Q&A: Star Wars Battery Anxiety, Super Rare Variants, and Color Matching

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, August 22, 2021

1. Several versions of the 3.75" scale R2-D2 (Coruscant Sentry, OTC, ROTS...) used small batteries for his light and sounds.

Assuming one keeps it carded, and in a cool, dry place, what are the odds the batteries will leak and ruin the figure/card?

The Celebration 3 ROTS Vader has a screw-on battery cover which is easily accessible thru the card back for easy removal.

How concerned should I be with my carded electronic R2s leaking?

When I asked Hasbro about this many many (many) years ago, I was told they don't anticipate leaks being an issue due to how most button-cell batteries are these days. I personally haven't seen any issues yet, and I believe the oldest electronic figures Hasbro - actually Kenner - made were from about 1998. I've had some other Transformers that are from 1995/1996 that have, somehow, still not had issues with the batteries. They even still work!

The Celebration III Darth Vader was definitely engineered with forever-in-package in mind - after all, it was a 2002 mold that nobody really wanted in the first place. Hasbro got that without the packaging, it's kind of nothing, and once the battery died, it's also kind of nothing. Most of the other figures were intended to be bought by mass audiences (R2-D2 in particular) so forever-on-the-card-ness is certainly something that wasn't considered, and I doubt it will ever be considered going forward either. (You've see the no-plastic packaging initiative. This ain't getting better.)

While you should be somewhat concerned for your R2-D2s, they're not worth a bunch and frankly, these things weren't meant to last forever. At least Hasbro had the generosity to make the battery accessible, which it stopped doing around 2012. A number of electronic figures for its Movie Heroes collection feature electronics and non-removable batteries - you can't replace them without cracking the torso on the actual figure. There's a Sandtrooper with light-up cannon that was only sold overseas, a Darth Vader, a Qui-Gon, and an Obi-Wan Kenobi off the top of my head. Once they die, they die. I believe I was told this had to do with the battery being a possible choke hazard, which is heartbreaking for so many reasons.

A tangent - RFID tech (the stuff used in Skylanders, Amiibo, CommTech, and Force Link) has the capability for sending enough power over the air - as in, without touching - to power a small LED array. If Hasbro wanted to make electronic figures with light-up parts without batteries in the figure (or vehicle), they can - they even did do this with their Hasbro ForceLink Kylo Ren TIE Silencer, which has no on-board batteries and is powered by the juice of a Force Link reader (or, I found out, an external Nintendo 3DS Amiibo reader.) This sort of thing can be done, reducing costs and removing choke hazards, but the poor app and worse marketing of ForceLink made people just kind of give up on it. It's a pity - I'd love to see this wireless tech be used to power things like lights in Transformers heads, lightsabers, or anything else they could come up with.



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2. I'm curious about the Power of the Jedi Dagobah Vader - Secret Luke figure that came out in around 2000. I used to hit walmart on my way into work at around 7:30am a few times a week and was able to find virtually everything that was released in Canada at the time. One morning I found one or two cases freshly hanging on the pegs with the afore mentioned figure. I grabbed the only two Vaders on the pegs, one to open and one to keep on card. Never got around to opening either since I had heard about the running change that applied the sticker to the bubble. I never, ever saw that figure in stores again. And I believe the stickered version never made it out in the US, if I recall correctly.

I know not many figures made by hasbro can really be considered rare, but do you have a sense of how many of these were made? In the years following I would check ebay and find the odd one posted. Usually for some ungodly amount and it would go unsold. Seems no one really cared about the sticker. Occasionally I search (can't believe this came out 20 years ago!! Yeesh) ebay using key words "secret luke", or Canadian, and I haven't seen one pop up on ebay in a loooong time. I really wouldn't expect it to be worth much, but I'm curious if you have any idea of how "rare" this variant might be.

Personally I'm not a big fan of the POTJ line look and the figures, though showing some real improvements, hadn't fully gotten over the bulked up stylized look yet and reached their peak, but the sticker was a great call out to a feature on the toy. Of course a major spoiler if you hadn't seen the film, but 2000 would have been beyond spoilers. I think it's a pretty cool and actually meaningful variation to the figure's packaging.

Anyway, just curious about your thoughts and any insight you might have on its rarity.

About $20 rare.

I have never seen the Dagobah Darth Vader from Power of the Jedi with a sticker advertising the Luke feature on a US card, but I remember hearing it was being introduced as a running change. (More often than not, that means "it'll be this way if we run it again in a future wave," as the initial production run is over by the time it lands in stores.)

The rule of thumb as to production sizes of any run would be a Canadian figure is typically produced at 10% of its US counterpart. So if America got 90,000, Canada would probably get about 9,000. (Probably not coincidentally, this aligns with the population distribution between the two countries.) Also, I have no idea if the USA got 90,000 or not - during The Power of the Force in the 1990s, the whispers were that a lot of figures were running in the 250,000 range. I assume The Phantom Menace and its widespread production brought that down a bit.

I have no doubt that such a figure would be extremely rare, but that may not mean a thing as far as value goes - after all, it's Canadian. The driving force behind this stuff may not care about multi-lingual packaging from 20 years ago anymore. Back then, a lot of fans kept lists of all the variations handy and tried to collect two (or more) of each... today people look at the older stuff and generally just throw up their arms. Some unique characters are expensive, but most figures from the 90s through the prequels' theatrical runs remain pretty cheap. (Not all, just most.) And a lot of fans just wrote off foreign variations completely, usually sticking with whatever got issued in their locale, augmented by product from other countries that wasn't (assuming no local version got made.)

