Q&A: Small Figures, Vintage Figures, Mini FIgures, and Box Office Figures

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, January 15, 2012

Blah blah Phantom Menace? Gooble gobble price increases? Shazzam flazam Fighter Pods? All this and so much more, so read on and send in questions for next week!

1. Episode one is returning to theaters this years and with it a second Episode One Toy Line.

There is a lot said about how huge a disaster the first episode one toy line was. I liked. It was tons of all new products that were well made. They were everywhere and it wasn't long until they just sat on store shelves. Thanks to that I got quite a few items at extreme discounts.

My question is, what's the whole story of the Episode One Toy Line. Was it just to much product for people to buy? How serious we're the repercussions on Hasbro? Did it effect Lucasfilm? What were the consequences and benefits? How will the same thing be avoided with the new toy line? And what do you personally think of the Original Episode One Line?

Do you know why the Episode I toy line was perceived as a failure? Because it was everywhere. Talk to buyers in the industry-- they'll tell you "Everybody told us this was going to be huge. Whatever you order, order twice that-- it won't be enough!" We saw stores that don't carry toys regularly throughout the year like JC Penny, Sears, and several stores in malls stock up when toys were normally about as likely to be present in their stores as bananas. The 1999 "debacle" was an amazing fusion of consumer hype, media hype, and yes, industry hype. Applause suffered a great deal, whereas Hasbro had only but to retool its offerings to keep going. The fact that we still have figures, and other than a 6-month gap in new product everything went as it always does, stands as a monument that it ultimately went just fine. Hasbro didn't go under. Mattel didn't buy them. Hasbro didn't cancel Star Wars to a movie year-only line. It was, in the grand scheme of things, successful.

The success (or failure) of 2012's line is going to be tough to tell because so many things are weird right now, like a January launch date for a movie we've all seen and in many cases, just bought on Blu-Ray in September. Who wants to pay $13 or more per family member to see a movie you just bought? I don't. Unless I hear amazing tales of new footage and scenes, I'm not going near the theaters. The toy market of 1999 is very different from 2012-- Kay-Bee Toys no longer exists, FAO is basically no longer around, none of the drug, grocery, or department stores will be on board, and really, what you should compare this launch to is 2008's The Clone Wars line. We got a bunch of new toys, most of them did pretty well, and some bad casepacks caused problems for a couple of years. That's probably what you're going to see again, except this time it looks like Wal-Mart may be a greater driving force behind the line.

I hate talking about this kind of stuff because it's damned if you do, damned if you don't. If Hasbro makes sufficient product-- and at times, they do-- I hear complaints. If they don't, I hear complaints. And I'm not a Hasbro employee. This time around it sounds like Wal-Mart may be absurdly strongly behind the launch, and if this ends up being true we might see a slight repeat of 2008 with a ridiculous amount of "launch" product again. That's a problem with these coordinated launches-- wave 1 is always common from day 1 and there's no chance of it being chased by fans. A little hype helps. while we may find it annoying it's not like the last genuinely big "movie" launch went well as far as that product selling through goes, with some figures-- Yarna d'al' Gargan-- lasting on shelves for a year or more, and Evolutions sets being available to this very day. But this is my bias-- I think the marketing is the problem, not the product, and most likely not the distribution. "Midnight Madness" is stupid, asking me to get in line to buy toys is stupid, it's not fun and exciting, it's just a way to get the people who aren't here the rest of the year excited to buy a bunch of stuff and ignore the line for the next 18 months.


2. MSRP for Vintage figures this year: $9.99. That's outrageous! And $8.99 for Clone Wars and Movie Heroes. Are they TRYING to get people to stop buying them???

Toys R Us charged $9.99 (or even $10.99) for Vintage in 2010. Many toy discounters (Target, etc.) were at or near $8.99 or $9.99 last year. Hasbro's Marvel Universe line has also been historically just a smidgen higher than Star Wars for basically the same class of product. The reality of rising labor costs in China is hard to ignore, plus Hasbro figures tend to be slightly more complicated than their BanDai brethren like ThunderCats and Power Rangers. Mattel's collector lines like Justice League and the late DC Universe Infinite Heroes were already at $10 or so per figure around the time they ended.

