclip"-inspired backstory to the new Indiana Jones actually sounds pretty cool. With any luck we'll enjoy Ahsoka and Skeleton Crew, but I am also at a point where I feel nearly every entertainment franchise thing I watch could hit the pause button for one or two years and I'd be perfectly happy to catch my breath and rewatch some stuff. The fact that we've had weeks in 2022 where there's a new Star Wars, and a new Star Trek, and a new Marvel thing, plus tons of other stuff... I never would have believed I would live to see it. And here we are, having just got a Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special and it's probably just yet another thing we have to watch on the way to the next thing we have to watch. Truly we are spoiled.

--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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