It may be rare, but it isn't worth much. As of right now, most basic figures from 1995's The Power of the Force through Revenge of the Sith in 2005 can be had pretty cheaply. I don't blame the quality of figures, but it's not an era with a lot of nostalgic kids - most of that stuff was bought by guys looking to rebuy their 1970s-1980s childhoods, and those figures were frequently upgraded by other, better figures as time went on. 2000-2002 just wasn't that great.




3. Not really Star Wars related, but how come no one can make the same MUSCLE material for figures? Seems like they’re all more Plastic-y and less rubbery. (You may have answered this already)

Jason, I wish I knew!

So many companies have tried - BanDai made its own new rubbery Kinnikuman Keshigomu figures in Japan, but they were never meant to be the same stuff as America's MUSCLE from Mattel - and nobody has gotten it right. October Toys (and the Glyos Factory thanks to Onell Design's Matt Doughty) have tried a bunch of different mixes, but some are too glossy, some are too bright. And many are very, very close. I would also like to point anyone interested in this topic to two lines - October Toys' OMFG (gorgeous) and The Sucklord's SUCKLE figures (amusing/profane/etc.) OMFG are my absolute favorite mini-figure line. (OTMFG, also excellent.)

Both Super7 and Mattel have had their own factories making all sorts of lines in this format, and nobody got that pink color right. People keep trying, but whatever magic ratio concocted back when we were kids is seemingly lost forever.

Of everybody I asked, they're all trying. It's not a conspiracy or anything, they just haven't been able to nail it. Everybody who has been willing to talk on the topic has shared that they were trying to refine it with each new line, and while the sculpting often got better (see: MOTUscle) the color match seems impossible. If someone out there has the formula, I assume they probably don't speak English and don't collect Star Wars and certainly don't read this weekly feature.

Of course, this may be moot anyway. The format seems dead in the water, with October Toys being defunct, SUCKLE (and, erm, FUCKLE) being dormant if not dead on the vine, and seemingly neither Super7 nor Mattel have any interest in more MUSCLE or Keshi Surprise figures right now. The last new line I remember hearing about were Jinx' Cyberpunk 2077 monos, but they weren't really aspiring to match the original toys' poses - but you can see where the inspiration came from. I hope someone else tries again or picks up the baton, because as we get older smaller figures are a much more compelling (and digestible) way to feed the beast.



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A headline this week: Toys R Us is coming to more than 400 Macy’s stores next year. Also Putnam Investments acquiring Toys'R'Us Canada from Fairfax. And Amazon plans to open large physical retail stores in U.S. - WSJ. Will this mean anything to your collection? As the great Steve Albini once said, ""don't get your hopes up, cheese!"

The articles state Macy's will be powering Toys R Us' web site, so it's going to boil down to if Macy's toy buyers decide to really invest in product now that someone cut the TRU brand a check to use their name. If you're hoping for towering aisles of bikes, dolls, LEGO, video games, and action figures, that's not happening. It's possible the web site may have some good stuff, but we're seeing more splits between "fan/collector" and "kid" sellers of products too, and I wouldn't bet on Macy's doing a big box-sized toy department. In my lifetime department stores have largely been iffy for toys - Mervyn's never had much, Sears' catalog was better than the in-store selection, and even JC Penney's actual toy department had been, well, OK at best. I took the liberty of going to a Macy's on Saturday and they did have an interesting selection of stuff, but not a lot. They even had some Hasbro stuff that's new as of the last month, so it's nothing to sneeze at... but it's still not enough stuff to fill a decent small van. In other words, it's still better than JC Penney.

I'm glad there's somewhere else that might be worth looking at for toys, because it really has become pretty dire in recent years. I can't help but wonder if the wild success of Star Wars prequels - specifically Episode I made things better or worse. For a brief time, I would find a number of stores that never bothered with toys suddenly having big sections of stuff - perhaps too much stuff - but it was nice that there was a time that a toy run could surprise you at almost every turn. "Why are there plush Wattos in the basement of the El Con Mall's JC Penney?" I would ask. "When did Sears start carrying action figure again?" I'd wonder. Today toys are a very underserved market, so someone like Macy's could probably do pretty well with an above-average toy business with a decent seasonal toy department just because there's no toy superstore of any kind left to consult. Best Buy's section seems to be evaporating, and other than LEGO shops I don't see a heck of a lot of decent toy specialty in malls that aren't focused heavily on Funko stuff. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

Macy's probably will never be a must-see toy stop visit for the action figure collector, but they did have a good chunk of the new Hasbro Ghostbusters stuff - I was happy to see it. When you're in a mall, take a look. (But also be aware there may be more than one section, upstairs I found a very sad section with 4-5 year old toys and Age of Extinction knock-offs while downstairs had some puzzles, Hasbro stuff, and things you would buy for kids who you actually like.) Happy hunting - it's rare we have a new place to scope out, so even though it isn't going to be as amazing as the real Toys R Us stores, it's certainly nice to have one more place to visit.

--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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