Because we are a gullible bunch-- and we are, don't deny it, otherwise Hasbro wouldn't have kept bringing back "Vintage" packaging at a 50-100% premium price every few years since 2004-- they will ask for and likely get these prices. It's not like milk or gasoline, Star Wars figures could get the axe by Hasbro as soon as it's unsuccessful. From what they told us at New York Comic Con regarding quantities this year, and how much of the product will be shipping in Q1 with little (relatively speaking) later in 2012, it's a safe bet it's going to be a very soft year for Star Wars. I expect there will be lots of extremely bored collectors by April or May.

What I'm curious about is if the price increases will change consumer behavior. Will parents realize that they don't need to pay $25 for the new Sebulba's Pod Racer (with NO figure) when the real 1999 release WITH a figure sells for $5 in a sealed box on eBay? Hundreds of thousands of mint-in-sealed-packaging toys are basically available for pennies on the dollar, it will be interesting to watch if parents realize that basically the same toy can be bought at a lower price online.

I could be wrong, but I think as long as Hasbro keeps doing Vintage-style packaging and they make good choices (or hopefully better ones) about which figures get released, fans will probably continue to absorb them at $9.99. I don't know what the breaking point is-- I remember the fury of the 1998 price increase to $5.99 and the 1999 rise to $6.99-- but history pretty much shows that Hasbro will drop the price of figures for the next movie if this one crashes and burns. Attack of the Clones in 2002 had $5ish figures, and for the movie G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra, Hasbro actually said in their earnings teleconference that they realized they would have made more money and sold more product with a slightly lower price. Of course, labor costs are higher today, but that doesn't mean they can't (or won't) find a way to offer lower-priced product in 2013 as needed. (And if Battle Pods take off, well, there you go.)

...one last thing: history also shows us that if a line tanks, you can get it cheap on eBay at some point within 1-2 years after it goes kaputt. So if you want these new figures and don't feel like buying them today, someone will be happy to sell you an entire collection at or below cost down the road. (I speak from experience.)


3. What is the deal with these new Star Wars Fighter Pods? I'm not really sure I understnad the concept of them. The figures look kinda cool, but I don't understand what they are supposed to do. And will they be sold alongside the action figures, or will they be with the pre-school toys?

The fact that you don't get it is probably a good sign-- it means you aren't a small child under 10. This line is based on another manufacturer's line of minifigures called "Squinkies," which are very small, sort of squishy and deformed painted figures based on several popular licenses. In a way, it's the modern version of what we children of the 1980s enjoyed as small 1 1/2-inch unpainted little rubber figures like M.U.S.C.L.E. and Monster in my Pocket, except this time around the companies are focusing on smaller, painted figures with higher price points based on Marvel or Hot Wheels or even Barbie.

Hasbro is borrowing Blip Toys' concept, which is basically to make pea-sized microfigures. Hasbro's aim is to make the figures battle and spin, much like Beyblade, aiming at the young boy market once more. These will probably be sold next to Star Wars on the action figure aisle, although they may be pulled out with the real Squinkies, which you can find on adjacent aisles at toy retailers near you. I don't believe they're appropriate for preschoolers due to the fact they can fit in your nose, which is the home to all small toys for Pre-K kids.

The minifigure is-- if you ask me-- a largely underserved market. I'm absolutely batty about the new fan-made OMFG line of figures, although it's for adults and is not quite as swiftly released as I would like. (Five and counting.) LEGO does a bang-up job putting out a lot, and Playmobil is doing a good job as well with another 48 figures coming in 2012-- just like LEGO. Personally I'd like to see more bizarre lines, Jakks Pacific's S.L.U.G. Zombies could be cool but are thematically very specific-- I can get behind the "Scary Little Ugly Guys" part, but do I need six series of just wacky zombies? How about some ghouls and ghosts?

It's my assumption that Galactic Heroes will remain King Minifigure, unless you count LEGO's own line of Star Wars, for quite some time. I expect Fighter Pods will have a good run, but I'd actually be very interested to see more small releases of Galactic Heroes here and there. I don't need 40 a year, but you know a new 8-pack here and there would be quite nice.

...failing that, Hasbro: I would love G1 Transformers robot heroes in all-red or all-purple like the vintage Decoys. C'mon, do it. Takara would have done it.


4. My son has begun his Star Wars craze. I am loving the search and hunt for characters and objects for his collection.

If I may, I do have a questions that I am unable to find an answer for. Is there an R2 that the middle leg raises and lowers by twisting the top? If so, which version of R2 is this? My son saw this but we are unable to locate this model. Any info you can provide would be appreciated.

There are actually a couple with this mechanism-- if you mean R2-D2 specifically (and not R2-Q2 or one of their siblings), you've got a few choices and the bad news is that NONE of them are sold individually.

This one looks awesome, and you can get it 2 different ways.
1. Wal-Mart exclusive Droid Factory 2-Pack with R2-D2 and Luke Skywalker. (Includes a C-3PX build-a-droid limb.)
2. Toys R Us exclusive Death Star Trench Run. Includes the Luke and R2-D2 from the above set, Darth Vader, an X-Wing, and TIE Fighter. Available now, about $110.

1. Resurgence of the Jedi Battle Pack. Includes Luke, C-3PO, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and the R2-D2. This set is somewhat hard to find-- I've seen quite a few at Ross stores (the US clothing discounter) in the past 9 months. It was hard to find at retail and may be as high as $40, but you can probably score one for $20 or less.

It's a great figure, but other R2-D2s-- like the Vintage 2010 one-- might offer you a similar product at a lower price which just happens to be easier to locate at retail.


5. Question: I was examining the 2012 TPM Vintage wave 1 by looking at pictures around the web. Have you been able to examine them yet? They appear to be mostly new or new enough? Can you confirm?

Most of them seem to be new, but Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan seem to be pretty much identical to previously released figures. I was arguing with Mike over the newness of the Battle Droid-- I haven't been able to play with one yet, but it seems to be very similar to the mold used in the Commemorative 4-Packs sold last year.

If you haven't bought any Episode I figures since before Attack of the Clones was in theaters, these will all be new to you. Darth Maul is completely new, Quinlan Vos is new, the bulk of them are new sculpts and for that I am quite happy. Obi-Wan seems to be a token "let's repackage it because they'll buy it," as does Qui-Gon at first glance. I haven't seen all the Battle Droids up close and side-by-side yet, so I am not entirely sure if he's the same as Movie Heroes or not just yet-- which I admit is a crappy answer, but hey, this is a crappy column.



So now that it's settled that absolutely nobody is going to keep collecting because new prices are too high and distribution is so bad nobody can even find product to pay said prices, what's left for the year? All kidding aside, it seems like it's going to be extremely light if you're a kid and you like Star Wars in after Spring 2012, The Clone Wars seems over before it started with this 19 figure nonsense and Vintage was mostly showcased in New York last October... which was a repeat of the delayed figures shown in New York last February. It is entirely possible that Hasbro will have little or anything new to show by the time we end this year's triple-decker summer convention season, with San Diego, Celebration, and New York all taking place between July and October. Since Hasbro (presumably) has to show something new at Toy Fair in February, I'm expecting 2013 product to show up in September or a pathetic trickle of new toys so slow you'll think it's 1996 again.

So I guess this means if you're anything like me, it's time to get your collection in order.

The last time my toy collection was organized and on display (somewhat) in full was late 1998. So for me, I've been moving and living in different cities for about 15 years without actually settling in and setting up ye olde toy archive. This is why you pack things in a more sensible way than I do, because I know where some of my Unleashed Battle Packs are, but it might be until 2014 until I find them all and get them in the same room. It also looks like 2 Galactic Heroes 2-packs might be MIA, which is annoying, as I don't think people are trading those things much these days. (At least it isn't Ki-Adi-Mundi. Conehead dude's expensive.)

Oh, that reminds me-- has anyone started mass-producing their own Galactic Heroes yet? I figure it's a matter of time if they haven't... there are a few that seem oddly missing. Well, somewhat-- like I think there should be an Oola on my shelf but it's not like that'd be a sensible or appropriate figure. Or Mara Jade, because, well, c'mon. There are also a few figures only in Galactic Heroes so far, which is odd. Most of them are Clones, but there's Baniss Keeg too. (Granted, the Wizards of the Coast Miniatures line has dozens of figures not in the action figure line, so I'm not hopeful Hasbro will catch up to that.)

--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.